Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 1 in China: lessons learned

This morning I picked a direction and walked for a few hours, inhaling about 3 packs worth smoke in the process and learning a few lessons:

Haters gonna hate, lovers gonna love

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy makes the claim that a towel is the single most useful thing a traveler can have. I disagree, the most useful thing you can have are some hata blockas.

Me sporting hatas back in 2007.

Since I've gotten to Shanghai, I've been uncomfortable with people staring and talking about me. However, today I put on some hatas and I'm cured. People actually stared at me more since they couldn't tell I was staring right back. It was a lot of fun because I got to see candid reactions.

The attention might actually do me some good, since I have started to pay more attention to my image (hey, if I'm being stared at I might as well look good). For example, I'm making an effort to correct my terrible posture honed with many hours staring at the computer.

If you can dodge a bus, you can dodge a dodgeball

The other day I mused about the most likely way I'm going to get killed in China, and I have a new one for the top: traffic. I have seen a lot of crazy traffic in my travels, from the angry drivers of NYC to the insane drivers of Rome and Buenos Aires, but Shanghai drivers are psychopathic. They drive right into throngs of pedestrians when the pedestrians have "right of way" and the motorcycles drive on sidewalks full of people (right of way in quotes because right of way belongs to whoever has the biggest balls). Several times a motorcycle flew past inches away from me while I was on a sidewalk. I'm not talking about 18 year old guys who think they are invincible, either: grandmas and teenagers alike were zipping on the sidewalks.

At one point I burst out laughing because I did not believe what I just witnessed: at a busy intersection, while about 60 motorcycles were driving, some guy driving on the perpendicular street runs the red light and drives right into the wall of traffic. He did not slow down, and nobody else did either, and yet he made it through safely rather than being T-boned 30 times as I thought he would. I am convinced he was Robocop because no human could possibly calculate that stunt at that speed. 

I have $ tattooed on my forehead

Walking with Dane in a market

If any of you back home are in need of shoes, watches, iPhones, dental surgery, or "anything you need", I know a guy by the Bund who can take care of you. Vendors followed me for a block listing their wares as I repeated "No, thank you" over and over. Eventually I started responding in Spanish, thinking they would stop talking to me, but they kept on talking to me in English. Unfortunately, the only thing that worked was pretending they do not exist and keep walking.

At one point, I was walking through People's Park when an old woman squirted a glop of white stuff all over my boots and then started shining my shoes. I laughed and kept walking but she tried to shine my shoes as I walked. Later on, I was resting by a pond watching people do tai chi when another shoe shiner started the shining. I was repeating, no, no, no, but he did not stop and shined my shoes while telling me his sob story about how he was a poor farmer working for his 4 kids and how a kind man gave him 100 yuan earlier and did not leave until I gave him 4 yuan. As soon as he left a woman started whacking me with a cup demanding "Hello! Ni hao! Hello! Ni hao!" so I started echoing "Hello! Ni hao!" until I finally had to get up and walk away, my peace was ruined.

Next time a guy tries to shine my shoes I'm going to sit on my feet and make them go away.

Night time at the Bund.

While I was at the Bund, a group of 2 girls and a guy asked me to take their picture. We started chatting and found out the girls were from Harbin, where I was planning on going in a few months with Chase and Kathleen. They invited me to drink tea with them, so I went along. They spoke really good English and they were teaching me some Chinese when I started to get a weird vibe because they were being too nice (my shitty $2 sunglasses hata blockas are not that cool). I decide they are either trying to scam me or are just really excited to talk to an American. I go along with them so that I can mine them for information about Harbin and if at any point things are fishy I will bail (I can't really be robbed because I don't have money to begin with). We get to the tea place, which is empty, and are led to a private room. The prices are way too high, some higher than 60 yuan. I take out my 4 yuan (the ones I later gave to the shoe shiner) and play dumb and ask, 
"What can I buy with this much? This is all I have."
"Nothing, that's very little."
"Oh really? That sucks. Well, is it OK if I stay here and just not buy anything?"
"It says here's a room fee"
"Oh. Can you ask her [the attendant] if I have to pay if I don't get anything?"
"[without asking her] You do."
"Ok, well it was nice meeting you!" and I bounce. By the expressions they were making there was no question they were just luring me from the tourist area to their tea shop.

Lessons learned: if anyone asks, I've been to Shanghai several times, and if I get invited to any activity involving money I have already done it and I should kindly refuse.

Chinese is hard

At some point I need directions, so I walk into a store to ask them how to get to Nanjing Road.
I ask, "Nanjing Lu?"
"Nanjing Lu?" The two ladies look at each other, frown, and shoo me away.
"Uhh... Nanjing Lu?"
"Oooo! Nanjing Lu!" and they point my way.


  1. aww poor richard!! i wish i took you to shanghai!! yes please be careful in china!!