Saturday, May 19, 2007

Send in Mr. Golden Balls

Day one of our trip. I slept for about 2 hours. I was beyond exhausted, but our beds simulated sleeping on concrete with tiny pebbles beneath the sheets. Normally I like a hard bed. I prefer it to not have lumps, however.

I tried to get the internet hookup by calling to the front desk at 5 a.m. when I got up because I couldn't sleep any longer. I asked if anyone spoke English and felt like such a dumb American for not knowing how to ask for internet hookup (that's half a joke). I was told to call back at half past 8. Someone could help me then.

It turns out the hotel we stayed at in Shanghai was in the ghetto. I guess it has gotten worse over the years. What was fascinating to me was the the street sweeping machine comes through the alley in the morning. It plays "Happy Birthday" as it drives. I find that funny. When I first heard it I didn't know if there was a birthday parade outside or what. No. Just the street getting cleaned.

I marvel at how people do things. I don't think anyone has a washer and dryer - things we completely take for granted. Everywhere you look you can see poles and other contraptions hanging from windows with laundry dangling from it. Even high rise apartment buildings have clothes hanging outside. I just imagine my underwear flying off in the wind and landing on someone else's porch. When we arrived the night before, you could see the clothes hanging in the windows. I didn't know if closets were non-existent or if it was laundry. Turns out, it's laundry. Pretty cool.

I don't think anyone in class was completely awake today. We toured a couple of factories and companies. By the time we got to the last factory, we were all sweating in the heat and humidity and exhausted from little sleep. Jet lag had set in. I still had to go to dinner.

Getting a cab in Shanghai is an experience. No one wanted to take us to our destination. It is advised that you have the concierge write the name of your destination in Chinese characters so that you may show the cab driver. Also, carry the business card of your hotel so that you may get home at the end of the night! I think cab drivers were reluctant to take us across the river and also didn't want to deal with the English speaking Americans. The language barrier is quite an obstacle - or can be.

I was so cranky the first night it was difficult for me to be nice and cordial at dinner. I didn't want to offend our hosts so I said little and ate. We ate at the top of one of the hotels. What a view of the city. An Italian restaurant. I don't know why that struck me as funny initially, but it did. Food was quite good. Note to self: figure out how to make asparagus tortellini. Yummy! It also made me miss home. I plan to plant a garden when I return and I ordered the fresh mozzerella, basil and tomato salad. I could have rubbed it all over myself, it was so good.

When I hit the bed, and I do mean hit, I fell asleep almost instantly. Then I woke up to pee about 3 times. Then I woke up at 5 and couldn't sleep so I got up. I thought I would get a couple of my students who expressed an interest in taking a walk along the River Walk (The Bund) and perhaps checking out the Tai Chi in the park. They didn't answer the door so I found a different walking partner.

What an interesting morning. First of all, the stench along the river after a night of revelry is quite bad. I will hand it to the city - they sure do try to clean up. There were people washing down sidewalks (not playing the Happy Birthday song) and sweeping with handmade brooms.

Men also flew kites. Everywhere you could see kites. Small kites, big kites, plain kites, elaborate kites. It was pretty cool. It was also hot, humid and hazy. We did find a park and I was able to practice my one Chinese word I had learned (Hello). A gentleman came up to me and said hello in Chinese (I can't spell it). We chatted, such as it was, for a moment.

We did see Tai Chi and found a great park. I think it is fabulous that this culture values exercise so much. Each morning parks are full with people moving. I also got a kick out of the number of people walking backwards.

I stand out like a sore thumb. Being 5'11" and white, I don't blend anywhere.

I discuss the night with several students. We have one student who is a larger man. He said that he went for a walk through the park and people walked right up to him, touched his belly and asked if he was pregnant. He was hurt by this. I guess this culture is not used to seeing people so big. One of the trustees said that people walked right up to them and made gestures with their hands as to how large we Americans are. It is a bit unnerving.

I went to dinner with a couple of students. We found a wonderful little restaurant along the river and we were able to sit outside. People would walk up to our table and say hello - presumably to practice their English. I didn't mind this. The problem I had was with the people who would walk over to our table, point at us, laugh, say something to their friends, continue laughing and keep walking. It was as if we were in a fishbowl. I think at that point, I had an idea how people feel who are segregated in our own country. It was horrible. We were completely on display. May as well have been in cages at the zoo.

Another part of the culture I am going to have to come to terms with is the aggressive selling. People come out of their shops and get in your personal space shouting "Hey lady, you like silk? You want to see some art? You want a watch? I give you a special deal because you are pretty." I can't argue with that - I am pretty (sarcasm alert). By the end of night, after bobbing and weaving through the crowd to avoid the sellers, we made it home and I didn't think I would ever leave the room again!

We went to a silk factory run by the government. The girl giving us the tour and explaining the process started out nice. She was funny and engaging. Then she became a Nazi. She told us that to tell the difference between silk and polyester, you should burn it because it burns differently. Since we can't go into shops burning their products, she told us that silk is cooler to the touch and is more breathable. She then said not to trust the little shops. Buy silk from the government. Trust the government. Sure.

What a racket. We were trying to get to the shop because we had had enough of the tour and she would yell at us to come back. Quite frankly, she frightened me. I thought that if I didn't stay to see the silk spun, I would be arrested and go to jail. It was not pleasant.

Everyone seemed to get a chuckle out of the government propaganda. I like that we are able to recognize it as such.

The silk factory also highlighted that they use all of the byproducts. The dead silk worms are used for something, I don't remember. Oh yes, they rub it on their skin to keep it young and smooth. I don't want to rub dead bugs on my face. They also use the poop. They claim that the poop doesn't smell. Hey - my shit doesn't stink either. They also claim that is cures insomnia. They sell "poop pillows". Inside the pillow is a little compartment containing the poop. You put it in the pillow, then you sleep on it.

Talk about marketing to idiots. It just goes to show you that there is an ass for every seat.

The title of this blog comes from an excerpt from a city guide we found. It was the title of a humorous piece about "football" and Mr. Golden Balls is David Beckham. It has not a damn thing to do with anything, but I thought the title would attract attention.

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