Sunday, August 22, 2010

What a whirlwind!

Where to start...So much has happened, so many things learned, the smiles, the culture, the food, friends, Anne and my class lists, traffic, shopping: food, electronics etc., our new ayi (housemaid that starts tomorrow), community parks....the list goes on. I'll just hit here and there a bit.

Let's start with the ladies in the park! Outside our apt. at 6:30, M-Sat., about 40 older ladies gather to line dance to a boom box. There's Asian music to rock to country. It's their morning exercises-they have many dances. I always thought I'd see tai chi, but that's just a sparse few. Same thing happens at night about sunset. It's a community gathering spot too. There's DVD vendors selling the latest movies and tv series for $.50 (4 RMB aka Rimimbi aka guai), glow bouncy ball, necklaces, etc. till 9-10 p.m. Once, we were coming back from a meal and walked through the park on a Saturday night. The line dancers were movin', but there was also some ballroom dancing and western swing goin' on, so on spur of the moment, Anne and I joined in. It was like Elvis had arrived. The big, oversized American dude and the blonde, short haired Norwegian looking mama were on display. In 2 minutes, 40 people circled around us and we became instant rock stars. The next morning, on the way to work-walking thus far...5 blocks...people saw and recognized us and started putting their arms up and twirling round with big smiles on their faces. Anne wants to line dance with them...I tried, but there's lots of hip swinging and it was a bit odd being the only male looking a bit like a hula novice....

Ok, we're now guaranteed Joey and Hailey won't starve. After 20 days, we finally tried a little "Bistro" that is the first restaurant 40 yds. from our front gate (all apt. complexes are gated with surrounding walls--even the poor shanty areas, which amazingly butt up again some fancy hotels and apts.--We never attempted going in because all their window advertisements and specials reader board was always just Chinese. There's 4-5 others: Taiwanese noodle house, Chinese, hot pot soup etc. that all have pictures with English descriptions outside. Joey and Hailey got word from a friend that it served pizza--rated as average with chunky tomato sauce by J and H, but they'd try it again. Anyway, Anne and I went in and were seated with only Chinese menus, but the patrons were eating some good lookin' grits! Then we saw it; an English menu: spicy fries, 15 kinds of pasta: mushroom, meat, seafood, red sauce, white sauce, ham, bacon, vegies etc. Then pizzas of various varieties, salads with Caesar dressing, French onion soup etc...I could eat there 4 days a week. Now we know why it was always full and cars were parked 3 deep on the sidewalks!

Which of course brings me to traffic: cars, mopeds, electric bicycles, pedal bikes, cabs, and pedestrians. I could write a long book. It's not for the timid at heart, and we live in the more laid back, expatriate area of Shanghai. The following are some oddities, that mind you are completely random, yet absolutely commonplace on an hourly, or minute to minute basis. It seriously, barely phases me anymore, Anne is wanting to direct traffic with her hand still, and Joey and Hailey are so comfortable, they want bikes...not yet my only children! To begin, all cops ride with their flashing red and blue lights on all the time. They don't have many driving rules that they need to follow. Just today one came out of headquarters-40 yds. from our school gates-headed down the sidewalk, stuck the car out into the bike/moped lane (10-15 ft wide), blocked traffic, then diagonally cut across the intersection-3 lanes of oncoming traffic- and went on with his day. Once, we were crossing on the green man, pedestrian light, across 6 lanes of traffic, got to the last lane before the bike lane and saw a cop coming 30 yds. away. We thought sure the police would allow us to finish crossing, then pass us, and turn into the police station 20 feet past that. Oh no! Rule #1, if you can beat someone or a vehicle to a spot, you are in charge, and everyone has to adjust to the rhythm of the situation. You can slow down, but don't stop, as that may affect the decision making ability of the vehicles to either go in front or behind you. Rule #2...If you are riding something with a horn, whether on the sidewalk, in the flow of traffic or against it (some mopeds and bicycles ride on the left side of the road with oncoming traffic), honk at will to let everyone know you're coming, especially if you don't think they know you're there-even if they're 3 ft. away on the sidewalk (all mopeds and bikes, along with cars at lunch and dinner, park on the curb side of the sidewalk). Rule #3...If a cab or other vehicle is partially blocking the lane on a two lane street, one oncoming and the lane flowing forward, you can spit the road to make 3 lanes by riding on the dividing line, which is the obvious clue for oncoming cars to immediately move over and share the road and/or slow down and stop for you-which is clearly backed by Rule #1. If there are 3 lanes going in the same direction with blocking, slowly begin moving over into the left lane if your left front bumper is ahead of the car to your left. They must move over and hug the median till you pass because of....yep, Rule #1. For the most part, not to worry, as 90% of the vehicles are gutless and can't go very fast, let alone gain speed quickly. Rule #4...The red lights are merely precautionary-especially for moped and motorcycles. If there is no obvious congestion, by all means blow right through. Rule #5...Do not try to squeeze ahead of public buses. The drivers are public employees and cannot get ticketed--I personally have seen only one ticket being issued, and I can't imagine what for. Rule #6...You may escort your toddlers/pre-K kids diagonally across busy intersections as long as you yell and put your hand up, due to Rule 1, thankfully; which of course allows you to walk into traffic, two lanes in if necessary, to stop an available cab going 25-30 m.p.h.-they will abide with Rule 1 and help you to safety. Lastly, Rule #7...don't hit any pedestrians with any vehicle as it will bring shame upon you and your family, let alone the arm of the law. There are multiple cameras at every corner, gate, and apt. complex. You will be caught, your family must pay restitution, beg forgiveness (hoping you won't press charges), shower you with expensive gifts-again to sway your decision-and your vehicle will probably be impounded until someone, somewhere, for some reason, thinks they should call you to get it back. Complicate, yet very simple. No one yells, blinks an eye, worries too much, shuffles very fast (I think running is forbidden), or cares to much if they screw up. Heck, with 20 million in the city, it's not likely they'll see you again, let alone recognize you...of course unless you're the big white doof, or the short blond smiley woman.

Shopping: food is great from my perspective. You have to let go a bit. You have to trust that the smile, straight face, or frown outside the restaurant-must be posted by law, which indicate excellent, passing, or failed health/food prep/cleanliness inspections by the government, are accurate. The big stores we shop at are like Fred Meyer: many floors, packaged goods, fresh and clean appearing etc., but we still rinse veggies and fruit...lots of gastrointestinal problems amongst the westerners. All food is cheap and plentiful. Man, Anne and I ate at a big restaurant in a mall one night, and she ordered a bowl of hot and sour soup with a couple of buns. It was 18 RMB...$2.50...the steamed buns came and then her soup, in a bowl bigger than I'd use to cook pasta for the family-had to be more than a 1/2 gallon. I had spicy chicken with peanuts for 18 RMB and we took home a big meal for the next day. If you EVER shop, and there's no price on the item, you may bargain the price down, starting at 70% below the quote. Joey knows as he has a GUCCI wallet they wanted $30 bucks for, and he paid $8--knock off of course. But the same happen to me in an electronic mall-5 stories-with prices on most items. Even if there's a price, if you're not in a name brand store, let the buyer beware. We almost got taken on buying a nice router for $50, but luckily saw friends with the same one they bought around the corner for $30...

You can ride a taxi anywhere for 10-15 minutes for 15 RMB (6.8 RMB =$1)

The kids in Anne and my classes are so diverse I could go on and on. I have Korens, Swedish, Dutch, Taiwanese, Americans, Canadians, Germans, a Shanghaiese mother's kid, who is from San Diego, with a Dutch dad-she speaks 4 languages-don't forget Chinese (Shanghaiese is a strong dialect in itself) at age 9. Two kids are early English language learners. All kids get 40 minutes of Mandarin each day, unless you're Dutch-the Chinese government allows them to take Dutch because of the huge population from IKEA, and of course it's all paid for by the Dutch government.

We went to a very nice westerner community church today. Bring your passport! No Chinese residents allowed at that service--often interrupted by the police to check ID's...

It's all very fascinating and very fun. There's lots of quirky customs that no one can change-like no recycling division because that keeps thousands of workers employed that scour the city all day, dividing the recycling on the sidewalk and bringing it into recycling centers on 2-3 wheeled bikes for $. Pretty tough customers in the 100 degree days. I've had more of those in 2 weeks that all the rest of my life combined.

Last thing, we have lots of workers getting our school ready, as it was reconfigured over the summer due to them losing some property, and today, Sunday, Anne and I went to our classes to do last min. stuff, and there were 5 workers dead asleep in her room on the floor, tables, chairs etc. I think they give "eye service" if they can. Although, it's common for them to take their breaks in that fashion...

Wow, it's fun to write all this down. I know I'll forget it if I don't.

Hugs to all, Doug

1 comment:

  1. Great entry! I love reading about all the new ways to living you guys are experiencing. Sounds absolutely amazing and I know words can't even describe it, but they give me a little something to imagine it all by.