Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Rhythm of the City

by Anne
February 2011

I am not musical. I wish I was, but I got the LARSON genes for musical ability. I think I actually may be tone deaf. I can’t make my voice do what I want or sing the tone that I hear. Sometimes I think I am doing pretty well hitting the notes, but I can tell by the look and laughter from my dear family that I am not close. The good news, it doesn’t stop me from singing because someone needs to entertain them in the long elevator ride up to the 16th floor of our apartment in Shanghai, China. (It’s fun to sing in a metal elevator because the sound bounces off the walls and it sounds even louder.) My BFF once told me in 8th grade, “Anne, can’t you just TRY (to hit the notes and be in tune).” Ouch. Thank God our children got the GRIBBLE genes for music.

Yes, I took piano lessons for seven years, but never really understood it, purely mechanical for me, nothing natural about the musical process in my brain.

So, for me to attempt to make a musical analogy about the rhythm of the city of Shanghai is almost a joke, but for some reason there is no choice because it is just too true that Shanghai has a rhythm. (I apologize now for all my incorrect musical vocabulary and grammar.) I’ve heard that saying before, “rhythm of the city”, but I just pictured a lot of people walking on the sidewalk like in New York City or something. (I’ve never been to NYC, just FYI.) I never really understood what it meant, nor have I ever felt apart of a city’s rhythm. I don’t think Kirkland has a rhythm…well, maybe if you are a car, a lot of “stops” because of all the crosswalks. In sleepy Mercer Island, maybe lots of “rests” and crescendos up the biking hills.

Shanghai has rhythm. It has a constant beat. No, Shanghai is constantly rocking! It’s constantly breathing, moving, singing, living in music. Yes, it’s the largest city by population in the world and as one would imagine with this many people, things would seem to be continually happening. We are not all sleeping at the same time. Our beat never stops. It’s not a song that ever gets old and it’s never the same each hour or minute for that matter.

As I sit here in bed in my 16th floor apartment with my two cats snuggled up to me, cozy with the covers over my legs (Beans just sat ON TOP of Izzi. Izzi does not move and is squished under Beans. Too cute and odd.) I can single out and hear…cars, car horns, motorcycles, trucks, squeaky brakes, scooter horns, bike bells, more horns…all combined to make its own music. The thought that this could be “street noise” or a negative sound has never enter my mind. It’s not “street noise,” it’s the rhythm of the city. It’s Shanghai’s song.

When we enter the musical piece of the city, we enter by stepping onto the sidewalk – we add our feet to the “rhythm of the beat.” (Aren’t those the lyrics to a Go-Go’s song?) Once we start walking briskly down the sidewalk, we have entered the piece and now are a part of this fine choreographed song. I am happy to be a part of the fun. The cars speed and stop and honk and squeak. The men on their street bikes call out in sweet strong Mandarin to advertise what they are selling. Lady Gaga is pumping out the stolen DVD store and onto the sidewalk where we walk. The young man’s tunes from the stereo on his bike are adding to Shanghai’s musical piece. Men and women yell at each other. Children cry. More horns honk. Women cough under their masks. Men farmer blow their noses. More horns. More talking that sounds like yelling. We keep walking. Time to cross the street – just don’t stop your rhythm or you’ll mess up the song. If we keep our pace, the cars will make their judgment calls based on our rhythm and keep their beat – all will be fine - the piece will continue. Just don’t stop your beat in the street…

I had no idea that I would love being a part of a big city’s rhythm, but I absolutely do. It’s so exciting and fun. When there would be a nice day in Kirkland, I would announce, “Come on everyone – let’s get downtown – everyone will be there – let’s get some ice cream or jump on the rocks or eat dinner at Jalisco’s!” I didn’t want to miss out on the fun in the city.

What I love here in Shanghai is that you can’t miss out on the fun because it’s always out there. The song never stops and you can come and go and join in whenever you want to and every time it promises to be a funky tune or an exciting musical or a fine orchestral piece. It’s always different, but always the same – never ending rhythm which takes on a life of its own. Shanghai Rocks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chinese New Year2

Now, let's check out the local grocery store. This particular one, Carrefour, is found in most countries throughout SE Asia. It's owned by French and set up for expats and others that are in need of western goods. Of course they have heavy Chinese influence and customers, so lots/most of the products are for the Chinese. We have chicken claws for $2, chickens with claws for #1/lb., cow hearts and tongues for cheap, and various unnamed parts to scoop and do what you want with etc. Then you have your shrimp. The cheap way to go, as it is with many items here-like with shrimp-is to scoop up the cooked or uncooked version in bulk and bring er on home. I sure miss the 2-3 lb. bag of cooked/no tail shrimp at Costco. The bagged/sealed schtuff here has an amazingly potent dead fish on the beach for 4 hr. smell to it. I microwave it for salad and nearly get myself removed from the premises for the sheer disgusting environment I've created. I must admit, it's not anything I've prepared in Kirkland. As you can also see, Anne prefers the street meat. This particular shot was taken on a 35 degree day outside a very popular ex-pat pedestrian walking mall where there's 25 or so international restaurants. I have the question as to why this happens in my "questions to Chinese" folder...I've found that it's futile to reason, infer, and/or use logic as a premise for any kind of explanation. This, is China.

This celebration has been going on for a couple of weeks now. These are good looks at eye level from our apartment during a party we had on Feb. 2nd. Funny, as I write, the same shots are going off just outside. It's been a blast--no pun intended. After the 2nd, people became much more reasonable with the times that they set off fireworks. I don't think it stopped on the 2nd. We were somewhat asleep at 3-5 a.m., but were never really sure. The amount of debris created was mind boggling-many fireworks are shot out of boxes, but notice that those are all gone after having been broken down. They get taken to a recycling center by city workers and workers get $ for it, and if you didn't see it early, the ayis had cleaned it up before 8 a.m. Remember, ayis are the apartment complex workers. There is an endless amount of worker bees on the streets. I truly believe that some of the cultural behaviors, like littering no matter where you are or what you're doing, is because everyone knows that there are people that are employed to take care of it.

Anne and I were walking today, as we do every Saturday and Sunday, to Starbucks, Carrefour, or wherever else we may need to go; like today we needed a Mac splitter, birthday presents for Joey, an iPhone charging speaker docking system for Anne's phone and computer in her classroom, so we went to the one stop shopping knock off mall-The Pearl Market (where we ran into Hailey and a few of her friends). Anyway, while walking, I noticed how effortlessly we could roll through the traffic because we had become "in-tuned" to the rhythm of the streets and city. No horns blaring at us as we crossed against the red lights, with the green as 5-10 cars were passing within touching distance of us on both sides, or when there were no lights and it was us and the cabbies finding the clear part of the street to cross on. It was totally comfortable, no jerky movements, just reasoned caution and insight. If we were in the Seattle area, people would have fists pounding on the front and back of cars, yelling, horns blaring, disgust, cries of inconsideration and unreasonable behavior. But no, all was done in the silence of the early mid morning dance. Around every corner, everyone is aware there could be someone selling freshly grilled corn or sweet potatoes, hats and long underwear, and/or CD's and DVD's, so the turns are wide, patience long, and lots of room for mopeds riding against the grain to pop up onto the sidewalk where they have 6 ft. x the entire block of sidewalk space to park.

We walk into Starbucks to split a raisin scone with cocoa and a mocha and never have to order anymore as the many shifts of employees all know our once complicated orders by heart, and all are happy to voice it out in English, while we reassure, compliment their efforts, and thank them in Shanghaiese. It really seems like home; one we're still figuring out, but a comfortable place to hang our hats and be part of the community. We get nothing but smiles, kind hearted people with cute, approachable kids, helpful guards at our complex, and lots of people that are a whole lot more like us than not. It brings to mind a quote I have on Skype--"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, & narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one's lifetime." -- Mark Twain This of course is not a comment on anyone we know, but more of an affirmation of our move, and hoping that we will have some lasting affect being God's ambassadors to China.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hamster Story Update

**If you have not read The Hamster Story - do that first before reading the below...

I have not had the heart to ask little Johnny about his hamster.

Found out today that, YES, the little guy died on the bus on the way home from school.

His teacher did kill his pet - at school.

Sad day today.

Dear Johnny,

I'm really sorry that I killed your hamster at school. Maybe next time don't bring a pet to school in a tupperware container.


Your Teacher

Friday, February 4, 2011

More Fascination

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I made an astounding discovery while sitting next to a window at Starbucks. It was actually in the first building to the right in the picture where you can see the lights in the window. They have a second story that has seats for about 60—20 being cushy padded seats like you might see in the states. Anyway, I start looking at some apparatus on the wall. I’d never really noticed it before, but examined it a bit and decided it was the “fire escape”!! Right there next to it on the wall is the directions for using it. I can’t imagine how long it would take to lower 50-60 people during a fire, if I was able to kick out the 8’ x 10’ window. There is no stairwell…just one stairway down to the first floor.

Check out the recycling center transfer truck! They just stack it as high as possible, or the length of their longest ropes-I figure about 15’ high, and then strap a few together and off they go. Notice the moped going against all the traffic. Can you imagine that load tilting his way?

Anne and I walk past a cute little French Bakery/Cafe on the weekends and will get something now and then: I get a pastry with ham and cheese baked into it, and Anne will get something that she hopes won't leave a lard coating on the roof of her mouth--of which she is rarely successful. Annnyyyywaayyyyy, one day we noticed this interesting addition to the selection. I'm sure it's very healthy and has some cultural value/luck or something that I'm unaware of, but I'm still not going to pay to try it. I've never seen nor heard of it before, like many other items I won't be trying any time soon Ü

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chinese New Year

Imagine this text in red in honor of the traditional color, decorations, dress, toys, rabbits etc. that comes with Chinese New Year. There's an amazing amount of preparation. It's just like our Christmas and the Fourth of July combined. The first thing you have to do is get your train tickets to the town where most of your family resides. Now this may take awhile since the ticket offices are about the size of an American bathroom. There's no such thing as a credit/debit card swipe with paper tickets popping out. Lots of paper work, written verification, and standing in line when it's 35 degrees outside.

You may want to get on a plane with China Eastern, in which case, be sure to dress warmly as you will be whisked away into the middle of freakin' nowhere in order to board your plane. It's like they have a plane parking lot the size of Washington D.C. but forgot to build the terminal. They have some serious catching up to do. (Thanks for helping with the typing Beans...)

There are lots of things to see and do to get ready for the big day, so you'll have to get started and go shopping. On the way, be careful of trees that have been accidentally run down and consequently have become a part of new construction scaffolding. I don't think this has official approval yet. Once you get by some of the hazards on the street you can shop for cute coats for your teen girls. All girls like pink! Just outside many shops you'll see the proprietor's displaying the amount of luscious meats they can afford, and there's always a nearby ATM where you can get some recycled cash. Are you hungry yet? There are some pretty cush Pizza Huts in China, or you can save some cash and just head to a local joint and order at will. We refer to it as "point and hope" but that generally involves some pictures. It just depends how adventurous you want to be--hey, it's Chinese New Year time! Ok, back to shoppin'. You never know what'll be around the next corner. It could be one of the largest Apple stores on the planet, or maybe you'll get a chance to buy some fireworks. I thought they would be much cheaper over here, but not at all. The larger boxes go for over a hundred dollars. Although, if you want to make some noise, you can get a roll of 5000 firecrackers that will be sure to wake up your neighbors after midnight; that's when the big shows really get going!

Is everyone aware that if you click on the photos you can see a larger image?!

Next up, vacation destinations and New Year's Day/Eve, I didn't know living on the 16th floor allows you to see mortar shells explode at eye level! And where else but Shanghai can you stand on plexiglass and look straight down 800 feet?

Xi Nian Kwai Le (Happy New Year),