Farewell China : Couplings & Partings

Shanghai Travel Blog

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Shangai, Renmin Square Metro station

“Yu Yuan Gardens?… ah, that way? Xie xie.”.
“Yu Yuan Gardens?… oh right, that way?  Xie xie”.
“Please, Yu Yuan Gardens?!  Oh I see, that way… just ther… Yes, yes.  Xie xie”.

Nope.  No luck.  No Yu Yuan Gardens.  Ah well.  Who cares.  Not this weary traveller.  Not much anyways.  I’ve had any number of these moments in China.  It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so darned fru… no, it is hilarious.  I have made my way to the Yu Yuan district of Shanghai.  The signs all about have Yu Yuan upon them.  Here is Yu Yuan Market.  I have the name of my proposed destination (Yu Yuan Gardens if ya hadn’t clocked that) written kindly for me in Chinese in my notebook by my Hangzhou angel Jingjing for the infinite locals I ask to read clearly and understand… but can they successfully direct me there.

Shanghai Metro.
  No.  I am quite literally getting lost in translation. 

Last day in Shanghai and this morning I foolhardily returned the LP ‘Best of Shanghai’ guidebook and maps I’d borrowed from my hostel.  Actually that doesn’t frickin’ matter.  The number of times I’ve used maps with Chinese place names upon them, or shown bus and train tickets printed entirely in Chinese and still received blank stares or misinformation is quite phenomenal. So I give up.  And it doesn’t matter.  ‘Cos China’s at an end for me now.  For now.  And I’m happy just to drift.  To leave some loose ends.  Some things undone.  All part of my ’Reasons to Return’ policy.  For I shall return.  But maybe more of that feeling later.

The revolution starts here : Entrance to the site of the First Annual Congress of The China Communist Party
  And anyway I’m actually happy at this last example and reminder of China’s many small - and yes in some ways curiously endearing frustrations and challenges.

My last two days in Shanghai are just all about taking it slow, slow, slow.  No plan.  No goals.  No tourism tick box list.  There’s probably a whole bunch of stuff to see and do although the stock response of backpackers is “Ugh, Shanghai, what’s there to do there?!”.  There’s a potential daytrip to Souzhou which sounds very beautiful but I’m gonna respect Jingjing’s observation that “really if you want to get a lot out of Souzhou you should learn a little about the art of Chinese gardens before you go”.  And I dig that.

Boy 'n' his toy and Xin Tian Di Water Feature
  (Please excuse that unintentional pun :).  I’ve seen too many things in nine months whereby you could have stuck a pink elephant in front of me and I would have understood just as much about its presence, context and purpose in the universe as that of the statue, church or monument just down the road.  So no Souzhou.  Nor any of the charming sounding ‘water towns’ (Xitang, Zhou Zhuang and Tong Li) that JJ had kindly drawn my attention too.  No Yu Yuan Gardens… but then y’all know about that one already :)

Nope, I’m just super happy and content to walk and walk and walk around and about Shanghai.  My feet are less happy with this decision.  They are now a tattered mass of blisters and broken skin and are counting down the hours until motion will finally cease.

 

I stroll around the tree-lined streets of the French Concession.  I spend some time walking, sitting and people watching in the lovely Fuxing Park.  One of China’s little arboreal, flower manicured community oases that can sometimes be found improbably hidden behind the high rise and beneath the muggy skies.  A final, wonderful demonstration of the richness and strength and colour of China’s community life.  Its family life.  The two being inseparable.  “So you said you had an older brother and a younger sister?  Do they still live at home?”.  “Oh no no, they are not really my brother and sister.  I am of course an only child.  But everybody in China is a 'brother' and a 'sister' ” Jingjing had explained to me.

Fuxing Rose Garden
  Family is community is country.

A beautiful rose garden and box-cut bushes.  Large, vociferous gatherings of the older generations crowd together in chattering gaggles.  People are singing.  Gracefully greyed men and women populate the quieter pathways performing Tai Chi exercises with great gentility and barely perceptible body movements.  A soft arcing, sweeping and wafting of the hands as the body sways.  They look as if they are attempting to quietly conjure forth the spirits or faeries that inhabit the plants and bushes here about; Come Peaseblossom, Moth, Cobweb and Mustard Seed ‘Be kind and courteous to this gentleman; Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes,’ *

More vigorous are the guys whom I believe to be trying to learn some form of martial art.

Step, one two, step, one two and STEP one two... Martial arts, Come Dancing stylee :))
  It entails some very fluid, surreal-looking primate-like body movements and tussles.  They look gigglesome to me with their comedic flouncing and jumping around.  A kind of physical performance fusing elements of The Goodie’s ‘Funky Gibbon’, Come Dancing and The Karate Kid.  Kites are let out on long leashes, as are the kids who dash and rollerblade about the park.  Two girls are learning how to gracefully grip and thrust swords from their sensei, stepping, pirouetting and flourishing their sun-spangled blades.  Badminton players.  Card players.  An armada of umbrellas to protect these beauty-conscious Shanghainese girls from the unwanted skin-tinting attentions of the sun.

I visit the Shanghai Art Gallery (20RMB / $3).

Fuxing Blades
  Interesting enough but no shakes.  I return to The Shanghai Museum as its free, just around the corner and I wish to see with my own eyes once again those beautiful, so so beautiful Chinese screen paintings.  And I am happy.  More streets.  More crazy clattering modernity.  The commercial clamour of East Nanjing Street.  More yelping from my blisters and toes.  A stroll along The Bund although this is under extremely heavy redevelopment and construction right now ahead of next years Expo.  But you can walk in front of the buildings of note.  I’m tempted to make my last act in Shanghai a sunset drink in ‘New Heights’ bar at Number 3, The Bund.  Apparently a knockout view of Pudong as the neon lights come on.
Fuxing Pickings.
  But it’s a minimum of 80 - 100RMB a beer ($12 - $15) and I know I’ll be too tired to get back here later anyways.  Nah!  $12 on one beer.  Screw that.  So instead I load up on literature.  Hardy, Flaubert, Tolstoy and De Tocqueville.  2,300 pages of literature for the price of that beer.  Bargain!

And I would return to Pudong again, to the Riverside Promenade for the third night in succession - for I love being there that much - but my feet will not allow it now.  I had been there again yesterday from about half an hour ahead of sundown and beyond.  The most wonderful place for avid people watchers.  Life observers.  A harmonious bustle of people of all ages.  People dancing to swing.  Sat by water features.

Girl & Pigeons.
  Ladies selling beautiful smelling jasmine amulets.  Avid photographers.  Couples of all ages.  Falling in love or rekindling passions and flames under the sunset skies.  Strolling arm in arm.  Hand in hand.  Leaning on the chrome promenade railings.  Leaning on each other.  Into one another.  Cuddling.   Hugging.  Becoming one by crushing out the little remaining perceptible spaces between them with their affections.

This is one recurrent observation during my time in China.  The final observation I wish to note before I go for it’s one I like a lot.  It seems to be an extremely affectionate country.  By that I mean, the affections between couples, lovers and friends.  ‘Cos I don’t know why but I bet that’s not the first thing that some people would think of when they think of China, or expect it to be a great exponent of.

A Disney language learning centre "Yikes!" : "Now children remember the only adjectives you need ever learn are 'cool!' and 'awesome!' Got that y'all?" ;D
  Love.  Public displays of affection.  But it is an incredibly touchy-feely nation.  Particularly the younger generations.  But absolutely by no means is it the exclusive habit of youth here. 

Everywhere you go in China you will see young couples arm in arm, hand in hand, twined together one way or another.  Everywhere.  Much more prevalently I feel than other countries I’ve seen.  My own country.  The whole nation just seems so naturally to pair off.  Boy girl boy girl boy girl boy girl and forever onwards.  They seem to be great at ‘finding’ one another.  Finding that one person they wanna give their heart and attentions to.  And they seem to stick together.  I remember all those symbolic padlocks chained to the heights of Huangshan.

The Bund : heavily under reconstruction ahead of the Shanghai 2010 expo next year.
 

This is something I had long observed in my 10 years in Birmingham, a period of time over which the standing Chinese student population absolutely mushroomed in size.  And they would always be coupled off.  Almost with seemingly perfect statistical symmetry.  Boy girl boy girl boy girl boy girl.  Everywhere I would see them.  Arm in arm.  Arms about waists,  hand in hand.  And I thought, well maybe this is just a sweet inevitability of being so far from home.  Pairing off for comfort and protection.  In need of familiar company.  Familiar forms of love… “and our parents are 8,000 kilometres away, woo-hoo,  let’s go Baby!”.  I Jest.  But they are just as close here back home.

I dunno?  It’s something I can’t stop musing on.

Coupling : China's affectionate youth.
  Which is part of what I like about the more laid back moments of travel time.  Pointless musings.  I wonder is it some kinda sweet consequence of the long standing and controversial ‘Family Planning Policy’ (or ‘One Child Policy’ [see below] as it’s more commonly known)?  Almost all of the younger generations in China (particularly the urban kids) have grown up with no siblings.  No immediate company of their own age.  Which must fuel a desire for 'togetherness' right?  Maybe?  A fervent, passionate annihilation of legally enforced loneliness. 

One upshot of this arguably very necessary, and debatably once very poorly administered cornerstone of population control policy in China is a notable imbalance in the sex determination at birth ratios in modern China.

China coupling : White on Black
  An exacerbation of the unfortunate but socio-economically reconcilable cultural norm of 'male preference' (especially outside of the cities; historically some troubles with female infanticide and selective abortions of female foetuses and China‘s “Missing Girls“) has led one way or another to a top-heavy male population of current child-bearing age and inversely a shortage of women.  119 boys born to every 100 girls noted in the 2,000 Census.  Meaning a projected ‘shortfall’ of 30 million women by 2020.**  An unfortunate overriding of Mother Nature’s delicately intended dance of chance between our x and y chromosomes.  An imbalance to the complex equations; the algebra of love.  I think “Yeah, in that knowledge, if I got me That Girl, I’d do anything… I’d hug her tight.
the Jin Mao & World Trade Financial Center reflecting sundown.
  Tighter still.  Be twice as nice.  Nicer still.  Hold her close.  Not want to let her go!”
for fear of having to fight the statistics of coupling again.  I never was any good at algebra.

Maybe it’s a superfluous, spurious observation?  Speculations of an envious bachelor’s eyes?  The sun falls one final time for me down through the China skies.  I kill sometime back at the hostel.  Late flight tonight.  Rain gently starts to fall as I lug my all to the Metro to get to the bus to get to the airport to get to my plane.  But rain, rain it’s all in vain.  For I’m off to Cyprus tonight so clouds I’m afraid you missed me again.  The Sunshine Kid has long since plotted his escape to the heat and light.

  I’m sitting tired in the departures hall of Shanghai, Pudong International Airport.  It’s quiet except for the obligatory squealing and wailing of a baby that must always attend such moments it seems. 

Farewell China.  It’s been fun.  I’m thinking now it’s kinda like a good, rich sauce.  To make it taste just right and worth its while you have to let it simmer down.  Be patient.  Give it time.  Give your thoughts, feelings and responses time to settle down.  Let the flavours of your ingredient rich experience fuse and start to compliment each other.  Without realising it, thankfully, this is what I’ve been doing in my time in Shanghai.  Simmering down.  All the excess water of my cumulative experiences in this mind-boggling country evaporating away.

Sunset reflection 2
  Including the undesirable impurities of frustration, irritation and fatigue.  And at the end of this process I am left with a China I like the taste of very much.  More than I’d expected come The End.  More than I’d realised I’d felt all along maybe.  The pleasing taste of those many fine ingredients. 

Yes ladies and gents, in Shanghai, Stevie is mugged for the first time in his life.  Creeping up behind him and pouncing on him at the eleventh hour Stevie’s been mugged by China.  How did I not see it coming?!  It’s pretty big after all!  Damn.  “It got me!”.  And I know, balls to bone deep, strangely more so than possibly any other country I’ve been to so far - even those I’ve considered ‘nicer’, ’prettier’, 'friendlier', more ’enjoyable’ - I will be returning to China and its challenges.

D&G Mommy and her boy with people dancing to swing in public behind.
  To travel?  To live an' learn and teach a little?  Practive my algebra ;D  Who knows.  That’s to be another story I suppose. 

It’s 2.00am gone now.  The baby’s not wailing anymore.  “Phewf!“.  One more hour ‘til take off.  Until I bid farewell to China.  I’m signing off.  ‘Phase One’ of the Great Journey is officially over.  I thank you for joining me on it people.  I thank you very much indeed.  This blog is somehow, miraculously once more officially up to date at the time of writing.  It’s getting late here in Shanghai.  Time to take to the skies. You have been listening once again to The Midnight Scrawler.  “Good night World, wherever you are.

'Aurora Jetstream'

* ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ - William Shakespeare
** China Population Demographics - www.wikipedia.org

'One Child Policy' a brief clarification - projected to remain in place for another decade or so the 'one family one child' law of the Peoples' Republic of China only truly applies to the Han Chinese majority population.  And even then, primarily to those residing in urban areas.  Inducements and 'punishments' primarily take the form of financial rewards and preferential housing arrangements and penalties/ higher taxation respectively.  Non-Han ethnicities may have up to 2 children in an urban context and 3-4 in a rural.

China is a 'Wonderful Experience' when all is said and done.
  China's smaller ethnic minorities are exempted from the policy entirely.  From 2007 onwards practically all provincial governments have now adopted an amendment to the policy that permits 2 children per couple if both parents have no siblings themselves i.e. are themselves children of the 'One Child' era.

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Shangai, Renmin Square Metro stati…
Shangai, Renmin Square Metro stat…
Shanghai Metro.
Shanghai Metro.
The revolution starts here : Entra…
The revolution starts here : Entr…
Boy n his toy and Xin Tian Di Wa…
Boy 'n' his toy and Xin Tian Di W…
Fuxing Rose Garden
Fuxing Rose Garden
Step, one two, step, one two and S…
Step, one two, step, one two and …
Fuxing Blades
Fuxing Blades
Fuxing Pickings.
Fuxing Pickings.
Girl & Pigeons.
Girl & Pigeons.
A Disney language learning centre …
A Disney language learning centre…
The Bund : heavily under reconstru…
The Bund : heavily under reconstr…
Coupling : Chinas affectionate yo…
Coupling : China's affectionate y…
China coupling : White on Black
China coupling : White on Black
the Jin Mao & World Trade Financia…
the Jin Mao & World Trade Financi…
Sunset reflection 2
Sunset reflection 2
D&G Mommy and her boy with people …
D&G Mommy and her boy with people…
Aurora Jetstream
'Aurora Jetstream'
China is a Wonderful Experience …
China is a 'Wonderful Experience'…
Boy & Pigeons.
Boy & Pigeons.
Alleys in the French Concession.
Alleys in the French Concession.
French Concession living.
French Concession living.
The old boyz discuss the state of …
The old boyz discuss the state of…
Care to Dance : martial arts les…
'Care to Dance' : martial arts le…
The Funky Gibbon.
The Funky Gibbon.
Fuxing Rollerblades
Fuxing Rollerblades
French Concession street.
French Concession street.
Pudong district rises.
Pudong district rises.
Huangpu promenade at sundown.
Huangpu promenade at sundown.
Sunset reflection 1
Sunset reflection 1
LCD highrise (abstract)
LCD highrise (abstract)
China friendship : Red on White
China friendship : Red on White
Pudong water feature (abstract)
Pudong water feature (abstract)
One more time for the neon skies.
One more time for the neon skies.
A rainbow at night.
A rainbow at night.
Shanghai
photo by: Chokk