A Taste of the China to Come

Shanghai Travel Blog

 › entry 49 of 174 › view all entries
East Nanning Road
Yesterday was a hideous, hazy, gross day.  Hideous.  It was so hazy many of the skyscrapers were obscured.  I was up late the night before swapping anecdotes and travel tips with a British couple, and so lazed about in the morning, alternating between blogging and banging my head against the wall in frustration at the censorship in this country.  Not only can I not access more than half of the sites that I want to, but the internet is so unbelievably clogged and slooooooowwwww.  If the CCP is going to block people, they should at least do it in a speedy manner so we can get on with our lives.  Just sayin'.

So I took my sweet time and walked back to Nanging Road (yes, AGAIN), figuring I'd find some food and make my way down to the Bund, before crossing through the pedestrian tunnel and over to Pudong, so I could check out the view.
East Nanning Road
  The haze was so thick and horrible that I doubt there was any view to speak of, which is comforting, seeing as I never made it through that tunnel.

When I said the entire city is under construction what I meant is THE ENTIRE CITY IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION.  I don't think you understand.  EVERYTHING.  Apparently Shanghai is hosting something called "Expo 2010," which meant nothing to me (Who calls anything an expo?? I mean, really. Sounds like a mind-numbing conference for the IT industry or something.) until I finally deduced (and it was later confirmed) that by "Expo" they really mean World's Fair.  I've never been to a World's Fair so clearly I'm no expert at these things, but my understanding is that the World's Fair is a BIG fucking deal.
  HUGE.  So yes, the ENTIRE CITY is under construction.  And they must have realized that shit still looks horrible and they're WAY behind schedule, because these little buggers are going at it all day and night.  Oh yes, all night.  Right outside my window.  Jackhammers (PLURAL) and all.  I'm listening to a miserable symphony of them now.

To paint you a picture of this construction, it is unlike any construction I have ever come across before.  There are no hard hats or clearly marked areas or covered pedestrian walkways or signage marking blocked streets and appropriate detours or even proper tools and machinery.  It's just kind of like millions of people sitting around covered in dirt, occasionally laying a brick if they can be bothered, or throwing them at random through a gaping hole in the side of a building and narrowly missing a pedestrian (ahem, ME), firing up those jackhammers like more holes in the streets and sidewalks is what Shanghai needs, spitting, smoking, screaming and so on.
  I'm not sure there is any real progress being accomplished. 

And the dirt.  The dirt is EVERYWHERE.  Dirt dirt.  Remember Busan and Gyeongju and Seoul?  That kind of dirt.  Where does all this dirt come from??  It's not construction dust, it's not caulking, it's not cement powder or any of that.  It's DIRT.  Since when do people build state of the art cities with dirt?  Don't get me wrong -- I'm fully expecting China to be dirty.  All sorts of dirty.  I just didn't anticipate it in Shanghai, the one city that is praised as being the wealthiest, most advanced, most cosmopolitan of the Chinese cities above all others.  Yes, New York is dirty.  But that's like litter and urine and homeless people pushing around four shopping carts loaded with crap apiece.
  There isn't any DIRT in New York.  Shanghai has the litter and the urine and the homeless people and then some, and it also comes with a disgusting choking layer of haze.  And once you're over all those assaults on your senses, you realize you're walking in unending mounds of dirt, kicking it up, coating your skin and clothes, breathing it, and wondering how on earth is it possible to have SO MUCH DIRT IN A CITY?!??

On top of the dirt and the haze and the feeling that you're probably breathing in cancer, there is the noise.  Shanghai sounds EXACTLY like what you expect China to sound like.  Car horns, motorbike horns, motorbikes revving their loud crappy engines, masses of people talking to each other, people screaming, babies screaming (the adult yelling matches outnumber the wailing babies 100 to 1 -- people are CONSTANTLY screaming), people in your face soliciting or begging or both "watch! buy watch! money! money! hello! watch! money!," and the symphony of jackhammers on top of it all.
Little hole in the wall I found for lunch.
  It's LOUD.  And it's relentless.  It makes New York seem downright tranquil.

And here I was grossed out with the haze and fed up with the dirt but patting myself on the back for being a good trooper and dealing with it all in stride.  I even managed to find a tiny little hole in the wall (literally: I sat at a stool with my knees touching the wall in front of me and if I leaned back I'd touch the wall behind me) that served piping hot noodle soup with heaps of bok choy (and a hunk of supremely unappetizing fried tofu, but we'll give them a pass and high marks in the vegetarian department, even if it was chicken broth) as I was circling back from my fruitless attempt to cross the tunnel into Pudong.

Oh, and quick but related side note: The other night a Dutch girl was telling me about a weekend trip gone awry and how she had horrible weather and was stuck in some town that only had shops selling hammers or nails or screwdrivers or screws (never all three together, and no other shops to be had).
  That wasn't the point to her story, but I thought that all the shops in one little town selling hardware and nothing else was beyond bizarre and figured I somehow completely misunderstood that segment.  She was trying to tell me how frustrating China can be, and how when you need something simple and basic it's never simple or basic to find it, as you have to go far and wide for the most common things.  Three days into Shanghai and I know EXACTLY what she meant.  And yes, she was being quite literal and not exaggerating.  It seems shops for things are clustered together.  The first day I was here I passed four bookstores on one street, all lining the same side of the street for that matter.  Two small private bookshops, one medium-sized but definitely bigger than your neighborhood place, and one on scale with Barnes and Noble.
  Four in a row.  And not two blocks later there were four office supply stores all in a row.  I thought it was odd that all these competitors would choose to be housed shoulder to shoulder, but beyond that didn't give it a second thought.  Yesterday I covered quite a bit of ground, and saw many of the ugly bits on the north side of the city that tourists don't go to.  (It wasn't intentional, that damn tunnel didn't work out and I didn't want to have to double back around so I took a left and got more funny looks wandering that hood than I ever have in my whole life.)  It was here that I found the vegetarian noodle man.  And here that I realized this is what that girl meant.  I found a street that had six fruit stalls all lined up, all in a row.
  And then three grocery stores.  You know me and grocery stores -- I felt like I struck gold.  So I darted in the first one, was smacked in the face by hot, humid, putrid air that reeked of public bathroom and long expired urinal cakes, made a detour through the first aisle (noticing everything even INSIDE the grocery store was coated with dirt too) and got the hell out of there.  Enter store number two and exactly the same experience.  No way was I testing out door number three.  So that was the market street.  Then a few blocks on there was the sweatshop underwear and socks street, with dozens of little store fronts crammed with the same underwear and socks by the thousands.  Closer to my hostel is the beauty supply street, with no fewer than ten shops selling nail polish and brushes and make-up.
  It's SO WEIRD.  And wildly inefficient.  So in other words, if it's a Saturday morning and you need to pick up some produce and an extension cord and maybe a notebook and then some hair dye, you're going ALL OVER the city to get these simple things that would otherwise be under one roof (i.e. Target or similar) or within close proximity to each other (enter the strip mall or any street with a stoplight in suburbia).  I see this not boding well for me in the future.

So anyway.  Pre-side note.  So I'm trudging along through all the ugliness, and while it's not nice or particularly enjoyable, I'm not having a bad time of it.  I figure I'm seeing the "real" China and that cars nearly hitting me as I cross the street (on the pedestrian green!) is par for the course.
  One guy didn't stop until he TOUCHED my knee!  NOT.EVEN.KIDDING.  Can you say LIVID?  So it's hazy and dirty and I decide I've breathed enough second-hand smoke and pollution for one day and head back to the hostel.  The girl at the front desk asked me if I had been to the Yu Garden yet.  And I said no, and I heard it was pretty, but wasn't it kind of out of the way, and I did plenty of walking for one day, and I'm sure it's just as nice as the next garden I'll come across.  And she's all oh no, it's beautiful, really peaceful and gorgeous and very traditional Chinese and totally worth it and not really that far at all, just twenty minutes, you should really go.  So I did.

Enter related side note number two: Two days ago when I was wondering around with those Chinese buddies of mine, the boy of the group asked me if I was going to go to the Yu Garden.  And I told him I hadn't heard of it.  He said it was very nice and very famous and that a lot of people go there, but that it was in a bad part of town.  He said I should go, but that I shouldn't be carrying any shopping bags or anything with me, and that I should wear my backpack on my front and go even further and physically hold it pressed to my chest.  This, from a local.

Ok, I think that's sufficient foreshadowing.  You can see where we're going with this.  So I'm walking from my hostel down to this famed Yu Garden, long since forgotten the warning that it was a bad part of town.  Forgive me for being the ignorant American tourist, but right now MOST of Shanghai looks like it would easily be classified as the "bad part of town."  Again the dirt and the motorbikes and the screaming and the injured beggars and you follow.  It's not pretty.  So as I'm walking there it looks EXACTLY the same as what everything else has looked like, and I don't feel any less safe than I did all day.  And then I felt my backpack being unzipped.

I've never been robbed or pick-pocketed or any of that before.  Yes, I've had things stolen from me, but it's always been "my fault" for leaving something in someone's trunk or in a locker or whatever.  Never off my person.  I can't exactly describe it, but on top of being incredulous I was FURIOUS.  Fear didn't even cross my mind.  I wanted to break that guy's face.  And it was like I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins.  I was acutely aware of all of my senses.  It was surreal.  I whipped around and screamed in his face "EXCUSE ME!," and he merely smirked at me and kept on going, without so much as missing a beat.  I really, really wish I had punched him.  Or grown muscles like the Hulk and beaten him to a pulp.  This, coming from someone who considers herself a nonviolent pacifist.  I was OUTRAGED.  That, and he was like half my size.  I was easily a head taller than him, if not more.

What's worse is as I was walking back (I did an about-face right there, a few blocks short of the garden, any and all interest totally evaporated), two construction dudes sitting on the side of the road (I told you they don't actually do anything) pointed to me and my backpack (now slung across my front) and gestured down the road behind me and made gestures as if they understood.  And I nodded fiercely and shrieked "YES!" and they nodded gravely.  It only pissed me off further that they saw him, and either recognized him and knew what he was up to or actually saw him trying to steal from me and just sat there.  JUST SAT THERE.  Didn't utter a peep.  Gee, thanks guys.  You watch some solo foreign girl have her backpack violated by some asshole and you just kick back and enjoy the show?  Bloody hell.

And get this -- I get back to the hostel and the girl is like how did you like the garden?  So I tell her what happened and she goes "oh" and thinks for a second and then says "you should be more careful."  %$&@#!!  WHAT?!?  BE MORE CAREFUL?!?  I'm not walking around dripping with jewels and wearing a sign "LOADED WITH AMERICAN CASH, PLEASE ROB ME."  I'm dressed like a freaking backpacker for crying out loud.  I look scruffy as hell.  And I AM careful.  So I said something or another and immediately came upstairs, so I wouldn't have to fight the supreme urge to punch her too.

I'm still not over it.  It was the last thing I expected in Shanghai.  Never would have thought that would happen here.  I'd like to think I haven't been walking around with my head in the clouds the last few weeks, but I certainly didn't expect that in Shanghai.  Beijing, yes.  Xi'an and Chengdu, yes.  Guilin and Guangzhou, hell yes.  Shanghai?  Not whatsoever.  NOT cool.
mosted says:
I also noticed when some woman in shanghai tried to open my bag...you just have to be more careful :D:D:D lol
You should not EVER expect any chinese people to help you, they would never do that...I experienced the same multiple times. Just staring but they wont help you.
Posted on: Jan 08, 2013
fransglobal says:
Shit happens. It can happen anywhere. It is extremely disturbing when somebody tries to take something from your person.

In my experience, I have only been robbed like that once and nothing of value was taken.But I was quite shaken by the experience. I have other stuff stolen through my own negligence.

If I've read correctly, nothing of value was taken. It is still very annoying and upsetting.

I have to say that Asia in general is safe, much safer than many American or European places. I would be very surprised if anything like this will happen again. You should try some parts of Dublin...

On a long journey like this though, you can expect to lose stuff or have stuff stolen but an incident like this is extremely rare.

Being ripped off is another matter!!!
Posted on: Oct 28, 2009
mikkismith says:
Oh Maisie, I want to give you a big, long, hard squeeeeeeze. xoxo
Posted on: Oct 28, 2009
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
East Nanning Road
East Nanning Road
East Nanning Road
East Nanning Road
Little hole in the wall I found fo…
Little hole in the wall I found f…
Shanghai Hostels review
Better to Be Had in Shanghai
Granted, this was the first hostel I stayed at in China, but there are definitely better places to be had. The room was filthy, the bathroom was horre… read entire review
photo by: spocklogic