A Taste of the China to Come
Shanghai Travel Blog› entry 49 of 174 › view all entries
October 27th, 2009 – by: domnicella
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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