Monday, March 16, 2009

Shanghai Afternoon

DAY 1: Shanghai - Renaissance Yuyuan Hotel

As we landed in the Pudong Airport, I was overwhelmed by the number of older Asian women who nearly knocked me over. They looked so cute from afar...until their boney elbows found their way into my rib cage. The last time I felt this violated was when I had the brilliant idea to venture out on a day after Thanksgiving sale at 4am. Elbows flying, bodies being shoved out of the way, people stepping over others just to get closer to the Wii aisle at Wal-Mart. The scene at the United Airlines terminal this afternoon was identical to that horrific day. Of a few things I am sure -- pushing isn't a crime in this city and personal space seems to be nonexistent.

The hotel, however, is everything that a Westerner could ask for - running water, western toilets and a room so clean that you don't feel like you have to walk around in your shoes. The view out my window is a cross between the streets of Chicago or New York and quaint villas that seem extremely out of place given the modern skyscrapers that tower their every side.

After a walk through the hutong (older courtyards and alleys surrounded by adjoined residences) adjacent to our hotel, we found a convenient market with shops, street vendors, food and guess what...Shanghai STARBUCKS!! It was as if I hadn't left home at all...until I realized that I couldn't order my iced grande nonfat no whip white chocolate mocha, and that my barista, Teresa, was replaced with a Chinese girl. But who needs coffee? I just got off of a 13 hour flight and it was only 2pm. My eye will stop twitching later, I'm sure.

Gordon took the 2nd crew to a local eatery just past Starbucks (you can see the corner of it on the left side of the Starbucks picture) which the 1st crew had eaten at the night before. Looking around the restaurant, every table was filled with at least 3 generations of family members: grandparents, parents and kids. It didn't seem like a special occasion that they had all gathered together for, but instead, like a routine Sunday dinner with the entire family. As I guzzled down the cashew chicken I had ordered, I was envious of the family life that seemed so engrained into the local people around me. Kids weren't texting on their cell phones, spouses were actually talking to each other rather than playing the silent game, and it seemed as if even the dishes that rotated in the center of the table were meant to be a bonding experience. It was fascinating and made me wish that life back home could be as simple as Shanghai after noon.


Bree said...

Louie, my dear, you write eloquently and beautifully! Loved all your details about your experiences! Did you eye stop twitchin?! Ahh, and boy, another me-story--I wish I could have been a fly on that wall watchin' you go through the airport with strong and sturdy chinese ladies poking you in the ribs! My bus rides from the village to town in Belize, well the ones back to the village I often found myself, in that 1970's school bus in a seat between to mayan women--four feet tall but built and cushiony--i honestly have no idea how long it took, maybe over a year before I actually thought to myself, dang, be totally melded up against these two women is actually way more comfortable and comforting than being in a seat by myself. However, with that said, when the Kriol ladies would elbow me, or practically knock me over in the market, that sucked. : ) But, I'm grateful for the experiences with the mayan women--it taught me a kind of touch that I'd previously been scared of, maybe taught was inappropriate by my culture's standards because of the cozy feelings (which I assume/suppose some would translate to sexual--i guess it might feel the same in someway, but in another way it's totally different and not--if that made any sense) it can produce for those involved. Anyway, glad you survived the elbows!! and seriously that hotel looked so astonishingly awesome! oh, and glad you were able to hang in there to meet with the people at the school--sounds like ti as a great meeting, and I know how tiring travel can be not to mention walking for ages and ages not knowing where you're at, going, etc. Those people who help out along the way with the non-verbal language are a blessing, and ya know too, i can never shake that horrible feeling when another person speaks my lang and I don't just makes me sad, I suppose I could focus on being grateful instead....

Louie said...

Thanks so much for your comment! I love hearing about your peace corp and other travel experiences. Your comments on being cozy were wonderful and reiterates the notion that it's all how you look at the situation. Most people would be completely disturbed by being sandwiched between two cushiony (love the way you phrased that, by the way - made me feel like I could picture them perfectly) women. Rather than being a sexual comment, I think it's a comment that attests to the comfort that you feel when you sit next to another person. Be it a stranger, friend, family, or someone that you've experienced tremendous things with. Sitting next to someone - it's a conversation in and of itself.

I agree about feeling sad when you can't verbally communicate. What I was so taken by was how willing people were to try and help us get to where we needed to be. A stranger's situations like these it can make all the difference in the world.

Thanks again for your comments! Much love to you...