Friday, February 17, 2006

Another Sightseeing Day

Today's entry covers a day that went from one extreme to another. The first shot - the sublime, another day spent in the New Town Central Park, this time with my Xiangyang Market binoculars.
I began the morning practicing the little Chinese necessary to inform the Policeman at the gate to the park that I wanted to look at birds. I've not carried binoculars around Shanghai much so I didn't know whether it was okay or not. So, repeating "jur yun-hsew kahn nyow" over and over, I walked the 2 blocks to the park and found the cop. My resolve flagged a bit at this point and instead of marching up to him and stating my intent, I did a pantomime of a bird with my hands and held the binos up to my eyes. He looked at me and made some noises and waved his hands, not unlike what any policeman in any city of the world might do when faced with someone of obvious mental limitation. It was cold today, and windy, but I did manage to build an impressive Chinese Lifelist of 5 birds. One more or less Robin, an obvious Shrike, the ubiquitous Rock Dove, a sort of kinglet and something that might be related to the Waxwings. I did have one special moment - as I was walking my last loop, I stopped and looked at two cages hanging in the trees near a small arboretum. The held two Robins who had been hung there, with a clear view of their free flying friends in the park. An elderly man was slowing walking by (backwards, more on that later) and I girded my Lions and said "nyow?" He solemnly nodded yes, and repeated the word back to me. For all my goofy attempts to play with the language, this moment really did it for me.
While birding, I did a complete inventory of the people of the park:
  1. Badminton players.
  2. Tai chi groups.
  3. Backwards walkers. Many people just walk around the park, backwards.
  4. Flag dancers. Today the group of ladies was listening to barely recognizable American oldies, sung in English by Chinese women.
  5. Plant standers. These folks stand by a tree and massage parts of their heads.
  6. Leg wavers. Place a leg on a rope chain and swing it back and forth. Repeat with other leg.
  7. Joggers. Just as you'd expect.
  8. Walkers. Ditto

Getting cold, I returned to another penthouse breakfast.

I joined my friends and decided to travel out to Pudong with them for two reasons, first to attempt the subway and second to try and see my old friend Albert who now (unbeknownst to me) works there. The sign above sums up travel restrictions in China. Nuts and drunks must have a guardian if they plan to ride in a taxi.
We found our way to Zhongshan Park station and boarded the Metro. It was fast, clean and an all around positive experience. Made our way across the river and out to Pudong, caught another cab in a surprising snow squall, went to Intel. Saw Albert for an hour - it's always great to catch up and then headed back again on the tube. This time, instead of standing in line for the ticket, I decided to try the automatic dispenser. I managed to do it without using the English translation but relying a bit on a helpful man standing by. Back to Shanghai we went for our next adventure.
It was time once again to brave that bartering madhouse, Xiangyiang Market. Recall from an earlier entry, that I did not feel I had successfully brought these vendors to their knees with my superior marketing intellect. I needed to go back and prove that I really knew what capitalism was. Well, that plus I had a mission to complete and I wanted a couple of watches. So off we went. Doing a feint of crossing the street to photograph a pagoda, we dodged the masses that normally descend on you the moment you exit the cab. Got the photos and charged back in. Tried an a couple of Chairman Mao hats, not for me. Found one item I'd been looking for and talked the salesman down from 1800 to 250 RMB. It took three salespeople to separate me from that money. All that took was five refusals to budge and storming out of the store.The first saleslady made the motions of rubbing her eyes and said "boo hoo" when she saw how low a price I had received. Picked up some watches, paid a bit too much but got them down 75% and made a friend. Returned there later, and while Bill was shopping, got the young lady to teach me a little Chinese. Everyone in the store was smiling and laughing and helping me pronounce "luh-uhn" which means "cold," because it was. The word for people is "lu-un" and the word for "cold" is "luh-uhn" so everyone found it very hilarious. She told me that Chinese is an easy language to learn. I asked her what she thought of English, she said, "very hard." But she was good at it. Soon the counterfeit market will be moving, and as we left, she wrote down the new location in pinyin, English and Chinese. Another highlight for me and although the crowding and the smoke and the relentless picking by the vendors got tiring, this place was a lot of fun.
Last night we had dinner in the Xiantiandi District. This is a section of old limestone tenements that was recently renovated and turned into a fancy restaurant/club area. It was written up in the architecture column in the 5-December issue of New Yorker. Our work dinner was in a restaurant called Luna and featured Mediterranean food prepared by what appeared to be a Sri Lankan couple. Believe to or not, we had tapas, many, many tapas. Liking the area, we wanted to go back so after dropping our stuff at the hotel, we caught a cab and braved the traffic one more time.
It was getting colder, that nasty Boston waterfront kind of cold so we picked the first spot we liked and headed in for what we thought was going to be a quite French dinner. Wrong. We'd picked a cabaret. The menu was prix fixe and pretty good. The show was amazing. A dopey master of ceremonies introducing some very talented dancers - young men and women of a wide variety of nationalities (Russian, Ukrainian, Niger, Kiwi, Spanish, Italian.) They did a number of skits, a Michael Jackson tribute (which of course would never fly here,) a Mariah Carey tribute and some other dances that were in the spirit of the odd, debauched scenes in the movie cabaret. The MC did some audience participation magic tricks between acts to allow the dancers to catch their breath. It lasted a solid hour and honestly, was quite incredible. The young man from the Ukraine was clearly trained in classical dance, as he could do that Russian Cossack spin in a manner that you could not believe.
Caught the cab home and here I am, packed up and ready to head to the airport tomorrow morning. One last surprise in store - instead of the cab ride out to Pudong International, we're doing the subway again and finishing up on the 200MPH bullet train. That, is going to be exciting.
My number one learning of the week - Freidman is right, the world is flat. German caterers, Swiss archtiects, Ukranian dancers, Sri Lankan restauranteurs, Pizza Hut and Australian steaks, all in a city in China. A city no less that was closed to the rest of the world perhaps 35 years ago. Things change.

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