Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Day One continued

Today we took in about all there was to absorb. After breakfast in the penthouse, which was punctuated by the incredible sight of window washers being lowered down on playground swings to wash the side of a 30 story building, we headed out.

First stop was The Bund, the former colonial seafront. Architecture was distinctly Victorian and by now, quite eaten away by the caustic air. Speaking of which, while the sun worked hard to burn through the morning fog, it wasn't doing much for the exhaust. Visibility across the Huangpu River was decidedly tinged blue.

This is a shot of the Pudong waterfront with a nice emphasis on air quality.

Chen Yi, the first communist mayor of Shanghai keeps a close watch on all that he had changed and created.




From there, we made our way to Nanjinglu, the upscale shopping district. The sensory overload begins here, every shop is playing some sort of loud music, people are calling to you, the signs are extravagant and it's far more than one should be expected to take in.

This is looking down the street at the part where it becomes a pedestrian mall.







We poked around in a few stores including one major department store that had every international brand you can imagine.

Next came the hike across town to the old district, where the modern, consumer driven China takes a step back a few generations. It's much as you might imagine, a warren of little streets and courts and alleyways that weave in and around. Pretty amazing place, with all manner of food being sold at the curb, streetside kitchens, a Confucian temple, bunnies in cages, simply more non-western things than you can dream up. See the pictures, these few don't do it justice. I made our intrepid team wander through some of the back alleys, where laundry was hanging across the lane, people were sitting in chairs visiting and life was just sort of going on. Pretty out of character for me to take that kind of dip into real life, maybe it was oxygen deprivation from the 30 odd cigarettes I've smoked, second hand. My friends fully expected to be kidnapped.

After slogging across town again, we decided it would only be fitting to do a western thing so we had lunch at the Nanjinglu Pizza Hut. The only one with a line and a 25 minute wait, in all of creation I'm willing to bet. We did get in and ordered and while we waited, the music brought the whole cross-cultural experience into tight focus - Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias singing "All the Girls I Know." The Pepsi tasted like Pepsi should, and the vegetarian pie had tomatoes, pineapple and corn on it. Go figure.

Walking along the street, I had two pretty interesting experiences, both within a couple of blocks of each other. The first, in which I was accosted by a psychotic shoeshine woman had me pleading with my companions to lend me some chicken feed just to pay her off. She started by squirting some shoe polish on my shoe at a cross walk and then hounding me for 2 blocks for the right to wipe it off. I steadfastly refused until I thought she was feeling sorry for me and stopped to let her do it. That was a mistake, because she then hounded me for two more blocks until I paid her a dollar to go away. Interestingly, her twin brother got Bill later in nearly the same spot. A racket? I guess so.

The next one was far more dire and embarrassing. I was playing pedestrian chicken with oncoming walkers and stepped too close to the curb. Lost my footing, twisted my ankle and did a full body slam onto the dirty pavement. I was helped to my feet by and Irishman whose Chinese girlfriend was uncontrollably laughing. Still haven't made sense of that experience.

We ended the day at the Xianyang open air knock-off market. Rolex watches, 100RMB. Tommy Bahama shirts, 40RMB. Gucci bags, 30RMB. (1 USD - 8.8 RMB) The vendors are like crows, they pick and pick and pick at you as you walk by, grabbing your sleeves and coat-tails "Sir you want watch, DVD, bag, shirts, underwear?" This place is all about bartering, going back and forth and walking away only to be chased down to continue the battle. Everyone smokes, the lanes are about 10 feet wide and hawkers prowl all the intersections. It was good for about 1 hour and then, you just can't take anymore. I picked up a pair of binoculars to aid my birdwatching for about $50, probably paying too much. Got a couple of other things too (surprises) for a far more reasonable price. Argued long and hard about a Glasshute knock-off watch that was going for about $25. You get caught up in the battle for a couple of bucks. This picture gives you a flavor of the close quarters.

Having worn out our welcome there, we struggled to find a taxi (it being rush hour) but finally connected. Then we got stuck in a traffic jam to beat all traffic jams. Our driver, being frustrated with the situation decided to cut across country. Of course, the only way out of the gridlock was to use the oncoming lane. Which was notably filled with a large bus at the moment he chose to do so. We survived that due to his skillful maneuvering and made it back mostly in one piece. Dinner was downstairs in the Italian restaurant where we ate Australian filet mignon and drank more domestic Tsingtao.

Now, it's time for bed.


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