Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Your Map is Very Old"

Feeling a bit better today I decided to take the trip we’d planned for yesterday, the ride to the end of the northern subway line. It goes to a part of Shanghai that none of us had been to so we figured it would at least be worth the 50 cent fare to go and have a look around.

But first, Ikea beckoned. I’d not been to one and so it seemed only appropriate to have my inaugural visit here.

We caught the southbound train at Ya’an Station and rode it a couple of stops to Caobao Lu. Outside the station was a little clutch of street vendors selling rabbits, chicks, ducks and mice, none of which appeared to be doing all that well sitting in the late morning sun. Ikea was assessed to be identical to every other Ikea in the world and so I was now satisfied that I’d been there and done that. Interestingly, all the happy, smiling people in the in-store advertising were westerners. One might have thought that they would at least modify that aspect, but perhaps it works better for sales here? We headed out and back into the station for the long haul north.

It was many stops and the crowded train slowly emptied to the point where we could sit down. We joked that perhaps these people were so interested in what three westerners were doing in this part of town that they were waiting us out. Chatting, we ignored the stations as they passed by until our conversation was interrupted at a stop when a woman with a megaphone boarded and started yelling at everyone to get off the train. Interesting I thought.

So we got off and milled around on the platform looking at the map in the station trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Megaphone Woman came over and greeted us and pointed to our location which came as a bit of a surprise because not only was it many stations beyond our original goal, but it was completely off my map. So much for traveling out into the gray space. We had a conversation of sorts – she in Chinese and me in a struggle until we finally agreed that we wanted to go back downstairs, cross over and catch the train back a couple of stops. I thanked her and down we went.

Having a look at another map downstairs and still trying to get our bearings, a policeman walked over and said “Ni hao” and we greeted him return. He stared at us for a few moments before what must have been a traveler’s aide came over and greeted us in English. Kind of English because her question was, “What are you doing here?” We explained that we were sightseeing which elicited a blank stare and so we said “tourists” which sparked some glimmer of understanding. She wanted to know where we wanted to go so I showed her my map and pointed at Forest Park and she told us to take the train to Jiangwan Town and then to catch the 713 bus. I told her I didn’t want to take the bus, I wanted to walk. Now there is one thing I have learned here on more than one occasion and that is once you tell a Chinese person you want to walk, they immediately think you are nuts. She suggested a cab. I said walk. She was just beginning to look deeply troubled when along comes Megaphone Woman going on to the effect of “I already told these morons what to do.” We showed her the map again and pointed to the park and told her we wanted to walk and she began scolding me that it was too far and that we should take the bus. Traveler’s Aide continued to look at my map and finally pronounced it (and here is the source of today’s blog title) “Very old.” Figuring there was no way out of this mess, I thanked them both and agreed to take the train back to Jiangwan Town and just for fun we stepped outside the station for a look around, finding ourselves in an industrial area, not unsightly or threatening, but not all that appealing either. The entreaties of the pedicab drivers finally drove us back inside lest they think we were a legitimate business opportunity.

Approaching the ticket machine we looked at the options and another traveler’s aide stepped in to help us. Traveler’s Aide #1 came back and waded into the fray. At this point I figured the best bet was to simply ask what station was closest to Handan Lu, the road that led to the park in question. Neither could understand why I would want to go to a certain street. Traveler’s Aide #2 suggested we take a bus, I said no bus. I tried to get my map out and got totally flustered trying to find the correct side of it which greatly amused both Travelers’ Aides #1 and #2. At this point, Megaphone Woman showed up for a third time still going on about how dense these lao wei must be to need three sets of instructions when hers were just fine in the first place. Still failing to grasp the notion of riding to Handan Lu, Traveler’s Aide #2 asked whether we didn’t really just want to go to Tongji University and I figured that was the best we were going to get so I said “yes” and they told us to get back on and then off at Chifen Lu. We bought our tickets and departed amidst a flurry of “zai jians” and “xie xies”, we being happy to be on our way and they being happy to get us the heck out of their station.

Once back on the train, we decided to spite them so we got off one stop earlier than their recommendation which turned out to be just fine.

Back on the street it was getting a bit warm and we were getting a bit flagged so we wandered the neighborhoods a bit and stopped in a little shady park sending Matt off for Cokes and water. Two military jets streaked by overhead, causing us to wonder of the subway police had scrambled them to make sure we go off at the correct station.

I was sitting there reading the map when a man appeared and started talking to us in English. He informed us that he lived in the building across the street and that he had learned his English more than 30 years ago by listening to the radio and watching television. He said he also had a very thick dictionary that he read every day. English he said, was a very difficult language. He and I chatted a bit (a bit one-sidedly) in Chinese and he asked me how old I was. Turned out he was four years older and retired. We asked him about a nearby park called Luxun and gave us directions, and then waited until we were ready to go and accompanied us down the street to the turn-off. The second great moment of the day.














We found the park and had a nice conversation with a 5 year old being escorted by her mother. Mom spoke English, the little girl only had “Hello” in her vocabulary and we completely stunned her when we came back with “Ni Hao.”

The park was very nice. We wandered the shady paths, one along a little artificial mountain called “Bird Hill” that took you up into the treetops. Coming down we headed in the direction of some music and found some elderly women singing classical Chinese music, two joined by a band of musicians playing on authentic instruments. We circumnavigated one of the two large lakes and stopped to pay our respects at the tomb of Luxun, one of China’s most revered authors.

From there it was back out on the street and off to the subway for the ride across to Pudong, a bit of knock-off shopping being next on the agenda.

It took 3 transfers to get on the correct line and on the last train a westerner asked Matt if he was from Texas. This guy it turns out had been in China for more than 10 years and was a doctor of Chinese medicine. He explained how difficult it is to set up such a practice in the US and thus he remained here where he could have a successful business. He showed us the newspaper that young man was reading and I have captured the surprising headline below. Remember, you read it first here!


Shopping the knock-off market is fun, but not as exciting as it used to be so I sat in the hallway talking to the owner of the shop we’d been in while Barbara haggled over watch prices. For grins I sat there naming the colors of the clothing garments, in Chinese, of the various passersby. He thought this was a riot, unlike the young teenaged boy who couldn’t quite figure out why I was highlighting his white hat. The shop owner, busy with Barbara pronounced her friends “funny.”

That leg of the journey being completed, we decided to head topside to Century Park for a quick look around before heading back. People were flying kites and roller bladers were riding down the marble stairs.

Passing the taxi queue, we saw four or five young western women trying to hail a cab. They were each walking down the line of cars waving money and being ignored. They didn’t understand that you stood at the head of the line and waited for the cab to come to you. Matt kindly explained this and one of the girls told us she was sure they were simply discriminating against them. Matt led them back to the head of the line and hailed a cab when one of them unpleasantly yelled at him that this was their cab. Her friend informed her that Matt was merely helping them out.
And we wonder why Americans are hated the world over.

Back into the subway and back to the hotel and a hot shower before going out one more time for dinner, this time to a highly recommended Sichuan place called South Beauty.

Gang Bao chicken, pork on a mound of chilies, garlic green beans, eggplant, steamed whole anaheims with big cold bottles of Pellegrino and capped with a plate of fresh fruit. All of it excellent. The most amazing meal of all though was served at the next table. Raw strips of bacon fat served draped over a small swing set, a flower vase filled with long slices of carrot and zucchini and most amazingly a bowl of boiling oil delivered to the table into which whole hairy crabs were dumped. The fact that the large Pyrex bowl had passed right behind me while being carried down tile steps past a fountain where kids had been splashing a minute ago got me thinking about how fast I could get out of my shirt if the contents of said bowl came down on my back.

A cab ride home and here I am, chronicling the day. Another lesson in diplomacy and cross-cultural friendship safely in hand.

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