December 28, 2012

Shanghai/Wuzhen

Wang Chao and his high school teacher

level 2 part 1

上海 (Shanghai)12/19-20/2012

Shanghai, China is our first real destination on our Boma tour. No, I did not get “shanghai’d”, but Chao and I stayed in one of the finest hotels in China, the finest my eyes have ever seen. One of my biggest concerns in coming to China was using the restroom in a hole in the ground. This was a memory as soon as I saw the throne style toilet in our hotel room. The W. C. (not the Wang Chao but the water cabinet as the bathroom is called in China, following the British style) was equipped with a fully automatic toilet. When you walked in the seat raised and said Nihao(你好!)and then you sat down and enjoyed the heated seat, and when you were finished, the toilet gave your rear a very nice washing and drying all by itself. Wow. I was warned that toilet paper was not supplied in China, but I certainly did not expect this to be the reason why! I never thought I would be sitting down to pee by choice, but a nice toilet or 厕所 can really change things up. Or maybe all my testosterone really is leaving my body; I have been eating a lot of tofu after all. Seriously though, here I am in a foreign country and all I can talk about is toilets? The hotel was actually the exception rather than the rule, as I have been pleased to note that the public restrooms really are “squatters” and operate fully by the “b.y.o.t.p.” axiom of China.

Shanghai is astounding. It is a huge city! Even bigger than the biggest city I have previously been in, which is NYC. The hustle and bustle is nuts. Bikes swarm the streets; there has been heavy traffic on every occasion that we have ridden in a taxi. I find myself tempted to act on my own cultural capital in walking the streets of Shanghai. I have to be reminded by Chao that if I don’t stop for a car, I am quite liable to get run over. Cars don’t wait for people here, people wait for cars!

I still have a hard time grasping the cleanliness differences. Chao says never touch the ground, which is very, very dirty, not like America.  I made the dire mistake of touching a streetside trashcan in old town Shanghai. Fortunately Wang Chao was there. He rushed me into the nearest KFC, which wasn’t too far since there seems to be one on every block, and I was able to wash my hands with soap. (Bars of soap in public restrooms is another noted difference). After the wash, I made it a point to not touch any more trash cans.

The other thing I made a point of is ducking to go through doorways, which are shorter. Unfortunately, it took me a while to figure that one out. Ouch.  At this point in my journey the macro level differences are really overpowering my observations/interpretations. One thing I know, it would not be the same without Wang Chao.  I’d say he and I are like my favorite rapper Krispy Kreme and Money Maker Mike. He’s always got the back of his homie, especially when they are lonely. But loneliness has not been a factor in China; there are just too many interesting people.

Level 2 Part 2 12/19/2012

乌镇 Wuzhen (Ancient Chinese City)

Today we went to Wuzhen, named after the General WuZhen. The history we saw was so cool. We had our own private tour guide take us through the narrow alleys of the old walled city. Most of our observations were of the old culture from hundreds of years ago. I was trying to do some anthropological field work, but was not allowed to go beyond the red rope protecting the displays.

Vlog intro

WuZhen Vlog

Modern life in ancient WuZhen

The vlog system is a little rough, but we’ll get better. The culture of ancient WuZhen was different from today, with its class structure, the beds, clothes, layout. Neat how culture in a place changes over time. The ancient still has an effect on the modern, though, as you can see in the last video.

One of my take-away points of WuZhen was to realize how new the United States really are. Mostly everything built is relatively new, compared to this ancient city I saw here outside Shanghai. There were people still living within the city walls, which were some of the few ancient walls that outlasted the Cultural Revolution, according to Wang Chao, or W.C., also know as Walking Computer because of his math skills and fact recall abilities. He is my almanac in this brave new world. Or should I say old world? Sense of time and place can be scrambled so easily. Changing surroundings make me realize that.

The trip back to Shanghai, since I wasn’t sleeping this time, was equally astounding. “Are we in Shanghai?”, I would ask Wang Chao. No. The long and the short of it is that although Shanghai’s boundaries may end, what I would call an urban development does not end. My idea of a city in Kansas qualifies almost as the country in China. There are produce fields surrounded by homes, buildings, etc. No space is wasted. In the snapshot I’ve seen so far, there are a lot of people. Space is at a premium.

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