Saturday, August 2, 2008

Productive start to August

Sadly, today I have spent entirely on uploading pictures to facebook. I finally finished the week of May Holiday, and am now only three months behind on photos instead of four, wooo! Though I'd like to clarify it only took so many hours because the computer I'm using is incredibly slow, Not because I'm a moron. Plus I make sure everything is in chronological order, tagged properly, etc....I'd say my albums are pretty stellar.

Yesterday was much more exciting; Kelly and her parents took me to Zhouzhuang Village, an hour and a half outside of Shanghai. Though they'd all been there before, none of them recognized the place when we arrived because it's now become so commercialized; whatever was there previously (probably houses) has been replaced by stands of small stores, each selling the same touristy junk. Even after we passed through the official entrance, we still saw nothing for a while but crap shops and stands selling the famous local dish, pigs' hooves.

Once we actually reached the village it was pleasant enough to walk through; in older times it was a water-way town, think mini-Venice. Don't feel it was worth the 100 rmb ticket, but I guess it's a worth-seeing-at-least-once kind of thing. The bridges and streams and old houses were excellent for trying artsy stuff with my camera- working with different lighting and angles, black&whites, that sort of thing. I imagine it used to be incredibly relaxing to live there, along the water, before the tourists started coming (and being artsy all over the place). Then for dinner, they offered to take me to a really nice Korean restaurant since I mentioned I enjoyed Korean food after living in Dalian for a semester. I fell asleep in the car and when I woke up....we were outside Ben Jia!! I hadn't realized they were a chain, I just thought they only had the Dalian branch because of the Little Korea there....

After being dropped off at home I enjoyed a long, cold shower (out all day in the Shanghai heat, not pleasant), then went to The Hut to chill for a couple hours. Accurately described to me as 'the dive bar of dive bars,' it eased me back into the expat scene- which I sadly don't plan on becoming a big part of when I return to Dalian. Should've saved the shower for after The Hut though...I decided I'd walk home since the apartment was a few blocks away, but with the winds gone, even at midnight it was about 85% humidity, making it feel like 90 F (thank you, weather channel).

So I've got a few relatives here, who(m?) I've been somewhat ignoring all day; they're saying goodbyes to my eldest aunt and middle aunt who leave for the States tomorrow. Funny thing is I postponed my trip to Shenzhen so I could see the bunch, yet I've spent maybe ten minutes total in the same room as them (dinner) and then leave before they do tomorrow morning for the airport. I rationalize it that they'd be discussing people and things I don't know about anyway, and all in Chinese that's above my level. But to be honest, I also don't feel like talking about what my goals in life are and what I'm doing with my future because that's where the conversation always ends up. No surprise, they're the relatives on my dad's side. Plus my baby cousin is here and I really don't like children. They're always sticky, they're always throwing stuff, and they're so gosh darn needy.

As for Shenzhen, I leave out of Hongqiao tomorrow; got an 8:20 flight and E's picking me up at the airport at noon. My father got pissed cause he's a concrete planner and I'm a go with the flow-er, so after a week of arguing about travel ideas he told me I'm on my own and that I'll just have to "beg" for money from him when I return to Shanghai. I'm pretty sure I can make my 4500 rmb last eight days in Shenzhen, even with three or four daily trips into Hong Kong and saving some for my big weekend with Carol in Shanghai when I return. It's almost 650 USD, I think I've got bigger problems if I blow that much in a week.

Friday, August 1, 2008

WYR is slowly disappearing

The typhoon winds are continuing to breeze through Shanghai, which alleviates the humidity a bit and makes it quite pleasant to go outside. Last night Kelly and I went to the Bund to see the lights- a sight I'm still not sick of after over 15 years of summers here. They tore down the winding road with the great view of the Bund back in February, and have replaced it with a walking bridge that connects both sides of the street (previously, you had to cross underneath). It was gorgeous, as always, but somehow the combination of a warm summer night and the lights on the Bund was made infinitely better by the breeze. Honestly, I found it just as relaxing as when I was on the top deck of the cruise ship on the Yangtze, watching the Three Gorges pass us by on both sides. One of those moments that you let sink in, while you just sit and appreciate the beauty in life. Well, the beauty in China at least; I haven't seen much else to make a proper comparison.

All that beauty-soaking made it all the more depressing when I arrived back at Wuyuan Road and it hit me, like it does every time I come back, how Western the neighborhood is becoming. I remember summers here when I was younger, the lane would always be bustling before the sun even rose with street sweepers and fresh vegetable peddlers. Now the entire block where the little family shops were are a mess of concrete, while staring from across the street are endless dress shops trying to appeal to the foreigners living in the area with what they perceive to be current fashions. You see those cliche pictures of rapid growth in Shanghai and it's some gigantic silver building shooting into the clouds and in the foreground is a pile of rubble? That's my neighborhood.

Every time I come back, the Western-ness increases...three weeks ago when I left for the States, there was a dress shop on the corner that just went out of business. Yesterday when I passed by it again, there was this suave new cafe being renovated out of that shop, it looks ready to open in a few days. One lane over from where I live is Club Bonbon and Huaihai Lu, so foreigners are always spotted walking those streets...yet on my street, you still mainly see the Chinese who've had these apartments for over half a century, like my family. We actually look like the minority here.

It's not comfortable, not by Western standards. One room encompasses bedroom, spare guest room, living room and dining room, with a communal kitchen and bathroom shared by all on our floor. However, the location of our place can't be beat- 3 subway stops from People's Square on Line 1; people would pay good money to live here save for the conditions. That's why I'm always terrified they'll decide to level the entire lane one day to make way for more Western establishments. They've been creeping in for the last few years, and now only one apartment, literally no more than 20 feet, separates that new cafe from the old neighborhood ladies who do tai chi at 8 am every morning.
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