“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu
Sunday, 7 November 2010
Shanghai. It makes sense, just not to me.
I flew from Hanoi in Vietnam to Shanghai in China last night.
Wow. I had to keep scooping my jaw up from the floor on the taxi ride in from the Airport.
Everyone knows China is big. Really big. I thought I was prepared for it, but it still blew my mind just the same. I mean Australia is big too, right? Well yeah, but not in the same way China is. Not at all.
Shanghai is not for the sentimentalists. It is 100% pure modern China. It is fast, efficient, polite, somewhat impersonal, and above all massive. They don't do anything in half measures here. In many ways it reflects a huge modern western city, but it feels like I've landed in a parallel universe. Things are so familiar, yet completely different.
I've just spent the entire day today (it's after midnight now) without seeing a single westerner or having a single conversation in English. Not once. Probably be the first time in my life that's happened.
The best I managed while looking at a menu that made absolutely no sense to me was to communicate the single word "chicken" to the waitress. I didn't really feel like eating chicken but I was starving and it seemed to be the only thing I could communicate. She pointed to something in a list I had no idea about and I nodded. Then I just sat and waited for my mystery chicken dish!
From then on I began to look for menus with photos!
For my next meal I ordered an interesting looking seafood dish that turned out to be chili eel. It was very spicy, but tasty. And finally later tonight I had a seafood soup with jellyfish, octopus and some weird things that looked like white centipedes but tasted like seafood. That menu had some English words in it, including bullfrogs, shredded pig stomach, pigeon, sea cucumber, chicken head soup (with a photo with chicken heads floating in it), among other things.
Wandering around today was both fascinating and frustrating. In fact pretty much everything has been like that. My room has Internet which is fast, but plenty of stuff is blocked by the great firewall of china (including this blog which is why I couldn't post this until later). Also it is wired instead of wireless and has a verification system which seems to prevent my iPad from working. I got a lot of google maps caches on my phone before I left Vietnam which is great, but for some reason today it seems the GPS in my phone is wildly inaccurate here - off by a couple of city blocks, which means I need to revert back to looking at street signs on corners to work out where I am. These things are all very minor issues, but are examples of the "familiar yet unfamiliar" feel that everything seems to have.