Shanghai or Bust

Monday, March 27, 2006

Zhu Jia Jiao

Zhu Jia Jiao is the name of a village in the outskirts of Shanghai but still within what is considered to be Shanghai. The literal translation is: vermilion family corner. Relative to it's current usage, Zhu is a Sir name. Jia, meaning family, designates Zhu as the sir name. Jiao, meaning corner, is a word in common usage to mean village. Ergo "Zhu family's corner" or, "Zhu Family village". O.K.!

Zhu Jia Jiao is the Venice of Shanghai. Shanghai and the surrounding area is very flat. To the west there is a large lake and some other bodies of water. The land has more and more canals as you head west out of the main city. These canals are in large usage. It was hard to get a glimpse of the one next to the highway we were traveling on without seeing a barge and usually some other small fishing boats.

Now that I have that rather exhausting explanation behind me I can tell you, "Not such a nice place but I wouldn't want to eat there", Although this seventeen hundred year old town is considered to be a tourist destination in Shanghai I would hardly consider it to be tourist friendly. I have found that most towns that depend on tourism as their only source of income have a need-hate relationship with the tourists. The Villagers probably wish that their Village could be something that it is not and they are forever trapped into opening up their streets to strangers and trying to hustle some not so honest money off of them.

The Nicest part of our Visit was the boat ride. They have boats, similar to the gondolas of Venice, that are powered by a person standing on a platform at the back of the boat. He or She has a large oar which is maneuvered back in forth in a motion that makes the part of the oar in the water mimic a snake swimming. It is always surprising to watch someone do something that they make look so easy and then to try to do it yourself only to find out that it is actually impossible. You then have to conclude that what they are doing probably involves magic. The oarsman was a really nice guy and extremely patient with me, the stupid American trying to drive the boat. He gave me a good lesson and I gave the guy a tip and thanked him. If my Chinese was better I would have threatened to return for another lesson.

It was not so pleasant to see the waste pipes going from the restaurants directly into the canals and into the water supply that their fish came from. Combine that with seeing the parts of the restaurants facing the water that maybe they would rather you didn't see, and you have a reduced appetite and will be happy to stick to beverages in sealed bottles. That was the first Budweiser I have drank in twenty years and I have to say , it wasn't that bad! Right beer at the right time.

Most of the rest of the town was little shops selling items of questionable value. On the other side of main canal, accessible by a beautiful old stone footbridge, there was a very good pottery shop selling collector grade painted pottery made by a handful of artists. There were also some wall hangings; images done in fired glazes on metal, also of high quality.

It will be nice to see this town again in ten years when the government knows the necessity of keeping such tourist attractions a bit more sanitary and the shop owners find it more profitable to interface more pleasantly with their customers.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Shaghai Impressions

The first thing on needs to know about Shanghai is that it is the fastest growing city in the world in a country that is the fastest growing economy in the world. This means things happen fast. Traffic moves fast buildings go up fast. It is said that a building of over thirty stories goes up every week. Basically this city has been built in fifteen years. Fifteen times fifty two is a lot of buildings that are over thirty stories high. I am from a town located outside of Boston massachusetts. Boston has an area where there are large office buildings. You can drive through it on the big dig, when there is no traffic, in about seven minutes. There are a lot of apartment buildings there I am sure in the thousands. I don't think many of them are near or more than thirty stories high. Shanghai has a footprint that is about a quarter the size of Rhode Island. It is not all city. While I was landing there I saw more green houses than I have ever seen anywhere. Never the less , the whole city is zoned as a special designation industrial zone. It would be anyones guess as to when this enormous growth will end but it shows no sign of stopping.

Through some of the windows in this apartment is visible a brand new high-rise construction project. It has been fascinating for me to take time off occasionally at different times in the day to watch the people and the machines at work thirty stories beneath us. So far it has been mostly excavation work. Just today some of the foundation footprints started to take shape. I see a lot of progress every day because they are working on it twenty four hours a day.

The first impression I had about Shanghai and more generally about China, was that the air supply is probably the worst in the world . When I entered Chinese air space, I moved from the pristine environment of the Arctic circle into a endless expanse of yellow clouds. Trade wind here blow west to east. Shanghai, being in the east, gets the accumulation of all the industrial pollution from the west plus all the exhaust from the local traffic. They don't have emission standards for automobiles here. The air outside on a normal day is like the air in an underground parking lot after a professional baseball game gets out.

The language is a huge barrier for me . Some of the sounds are very unfamiliar to my tongue. There are subtleties of difference in some of the sounds that make it hard to discern which sound it is they are saying. Though I have been here two weeks and study a little every day I rarely here a familiar phrase. I have managed to construct a few sentences and memorized a few others "wo bu shou zhong-wen" ; "I don't speak Chinese". Mind you, I am no linguist. I am sure a younger brain would have a much better time of it.

Myrick's command of the language is pretty amazing! He can blab on and on and sounds like a chinese guy when he does so. Evan so to Chinese people! He is a good teacher and gives me great insight into the language all of which go in one ear and out the other but manage to all get into my little notebook for further study.

Well , that's all for now. Tomorrow ; "the great firewall of china".