I have a love-hate relationship with my mother’s motherland of Shanghai.
Ruby’s upcoming trip to Beijing & HK is reminding me of how much I do miss Shanghai…sorry, I don’t miss Beijing very much, since we went during the cruel, cruel Northern Chinese winter and walked on the Great Wall…just imagining it will give you frost bite! But to be fair, walking on THE WALL was one of the most humbling and culturally significant moments in my life. Not being dramatic here. I also can’t miss Hong Kong because I haven’t been there in 20 years or so, but I would love to revisit soon.
Summertime in the city always reminds me of Shanghai because of the humidity and the crowding, minus the STANK. I guess I can compare it to Pudong, only more interesting.
Onto my love-hate relationship with Shanghai…
These were some things Ben and I detested:
1) Traffic and lack of traffic/pedestrian etiquette.
I don’t remember how the traffic lights in Shanghai looked like and I can guarantee most of the Shanghai citizens don’t know either because NOBODY LOOKS AT THEM! It doesn’t matter if you’re crossing a tiny residential street or 6-lane traffic during rush hour. You will probably be in danger of getting run over, but for some reason, nobody ever gets run over. I suppose being a passenger is better than being a pedestrian. Despite the immense traffic and blind pedestrians, it doesn’t seem to take too long to get from Point A to Point B, or maybe it’s because everything seems relatively close together and I’m too preoccupied with staring out the window to be in a hurry to get anywhere.
2) Lack of Manners.
Don’t you hate getting on/off the train @ Grand or Canal Streets because people with shove you out of the way to get on/off the train and practically fight you for a seat? Don’t you hate that lines are non-existent at most Chinese-run bakeries/markets/restaurants/butcher shops/delis/etc? Don’t you hate that people hock loogies everywhere? Don’t you hate that people are screaming into their multiple charm-adorned cellphones? don’t you hate that nobody says “please” or “excuse me”? Well that’s what it’s like in Shanghai on a daily basis. Places like Pudong and the French Concession don’t count because they are Westernized and patrons are mainly American/European/Australian expats or visitors.
3) “You’re Not From Around Here” Radar.
Not a mainlander? Prepared to be gawked at. You know how some people actually get into fights here over “staring problems?” Yes, I’m talking to you, high schoolers, my Brooklyn bitches, and guidos! Well in Shanghai (and quite possibly in most places where the population is pretty homogeneous), nobody has a staring problem. They don’t want to start a fight or any trouble, for that matter. They know you’re not a native and they just feel like staring at you. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m Chinese-American but I look and seem American enough for the people over there to completely ignore my Chinese-ness (funny, people here can ONLY focus on the Chinese sometimes). Thus, I can’t go anywhere without thinking I will be ripped off. Once this bitch working at the juice bar in a HuaHai Lu Mall dared to charge me 3x the amount for an off-menu item. I asked how much a plain strawberry shake w/o banana was (for some reason they only have combos, no one-fruit shakes) and she had the audacity to say it was 45RMB. So I asked her why that was since NONE of the shakes on the menu exceeded 15RMB and I’m only getting one fruit so why charge me so much. Then the juice bar bitch said it was because “cao mei hen gui” (sorry my pinyin sucks but translation: strawberries are really expensive). Woman please! Don’t try to hustle me, I’m from Brooklyn! What kind of logic is that? Suffice to say I gave her my stank face and walked off the line. Ben, being the ABC laowai that he is, had no idea what our spat was about and complained that he was thirsty. I told him to shut up and I’ll buy him a drink from the nearest Kedi (Asian 7-11).
My mom found that incident hilarious, but just as precaution, she volunteered herself or one of our Shanghai friends/family members to tag along if we need things that were service/money related like going to the salons or street markets and such. She said she feared that my bitchiness would get Ben and I into trouble, even though she generally applauded my bitchiness. Oh mother, where do you think I learned it from? Other than being ripped off, people also stare at you if you speak anything other than Shanghainese (local natives). They will then proceed to speak to you in Mandarin, since it’s the lingua franca of China, but little do they know, my dialect is better than my Mandarin. How can they tell you are not from around the area, even if you are ethnically Chinese? Same way we can tell who’s a tourist from the MidWest (fanny-packs, mom jeans, feathered hair), Europe (casually stylish, pimp ass camera, speaking rapidly and quietly to each other), etc.
OK, enough things that I hate about Shanghai. There are several things I love as well:
I’m going to say it now. Shanghainese cuisine is not my favorite, and I don’t think they are world-renowned for their cooking either. However, they do have some amazing munchines. You all know about the famous XIAO LONG BAO (literally: little dragon buns, but it’s really just soup dumplings with pork). Yes, it’s xiao long bao (Shanghainese: “shaw long baw”), and yes, I do have a gripe about people who insist on calling them “siu long bao” in their attempt to correct me. What are you correcting me in? I’m saying it the correct way, maybe I should correct you. To my Cantonese people, when was the last time you had a good XLB in Guangdong or Cantonese dimsum establishment? Never? Exactly. Now the XLB gets all the glory for being the most famous regional dish, but if you haven’t had shengjian mantou (Shanghainese: “san ji mudou”) you haven’t lived life. In layman’s terms, it’s a pan fried XLB but it’s super savory. The best place to get it would be the chain of fried dumpling joints: Yang’ sfry Dumpling. No that was not a typo on my part, that’s how their signs read as you can see from the title picture lol. BTW, aside from the upscale restaurants and foreign chains (Starbucks, Haagen Dazs, etc), most food in Shanghai is insanely cheap. Example: a dozen sanji’s will run you around $2.20 USD, a Nestle King Cone is around 60 cents, most 20-oz. bottled beverages are under $1 USD.
2) If NYC is the city that never sleeps, then Shanghai is the city that never, ever sleeps. I know there are more residential areas where it’s quieter and not safe to wander at night, but for a city with over 19 million inhabitants, how can one find time to sleep? Something is always open, be it a restaurant, karaoke mega lounge, night food market, or smaller shopping boutiques (they close, but not until really late). It’s also convenient to get to because they are all crammed together.
Lights! Camera! Action!
3) Blueberry flavored Lay’s chips? An entire supermarket aisle devoted to instant noodles? Flexible no-contract cell phone plans? TV on the subway? It’s still not as technology advanced or quirky as say, Tokyo, but Shanghai has so many flavors, colors, options, customize-it-yourself choices that the combinations just don’t end. I’ve always wondered why out-of-staters are so fascinated and head over heels for NYC (well I know WHY, we’re awesome) when we take everything for granted here. It’s because the rest of America, save for a handful of cities, is incredibly dull. I’m talking tree-lined streets that all look the same, with strip malls that all have the same stores, and places that actually close on Sundays, or clubs/bars (if any) that close at 2AM. Now just imagine how weird I felt when I came back from NYC after being in Shanghai and actually feeling really bored. I mean, we are amazed at new flavors of Doritos, for crying out loud. The other day, I was using the bathroom at the Time Warner building and was excited when I saw that the mirrors had tv screens behind them. Are we that homely here?
Every time I even make a slight mention about Shanghai, my mother jumps at the chance to ask me when I want to go. Honestly, as much as I do miss it sometimes, I am not ready to go back, and certainly not in the summer (I forgot to add, SUMMER IN SHANGHAI IS A NIGHTMARE!) because I’d still like to live and breathe in a clean, humidity-free environment and not wonder when the next rainstorm will be. I’m contemplating on going in October, when the weather will be pleasant and I’ll catch the World Expo near it’s end. The operative word here being contemplating. If I have to save up that much for a future trip, I would like to visit a place I haven’t been to yet. I’m leaning towards Tokyo&Seoul, or a little Eurotrip. Stay tuned.
Hope my little post on my mother’s motherland was informative. Have fun in Shanghai and don’t come back until you’ve hit up YANG’ SFRY 😉