It’s Notes from the Field time again and today we’re going to feature Part One of on-the-ground reporting from quite possibly the world’s most fascinating city. See below for an adventure-seeking diplomat’s view of Shanghai, China – don’t foget to check back tomorrow for Part Two!
Photo by David Butow via National Geographic.
Diplo-mat, single guy who likes guys like me J
Shanghai, China (A growing city imbibed with a certain “Jerseyness”)
Recovering faded decadence!
The pace of change is unbelievable! The people of China, and its growing number of international visitors, are living in an incredible era of the economic and investment growth in China… especially evident in my city, Shanghai! For the easiest way to understand it all, think of (dour) Beijing as Washington (Oh, so similar!), and think of Shanghai as New York City… with all the bling, flash, and vivacity one expects. I was once asked about which books I would recommend about Shanghai, and I could only respond “none,” because any book about Shanghai is out of date before it is even published. In the three years I have been here, I watched the subway system be built to one, if not the, the world’s largest. Traveling anywhere in China is always interesting, and oddly, inflates animal survival instincts. In many places, it is first come first served, and every public interaction can feel like a football scrum. While certainly not genteel, the whole experience does have its charms…which grow on you even more as you grow accustomed.
Outside of Disney-esque “Old China” concoctions developed to lure day tourists, Shanghai is not a place filled with your typical tourist attractions. It is however, pulsing with energy 24 hours a day. New restaurants come (and sadly go) all the time, as the place is filled (once again) with eager young international dreamers looking to get a slice of the capitalistic pie (despite the tired images and old thought of China). So for a weekend jaunt, it is good eating, exploring the city a bit, massages, hot springs, getting tailored clothes and shoes, and for kicks, a trip to Carrefour on Sunday when literally thousands are in the store doing their shopping. Weekend nightlife can range from whatever the visitor’s heart desires: jazz, rock, indie, karaoke, gay, straight, local, international, bowling, exclusive clubs, outdoor, indoor, coffee shops, coffee shops with karaoke, you get the picture. Shanghai is a fabulous place to live!
Yang’s Fried Dumplings: Addictive pork morsels swimming in a hot broth all contained within a garlic tasting dough packet, fried in deep oil, and topped with a few sesame seeds. Absolutely stunning flavors, and 8 of them feed two… and it costs about $1.25 for 8 of them.
Most difficult about living in current post:
It’s China, and things visible on the surface are much different below. With the building boom, safety and reliability are an issue, especially with infrastructure. Same with food quality and safety, one must be constantly aware that the markets, stores, and even upscale locations are loaded with fake merchandise. In the end, you have no one to claim responsibility when things go wrong, since more often than not, elements of the Chinese government are involved somewhere. Luckily, there is a growing consciousness about this issue, but due to media and social controls, it takes a long time to ingrain “quality” and “safety” into the minds of a people with 5,000 years of history.
Biggest adventure at post?
Everyday interactions with the local people were ALWAYS an adventure. Though I speak Chinese, in what city, anywhere, would you find a taxi driver saying things like “The Long term economic future of China is both bright and prosperous” and “China and the U.S. share a good and harmonious friendship,” which made me giggle every time. Since the pace of change and growth is constant, everyday there are new adventures.
When did you realize you were far from home?
About the only thing that I could not procure in China were quality, normal, Q-Tips… the local ones are quite flimsy, and can be quite sharp. Yes, this is odd, but so odd that it is about the only memorable that made me realize how far I was from home. Of course, there are social differences between Americans and Mainland Chinese, but these are not enormous gaps. I never really felt far from home, as the country can be quite comfortable if you can adapt to the differences.
What’s the most important thing about re-creating your home at post?
I’m an easy move… it doesn’t take much. I’m happy with very little, so I don’t feel the need to create home. I like the ultimate flexibility in moving “light.” I’m very urban oriented, so creating “home” is finding the local places in which I am comfortable and enjoy being at. Of course, a good coffee shop is a must, along with a nice, clean place for quick, cheap eating is also a dire necessity. I had that all in Shanghai, so I was in want of nothing. In fact, in my apartment building, about the only request I made in 3 years was for the building management to put more shelves in a closet so I would have a suitable space for my shoes… such shelves were custom installed and painted to match the closet within 30 minutes of my request.