Sunday, October 01, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Hell on Wheels

Want a funny mental image? Picture me on a scooter.

As I mentioned the other day, I bought a scooter on Friday night. It's officially an "electric bicycle" (according to the owner's manual) but it looks more like a little motorcycle. I was hoping for a Vespa so people might mistake me with Audrey Hepburn. I was also hoping for something a little bigger so Andrea can ride with me and something a little cheaper because I don't like to spend money. What I paid was about half of what it originally cost if I'm to believe the receipt that came with it.

I tried a few folks who were selling on but it seems like there's a quick turnover. That'll be good for me when it comes time to leave and I need to sell. Or, maybe I can get Federal Mogul to store it for if/when I come back. I say this at the end of my first week and I hope it holds true at the end of my twelfth, I really like it here in Shanghai and hope coming here becomes a semi-regular thing.

I went out riding around yesterday morning, trying to find a place to fill up my back tire (was a little soft). Like Manhattan, there's a dearth of gas stations around here. I found one and thought I was going to get some air only to be told by the attendant (yes, they still exist over here) "Wǒ méiyǒu" (I don't have any). She told me a lot of other things but I couldn't understand them. She didn't have the time or inclination to try to explain to this dumb white guy (Yúchǔn de rén) where to get air for his tires.

Instead, I went over to the Carrefour -- a big French grocery store and shopping center that is popular here. The first floor was kind of a mall and the second floor was like a big Target or Walmart with groceries and all the conveniences of modern living.

I think I might have been the only white guy there but, thankfully, that's not a big deal. I looked around for a bike pump though only saw them for bicycles and wasn't sure if that'd work for me. I shopped around, painstakingly going up one aisle and down the next. Thankfully, the packages for most things are descriptive enough with their images for me to know what they are.

The meat, vegetables, and fruit were undoubtedly the most interesting part. I saw a lot of mushrooms, a wide variety of nuts, and quite a few fruit that I couldn't identify. I picked up some sausage, tiny "English Cucumbers" (that's what I usually call them though I don't know their pedigree), some peanuts, water, and a book for Avery. It's a book version of the "Pup Fu!" episode of Paw Patrol -- one of her favorite shows. It's all in Traditional Chinese so I can't read it but I can figure out what's going on.

After my first (known) near death experience with the scooter (oh! pulling back on the handle makes it go faster, not slow down!) I went over to Bollywood for a set lunch.

I've been going back and forth with a guy that works there. The way I was raised, I tend to call everyone "sir" or "ma'am". So when the waiter brings me water, I say, "Thank you, sir." Every time I do that, the one waiter corrects me. "I am not a sir. I am a service man." I wanted to ask him if I could just call him by his name instead but he was running a lot of deliveries after he took my order. And, he was running them on his scooter and I wanted to shout after him, "Where do you get your tires filled?!"

"I'm not a sir, I'm a service man..."
"How about a friend?"
"Aye, I could do that..."

Yesterday was another rainy, shitty day here in Shanghai. It started raining when I ate lunch and just kept on until after I went to sleep. But, today has been gorgeous. Hot but clear.

After posting about my need for air on the Shanghai Expat group on Facebook I finally decided to just go ask at the local bicycle shop if I could use their pump. I did so on my way back from breakfast at Pistolero. I keep eating heuevos rancheros at different places (last night was The Big Bamboo which is the closest thing to an ex-pat sports bar I've been to. Tons of TVs all tuned to various soccer games).

I rented one of the 1RMB bikes (the "Ofo") and found some muscles I had forgotten about. I don't know why I felt the need to ride at almost my maximum rate but I think any slower and I would have fallen off. It's going to take a bit to work up those muscles again so they aren't screaming when I'm riding.

I walked back to my apartment (no complaints from those muscles) and hung out a bit before jumping on the scooter and heading to the bike store. They were more than happy to help. Once I figured out how to attach the pump (rolling my eyes at myself), I was off again and exploring more of the local area.

I keep heading West when I go out, more toward the Huang Po. I don't know if I'll ever be brave enough to try to cross that river -- I think I'd have to take the ferry -- on my scooter but I went about four kilometers away to a shopping plaza. Somewhere around there is the White Horse where they have pub trivia every Monday evening. I hope to attend when they start back on 10/10.

This is also where the closest movie theater I can find is. The movie selection is pretty poor. The latest US films are things that came out months ago in the States. Stuff like Spiderman: Homecoming, The Hitman's Bodyguard, War of the Planet of the Apes. All stuff that is probably playing the dollar show at home or on home video already. It's no wonder there's a bootlegging problem over here if things come out so many months later. Here I was counting on seeing Blade Runner 2049 and Thor: Ragnarok with Chinese subtitles.

Today is the big national holiday. It's basically the PRC's version of Independence day. The country seems to have two big celebration periods, around Spring and Fall though the Chinese New Year moves every year. Today kicks off "Golden Week" which means that the office here is closed. I'll still be working on my Southfield stuff though during the day I'm going to take some time and explore some more as long as the weather plays nice.

Here are some pictures of and around the mall. I found there's a grocery store in the basement and they had quite an interesting selection of eggs. I love that quail eggs and duck eggs are even more popular than chicken eggs here.

The scooter ride there and back were a lot better than yesterday's trips. I'm glad I made that investment and feel a lot more free than I did last week when I thought I'd be beholden to taxi cabs.

This part of Shanghai (at least) is incredibly quiet for being such a big city. This is nothing compared to Manhattan where there's always honking and the scream of sirens. I've yet to hear a siren there though I see emergency vehicles from time to time. Likewise, there's just a smattering of horns compared to the constant din. The Chinese drivers that I've experienced tend to flash their brights to signal "hey, I'm going to pass you" or "hey, you just done fucked up now."

And, for as much construction I see going on around here, I don't hear that noise either.

It could be that my apartment is off the beaten path a bit but Biyun road is pretty busy.

I tried using the laundry service today. They picked up my bag around 7:30 AM and they say it'll be back by 10PM tonight. I asked for it to just be charged to the room which I would think would be the default. I thought it would be a little cheaper than I think it is but it's comparable to the cleaner's where I take my work clothes to be laundered.

I've learned that I can't "pick up" Chinese. The Pimsleur stuff was great because of the repetition. I feel comfortable now with a lot of phrases and putting together words into different configurations but getting the responses are confusing me since I don't have the words yet. Likewise, I need to continue with the lessons as I can't just hear a word like "This is how you say cold as in 'cold drink'" and remember it without learning it by rote. The one thing that cracks me up is that I keep getting complimented, "Your accent is very good." I don't know if that's bullshit or not but I appreciate it if that's true.

Leon used to give Spanish a "Midwestern pronunciation" in Sra. Loter's class for fun. "Co-mo say yamas?" I hope I don't sound as funny to the people around here. I did get to use one of my favorite phrases last night. "Wǒ bù míngbái nǐ shuō shénme" which means "I don't understand what you're saying."

Saying that in Mandarin always makes me think of that Kids in the Hall skit where the guy learned English phonetically. "I speak not a word of English, you see, everything that I'm saying to you I've learned phonetically..."

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