Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Step Into the Future

Spoiler Alert: We won Monday's trivia (by all of one point).

A team -- Pudongs Make A Right -- adopted me for the game and we did a pretty decent job. I would have gotten fairly thrashed without them as there were a lot of things like years for movies(!), the theme song for "The Walking Dead", and more that I didn't know. I was able to help out with a few categories. I thought we complemented one another pretty well. Unfortunately, I've got a meeting next Monday at 8PM that I can't miss so I'll have to sit out the horror-themed night.

Tuesday (10/17) started off rough. My scooter battery died on the way to work (thank goodness I was just a few yards from my office building). I need to do a better job about charging it weekly.

Also, and far worse, when I went in to pay for my usual cup of morning coffee, I found that my ATM card was missing. Where I keep my card, it has fallen out a few times from my wallet but I always noticed it. I was in a blind panic, though tried to keep my head.

I got up to my desk and called the "Lost or Stolen ATM Card" number found on my Credit Union's website only to have them tell me, "Oh, we don't deal with that. Just with credit cards."

I tried to put it out of my head. I had a few meetings that morning and went out to lunch with my co-worker, Emily. She had volunteered last week to send me some cash via WeChat if I gave it to her, so I knew that she had some (of my) money so I wasn't worried about being broke. However, she sent me just a few Yuan (RMB) via WeChat to pay for a coffee and I figured out that there was no way to accept it. I just had to have a Chinese bank account!

After lunching, I couldn't take the suspense anymore and went back to my apartment to toss the joint and see if I could find my ATM card. No dice. In a desperate measure, I went down to the front desk to see if they had a lost & found. As soon as I started speaking, the desk clerk reached down and placed my card on the counter. I couldn't express how grateful I was. "Xiexie" only took me so far. At least with Spanish I know to add a "muchas" in front of that "gracias" to emphasis it.

Crisis averted.

Going 40 kph on my scooter can get a little chilly. I've got a heavy winter coat but nothing light enough to wear on the bike without roasting. That said, I asked Serena if she could look on TaoBao or T-Mall (two popular shopping sites) and buy me a light jacket.

There's something I like about how frank she is. "When we met, your pants look like you lost weight but they didn't." Yeah. The jeans I brought with me from home were really big. I had started purging out larger sizes but mistakenly brought some bigger ones. Big in the waist. Too long in the leg. And baggy as heck. That was Serena's way of telling me that I should also buy some new pants. After a lot of back and forth about inches to centimeters and pounds to kilos, she ordered me a new jacket and jeans.

We met yesterday on the other side of the Huangpu where she gave me my new clothes and where we looked for a bank that would open up an account for me. She's a bit of a tigress. We tried four different banks and she was undeterred. Finally, at the fifth bank, my lack of a year-long visa was not a problem. We sat down, applied for, and got me a bank account and card from ICBC. We went out and grabbed some lunch in Xintiandi (my first taste of real Shanghai dumplings, a dish they're famous for) and connected my card to my WeChat.

I can't emphasis what a big deal this is over here. There are really three main forms of paying for things: WeChat Pay, AliPay, and cash. Even then, cash isn't the preferred method. Tuesday I took a taxi from work to my apartment (carrying my dead battery) and the driver didn't have enough change for my 100 RMB note (that's only approximately $16 US). Monday I took a taxi from the White Horse to my apartment (it was pissing down rain so no scooter that night) and the driver gave me a hard time for giving him a 20 RMB note with a slight tear in the corner. There's nothing quite like being yelled at in a foreign language. After a while it goes from upsetting to ridiculous.

Now, between the China Mobile phone and the WeChat pay (and I can enable AliPay if I want), I feel like a real boy. There's something liberating about it. Now I can order a taxi (or Uber/Lyft equivalent) via DD and pay for it via the app. Now I can get my QR code scanned at any restaurant or shop and pay immediately. I can almost leave my wallet at home and just use my phone for everything. This is what we've been promised for years in the US but Shanghai is already there. The phone is the passport to just about anything and everything.

Shanghai reminds me of Seattle. Even when rain isn't in the forecast, it's not a surprise when it arrives.

There's something I call "umbrella culture" here. Since rain is so much a part of life here, there are conveniences that have been crafted for it. When you go into restaurants they often have "umbrella caddies" where you can hang or place your umbrella while you're inside. Or, a place might have a dispenser wherein you can place your umbrella and have it wrapped in a plastic bag. Oddly, these plastic bags are easy to come by but finding a plastic bag for fruit or vegetables at Carrefour is damn near impossible...

With all the rain, one would think that other things in the city might get an adjustment, especially walking surfaces. When Laura and Jason were still here, I almost took a header in the Marriott parking lot because the damned walkway was slick marble that only got slicker during the rain.

Yesterday, as Serena and I were going from bank to bank, we were going down a tall flight of metal stairs and I could tell that they were going to get slippery with our wet shoes. No problems there. But once we got out of the stairwell my foot hit the top step of a little four-step walk-down and BLAMMO; I was on my ass before I could even make a sound. She absolutely panicked, thinking she was going to have to call an ambulance for this giant American. Fortunately, I was more shocked than hurt, though I think my ass might have some bruising and the palm of my left hand definitely does. Why there are still such slick surfaces for walkways in a rainy city will remain a mystery.

At Xintiandi I saw a movie theater with a "coming soon" poster for Blade Runner 2049. I'm very excited to see that and am hoping to take Andrea with me when she gets into town on November 2. I've been working on an itinerary of "touristy" stuff to do while she's here. Yesterday was kind of a scouting trip for tourist stuff to do.

After lunch, we went to Tian Zi Fang, a densely packed little neighborhood that's been turned into almost a bizarre of shops. This seems like the place that I'll want to take Andrea for souvenir shopping and to partake in some great food. I saw something that looked like a corndog but it said it was octopus. I was too full to try it. I did have a durian-flavored ice cream and I have to admit that I found the taste intriguing. I look forward to having some real durian soon.

I got myself talked into some headphones (the girl yelling out numbers after me until she came down a couple hundred RMB to 100 RMB) but that was it. There were some kitschy items with Chairman Mao on them that I may pick up next time I'm back.

And, since I'm a tourist, Serena took me to The Bund. It started raining again so the top of the Shanghai tower was in the clouds and people were quickly walking away. It was all pretty gorgeous. And, speaking of Blade Runner 2049, it reminded me a lot of the future.

We got some dinner at a place called "Lost Heaven" (I kept wanting to call it "Lost Highway" -- partially due to the Lynch film, partially because it's got a Silk Road theme) which was another killer meal.

I got to call a taxi with my DD (app) and pay for it with WeChat pay. I felt like I had just taken my first step into a much larger world...

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