Archive for November, 2011

A day in the life of a Shanghai park.

Over the last ten or so years, Shanghai has planted a lot of trees. This has been in part in response to the United nations environmental recommendations and partly in preparation for the Expo in 2010. The result is that the city is actually surprisingly green, full of parks and flowers.
The great thing about this is that people really use the parks – they seem to be busy all day long.
Starting early in the morning, the parks are full of people doing tai-chi, walking backwards and other mad Chinese exercises. Something that also happens early in the morning (but which I haven’t actually been up early enough to see is bird walking. Apparently this is the time of day when old Chinese guys take their cages birds for a walk. They all hang the cages on the trees. They don’t just hang the cages any old where there, oh no. They really take care with the placement. They make sure that their birds don’t hang next to a much more extrovert bird, because that would make their bird feel bad…
During the day, the musicians come out. Groups of old guys usually with their instruments, from drums to those ones that are played with bows come out under the trees. If you are really unlucky, there’s also some Chinese singing. We were particularly unlucky yesterday on a trip to Fuxing park, as there was a lady with a microphone who was belting out a never ending series of songs that sounded like a cat-strangling medley.
The grassy bits are usually full of people too – many just enjoying being outside. You can see people playing ball sports, frisbees, flying kites, diabolo, knitting…
The best activity of all starts later in the evening. It’s what I can only describe as Chinese line dancing. Not actually wearing cowboy boots to country music (thank goodness for that) but there are large groups of women doing an identical dance in lines.
I’ll add some videos when I get a chance, some of this stuff has to be seen to be believed.


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Working out Chinese style

Something that we can all learn from the Chinese is the habit of exercising every day. Even in San Francisco a lot of the people you see working out early in the morning are Chinese. Here in Shanghai they can be seen everywhere, particularly early in the morning (unlike me).

That said, some of the exercises themselves are a little unorthodox.  Here are some I have seen recently:

  • You often see people walking around backwards. Much to my surprise it turns out that they are not care in the community participants! Apparently the thinking is that it is like clocking a car to reduce the mileage on the odometer – if you walk backwards the same distance that you walk forward each day you will never age by a single day. OK..
  • Tai chi. Lots of this going on everywhere either individually or in groups. It’s beautiful to watch – the other day I saw a few elderly ladies doing some form that included fans and swords. Just stunning.
  • People walking around slapping themselves on the arms and/ or clapping.
  • The other day I saw two old guys standing back to back doing hip circles. This went on for ages. I’m not sure what it was doing for them but they seemed to be enjoying it.
  • Walking around doing knee raises. OK this one I get but it’s a bit strange on a crowded pavement.

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It’s a high volume sort of place

Something that I can’t quite get used to here is the fact that everything is SO LOUD. Just like Spinal Tap I think that China has a dial that goes up to eleven.

Conversations aren’t like normal conversations, two people in the street will most often yell at each other. Restaurant staff bellow across diners at each other and everyone else as a matter of course.

Shopping involves another whole level of decibels. Apparently Chinese shoppers need people with microphones to help them select products. Some of them are noisily doing demonstrations others are I think just helpfully telling people what’s on offer at a completely scary volume.

That’s just the shop assistants. One of my regular supermarkets plays Spice Girls music (really!) LOUDLY on a constant loop (at least that’s what they’ve played every time I’ve been in there). That’s before you get to the shoppers – who are of course roaring their requests to shop assistants and generally chatting at the tops of their voices.

I think I might invest in a large pair of noise cancelling headphones.

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Starting everything with a bang

It’s not exactly a surprise that the Chinese like their fireworks. What came as a bit of a surprise is quite how often you hear them. Every shop opening is accompanied by a veritable blizzard of fireworks/ firecrackers. I’ve watched them as they lay out huge snaking coils of firecrackers on the street in front of the shop to be honoured. Apparently this helps scare away bad spirits and welcome in good spirits (I have no idea how the spirits tell the difference).

So what you say? Well the thing about Shanghai is that shops open and close CONSTANTLY. So every day there are many shop openings that are heralded with the loudest and most sustained noise possible. And it appears that the openings are celebrated as early in the mornings as possible. Gah! Actually the shop openings also involve a large number of flowers but I really don’t care how many of them they deploy to encourage the right vibe/spirits/ chi.

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Restaurant service, but not as we know it…

When it comes to Shanghai and service one things is certain: you can never guess what sort you are going to get. I think I’ve experienced the best and the worst service here, particularly in restaurants.

Some of the worst was at a local restaurant. It all seemed ok until I sat down (i.e, at the point at which walking out would look bad). What I think was the lady owner started shouting. She shouted at her husband, her daughter, the people walking past. Then some sort of electrician set his cart up in the middle of the restaurant and she had a shouty conversation with him.

My food was dumped unceremoniously in front of me while she carried on shouting. I had taken her recommendation for food and consequently ended up with two almost identical versions of the same food (some sort of tofu/ mushroom based concoction).

Note the waitress in yellow slumped in the corner and two identical bowls of food.

Worn out by all the shouting she then slumped in the corner and fell asleep. Taking advantage of this break from being shouted at, her daughter got up and started following a high impact aerobics routine on the TV RIGHT NEXT TO MY TABLE.

We even had a visit from a policeman, who was at the giving and receiving end of a nice bit of shouting.

Would I go back? Probably. The food was actually pretty good and in the absence of any reading material, the floorshow was really rather entertaining.



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Lift etiquette

To fit in in Shanghai it is important that you observe the correct lift etiquette:

  • When the doors open, you get it. Don’t worry if the lift is completely packed full and the next one is just a minute away, you just get in.
  •  Give people a little shove if they don’t move over enough.
  • Then, select your floor and then stab the close door button repeatedly until they close. This bit is really important. I’m sure it’s a source of bad chi or something to actually allow lift doors to close by themselves.

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