Archive for category Stuff that’s different and weird

Playing with the traffic

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m going to miss the Shanghai traffic.

When I got here I thought it was insane. Well I got that much right. It is insane and people and cars and bicycles and bikes really do come at you from every possible direction. But there’s a lot more of a pattern to it than I originally though (OK I thought it was a free for all).  I have now spent just over two years driving a motorbike or an electric scooter around in the middle of it and I’ve totally adapted. There is a clear flow, and a clear hierarchy. The only real rule is “don’t EVER mess with the buses’.


There are two aspects I’ll particularly miss.

Firstly – the fact that the traffic is absolutely not aggressive. There is some poor driving, of course, but everyone is pretty calm. You can carve people up, drive around them and nobody bats an eyelid. It’s all considered fair game.

Secondly – the fact that you can just keep going. If you are on an electric scooter, you are essentially considered a pedestrian, so you don’t need to stop at red lights, you can bounce up on the pavement when the road is blocked, you can go in any direction down any street, or indeed any lane. Finally, you can park pretty much anywhere.

The flip side of adapting so well to  the traffic here is the rather more challenging re-adaptation when riding the scooter in the US. I’ll have to remember to behave. “Ni hao officer….”

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Chinglish – the language of…. utter confusion

Another thing I will miss terribly when I leave China is the Chinglish. Although there was a somewhat successful campaign to banish Chinglish from public signage for the Expo a few years back (it is growing back) it is still rife in menus and private buildings. When deployed in a menu it can be more than offputting  – for example it took me months to work out that “saliva chicken” or “slobber salad” actually meant that the dishes were “mouthwatering”). Who knows what culinary treats I missed out on because the description was, well revolting?


When used elsewhere, it is more often than not, simply hilarious. A travelator/ moving walkway will forevermore be a “rubber carpet of autowalk useage”. I like that much more.

Exhibit A.


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Air you can cut with a knife

One thing I won’t miss is the quality of the air.

So I’ll have to admit the air has been quite clear recently, but for a significant chunk of the year the weather is pretty awful. From our home we have a fantastic view over the city – we can even just see the Pudong skyline. But sometimes we can only just see the building next door. It feels quite claustrophobic.

Air Quality

The schools just quietly keep the children in, but you can’t help wondering what the long term effects are of breathing this stuff.

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Get a Grip

One thing that regularly irritates me in the US is the fact that most people can’t shake hands properly. In most of Europe, you shake hands from an early age, so people tend to get the hang of it. In the US not so much.

While there are a fee out there who know what they are doing in the handshake department, on the whole, Americans tend to fall into one of four camps:

  • THE DEAD FISH – the one where they sort of dangle a limp (often damp) hand next to yours – that’s not a handshake, that’s an insult.
  • THE HALF ARSE – the one where they just grab your fingers (Ok we’ve all had a near miss but it’s not that difficult to get palm to palm). This one always leaves me feeling sort of cheated.
  • THE GRIP TEST –  I blame whoever went banging on about having to have a firm handshake for this one. “Firm” means “contact you can feel”, ie  not the dead fish or the half arse. It does NOT mean “crush the bones of the hand to compensate for your minuscule manhood”.
  • THE HOLD – Where the handshake is OK, but they hold on to your arm, elbow or shoulder. Just watch any politician shake hands – it turns it into a full on power play, probably preceded by walking towards each other hands outstretched. If you aren’t a presidential candidate, don’t do this. Don’t even think about shaking with both hands, and NO PATTING. OK? And don’t, for Goodness sake, hold on. Unless you are, say George Clooney, it tends to come off a bit creepy.

I’m a bit concerned that there might be a new entrant to the list soon. According to a newspaper (so must be true – right?) there’s a company called “Attraction Methods” where they suggest that a guy should gently stroke along the palm as he slides his hand away. Eeeeeuuuuuw. All that might attract from me is a swift departure, possibly preceded by a left uppercut.



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50 shades of black

One thing that I absolutely won’t miss about China is the trauma that is involved in going to the hairdresser. I was initially lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that my first hairdresser here gave me the best cut and colour EVER. Then he left for India, or TImbuktoo or somewhere. How selfish is that?

Since then, it has not gone so well. My hair has been all colours – from a sort of sludgy green to yellow. (You know when children draw blondes with crayon it comes out yellow – well it was that colour).

Here’s the problem:


It is bad enough trying to choose hair colour from plastic bits of Barbie hair – but here they are pretty much all shades of black (these really are all slightly different shades of black). My advice to anyone wanting highlights in China – don’t do it. Embrace your inner brunette. You see all those Chinese girls and boys with orange hair – well the hairdressers don’t do a good job for them either. Save yourself.

Luckily my haircuts were never too bad – mostly because I just allow an inch off the end closely supervised 😉 According to one hairdresser (from Mongolia actually), Asians/ Westerners not only have different hair, they have different shaped heads, which is why some styles don’t translate well. That explains a lot.

So, while I haven’t had amazing hair colour in the US (hairdressers are mostly just trained by local salons it seems), at least it hasn’t been yellow. Well maybe just a bit.

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Chinese Crack bread

Take a look at this.

Chinese Crack Bread

It looks pretty innocuous doesn’t it? But be warned. This is the most addictive substance that I have ever come across. Quite possibly more addictive than various Class A substances. I have forgotten what it is called in Mandarin – I just call it Crack Bread.

I had thought that my time spent in America had cured my love affair with bread as the vast majority of the bread there is bland, textureless and far too sweet – in all joyless and only good for feeding to ducks. I pretty much stopped eating bread as a result.

That’s until I found this stuff, that is. It is available all over Shanghai but my favourite vendor is a tiny little stall on Wulumuqi lu. This stuff is completely perfect – starchy, a bit greasy, slightly salty and layered and delicious. Sprinkled with sesame seeds it is completely and utterly irrisistible, particularly when it is fresh and warm.

Here’s where I buy it from. Ok it doesn’t look particularly inspiring…

I quite often pick some up after my vegetable shopping and all the way home I am deliciously aware of the warm bundle in my shopping bag. It is virtually impossible to leave any in the bag. In fact, I think I can hear some calling from the kitchen right now…

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The worst thing about Shanghai summers…

Summer has arrived in Shanghai. We’ve just had weeks and weeks and weeks of rain, then all of a sudden it stopped raining and summer arrived. Wow it has been hot. Actually it’s not off the scale in terms of temperature – it’s been late 20s/ early 30s Centigrade but it is so humid it feels far warmer. We’ve had 80-90 percent humidity which in my book is just a few percentage points off being in a shower.

So walking around is pretty brutal and even a few blocks walk feels like an expedition. But that’s not the worst thing about Shanghai summers. Oh no.

The worst thing is that when it gets hot, people want to wear fewer clothes. And, as is the case all over the world, it is never the right people who take their clothes off. The young attractive people seem to wear a rather a lot of clothes even in summer – most often because they don’t want to get a tan. (Actually the Chinese think it is hilarious that Westerners try to get darker when they spend rather a lot of money on whitening treatments.) But the old guys don’t care –  they like to roll their vests up into grotesque crop tops. They are everywhere. *shudder*. The bigger the belly, the hotter it gets I guess.

That said, I have been a bit shy to take a portrait of one of these lovelies, so here’s a pic of one on the move to give you an idea. Lovely huh?

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The elusive FIVE star Shanghai taxi driver

Recently I was lucky enough to witness a rare occurrence here in Shanghai. More unusual than hens’ teeth, I had a sighing of the elusive five star Shanghai taxi driver.

It isn’t a secret to most people who know me that I have issues with taxi drivers. I have had so many experiences where they have tried to overcharge me, take the very long way round, or shortchange me (you guys in Italy, you know who you are). Surprisingly I have found the drivers in Shanghai to be actually pretty good. For a start they are all locals (or seem to be) so they know the way around.  They also charge what the meter says and don’t play tricks with change. Fortunately my Mandarin is just about good enough for me to tell them where I want to go then direct them when we get close. The only downside is that they sometimes want to chat so tend to turn all the way around to look at me while doing so. Unfortunately my Mandarin is not up to asking them to look at the road ahead. Ironically, I think they are generally chatting about some idiot other driver which is clearly far from out of the ordinary here.

The trouble is, that for anyone with NO Mandarin it can be tricky, mostly because relatively few drivers speak English. Aha! you say, I have my taxi driver flash cards/ app with all the handy destinations on. Good idea (or hao zhuyi as we say here) , but a lot of them can’t actually read. Ooops.

This problem was identified a few years ago, when legions of foreigners descended on Shanghai Expo and presumably failed to get where they wanted. So a ratings programme was established. Drivers are rated between zero and five stars. There are a lot of conflicting stories about what exactly you need to do for each star, but from what I can gather, three or more stars means the driver understands some English, knows the key tourist spots in town and has not had a recent accident. Very reassuring huh?

Most of those I have used have been zero to three stars (so presumably have no English and possibly recent crashes). Actually they have been fine too. Certainly Ok enough for me to take taxis sometimes (unheard of usually). Either that or I am mellowing in my old age.



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I know labour is cheap but…

I had my hair cut today and very nice it turned out too. Nothing really out of the ordinary except for the way they section hair. You know how hairdressers usually use those plastic grip thingies to section off hair? Well they didn’t use them today – they used a person to hold bits of hair. Effective but unorthodox.

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It’s all Dick van Dyke’s fault

I have a strong dislike of Dick van Dyke. He’s got a lot to answer for. Specifically for his appearance in the unspeakably awful “Mary Poppins”.

It’s not that the film was particularly bad, it’s just that I think his appearance in the film is entirely responsible for the majority of the population of America thinking that I’m Australian.

I’m serious. I believe that, because I don’t sound like either the Queen or Dick van Dyke that people assume I’m not British so must be Australian. I’d mind less only NOBODY sounds like Dick van Dyke with his garbled vowels and horrendous expressions. It really is all his fault.

On a side note – what is wrong with people who think that Brits, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders all sound the same? Urgh.