The first place we visited was Shanghai. Perhaps the biggest things you notice about China are the disparities between new and old. Skyscrapers appear next to shacks. Old style colonialist influenced architecture is rapidly being replaced by shiny new buildings. The place was literally a building site. In preparation for World Expo 2010, Shanghai was a on building frenzy. You literally could not look anywhere without seeing construction. Complete with Chinese workers, incongruous in hard hats and plimsolls, climbing dodgy bamboo scaffolding . Weather wise it was roasting hot except for one day where, rain was a welcome respite as I literally thought I would faint from the heat. Quite a shock to the system coming from a Melbourne winter!
Shanghai is a scary place to get around. Crossing the road is a challenge when despite the 'green man' at the traffic lights, cars and bikes are allowed to cross also. The scaffolding everywhere often meant we were walking on the road which was a bit scary, particuarly around The Bund (the famed tourist precinct that was pretty much out of action due to construction) as we walked in ankle deep mud on the road! Besides foot travel,Shanghai was easy to get around thanks to an excellent public transport system and Chris' excellent map reading skills which far exceed mine.
Chris and I don't speak Mandarin(beyond yes, no and thankyou) which was a challenge. I felt quite guilty about this as a Westerner. It's interesting being somewhere non-Western as a Westerner. You feel very visible. People try to accost you to visit tea ceremonies with you (a scam where they leave you with a massive bill). People try to practice their english. People stare. Some of the beggars were quite confronting, especially outside our 'prestigious' Western style hotel. You wear your Western privilege with you very close to the skin, and I can understand the temptation some might have to cocoon themselves in their hotel. Shanghai in many ways feels non-stop. There's so many people, constant noise, traffic....almost like I imagine the sensory overload of autism to be.
China in itself still has the cloud of implicit social control. Upon the plane we were asked to fill in forms about our health, including any swine flu symptoms. Upon arrival in Shanghai the plane was boarded by health officials in biohazard gear with temperature taking ray guns which were pointed at our foreheads. It was quite unnerving really, as I had had the flu (whichever kind, as they were no longer testing) before leaving Oz. I wasn't surprised to read later that people on other flights had been detained by quarantine with a Chinese national who'd failed to disclose flu symptoms, receiving a disciplinary note in his national identity file. eek. Learning of the dififculty for Chinese residents to visit other countries for holidays was also quite surprising given the desire of most people we know to travel. It's hard to imagine living somewhere where you aren't allowed to leave the country whenever you like.
I read quite a bit about the annivesary of the Tiananamen Square massacre. I was told that most Chinese people were aware of it, but would plead ignorance or refuse to discuss it. The idea of facade is an interesting one. People would give us directions even when they had no idea, wanting to be helpful and possibly save face. Kind of like the idea that you feel people are telling you what they think you want to hear...
I really enjoyed visiting a Chinese political propaganda poster museum. It was literally in a guy's apartment. Finding things in unexpected places is always interesting
We visited a big public park which is used on weekends by local parents to matchmake their adult children. Parents would put up posters and give out flyers advertising the attributes of their sons and daughters. Kinda funny in a way.
Another example was that upon visiting a modern art museum, we found some of the most interesting art was in the bathrooms with the floral patterns tiles actually containing words...
We spent some time with our good friend Rhys who works as a teacher in Shanghai. I really enjoyed hanging out with him and his partner and we have some Australian goodies going their way. It's always wonderful getting a guided tour of interesting places you might not find on your own. Here we are at a old Abbatoir which has been transformed into a arty space meets boutique area.