Saturday, April 17, 2010

Struggle Gets Shanghaied

Let me tell you something you might not find surprising about the Peoples Republic of China. Now, to be fair, there are indeed many things that ARE surprising about this here country, it’s visa fees, the fact that you have to register with the police upon arrival, it’s curious lack of other ethnicities… but that’s enough of that (and people may be reading this, so…). And besides, when you go to visit your friend who has moved to China because of all “opportunities”(Hi Lisa!) because there just aren’t enough real jobs  at home, you have to expect a certain amount of crazy, if only because as a US citizen you don’t feel super great appearing in public in pajamas (one of those pesky little puritanical rules that sticks with you). But to return to my original point (feel free to scroll up, I tend to wander) this place is not easy to get to, and I will be more then happy to tell you just how not easy it can be.

Those of you who have been playing along at home will recall that my last port of duty was a small and remote little town that the locals call London. I spent a bit of time in this London place after my stay at the not-Yale that is Oxford, indulging in amazing Indian food with my friend Andrew (Hi, Andrew!) and watching amazing disturbing Italian melodramas  and dodging French tourist while staring at Mesopotamian artifacts in a British exhibition case. You have to love a post colonistic country, they have the best of everything. They should, after all, they stole it.

So, having watched the sun indeed set on the British empire, (and, to be honest, it looks like when the sun sets everywhere else. Please don’t tell India, Rushdie will be SO out of a job) albeit from the Gatwick aiport, I boarded a plane to Dubai, on United Arab Emirates Airlines. Let me tell you a new life rule, if you have the chance, ALWAYS, and if I didn’t make myself clear, ALWAYS take United Arab Emirates Airlines. The air hostess outfits alone make this trip worth it, but the combination of halfway decent food (the best you can hope for on a plane) hilarious safety demonstrations, movie selection and free booze make this trip the best that 15 hours with a stop in Dubai could possibly be. Having done my best in my 3 hours in the Dubai airport to marry rich (hung out in the duty free, helped several asian tourists buy cigarettes, left without a ring, you tell me the modern age has no great tragedies), I boarded another plane to Shanghai, and after an addition few hours (or 8, or 9, or so…) I finally reached the beginning of the Silk Road, from whence all raw materials begin. That is to say, as western visitor, I couldn’t help but create my own sphere of influence. In other words? How do people who are not from China look at China in anyway other then predatory? Our money, for the time being, is worth more, and this is indeed the place to buy, to buy whatever you want, whatever you can conceive, whatever is made by hand it made in China. You can’t get a glass of wine here for a reasonable price, and bread is like some kind of precious gem, but silk made gowns or slippers, ceramic bowels or rubber shoes, cotton, linen, hair ties and glasses, rugs and watches, fake designer, well, whatever, shoes, ties, bikes and wallets, my friend, you want these things for cheap? You want these things from China. And darlings,  let’s be real, these things from China? I’m buying them.

Today, Lisa and I, and by the way, this Lisa character I keep talking about? She is a saint. She speaks this lingo (and who else really does, I mean, a pictogram based language? COME ON), and, well, we went to a fabric market. I had, at Lisa’s recommendation, brought a favorite blouse of mine to get remade by Chinese tailors. We picked out a few bolts of silk (as once does in China) and bargained (she bargained) the saleswoman down to the lowest possible price to get things tailor made for me in what seems to be the garment district of Shanghai. I am now, by the way, the proud possessor of a bathrobe, 5 boxes of cookies and 3 imaginary but assumed shirts. I really think this is how I’ve always imagined China to be. Irresistible, but full of imaginary things. Let me assure you, this is not untrue. Come to Shanghai. It’s worth the Struggle.

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