Wednesday, March 18, 2009

10 Bizarre Ways of City Life in Shanghai

Shanghai is a happening and well-developed metropolitan, and it is no exaggeration to name it "Paris of the East". I was amazed by its broad avenues and magnificent skyscrapers when I first arrived here. After living here for some time, I gradually acquire a unique living experience of Shanghai (and I am still enjoying it). I have been to many major cities in the world. None offers such tremendous degree of "cultural shock" more than Shanghai, despite the fact that I belong to the Chinese descent. Let's see how "civilized" are the people here beyond the facade of a glittering skyline:-


You will be amazed by the ubiquitous presence of phlegm ("fresh" or "dried-up" - OK, I know it is gross!) in Shanghai, on the ground, from the mouth. It is a "signature" habit of the nation that unfortunately seems to define the Chinese race. No wonder spit pot (痰罐) is always a top essential household item in China. If they are out of home, everywhere outdoor can be their "spitting ground". One of the “survival skills” I have acquired is to stay alert and listen up: when you hear a gargling sound of “arghhhhhhh”, just divert and hop off the street! It is disgusting enough if it stains your pants, but it becomes disastrous if you catch the virus and thereafter suffer from THE PUSH and rush in a local hospital!


Shanghai is notably one of the most populous cities in the world. The crowd is particularly humongous during the rush hours in the subway (METRO) stations. You are literally and helplessly pushed to the corner. The trains are always full and you are cramped as one of the poor sardines traveling to work everyday. I was once so amused to see a young, pretty and well-dressed lady rushing and pushing herself (with incredibly high agility) into the train seconds before the door was shut; the train left the station with her face all squeezed and distorted on the glass window! It is also not uncommon to see some METRO station staffs help pushing more people into a packed train. That somehow reminds me of how live chickens are transported from the farm to the city in a truck! Hence the people do not seem to understand the concepts of privacy and space. Even if there is space, they simply push you around whenever they walk pass you. Now I wonder whether they recognize the criminal concept of assault and sexual harassment...


The local drivers do not buy the concept of “pedestrian first”. They don’t care whether there are pedestrians crossing the road. They will honk all the way to get you off their way. All vehicles honk all day long, starting from 7am till 8pm. As my apartment is located near Pudong Avenue (浦东大道) and the Huangpu River (黄浦江), they wake me up on time to work without an alarm clock. They play their own traffic rules, by all means possible.


If you wish to frequent a popular place, this is what I would advise you: (i) be patient, if you have plenty of time and choose to be a gentleman; or (ii) be aggressive, if you are in a rush and don't mind to be a barbarian! In a restaurant, either there is a long queue or the food is served late. As a gentleman, you can prompt the waiters many times to get what you want but you just have to wait. Otherwise, just do up a scene of barbarian acts and they will attend to you immediately. In a local hospital, you need to be alert in the queue or someone will jump the queue and take away your long- waiting position. Is the huge population of Shanghai attributable to its?


For first-timer in Shanghai, you may wonder why people seems to enjoy quarreling in the public. Well, that is not quite true. When the local people converse in Shanghai dialect (上海话), somehow they phonically sounds like they are fighting! They are loud, quick and assertive, especially the senior ladies. My observations of their speech mannerism are: the young babes are sulky and imperious; the middle-aged women are proud and defensive; the senior "aunties" (a Malaysian reference of older ladies) are loud, pushy and domineering! This observation is affirmed by some of my local Chinese male friends here.


A lot of the employees you meet in the retail stores or restaurants are rude, defensive and opinionated. The rude - they ignore you when you ask for services; they treat you like a moron when you ask for direction in Mandarin (and look Chinese - they probably look down on country pumpkins who do not speak Shanghainese!) The defensive - when you complain about bad customer service, they will immediately cover their ass with every excuse under the sun. The opinionated - if they notice that you are holding on to a S-sized shirt, they may grab it away and tell you that you cannot fit (I know my body better)! This is, based on what I heard from the local, "by default" the way they behave unless the management has specifically trained them to please the customers.


Beware of the con men! They are just too many smart, cunning and unscrupulous people here who will strive to get every penny out of your pocket. The not-so-smart ones are the pickpockets, usually found in the crowded METRO stations. The professional con men come out with ingenious schemes to trap and entice you to part with your money voluntarily; or they will overwhelm you with all information that clouts your judgment. I was almost trapped here once. My strategy? Hear no evil see no evil. Just say no to everything, or pretend to speak no Mandarin.


There is one common trait of all China Towns (唐人街)in the world - they all smell "Char Siew" (叉烧 - roast pork, a Cantonese delicacy) to me! Similar aroma (or stench, depending on whether you like it or not) permeates and pass through almost everywhere in Shanghai. My sensitive nose sometimes detects it from the people in the train or elevator too! If you do not fancy the smell, you may consider seeking your sanctuary in pubs or cafes where the fragrance of alcohol or coffee dominating. Shanghai does not offer only Char Siew but Chinese food of all streams. I wonder which Chinese favourite ingredient producing the aroma. Is that the pork?


This is everywhere in China, not only in Shanghai. Even Celine Dion is a fan of fake luxury goods. Even if they don't make counterfeits, they use a logo or trademark which is substantially similar to any well-known international brand. In the hope of lucrative profits by confusing the public (but I thought Shanghai people are shrewd?!) and relating themselves to the big brands perhaps? Passing-off does not seem to be a legal concept that bothers the businessmen here. Even Li Ning (李宁), a Olympian-gymnast-turn-businessman copies the "swoosh" of Nike to sell his sports garments!


It is interesting to read harsh, critical, and judgmental comments in the local media that demonize the West. For historical events, they typically blame the West for cheating the Chinese by taking possession of the Bund (外滩) in the late 19th century. In terms of current affairs, they always claim that the West has evil agenda to jeopardize the Chinese in many ways. Paradoxically, the people here revere the West a great deal! If it is bad enough in Kuala Lumpur, it is worse in Shanghai. My landlady brags about her kids working for American companies; some of my local colleagues show off their foreign branded goods (probably made in China); some local girls fight to date the white men. According to my Shanghainese friend, if you wish to get VIP customer services, you must speak to the sales person in English!

I will share each of the above items separately in the future. Having said all the above, I must also praise the Shanghai people for acknowledging their problems; and they are now working very hard to improve everything about the city in preparation for EXPO 2010. Certainly there are great things about Shanghai too. Just stay tune ya!