Dear the Internet; I know we’ve had our differences in the past and I know I can sometimes make unreasonable demands of you. Sometimes I’ve even blamed you for a lot of things that aren’t entirely your fault (all of society’s ills for example) but I had a fortnight with you running so slow I didn’t even recognise you and I… well, I guess what I’m saying is, please don’t leave me again. Love David.
Yep, there’s a reason I waited until I had returned to Hong Kong to post the rest of this blog. Uploading Part 1 was such a torturous ordeal I thought I was going to shatter my wrists from punching the desk in my porny motel room. Asking the laptop to upload a photo you’d think I had asked it to split the atom or search for the final number of pi. There was originally going to be a picture of Alan Moore on there and it was going to say… you know what never mind, the moment’s passed, whatever. The rest of the Shanghai experience would have to wait to be typed up and so here we are. I left you in the middle of my first weekend but don’t worry nothing interesting happened on the Sunday apart from I think that might have been the day that the people in the room next to me checked in. I got to know them quite well, well as much as one can do without sharing a language and never actually meeting them. For example, I can tell you they enjoy watching movies loudly at 3.30am and slamming doors for sport. As far as I could ascertain lying wide eyed and staring at the ceiling in the half-light, whoever slams the doors the most inside a set amount of time (though I must confess the actual time limit escaped me) wins with extra marks being dished out for volume and dramatic flourish. I can’t be sure who won but both must have been nigh Olympic standard. I wish them all the luck their considerable talent deserves.
Refreshed from my three hours sleep I greeted my day at the office on the Monday. The crossroads outside the building had become old hat, the mopeds avoid ME now. The lift however was still a worthy adversary. Returning from lunch one day a girl asked me ‘have you been in one of the lifts when they break yet?’ This was disconcerting on a number of levels but thankfully it’s not something I experienced while I was there and I gather that’s pretty impressive. The game the lifts liked playing on us the most was stopping at every floor on the way down at 6pm every night. We’re already crammed in there like particularly miserable packs of asparagus but you have to commend the ‘never say die’ attitude of the guy who really wants to get on this very lift so bad he is willing to take a run up and shove into whatever space there may or may not be left. You start to notice people who can’t get shoved in looking quizzically at the space above our heads in the lift with a calculating expression flashing across their faces. The doors close mercifully before his plan sets into motion only to open again on the next floor down and we start again. Repeat for 20 floors. I don’t know of you can imagine a whole lift swearing in Mandarin in unison after the doors open for the 14th time with one lone Northern accent from the back chiming in with ‘FOOK’ at the same time but it was pretty funny in retrospect. Retrospect I stress.
The wonderful Vivian in the office took me out to a temple nearby which was stunning. There was a very definite feeling there which even I, a godless heathen, picked up on. I learned to enter the buildings with one foot first and leave with the other though I forgotten if it’s right first and then left or the other way round. I didn’t have my camera with me but even if I did I doubt I would have felt comfortable taking a picture. I feel like it would have taken something away from those beautiful statues and the architecture. Seriously, I don’t have a snide comment or anything it was wonderful.
I think this bugger’s sinking…
Vivian and the rest of the her family took me out on the second Saturday into the old town to do some sight-seeing and eat some local food which I’m always up for. The Family Wu proved to be excellent guides and their ten year-old son got to practise his English on me. The old town was interesting let’s say. I enjoyed it from a technical standpoint, from a ‘I know this is very interesting and I have managed to get some good photos’ standpoint but there was so many people it may have been my idea of hell. Literally chest to back we shuffled and pushed our way around. Saturday in Shanghai, what was I expecting?
I was bought some spicy tofu to try which tasted exactly how farms smell, like cow shit. I regret to inform you this is the only food item I haven’t been able to finish or enjoy since October. For shame. As we left the pavilion we had found sanctuary in from the white water rapids-esque crowds and I politely passed my tofu on to someone else, a fight was breaking out in a group of elderly gentlemen. When a carrier bag was thrown down and a jacket was ripped off dramatically it seemed it was totally go time! I dragged my feet and tried to watch as much as possible but it all fizzled out eventually. We moved on to take a quick ride in a small boat I was certain would capsize. Not in a panicky tourist way, in a ‘no really we’re going to get wet’ way. I was informed the child next to me was screaming because he was concerned about alligators. I was unconvinced, I’d seen the oar the lady was using to punt us along and I was fairly confident we could have waded if we felt so inclined. They’d have to be some pretty bloody sneaky alligators. We drifted down the river one direction, turned around and went back again. Huh. Ten RMB? Good job that’s only like a quid.
It was about this time that my camera decided to stop working which I couldn’t help but feel was a cosmic commentary on my awful photography skills. Mr Wu told me he would use ‘the power’ to get it working again. He pressed his fingers into his temples and glared meaningfully at it for a while before handing it back and laughing. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t actually have magic powers at all…
On the Sunday I awoke to the sound of a full blown fireworks display outside my window at 8am. If that hadn’t done it the man outside in the hallway attempting to cough and snort something seemingly lodged deep in his shins up and out of his mouth would have done it. Morning has brooookennn… I met up with a very nice girl from the office to go look at M50. Essentially a village of galleries that used to be factories, artists live, work and display the fruits of their labour here. Some of it thought-provoking, some of it amusing, some of it terrible. That’s art for you. I particularly enjoyed the large paintings of Chairman Mao greeting crowds and soldiers where every figure not Mao has a pink dummy shoved in his mouth. There were many in this series. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the artist was trying to tell us something. We wandered around People’s Square as the sun started to set which was very pretty. This was followed by a slight spot of arguing with a taxi driver, quite a feat without a common language. The crux of the exchange was that he couldn’t understand and politely suggested I may want to try another taxi. I presumed that was what was meant by the yelling and hand gestures at any rate. My second taxi and the further help of my companion got me back to the mall near my motel where I intended to eat dinner and look around some clothes shops. Dinner was successful, the shopping less so. As I opened my wallet to pay for a pair of Iron Man boxers (DON’T JUDGE ME!) I realised there was a very real lack of debit card in there. How interesting. I calmly walked back to the restaurant (read: I trotted back to the restaurant swearing audibly) and attempted to inquire if they had any cards handed in. I’d paid in cash and I couldn’t see how my card could have fallen out of its own volition but I had to cover all my bases. A gentleman who was sitting opposite me when I was eating jumped in and acted as my translator, kind hearted soul that he was. Between the two of us we gathered that no, the absent debit card was not conveniently exactly where I had just left, that would have been far too easy. My translator laughed at the fact that ‘the crazy thing is, I’m not even Chinese! I’m Korean!’ You’re right, that is crazy! Hah! Excuse me while I take a while to savour that little gem. Not even Chinese, hahaha, oh I needed that. My, I’ve totally forgotten what I was worrying ab- oh yes my missing debit card!
I wasn’t so distracted that I didn’t shake his hand and thank him for his help before marching back to the motel, my hand tightly around my wallet as if anything else in there was worth stealing. I can’t imagine my outdated Kingston University ID card with the serial killer photo on it was of much interest to anyone. I asked behind the counter if a card had been handed in, of course one hadn’t, and turned the room upside down and inside out without any success. A few more broken bones in my hands from hitting things and I give in and ring Barclays to cancel the card before any damage is done. A pretty smart thing to do if reception hadn’t nonchalantly handed the errant card back to me when I checked out as if I had asked them to hold on to it for me for a bit.
Shanghai took from me a debit card I won’t be able to replace until about a week when I go home, a lot of hours’ sleep and a few notches of sanity. I’ll probably go back there a few times in the years to come. All in all I’m a little sad I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would do. Existing as it does on a big slope and with a hell of a lot of green looking down on it from the top of the slope, Hong Kong offers a more impressive, more satisfying horizon. Shanghai seemed to me grey, flat and a little bleak. My companion on Sunday took issue with my photos for making Shanghai look so depressing. I’m not sure how I could have improved them really.