January 14, 2004

Shanghai'd

"That's how I came to be talking about hookers in Macau with a Canadian." With a post that ends with that sentence, you've just gotta read the whole thing.

The first thing that struck about Shanghai is far away the bloody airport is from the city itself. What is it these days with cities putting airports 3 districts away from the city they serve? Sure no one likes have aeroplanes flying overhead while they're having their dinner, but putting the airport in the middle of rice paddies 60 km from the city isn't the answer. Sure cities grow quickly, but at this rate it will be 2453 before Shanghai gets close to the airport.

Also it was cold. As an Aussie lad my idea of cold is anything below about 10 degrees Celcius. So when you're in a place where the maximum is +3 and the morning temp was -1, it's a rude shock.

But back to the beginning. My first trip into the mainland started with a car ride to Shenzhen. Passing through the border checkpoint the same thought went through my head as I'm sure it does everyone else - if this is one country, why the hell is there a border checkpoint? I know the answer is to prevent millions of Mainlanders flooding into Hong Kong, but it really seems to defeat the purpose of HK being part of the motherland. It was a question that was to crop up again.

Shenzhen itself is an accidental city. Set free 20 years ago by Deng Xiapong it has grown in a sporadic fashion with seemingly little in the way of town planning. After one meeting we headed to a restaurant for lunch. On entering the place there were photos lining the walls of various famous people connected with the place. Except like much of China, many of them were fake. One of my co-workers pointed out one of the larger ones and told me the man was a friend of his with several restaurants in HK. He had no connection with the palce at all. Yet his photo appears not just in that one, but in many all over Shenzhen. Not that anyone seemed to care.

After that we headed to the airport via several toll roads. Because much of Shenzhen is made up of toll roads and the airport is miles from the city. One extremely thorough security check later and we were on our way to Shanghai. Getting into the city was a struggle, because Shanghai is growing too quickly. The traffic is massive and there are not enough roads. It did give me a chance to see the fascinating interactions of cars, buses, pedestrians, bicycles and policemen. Despite witnessing several hundred near misses it seems that miraculously the system works as I didn't see any accidents at all. It seems like traffic lights are mere suggestions and the rules for crossing roads seem to be go whenever you like. And I don't know what the rules are for bikes. But it works.

Shanghai is a beautiful city. I was taken to a few of the more "tourist-y" areas, such as the Bund and the New World area. It was impressive to say the least. A combination of colonial and new, skyscrapers and shacks. One customer we visited has an office on the Bund; an old style banking chamber with a mosaic entrance, marble everywhere and Roman columns. Beats an office block anytime.

The business meetings were interesting. I was the only Westerner in each meeting. This meant each one progressed mostly in Cantonese (in Shenzhen) or Mandarin. My 6 lessons of Cantonese meant I picked up the occasional bit but the reality is someone droning on about economics is the same in any language. Then it would be my turn and the meeting switched to English. Usually there would be a couple of questions, before the meeting reverted to Mandarin. I would get infrequent translations from the people I was with but to be honest much of the time it wasn't necessary. Like economics, chit-chat sounds the same in any language. It was interesting they were usually talking in a mixture of Chinese and English: "Blah blah blah oil production blah blah blah blah inflation blah blah US dollar." Filling in the gaps wasn't hard. Towards the end of the day I even jumped in at one point with a "As Andy was saying earlier..." even though the whole meeting had been in Mandarin. Sometimes I left my mind interpret what they were saying. Something like "Don't all laugh, but this white guy here has no idea what we're saying, so let's all lay into him for a while." Lunch in Shanghai proved a contrast with Shenzhen. Opulent surrounds, gilt edged plates, two waitresses for the private room, ornate ceilings and art works galore.

After our final meeting we had a little time for Hong Kongers' favourite pasttime - shopping. We stopped in at a carpet shop as one of my co-workers was interested in picking one up. Hand woven silk carpets were impressive to look at and with price tags to match. Nothing took his fancy so it was my turn. We headed to a factory block; up 5 floors; around the hallways and into a golf shop. For the princely sum of HK$1900 (=$US 240) I purchased a complete set of Calloway clubs (3 woods, all irons and wedges, putteR), bag, travel bag and some other bag to hold shoes, a pack of balls and a glove. The bag alone is worth that much. Still, never looking a gift horse in the mouth means taking what's on offer. And again demonstrating everything that is good and bad about China in one annecdote.

I've already mentioned the mad dash to the airport. Once the guy ran the third red light I strongly recommended everyone strap on seatbelts and the next words spoken, 30 minutes later, was a comment that we were at the airport.

At the airport I discovered yet again that Hong Kong is not part of China. To travel to HK we had to go through the international airport, not domestic. One country, but two countries. Boarding the plane I found myself next to an interesting businessman who had just come from Nanjing, on his way to a trade fair in Hong Kong. We got chatting about his plans for the week he was in Hong Kong.

That's how I came to be talking about hookers in Macau with a Canadian.

Posted by Simon at January 14, 2004 12:46 PM | TrackBack
Comments

I thought the same thing about Singapore and Malaysia. I was travelling with a friend along a highway in Singapore through heavy traffic. Motor scooters sliding in and between cars.

I remarked that I was amazed that these scooters don't get collected more often. Sure enough a few minutes later we passed a fatal accident involving a motor scooter. Needless to say the scooter driver came off second best.

My only other piece of advice is that taxis aren't usually in the best of condition most times. So imagine the ones serving in Asian countries. Some friends and I caught a cab in Kuala Lumpur. Hitting a big sweeping turn, the door popped open and if not for the seatbelt my friend would have flown out the door !

I also find it amusing that most cabs in Hong Kong are Toyota Crowns. Or at least very good facsimilies. They just keep making them as cheap taxis.

Kinda gives away my age knowing what a Toyota Crown looks like.

Posted by: Andrew at January 14, 2004 07:10 PM
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