Since I don’t want to keep anyone in suspense, my Shanghai friend failed to ask me to marry him but I found him to be intelligent, charming, handsome and a product of the Big 10. What’s not to like? It’s most unfortunate I discovered he is a Wolverine and not a Spartan but since my team is better than his, I was thrilled I could air my grievances about that other school in Michigan and its self-proclaimed superiority. I even donned my very uncomfortable hanky panky underwear (seamless) to feel more desirable but after the coconut drink served in an actual coconut slipped out of my hand and spilled all over the bar there was no bringing sexy back.
With that being said, I surrendered my shy girl routine and dived into my journalistic instincts to get the story and grilled my new friend on life in Shanghai. He arrived in 2003 with two duffle bags of clothes and is quite impressively fluent in Mandarin – a skill he admits required a great deal of patience and commitment to learning. Most of his friends come from all over the world including the U.S., Australia, Brazil and Japan and the social life of others like him centers on work and eating and drinking. It’s representative of every other big city in this world. If you work hard, play hard or maybe that’s just my motto. Culturally, he said it’s very difficult to friend locals and in particular men because of a lack of common interests. He also indicated dating Chinese women proves challenging. I guess there is hope for the rest of us.
According to my Shanghai friend, the Shanghainese are considered middle to upper class by most standards and there is no shortage of people with money. I witnessed first hand the hustle and bustle of a workday with people moving in all different directions. Locals walk, bicycle, train and drive to work in cars and on motor scooters, they dine out, purchase luxury items and live in apartments that meet corporate skyscrapers eye to eye. I’m fascinated by my new friend’s stories but suspect he will return to the U.S. one day.
My feet suffering from excessive walking yesterday, I decided to act like a local and give the subway system a try. I conquered this with ease thanks to clearly labeled colored lines and English translated stops. My train rides provided me with a rare moment of people watching. It quickly occurred to me that while many of the passengers dressed appropriate they were not wearing Prada, Gucci and Chanel. In fact, the bulk of people in transit need to call Anna Wintour. I couldn’t decide whether Ann Taylor and Nike merged or if New Kids on the Block had an affair with Hello Kitty. And the shoes…Women wear a black clunky, high heeled monstrosity ankle boot or calf boot that doesn’t even coordinate with their outfit. Perhaps I have lived in New York too long, but these “shoes” cannot be comfortable or fashionable. Picture bulky, bulletproof military boots with suede and buckles-all black. It doesn’t seem likely that the wealthy people are riding the train but they are flying by plane. My flight to Dali (Friday) holds 150 passengers and I counted no less than 80 Prada and Chanel bags boarding. By contrast, I’m carrying a Stella McCartney gym back and wearing a Lululemon capri pant and Gap t-shirt. Take that Shanghai.
Many Chinese people invest in real estate as a means to diversify their wealth. At this time, however, there is an over supply of available condos yet the excessive building continues. In Shanghai proper, the largest industries include agriculture, finance, tourism and entertainment, technology, public utilities and of course manufacturing. The city like the country struggles with finding a balance between economic growth and protecting the environment. Residents use an app to determine the pollution levels for the day. I noticed a few folks wearing masks and a slight smog rolled across the city round 8:30 am but overall I found the skies mostly clear and the weather delightful – upper 60s during the day and low 50s at night.
While Shanghai is bold, vibrant and enjoying an economic boom, hidden amongst the skyscrapers and shopping fairways, I discovered square blocks of slums. They resemble spruced-up shanties and it’s my assumption, the home of Shanghai’s laboring class. Further evidence of the tale of two cities that exists all over the world. I contemplate that for a moment and flashback to my train ride where everyone young and old carried the latest version of the IPhone 6, IPad or Samsung Galaxy. This is a different China, a scene of immense opportunity backed by a rich and long history. I succumbed to the belief that my biases are not always correct and the part of travel I enjoy most is reading between the lines.
I’m traveling to the Yunnan Peninsula later today. This princess is hopeful the next hotel will have a bed worthy of my musculature so I can rest my weary head and get some decent shut-eye. The picture below is an engineering feat of pillows and duvet covers in an attempt to create a softer more bearable bed.