I would like to start this by saying how shocked I was by all of the kind comments and messages that people sent. That was all infinitely more than I was expecting, since when I started this I figured it would basically be the internet equivalent of talking to myself in the shower. Thank you, I don’t deserve your thoughtfulness.
Its been less than a week since we all touched down in Shanghai, but it feels like its been months. My brain is just about as scattered as you would expect it to be, so rather than attempting to make this any kind of coherent linear structure, here are my stray observations and anecdotes about the city one week in. So here's one Wai guo ren's first impressions.
International phone plans are a stressful but necessary evil. No one has had any clue about SIM cards and data and roaming charges and how to get our iPhones to work properly. If you thought phone stores were fun now, wait until you try purchasing a new phone and monthly data plan when you and the clerk only can only understand about twelve words from each other. But through a great deal of high quality miming I am now the proud new owner of a Chinese phone that is almost mostly in English. I can't snapchat, but I have a better chance of not being completely screwed if I’m lost.
Google owns everything, China rejects this. The People’s Republic of China has blocked all google owned and sponsored websites and apps due to the fact that Google wants to rule the world almost as much as China does. This blocking, the Great Firewall of China, has led to many people resorting to desperate and illegal measures to use the internet they want. Sometimes, even going so far as to use Yahoo as a default browser. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I never thought that I’d miss Facebook so much, and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are mandatory for the sake of sanity. I'll do my best to stay connected and all, but its a safe bet that about 90% of the time I'm entirely off the grid.
It is cheap, kind of. The Chinese RMB or yuan or kuai or whatever you want to call it is around 6.35 to every dollar. Depending on where you go you can get a pretty solid meal for less than 50RMB, around 8 dollars. I’ve heard tell of a stand that sells baozi (steamed buns) 4 for 4RMB which sounds amazing, but I'll need to see it to believe it. If you don’t care about quality and enjoy arguing for sport, the fake markets are excellent. They have an amazing and creative selection of coats ranging from “Burbelly” to “Burbutton”. Anything American, however, be it snacks, detergent or clothes is the same or more as it would be back in the states. If you want quality or any of that western influence you’ve got to pay up. You can get an absurd amount sushi for 100RMB which is amazing and I love it.
Like most major cities, there’s a teensy bit of a dystopian vibe with the multitude of concrete and neon lights, the comparison has been made to Blade Runner a few times. But with the added flair of an abundance of bamboo scaffolding for the ongoing construction. The metro system is fantastic and efficient as hell. Most of the time it only costs less than a dollar to go several districts over.
The traffic is terrifying and mesmerizing. I have been almost run over by so so many scooters that don’t seem to adhere to any set of laws or known rules all while weaving through the cars and all over the sidewalk. Jaywalking is a necessity since no cars stop at the crosswalks anyways. Say what you will about about Asian drivers these are people who get where they're going.
Squatty potty’s exist. That’s all I have to say about that.
All in all even with all my million little cultural hangups I would definitely say my feelings about the next year are optimistic. I have already ordered “flower” to drink at a restaurant, much to our poor waiter's confusion, and apologized for my ineptitude more times than I can count. I can’t wait for us all to see the new and exciting ways I screw up next.