Thursday, April 5, 2007

Shanghai Wishes You a Merry Christmas

Posted By on Thu, Apr 5, 2007 at 6:51 AM

Shanghai is a deeply interesting city. Let me give you some snapshots from a day in this megapolis of more than 20 million people.

  • We started out the day by checking out the Bund, a waterfront area with all sorts of different architecture thanks to the fact that Britain controlled the area in the early part of the 20th century. It's on one side of the Huangpu River; on the other side is the new economic development part of Shanghai, featuring all sorts of big, flashy buildings (including the 1,300-foot-tall Oriental Pearl TV tower, which is, well, tall). We walked along the water, dodging various pushy street vendors. At one point, some people put some money in an observation telescope to closely peruse the big buildings across the river, and the telescope started playing a song (when the song ended, the viewing time on the telescope ran out). That song? "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
  • We were then off to a rug- and tapestry-weaving factory. The same building also featured a cashmere factory and store. Finally, the same building featured a Mongolian barbecue restaurant, which featured so-so food and employees that absolutely came UNGLUED when people sat at a table that was not distinctly assigned to them. We were THIS close to an international incident.
  • Then we enjoyed a full afternoon of shopping in a huge shopping district, featuring all sorts of pushy vendors, and even several Starbucks. Our group of 80 or so people spent an estimated $265 million while we were there. I bought a jade cat, for example. Garrett got his tennis shoes shined. However, I passed on the knock-off iPods, which looked more like old-fashioned cell phones than iPods. Anytime you wanted an item (outside of Starbucks, that is) there was a LOT of bargaining. It was exhausting. Here's how it works: You ask how much something costs; the vendor gives you a price only mentally deranged people would pay; you suggest a price that's like a tenth of the mentally deranged price; the vendor feigns a heart attack and offers a slightly better, but still insane price; and so on, until "final" offers are rejected, and you walk out of the store; the vendor calls out after you and, exasperated, offers you one more final price because you're a "special friend"; finally, some sort of price is agreed upon; you pay and take your newly purchased item; that item falls apart on your way back to the tour bus.
  • MOMENT OF THE DAY: A young woman talked us into her little shop, and she tried to sell me a "Hard Rock Shang  i" T-shirt. When I pointed out that the second "ha" in Shanghai was missing, she quickly pulled the shirt off the rack and pointed out that the shirts behind it had all their letters. I laughed and started walking out of the store. She then hit me with a T-shirt and called me a "bad man."
  • After shopping and dinner (More Chinese food!) we took a nighttime boat cruise on the Huangpu River. The buildings with all their lights were stunning. Imagine if Las Vegas threw up on New York ... that's kind of what it looks like.

Anyhow, tomorrow, we're off to the airport, and a day of traveling. Our itinerary: Shanghai to Beijing to San Francisco to Tucson, God willing. I need some tortilla soup and guacamole, dammit.

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