Sunday, September 05, 2010

Random Notes from my China Trip - Part 2

Aching necks:  Its easy to feel dwarfed in Shanghai.
-          Psychedelic Shanghai - the city simply bowled me over.  Rightly called the Vertical City, Shanghai’s sky is pierced by super skyscrapers built in very elegant styles.  While Beijing [rightly so?] gives the picture of a slightly strait-laced, conservative capital, Shanghai sways in style, and leaves the visitor with no doubt that it is the business + entertainment capital of China.

Styled in a typical Western European city’s fashion, the roads and by lanes of Shanghai are elegant, adorned with pretty flower gardens.  The contrast to these docile gardens is provided by the super tall, all steel and glass buildings on either side of their road, their dizzying peaks disappearing somewhere into the clouds.

Roads to the future:  Shanghai roads turn the
scenery to one of Sci-fi movies
Once the sun goes under the East China Sea, even the roads of Shanghai turn on the jazz.  The roads and the tall walls of these skyscrapers turn on their psychedelics, converting the sleek roads into a rave discotheque that’ll put the best clubs in LA to shame.  The side embankments of roads, the trees, the buildings, anything and everything, start flashing their multi-coloured, change-as-you-blink, neon lights.  If you can shut the cynic in your brain and let the child in it take control, then you can very easily dupe yourself into believing that you’re in the futuristic New York of The Fifth Element.

-          Where the wives and girl friends can live happily ever after:  

An incident: A few days ago [after my China trip], one of my friends was talking about an expensive Gucci bag that he got for his wife.  That really amused me.

A quiz:  You’re in the airport to receive a friend.  You see passengers arriving from several cities. How will you spot an Indian coming from Shanghai?

Merry-go-round:  The Nanjing road is the perfect place to
walk, eat, shop or to just watch the neons.
Everyone who had come for the workshop, and especially the ladies, was quivering with the thrill and excitement of shopping in Shanghai.  I too had expected that the prices would be cheaper in Shanghai, but that alone wasn’t the reason for the excitement.  The excitement was about what you can get for, say 1000 RMB that you ‘invest’ in Shanghai and what you might get in other countries for the same money.
So, all those fancy brands of handbags, luggage, apparels, socks, ties, vests and under garments [be sure to let the label show when you wear it],  footwear, jewellery, toys, electronics can be got so cheaply in Shanghai, which seems possible nowhere else.  

Turn on the music:  Shanghai shopping areas
are brilliantly lit.
Of course, they’re all fake goods.  But take this – I was told that there are grades in these fakes – C, B, A, A+ and so on.  The shopkeepers will pledge on every grain of rice that they eat that an A+ merchandise is almost the original one – it’s just that you don’t buy it in one of those hi-fi retail shops.  They turn the merchandise upside down, ask you to smell the leather, show the stitching and finishing, the trims and edges, make you feel the type of cloth and material used, show the authentic labels, the zippers and the danglers and assure you that you are buying the best product available.  Now, tell me which retail shop will take so much care and shower so much attention on you?!

The ladies, whom I accompanied in their shopping expedition, went berserk in this mela of all these fantastic goods.  I felt like a fool [I’m sure the ladies thought of me so], not knowing any of the brands and not being able to appreciate the greatness of the brands that they so excitedly talked about. 

The night's always young:  Places like Shincandi (not the right spelling) buzzes with active night life.
When I saw every person flying out of Shanghai either carrying at least one branded luggage [women - Louis Vuitton handbags with the prominent L & V pattern; men - Swiss military suitcase or backpacks with the metal zippers jiggling] I felt even more foolish.  And when I reached home, my wife, my mom, my sister and every other possible person made me realize that I’m far bigger a fool than I can ever imagine.  I thanked God that my son is not old enough to articulate his views well enough.

For the Gourmet:  Food in China can be very interesting.  Dishes such as Beijing duck are quite popular across the world.  I think China is perhaps the one country where I have seen a wide variety of food in a matter of few days.   And it was not difficult to find vegetarian options in most restaurants [except for getting the message across].  
Delicious:  The Century Egg is a delicacy which you'll
not find in Indian Chinese restaurants

I had a great time trying out different varieties of veggie dishes made of different varieties of mushrooms, seaweeds, bamboo shoots, different varieties of root vegetables [unfortunately I couldn’t get their names], lotus and lily stems, rice and tofu.  

Of course, the highlight was the preserved egg - I was completely fascinated by the transparent green and orange colour the egg had taken.  And when I read the Wikipedia, I became even elated that I have really eaten an authentic, exotic dish.  So, what is a preserved egg?  This is what Wikipedia says:

Century egg, also known as preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, and millennium egg (or Pidan in Mandarin), is a Chinese cuisine ingredient made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green, cream-like substance with a strong odor of sulphur and ammonia, while the white becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little flavour.

Light up to the Heavens:  Pudong, the new Shanghai
contributes to the magnificent skyline of Shanghai.
Read more here [the myth mentioned at the end of this section is just that – it’s a myth.]

And I found interesting items like bull frogs in most of the menus.  Interestingly, I found three items to be the expensive items in any high end restaurant – bird’s nest [yes, it is really bird’s nest – in the literal sense], abalone [a marine snail of sorts] and shark fin.    I had never heard of them before.

The Vertical City: Shanghai, is not simply futuristic in its jazziness.  It is thinking of hard-to-imagine, futuristic concepts – concepts of sci-fi movies - whose purposes are far beyond than making the city look like a hep pub.  Shanghai is one of the top cities in the world with a high population density.  

Floating Paradises:  The Puxi area on the other side of Huangpu still has
beautiful remnants of the British and French settlements
The city attracts hordes of people from other parts of China, who come in search of a better life.  The city struggles [albeit well concealed!] to expand and make space for these gushing population.  Hence, being ‘Vertical’ is not just for reasons of style and aesthetics; it has plenty of utilitarian purposes as well.  Now, Shanghai is taking the idea of ‘Vertical City’ to a all new high – to the level of having a complete city - farmlands and orchards,  apartments and villas with private gardens,  hospitals and schools, market places and resorts all stacked one over the other.

Thus, the trip turned out to be a fantastic experience.  It changed my view of China upside down.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw feedback buttons [Very happy to very unhappy] in the immigration counters [another Olympics effect?]. 

After this visit, when I hear people talk about China and India as the two superpowers of Asia, putting both the countries in the same plane, I wince.  India is still far, far away from reaching China’s present stage of development and economic growth.  It could be true that China’s development is not well balanced [incidentally, the top 20 fastest growing cities in the world are in China], but it is definite that the rulers of China have a strong focus to rule over the world.  As Fareed Zakaria mentions in his book ‘The Post American World, China has embraced the idea that the path to power is through markets and not [should I add 'just'?] empires.

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