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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

These palm trees were the only Hawaii-like features on the island.

CHINA - Shanghai (Wk.4 of 5 weeks)
Week 4 of World Tour

1. Shanghai's Hawaii

My Journey To Hawaii Begins All of the large cities of the world have their little China Town area. And it�s not so different in China. No, I don�t mean China Towns, because they�re obviously everywhere. I mean their little �foreign� areas. The towering business center of Shanghai which includes the JinMao Tower (world�s 3rd tallest building) is called �Shanghai�s Manhattan�. And Hengsha Island, the smallest of 3 islands in the mouth of the Yangtse River, is called �Shanghai�s Hawaii�.

So today I was going to Hawaii!

The first 2 boats bound for Hawaii were due to leave at 7.00 am and 9.45 am, and it would take about 2 hours to get to the harbour, so I opted to catch the later one. My plan was to leave home at 7 o�clock and have breakfast when I got to the harbour. But as I left my home, I thought that maybe the bus to the Metro light rail station would delay my arrival by too much, so I caught a taxi just to be on the safe side.

By 7.25am I was on the Metro and on my way to the end of the line. I was sure I�d saved at least 30 minutes of travel time, so the 16 RMB (AUD$2.90) fare was a great investment in peace of mind.

Bus Intimidation

The bus depot was just a minute from the Metro Terminal, and soon (and for only 1.5 RMB or AUD$0.28) I was on the 8.00 am bus bound for the harbour. This bus had a long way to go, so it wasn�t making many stops. But when it did, the bus ticket collector, who sat just behind the rear bus doors, kept putting her hand out of the window and banging the side of the bus as we approached our bus stops. This is the Chinese way of telling the constant stream of pedestrians and cyclists between the bus and the gutter �

�Hey you! We�re pulling over any second now and you�re going to become minced meat unless you get out of our way super quick!�

And it worked very well, as startled pedestrians quickly jumped back onto the footpaths and frightened cyclists desperately slammed on their breaks to avoid the bus which veered mercilessly across to meet its waiting passengers. In Shanghai, the bigger vehicles always have right of way over the smaller vehicles, and none more so than the buses!

Hot, Wet And Sticky

In Melbourne, our hot days are usually accompanied by cool mornings and cool nights, so we always take jumpers or jackets with us in preparation for the cool changes. But in Shanghai the summer weather is a very constant warm temperature all day long, and very humid. So in no time at all you can feel hot and sticky. In fact, many of the younger guys walk around with their T-shirts rolled halfway up their torso�s, trying to cool down.

Unfortunately, about halfway to the harbour, we picked up a real �sweaty body�. This guy had very strong B.O. (body odour), and at 8.15 in the morning, that wasn�t a good sign for anyone coming in contact with him that day. And it was just my luck that he chose to sit in the seat directly in front of me. But it soon got worse. In order to cool down, he opened the window beside him which immediately blew his surrounding aroma straight back into my face. Peeeeeeeeew! I wasn�t going to enjoy the rest of this ride.

Fortunately, we arrived at the harbour by 8.30 am, much sooner than I�d expected, and I could take a deep breath again. Shanghai�s summer is also their rainy season, so it wasn�t unusual that rain had been predicted for today. Then as I walked along the street it started to drizzle � then stopped. As I looked up I saw a couple of guys washing the wall of a 15 story apartment building I�d just walked past, and the drizzle was the after wash falling from 50 metres (150 ft.) above. I guess my bad luck wasn�t ready to let go of me yet.

Hand-Made Noodles For Breakfast

Anyway, after buying my boat ticket (14 RMB or AUD$2.60) I still had over an hour to spare for breakfast. Choosing a restaurant or street-side eatery is always a lengthy chore. And I�m always attracted to something different to my previous experiences. So when I saw a couple of guys making noodles in the front of their small noodle restaurant, I quickly ducked inside and sat at a table. A large bowl of noodles with beef was 5 RMB (AUD$0.92), so I just sat and observed these chefs as I waited for my beef noodle soup.

Two chefs kneaded a bucket-load of dough on a large stainless steel table. Then the noodle maker broke off a piece about the size of a cantaloupe and began his noodle-making regime. First of all he stretched it out, the folded it over, twisted it, folded it over, twisted it and so on about half a dozen times. Then he began to turn that mass of dough into noodles. With a smooth flowing motion, he stretched it out as far as his arms could reach, then he brought both ends together and stretched the dough out again. And after each action, the noodles got thinner and thinner, and more and more plentiful. He did this 5 times so that finally he had 32 lengths of noodles about a metre (3 ft.) long, which he stretched even further with a sharp flick of the noodles onto the stainless steel table, and immediately threw them into the boiling pot beside him. These noodles were about as fresh as you could get them. And then I realized something else. He hadn�t cut the ends of the noodles, so each length of noodle was really about 32 metres (100 ft.) long!

My Chinese Basket Carrier

After I finished my soup (I�m sure I didn�t get all 32 metres!) I walked into the adjacent store to buy some drinks for my journey. In Shanghai there are many convenience type stores, much like 7-11 stores, so it feels like I�m back home whenever I walk into them. I�m still overwhelmed by the variety of drinks available, and it doesn�t help when most of them only have Chinese writing on them. So I usually go for the ones showing a picture of the ingredients (orange, lemon, grape) or those with their ingredients written in English (Almond Juice, Coconut Milk). I was taking a little while in front of the refrigerator, and already had a few drinks in my arms, when one of the staff members came over, took the drinks from me and placed them into a basket she was carrying. Then she just waited, happy to carry my basket for me while I shopped. Talk about pressure! Now I had to fill the damn thing! Needless to say, I bought a few more drinks, a cake and a packet of biscuits (there goes the diet again!) until I felt the basket was full enough to go to the check-out. But 18 RMB (AUD$3.30) didn�t really break the bank.

Chinese TV Humour

Chinese TV is very amusing. I don�t choose to watch TV, it�s just on everywhere I go. All the small shops have them on to entertain their owners while their shops are empty. Almost all the buses and all the trains (including Metro light rail) have them. And all the bus depots and airport waiting areas have them too. As I waited at the boat station, I glanced at the show on TV. I get a buzz every time I manage to understand some of the dialogue, like Ni Hao (hello) and Xie Xie (thank you) and Hao (OK), so I listen out for these words and just watch the picture for clues to the storyline. Well, as all the actors were in national costume, it appeared that this was a film based in olden Chinese times, and it was a comedy. I could tell because at one point 2 Chinamen had been found mocking a superior, and they were quickly brought to him for punishment. Then as they knelt in front of him with head bowed, the superior noticed the legs of one of the guys shaking fearfully. Then when he moved the man�s jacket aside to take a closer look, he quickly walked away in disgust after realizing that the poor guy had peed in his pants!

Cool Boat Cruise

I was on the boat soon, and it left right on time, at 9.45am. This wasn�t a small boat, there were 617 seats on 2 levels, so it was more like a small ship. But I still wasn�t having much luck with my traveling seats. My ticket sat me right in front of a huge air conditioner, which would�ve been OK if I�d brought a jacket with me, but in just a T-shirt, it was way too cool for my liking. So I spent some time out on deck. It was quite warm outside, but this eerie thick fog was everywhere. The sea, horizon and sky were all one hazy mass of grey. I thought it unusual for such a warm day, and rationalized that it was more likely due to the pollution in the air than to any weather condition. I�d already snacked on my biscuits and a few drinks, so standing on a rocking deck was beginning to make me nauseas. The boat was pretty full for the first part of the journey (about 40 mins.), but thankfully some passengers got off at the first island (not Hawaii), and I quickly moved away from the air conditioner to a warmer seat in the back of the cabin.

My First Glimpse Of Hawaii

It took one hour and 50 minutes to get to Hawaii, and the fog still hadn�t lifted. Nor had the colour of the water changed. The sea was still the same muddy brown colour of the Yangtse River. I had no idea how far out we�d need to go before we could finally see the blue ocean waters again, but Hawaii was unusually green. Bright green grass and trees lined its banks making me believe that we still hadn�t got to the sea after all, and this island was really in the river�s salt-free waters. As we got onto the island, all the passengers were immediately hassled by taxi drivers to get them into the town centre. I had other ideas. I wanted to get hold of a map first, then I�d make a decision where to go from there. But alas, there is no such thing on this island. It may be Hawaii by name, but not by tourist attraction. Therefore no need for maps of the island. I walked a little further up, past quite a number of unfortunately squashed crabs, until I came across my first side road. And there it was. A perfectly straight, but narrow, road that seemed to go on for miles. And either side of the road was lined with palm trees. Yes, even though I�d never been to Hawaii, this began to feel Hawaii-like.

I had no idea where the road would lead to, but I wasn�t game enough to venture too far off into the unknown, so I thought maybe I should get a cab into town. �Fifteen yuan�, the cabbie said. �Ten yuan �, I replied, but he refused. They always refuse. After all, I�m a foreigner, so what�s another 5 RMB to a foreigner? But I always walk away and then they come running after me. �OK, OK. Ten yuan.�

The 13 km (8 mile) trip into town was lined with whitewashed trees, goats tethered by the roadside and free-ranging chickens. Rice fields were quite plentiful and 2 men emerged from a grass hut as dozens of workers squatted in a neighbouring field planting a new crop.

Sleeping Merchants

The township was very small, but there were lots of shops in the streets. There are 30,000 people on this island, yet by Chinese standards it�s only sparsely populated. The rain had finally started to drizzle as I got out of the cab (real rain this time). The town was very quiet, but soon I came across a nearby bridge where there was a lot more activity going on. A lone swallow swooped slowly down the middle of the road coming back down the other side then repeating its flight all over again. And each time it flew within reach of my grasp. Both sides of the bridge were crowded with merchants selling their wares, and one lady crouched over her lot of peaches with her face tucked between her knees. It�s very common to see Chinese merchants taking a nap. In fact, in many of the smaller stores you can see them fast asleep on fold-up beds which have obviously been brought in for that purpose. One particular occasion comes immediately to my mind. I walked past a store and noticed a man fast asleep on his bed. I remembered this store because I was tempted to photograph him. Then about an hour later, I walked by the same store again, and guess what. Wrong! This time there was a woman sleeping in the same bed (without the guy)! They�d obviously changed shifts at some point, though I can�t see how merchants like these could actually make a living that way.

As I moved on, I walked past a taxi van. All I could see were a pair of knees! Yes, the driver was lying across the narrow front seat of the van having a siesta too.

Money To Burn

One stall that caught my eye was selling wads of money. Packs of hundreds of notes with denominations of 100, 500, 1000 and 2000 RMB lay neatly stacked alongside notepads and other stationery. Funny money? Well, the story I got was quite interesting. This was all �money to burn� (quite literally). Apparently, when a relative dies, this money is used to burn at their funerals, though I didn�t get the reason why. But as I studied the notes I noticed something a little spooky. On the reverse side, the notes had been printed with the name of a bank. Hell Bank Notes!

�Why Hell?� I asked. �Why not Heaven?�

�Because things burn in Hell,� was the reply, and I couldn�t get any more elaboration than that.

If they were Heaven Bank Notes, I would�ve bought some. They were only 1 RMB (AUD$0.18) for 100 notes. But I�m a little superstitious, so I didn�t want to be carrying Hell Bank Notes with me. Don�t want to attract the wrong company!

Disgusting Public Toilets

When I crossed the bridge again, I noticed a guy coming out of a tin shack (beside the river) unbuttoning his fly. Then he walked across to a public toilet. Yes, I needed to go too! By the time I climbed down the steps to the toilets, he was already on his way back again. Had he been?

This was one of the prettier sights.

The entrance to the toilets was disgusting. Then as I entered it got worse! The urine-covered floors started from the entrance, so it was like walking through muddy slush. And there were no lights, so it was dark. And no doors at the entrance or for the cubicles, if you could call them cubicles. Small tiled walls less than a metre high were the only hint of privacy, and within these cubicles was a long continuous smelly trench which started at one end of the toilet block and ended at the other. And for urinals they had a suspended trench up against the adjacent wall with a gradual incline, so that the urine cascaded over the lowest edge and into the first cubicle trench. A dirty mop lay across a trough in the corner, but it obviously hadn�t been used in a long time. All the tiles were white, once upon a time, but now they were covered in black dirt and a rusty grime had set permanently on their surface. But when you�ve got to go, you�ve got to go. Then as I ventured into daylight again, I noticed something I�d missed before. The partly demolished room less than 2 metres (6 ft.) opposite the toilet block was well covered in urine and faeces. Obviously some of the Chinese preferred this location to the filth of the public toilets.

Young Street Splasher

A shop selling cold meats caught my eye. And as I walked past a young boy to get there he began to drop his pants. I�d seen toddlers encouraged to pee in the streets, but this boy was about 5 years old and quite capable of doing it without anyone�s help. Soon his pants were down around his ankles and his urine was streaming into the street. And in an attempt to see how far he could pee (as all us guys have done in the past � and some still do!) he leaned back as far as possible and aimed upwards, causing it to arch symmetrically through the air before splashing in the distance. Moments later he was dressed and gone, leaving a long wet puddle moving ever so slowly towards the middle of the street.

Biding The Time Away

Another young boy aimed a folded-paper plane at his father who was holding a baby. His father wasn�t impressed, so the boy turned around and threw it across to the other side of the street.

It was now 1 pm on Saturday afternoon and I�d already noticed several tables in the streets and in the stores with card games in full swing. Not really much happening in this community! A family sat around a table playing Chinese Dominoes. Much more colourful than our boring black tiles. There were maybe twice as many tiles in the Chinese version, and the tiles were 2-toned. Green and white.

A man walked out of his home in his pyjamas and across the street. This was the main street of the town, and it was 1.15 pm! His wife emerged soon afterwards holding their baby. She was in her pyjamas too. When he returned, they both stood talking on the footpath only a metre from me, quite oblivious to the fact that I was writing about them. (How else do you think I can remember so much detail? I walk around and whenever I see something of interest, I stop and take out my glasses, pen and pad, and start writing.)

Two young girls across the street noticed me just as I noticed them. Were they eating Mars Bars? I crossed the street to get a closer look. They looked a little surprised to see me coming their way. So what did they have in those bright black wrappers? Black eggs! This may be hard to imagine, but almost all the boiled eggs in China are black! No, they don�t come from the chickens that way, they�re cooked that way using soy sauce and other spices.

Soon I realized more and more people were staring at me. Obviously I was the only �lao wai� (foreigner) in Hawaii that day. And my guess was that it had been quite some time since they�d seen any Westerners on their island, given the recent scare due to SARS. Which reminded me. I hadn�t seen ANYONE wearing a face-mask for at least the last week!

Stores In Town

I passed several stores with wooden abacus on their glass cabinets. These adding devices have been in use for thousands of years, and here in China many shopkeepers still prefer them to the modern day calculating machines. A cobbler�s equipment lay unattended on the footpath. I guessed he wouldn�t be too far away. A little further on a sewing machine was set-up on the footpath with a bundle of coloured zippers on it. Again it was unattended, but a lady watched me closely from the store closest to it. A shop selling knick-knacks featured a bundle of cane fly swatters. I admired the ingenuity of the makers who�d taken 30 cm (12 inch) strips of bamboo about 2 cm (1 inch) wide and made about 20 slits about 12 cm (5 inches) long in one end. These were then woven together with 2 pieces of wire so they flared out to about 10 cm (4 inches) width. Such a simple design and most likely all handmade. A small 4m x 6m (12 ft. x 18 ft.) store specialized in �Well it didn�t specialize in anything! It sold shoes (mens and womens), clothes (mens and womens), bras, buckets, plastic tubs, fire hydrant hoses and water pumps. So I guessed that Hawaii, with its limited population, didn�t have much need for many specialty stores!

Workers And Water Buffalo

As I looked around, it seemed like somebody was either building, renovating or demolishing something. Six women dressed in gloves and straw hats stood beside a loaded truck waiting for their next chore. Women are a common sight on building sites where they help wherever they�re needed, except for the heavy work.

Another team of workers relaxed near their work vehicles. A couple of drivers lay across the front of these vehicles which looked like a cross between a truck and a tractor. I asked a driver if he�d mind me photographing him. He said he didn�t mind as he got up and smiled for the camera.

�But can you lie down in the truck again?� I asked.

No he wouldn�t! I took a couple a photos anyway and moved on.

As I walked away, I could see a water buffalo pulling a cart in the distance. When it finally came close enough, I took a photo. The old man on the cart was not impressed. As the cart passed by, I noticed all the fresh cow patties on the road. Obviously these creatures were still a very common means of transport. Just then I jumped aside, just in time to avoid being splashed by a fresh patty which had been squashed by a passing truck. I had to make sure I kept alert at all times!

Taxi Negotiations

Time to get to the ocean side of the island. Maybe the water would be bluer there. Earlier on that afternoon, the �Hell Bank Notes� stallholder had said she could arrange to get me a taxi for 4 hours at a cost of only 50 RMB. But I hadn�t seen any of the town yet, so I declined. Now I only had 2 hours to spare before the last boat left for the mainland at 4 pm, so I asked the first cab I saw how much he�d want to take me to the beach.

�35 yuan,� he replied. �20 yuan,� I countered (Gee, I love this bargaining process), and smiled as he tried to argue his point with me. So I left and walked to the �Hell Bank Notes� stall. Then as I talked with the stallholder again, the taxi van came back again.

�OK. OK. 20 yuan is OK.�

Which was great news, because this lady said I�d still have to pay 50 RMB even if I only wanted the cab driver for only 2 hours. I sensed that she was getting a commission from her taxi driver, so it may have been a deal she commonly offered.

By now I was in the cab and we were on our way.

Less than 10 minutes later (the beach was only 15 minutes away), the cabbie said, �25 yuan. OK? 20 yuan is too cheap.�

He was right of course, but I hate negotiating a deal then having the terms changed just because I�m stuck in a situation. So I handled it as tactfully as I could.

�Stop the van!� I yelled. �I�ll get off here and walk back to town.�

The driver was dumbfounded.

�Stop the car now!�

He stopped and I jumped out. Then he motioned for me to pay him for the fare until then.

�I�ll pay you nothing,� I said, and began to walk off.

�OK. OK.� He said. �Sorry, sorry. 20 yuan is OK.�

�Don�t do that to me!� I yelled again and jumped back into the van.

I�d obviously shaken him up a bit because he went very quiet afterwards. But I was glad that he decided to take me back, because I really wasn�t looking forward to walking back to town and I wasn�t sure I�d come across another taxi out in the countryside. I know that 5 RMB isn�t a lot of money, but it�s the principle that counts. He must�ve known the fare was too low, but he wanted to get me away from the lady I was negotiating with so he could make me pay a higher price when we were alone. No way, Jose!

Angels Seaside Holiday Village Resort

When we arrived at Shuishangleyuan (Happy Water Garden), the beach was on our left and the �Angels Seaside Holiday Village Resort� was on our right. The driver already knew he wouldn�t be paid until I got back to the harbour, and I was sure he wouldn�t start another commotion with me. So I got out of the van and headed for the resort. The scene was quite beautiful, much like you�d expect in any foreign resort, with clean waters (though still brown), plush green grass and new buildings. All the buildings had huge numbers labeling them and they were either single-story brick cabins or double-story brick townhouses. The feel was definitely American, and the small arched bridge added a lovely touch to the scenery.

Out of curiosity, I went to the reception desk to ask the prices for accommodation. The cheapest price was 240 RMB for a single room, but they didn�t have any left (or so he said). However, he could give me a good deal on a 2 bedroom cabin which was normally 880 RMB/ night. I could have it for only 700 RMB (AUD$130). I smiled as I left. It only costs me about 5-10 RMB/day to live in China, so I wasn�t too keen on spending 700 RMB for one night�s sleep.

Crabs On The Beach

The beach was on the other side of the road. A long expanse of wet brown sand (it was low tide) with a couple of boats beached ashore. Both were tied to anchors, so I figured they still came afloat during high tide. Walking along the rocks, dozens of small crabs went scurrying under rocks or into little water pools.

During my early teens, my parents had a block of land at Sorrento, a beachside town about 90 minutes south of Melbourne. And we�d go there every Christmas for our 4 week summer holidays. I rate those vacations as the best weeks of my life, and treasure those memories to this day. Especially the nights when we�d go crabbing after dark. We�d grab torches and empty buckets and potato sacks, get dressed in warm jackets and gumboots, and go fossicking for crabs along the rock pools at low tide. And we�d stay out there for a couple of hours until the water began to rise again, making it too dangerous to continue. We�d catch the crabs by hand and always got back to our tents with dozens, or even hundreds of these little critters, some of which went straight into a boiling pot of water on our return.

The Goat Track

Well, there wasn�t much else to do, so I made for the taxi van. The driver, who never took his eyes off me, was pleased to see I�d decided to leave much earlier than expected. Maybe that�s why he chose to take me back via the coastline, or maybe he was still trying to make amends for upsetting me. Nevertheless, it was an interesting drive through what I�ll always remember as The Goat Track.

This was a very narrow sealed road, barely wide enough to fit 2 cars side-by-side. My immediate attention was looking out at the seaside, but when I glanced back to the front of the car again, I saw 3 startled goats running for their lives along the road, and the van was quickly gaining on them. For a moment I thought we were going to drive right over them, but the driver slowed down just at the last second. So there we were, hot on the tails (literally) of these frightened little goats which had no idea that if they�d just get off the road we�d bypass them quite willingly. Soon we came to a fork in the road, and luckily the goats veered left when we veered right, otherwise we would�ve chased them all the way back to the harbour. We met 2 other flocks (?) of goats along the way, though none as exciting as the first encounter. The first group was of 7 goats which were sun baking on the road when they noticed us, and casually got up and walked onto the grass when we got nearer. The second group of about 12 goats were more startled, and scurried off the road fearfully. But that group was mostly of newborn kids which I�m sure would be easier to scare.

Swallows And Yabbies

Dozens of swallows swooped along the narrow road ahead of us as we got closer to the harbour, and once we were there, I paid the cabbie and my Hawaii trip was over.

Back in the boat station, I sat beside a couple of women with bags full of live yabbies, so I asked them where they got them from. Apparently they�d caught them themselves.

�How?� I asked.

�With a net�, they replied.

If I�d only known I could�ve gone yabbying, maybe I would�ve come prepared with a net and long gumboots, and stayed much longer!

I thought this abandoned hut would make an excellent artist's subject.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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