susys running away to sea

"The rigors (sic) of an expeditionary lifestyle"

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Forgot to say bye bye Exeters!

I did for real, so that was good. We'd had a last supper at the New Asia Hotel in Shanghai, and then suddenly everyone was leaping up, kisses all round, thanking Kent for all his help and hard work, a few of us off to the bar for a drink, but the rest turned from Exeters (a small joke from a previous guide's pronunciation of the company we'd used, Exodus) to Exiters. I was going to be the only one left after 7.30 the following morning - when I rolled out of bed for breakfast, wandering down the corridor I passed locked doors to empty rooms. I felt a bit like a ghost at a long-ago party ...

I had Rachel's address written in Chinese, so I took it to the receptionist when I handed in the room key. Now for the always somewhat disconcerting and worrying situation - Chinese people appear to be unable to read their own language ... I explained where I wanted to go, and she, with a little help from her friends, added some more writing in brackets. I then went outside where several taxi men were waiting and this provoked another long and loud discussion (no-one decides anything without consultation with at least one or two other people, as no-one wants to take responsibility for anything).

I was escorted to one cab, got in, and tried to shut the door. Metallic clunk. Door still open. Tried again. Same. Taxi driver got out and tried. Same result. By this time, I've decided to sit in the middle of the back seat as far away from either door as possible. The driver wields a screwdriver energetically - this fare won't get away if he can help it...

But I'm ordered out of this taxi and into another one - now, do I trust these doors, which appear to work but might not, rather than those which have definitely refused to shut? I have no choice. The driver roars away, swings in a U-eey across the oncoming traffic, races down to the lights and brakes sharply. The rest of the drive involves the usual swerving across lanes, rapid acceleration, manic braking, overtaking on the wrong side of the street (I watch death play a game of chicken with me on several occasions), and generally behaving the way everyone does, vehicled or on foot, on Chinese roads - with an unfulfilled death wish. So I too will be immortal. Fingers crossed.

(Little diversion into real China: along with the mountains of stuff carried on the backs, fronts and under the feet of scooterists and cyclists, lots of people will also crowd aboard. Favourite sight - a daddy on a scooter, little son behind, facing backwards and reading his picture book balanced on the top box ...)

Here now at Rachel and Rodrigo's modern appartment (so new, the builders have been jackhammering above their heads for the last six months ..... ) in this hugely westernised area of Pudong. There's a world of difference between visiting somewhere and living there. And even so, as a tourist I got a glossed view of China.

(Another little diversion into real China: you might remember I mentioned I wasn't going to take a photo of the meat market in Yangshuo and posted a shop full of birthday cakes instead. The meat market was off the main street down an uninviting covered alley, sodden underfoot - with what? - and then you understand why everything is kept alive till the last minute due to the heat and lack of refrigeration. Nevertheless, it was still a bit disconcerting to see the still-life skinned spit roasted dog snarling in mid-leap across the cage containing his cute furry tail wagging brothers... or the ducks roped together in pairs and slung upside down across a pole. Ducks, I see, are unable to quack when inverted, though they can still manage a strangled squawk when hefted by the neck to their future consumer.)

Rodrigo is working here setting up systems for the Chinese farmers to export their blueberries beyond Asia. He's seen real China, and has had to eat some rare delicacies. Live octopus speared and plunged into boiling oil, for example. He's now learned he can say no. But one story he told me last night was something I'd only thought still happened in Mongolia - this is an ok story btw. And that's a rural habit of lighting a fire beneath your bed-come-table (obviously a fireproof one), so you don't freeze to the stone during the cold nights. Chinese beds, even modern ones in modern hotels, are still like sleeping on flat rocks - never flop down on one exhausted after a long day's sightseeing - you can injure yourself badly... no wonder back massage is so popular!


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