blogitto ergo sum

December 15, 2007

#122 – Back in China (November 2007)

Filed under: Uncategorized — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 22:48
Tags: , , , ,

Shanghai - Crowd I sit, looking at the browser window as it tries to find its way to this very page – the one you are viewing right now, unless you are in China, which means you have to read the attachment. Thoughts of freedom and free flow of information run through my mind. Like shoes which come in different sizes, freedom comes in different doses. There are places however, where one size fits all is enforced. Walking in too small a shoe can be painful. Binding your feet, as was the tradition for hundreds of years, may break and twist your bones. What does it do to one’s spirit, I wonder. My stomach turns at the thought.

How far can you walk? Bound Feet

I’m trying hard to push out of my mind the images I created after reading numerous stories and visualizing them.

And what if it’s not your foot that is bound, but rather your spirit? how far can your imagination take you if it has been bound tight all your life?

In my first visits to China, I was amazed by the number of students who crowded every bookstore, every shop who sold foreign magazines, art books, anything not Chinese. I looked at them sitting on the floor, on bookshelves for hours, copying paintings from art books, those that you can find in every Borders, B&N or Chapters in the bargains section for $4.99 and up. The books and the magazines looked as if a bulldozer run over them. The people looked hungry for unbinding their mind, imagination, spirit…

Shanghai - the Bund @ night

Not even a year later, some of my classmates were Chinese. My curiosity to learn and understand more about this fascinating country and culture has no limits. The answers however, do.

One of my closest Chinese friends, intelligent, analytical and with unlimited desire for knowledge has a blind spot. His blind spot is China. Long hours and longer nights I struggled to understand. I no longer try. In no other context I would have suspected that his mind is bound, but when it comes to homeland China, nothing it does can be wrong, a mistake or plain stupid.

I can’t pretend I don’t see some reason behind the actions, decisions, choices made by the leadership and the people. All one had to so is to compare Russia’s route to democracy and

Shanghai- Pudong's skyscrapers

freedom to the one China is taking and think of the good of the people; the majority of the people that is. So as I condemn the despicable, I recognize, at least at times, the inevitability of some of these actions.

So I returned to China after not being here for 2 years or so. Tian-An-Men looked smaller than I remembered, and I couldn’t recognize much.

It wasn’t until we landed in Shanghai that I started to realize how much everything changed. Mostly for the better. XinTianDi was crowded as ever. The restaurant across from PortTian An Men squareman is busy as ever. The Brazilian chuseria is still there, and on a Friday night the majority of the patrons is Western. But so many of the Chinese-styles stores are gone; replaced by Western-style ones. it’s cleaner, harder to see jaywalkers, the ticket automates in the subway are much better and there’s the button to shift to an English menu. It seems that many people developed such a button. We are not followed by 5-6 “can I practice my English” students, one here, one there. And instead of the massive “looka, looka, want-a-bag, want-a-watch” intense attacks I grew to hate, it’s one every 50 meters or so.

The knockoff market is gone, banned by Shanghai’s government; but the DVD, CDs are still available in street corners. We never made it to to the land of “reproduced” SW. I’m told it’s still there and busy as ever.XinTianDi

And Face is out. Very much out. How many evening we played pool, only to be beaten by the English who were so much better than us. And there’s room @ the bar.

Cleaner, nicer, and still Shanghai.

On our way to Yu Yuan, we finally find ourselves squeezed in the middle of a tight crowd, mostly Chinese. Fiona, who never lets one down is our tour guide and we follow in step. We push, walk sideways and enter the garden. It didn’t change. And I wish we had the time to sit down and just be. But we have places to see, souvenirs to buy, Shanghai to see. But as I learned long ago, I can count on Fiona to add a special treat or a twist. Our first stop after the garden is not a Chinese souvenir store, but a jewelry heaven, for the silver lovers that is. I leave with a bracelet and two pairs of earrings. Fiona is not far behind, and even Dan found something he coYu Yuan - Shanghai, Yu Gardenuld not resist. And with Fiona one never pays the list price. How Israeli I want to say and no better than that. there’s a lot to say about the Chinese art of negotiation so I say nothing, only smile happily with my new purchases.

And now we are entering the mother of “made in China”. Christmas decorations of any shape, size or color take over about 2 aisles. Chinese souvenirs are all over, and so are ribbons, buttons, hair pins, mobile accessories, gift wrapping items, whatever. I go silly, as you may see once I’ll be done unpacking.

And then there’s nature call. Some things don’t change. The public bathroom, hidden in the basement level [0.20 RMB], smells like something I don’t want to name. the biggest challenge, once one gets over the smell and the line, is how to keep one’s cloth and belonging from touching the floor or any other surface. Hooks may be bought upstairs, but none of them made it down.

And still I love it. I love the city, I love the spirit, can’t have enough of it. And our time here was so short we had no time to get lost in the small streets. I’ll be back; just give me some time.

Photo Credits:
Bound fit in shoes – http://a6.vox.com/6a00d4142efb7f685e00d414357e463c7f-200pi
XinTianDi – http://www.spectrumresearchasia.com/image/proj_xintiandi.jpg
All other photos – Daniel Indrigo, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dindrigo/
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