Off the edge
into dumb, relentless foreign-language-ness
plugging into the masses
feeling the warmth of their breath
standing shoulder to shoulder with them
in my place
in the stream of everyday life.
The airport in Beijing is brand new and sprawling. Though it is relatively empty, it has the full whir of life. We arrive here after the about a 12-hour non-stop flight from Los Angeles which takes us up the California coast and down the coast of Siberia. Coming from the plane we meet a young lady shouting "Shanghai." She is holding a sign which says "Los Angeles to Shanghai" among other Chinese writing. A small group of passengers cluster around her and she efficiently guides us through the maze that eventually gets us onto the plane that takes us to Pudang International Airport outside Shanghai. At a security checkpoint in Beijing, a young lady officer comfiscates a pair of sissors and several bottles of liquids from my belongings. (Be careful with liquids like drinks or supplements etc. or sharp or pointed objects like sissors or knifes; you can't take them onto the plane--they are taken from you.) We fly from Beijing to Shanghai in what appears to be a brand new China Eastern plane. It takes about 2 hours flying around 500mph. After exchanging my USD (United States Dollars) for yuans (RMB Renminbi) at (about 6.9 yuans (c6.9 yuans) per 1 dollar) at the airport, I bump into Xie (pronounced "shyay") who cautions me to be careful and guides me to a hotel booth after ascertaining what I was looking for and making sure that I had a passport, visa, and sufficient Chinese currency. He tells me he is trustworthy and shows me his official documents. Xie works as an interpretor for tourist groups and we end up speaking mostly in broken Spanish. He arranges for me to stay at a medium to low-priced hotel, the Jin Jiang Hotel located near the International Studies University in Shanghai. Before we part, he refuses to accept any money from me, gives me his cell phone number, and gets me on a taxi reminding me to be sure to ask the driver for a receipt to forstall any problem that might arise).
The freeway/highway into Shanghai from Pudang International Airport is lined with trees and greenery. Many sections of the road have have what appear to be substantial plastic soundwalls with a transparent window-like panels running along the middle. An elevated what-appears-to-be-a monorail overtakes us as we speed along. My eyes begin to smart a little--I think because of the smog. Things that catch my Los-Angeles-eyes: 1) highrise apartment buildings spread out across the metropole bedecked with drying laundry and spangled with flat rectangular boxes (cooling units, I think); 2) waves, flocks, a constant stream of bicycles, tricycles, motorized (electric and combustion) cycles, scooters, and motorcycles, some with seemingly impossible loads, many carrying singles and couples, some carrying excited or contented children, some shinny new and many rusty with age but all--or so it seems--ready with unsparing horns, bells, and single-minded determination to alert pedestrians that they must fend for themselves; 3) a strong German automobile presence--or so it seems to me as I sight numerous BMWs, Volkswagons, and a Porche or two; 4)women sweeping trash from the pavements with brooms made from plant branches into scoops and depositing it into their wheeled carts.
After taking a nap at the hotel, I set out at dusk to explore. I walk to small (hole-in-the-wall shop nearby to buy some bottled water. (Shanghai tapwater tastes somewhat stale to me. Los Angeles (LA) tapwater has a heavily chlorinated taste and I have tried to avoid drinking it and plan to do the same with Shanghai tapwater.) A young man of 25 years of age, a candidate for the interpretors lincense exam, appears and helps me make the purchase telling me how much change I should expect. Then he gives me a tour through Shanghai International Studies University which is just down the street. His family name is Sun. He says he comes from a small coal-mining town in the North of China where pollution was excessive but is much less so these days (he jokingly emphasizes this later by running his finger over the bench and then checking it for coal dust as we were sitting outside a small shop on campus). We walk out onto an grassy exercise field encircled with a redish colored gravel lined with lanes for track runners and occupied now by students some walking some running. Shortly later a uniformed officer begins blowing a police whistle and everyone orderly follows him off the field back thru the gate--it is almost dark by now. Sun and I arrange to meet again at 9am the following day at the university gate. Some remarkable items: 1)Sun proposes the question: Why are young people so indifferent? 2)Sun is a "second child," and because of Chin's one-child policy his parents were penalized, deprived of certain benefits and so they had to work extra to support him and his parents let him know this; 3)Sun doesn't wish to become a teacher because he was severly beaten (clubbed) by a teacher when a child--his parents tried to get the law against the teacher but were unsuccessful; 4)Sun says that people in the countryside (like his niece) tend to marry younger than those in the city; 5)Sun gives me some "chinglish" (a combination/corruption of Chinese and English) expressions: "mountain and sea" and "upfire" where "mountain and sea" is a metaphor for vast and expansive and "upfire" is used to mean inflammed.
The hotel where I'm staying is part of the Jin Jiang Hotel chain--the young man and woman at the airport hotel booth gave me a 107-page booklet listing all their hotels throughout China including small maps and relevant details for each location. The location we decide on has a lower rate (152 yuans (RMB)/day or about $22/day) because it is outside central or downtown Shanghai--I think this is about the cheapest you can get for a first class room with internet, phone, bathroom/shower, etc. I notice electrical outlets in the room are different than those in the United States of America (USA). Later I get a plug-in-strip/adaptor (freely loaned to customers at the front desk) that allows me connect the two-prong plug of my laptop. (Actually I could have plugged my laptop directly into the wall outlet next to my desk because it conveniently allows one to do so. Later I purchased my own plug-in-strip/adaptor for 18 yuan (about $2.50) at a small, nearby shop from a mother calling to her son not to stroll too far away.) In China as in the UK they use 240 watts from outlets whereas in the USA they use 120 watts at outlets. Because of this, I left most of my electical paraphernalia like study lamps and extension chords back in the USA. Luckily--I have found--laptop computors seem to be able to use 120 watts or 240 watts.--At the start of this report I ran my laptop battery down to the 68% mark before being able plug in.
Before leaving Sun and after the tour through the university, I mention to him that I needed a Chinese name. The following day when I met him at the university gate he had it ready for me. The name he gave me for "Joseph (Joe) Chafe" (my US name) was "Giao Cheng Fei" saying that it connotes continued success; "Cheng Fei" is the family part of the name and Giao the given part. Sun had been unnable to connect with his friend in Beijing who was to help him secure lodging but when I met him the next morning at the university gate he was with his young friend.
A warm and heartening experience/example relative (I believe)to Chinese people in general occurred while making connections at the airport. A middle-aged American couple needed to make a phone call and asked the young chinese woman next to them if they could use her cell phone. She graciously let them it but refused the compensation which the husband tried to offer her. This collective pitching-in and supportive action seems to be general here.