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June 14, 2011 / annakpf11

Shanghai

Shanghai astounds the senses. Ultra-modern skyscrapers contrast with leafy residential streets. Gardenia scented pathways lead past sidewalk grates wafting eau de sewer. Laundry hangs from every conceivable appurtenance, even tree branches.

Much of life takes place on the sidewalks, where residents socialize, eat meals, buy and sell wares, drink tea, play cards, offer repair services, take naps, shampoo their hair and sit down for a shave and a haircut.

TThe boundary of “personal space” is much smaller than the distance we maintain from each other in the west. Here, everyone jostles everyone else and expects to be pushed and shoved in return—no offense!

Taxis, cheap and efficient, are ideal for getting around. Since none of the drivers speak English, we depart the hotel each day armed with a small rolodex of cards printed with Chinese characters describing the places we’d like to go, and—very important—a card printed with the name and address of our hotel, so we can find our way back.

I dress modestly and keep my hair in a bun, but my round eyes, tall stature and freckled skin stand out, and people sometimes stare. When I ask permission to take portrait photos, most residents seem happy to oblige, and pronouncing even the simplest phrase in Mandarin brings a big smile to people’s faces.

Most of the people I encounter seem relaxed and cheerful, less stressed and harried than the average American in a city of similar size. Incredible to realize that Chinese people my age, teenagers during 1966 to 1976, were shipped off to the countryside to work as peasants under Mao’s re-education program. Their parents, deemed intellectuals, suffered public humiliation, sometimes death.

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