As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.
As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.
I find this excerpt interesting for a few reasons. One, these days in my Chinese reading class we have had several texts with criticisms of Mao Zedong, though his face remains on the Chinese bills. Second, my visit to the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe – at the very least I would like to take C to see one of their performances. Finally, I really can hardly wait to go to the hair salon and have one of those fantastic head and shoulder massages. As a single, without child person, I took those WAY too much for granted.
I think the Mongolian women are working here and have essentially moved into the Pujiang hotel. I thought it a bit strange that they went out dancing every single night. Yesterday I thought what a boring holiday that would be, not seeing any of the sights, and surely Ulaan Bator has a few discos to keep them satisfied. But now I am quite sure they are working here, probably at a night club, so there is little hope of them leaving me in peace any time soon. I didn’t get much sleep the night before last because they were chatting away as usual, and then one girl came back at 3:30 am and clomped around the room awhile. The other girls came back at 5 am and thought it a good time to have a heart to heart conversation, in loud voices. I sat up and asked them if they wanted to talk could they do it outside, and again “sorry, sorry” and then they launched right back into their dialogue. Probably they are rather drunk and don’t realize they are talking so loudly?
By yesterday evening, around 7 pm, I was so very, very tired, and didn’t think I was going to make it through the acrobatic performance from 7:30-9, and I had a pounding headache. But I bought some medicine and went to the performance. It was incredible!!! Simply breathtaking. I was literally on the edge of my seat, with my mouth hanging open, and making audible gasps as they continued to do amazing stunts of strength, flexibility and grace. I would highly recommend seeing this performance. I couldn’t help but wonder though about the lives of these acrobatics. How is that they got into this line of work? I think in the movie “Farewell my Concubine” we see at the beginning the children sold to the acrobatic schools by parents who can’t afford to keep them or to pay for debts, and the excruciating training the children go through to be so flexible and strong. I don’t know if that is the case anymore, or if like in the recent book I read “A Son of the Circus” by John Irving, which is set in India, that the children are often street children and are “better off” in the circus than on the street. Hmmmm……. I don’t think there are very strict labor laws like in Japan. Although in Japan there are many pop groups made up of children, they cannot perform live after 8 pm in the evening until they are over 16. In this performance I saw there was a little girl, maybe 7 or 9 years old who performed the last stunt after 9, and what a stunt it was! She balanced on one hand on top of a pedestal for approximately ten minutes, sometimes changing hands with a little hop, and stretching her legs in all sorts of contortions. It was so beautiful. She appeared happy as she made her bow, and as I was in the fourth row, so I could see all the performers clearly. But is she really happy? You could already see the muscles in her little arms and legs. She is so powerful, but so tiny and fragile at the same time. A truly amazing performance though.
I wonder about the still lingering admiration of Mao Zedong in this country. Is this man really adored? Is he venerated still after all the harm he did to the country? It seems so because his face now adorns the money here. When I was here in 1994, and even in 1996 and 1998, there was no Mao face staring at me from the currency, though it seems beginning in 1999 his face is on all the bank notes, replacing the faces of Chinese minorities. Maybe they no longer feel they have to placate the minorities for poor treatment by putting them on the money? I went to the Shanghai museum yesterday and there was even an exhibit for China’s minorities, and really well done. But to put Mao’s face on the money? Why not Deng’s face instead? I don’t see the little red Mao mirror pictures which I used to see hanging in taxis in Beijing when I was here in 1994. That doesn’t mean that they don’t hang somewhere now, but why have them when everyone carries Mao’s face with them in their wallets? Is this part of capitalism with Chinese characteristics? Every time you use money you are reminded of the revolution, of Mao? Interesting.
Yesterday I saw another spectacle on the street. As I was about to cross a street, a commotion arose to the right of me. I didn’t see what initially happened, but saw a policeman grabbing at a man, trying to hold him in a vice. The man was resisting and asking him what was the matter. Of course, this immediately caught the attention of every Chinese person in the vicinity and a circle was quickly formed around the pair. I was waiting for the light to change and cannot deny my own curiosity as to what was happening. I was more intrigued about this crowd though, and almost thought to take a picture, but could imagine the policeman then turning on me, so I refrained. The policeman kept trying to grab the guy by the hands, by the neck and so on, and the guy kept trying to get out of these attacks, but he didn’t seem to be prepared to run, just wanted the policeman to let go of him. He accidentally pushed the policeman who then fell to the ground. I let out a gasp at this, because I expected the guy was really going to be in trouble now for having pushed the policeman. But the guy then starts preaching to the crowd, pointing at the policeman and stating his case. I assume he was telling the crowd how he was wrongly attacked by the policeman. This was getting interesting, and the crowd was getting larger. I gave up trying to understand and crossed the street.
Yesterday I also had my hair done. I just went in to have my hair washed because I wanted the head massage, but decided to go ahead and have a little cut. The massage was exquisite. Wow, wow, wow!!! There was a head, neck, shoulder, and upper back massage included in this. I had my hair washed, dried, and cut. All of this for the amazing price of 29 kuai, or less than US$4!!! But what was more interesting perhaps was my hairdresser told me my hair was beautiful, I was beautiful, and would I like to go out dancing that night?! He gave me his name card and told me to call him after 9 pm!! I didn’t call him though. Too tired. But it really made me wonder. I have been in Shanghai three days and I had several people stop to talk to me, and tell me I am beautiful. One guy with his two female friends told me they just had to stop and talk to me because I looked exotic. I have been in Singapore two months and haven’t had anything remotely similar happen. But all this adoration could go to my head! Overall Shanghai seems like an interesting place to live. Sure it doesn’t have quite the cultural component of Beijing, but it is appealing in its own right.
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