Sunday, February 3, 2013

Shanghai - Meeting Helen and Rolex

Some peacocks made out of flowers.
Wowza - what a day!  Matt and I were given the assignment to gather Shanghai b-roll, so we snarfed down our breakfast and headed off the ship to discover China.  I had researched the night before to find some places to shoot some interesting city b-roll, but couldn't quite get my bearings on where the ship was.

We decided to head down the Huangpu River where our ship was docked and discover the area of old Shanghai called "The Bund."  The most fascinating part of this area is that you look on one side of the river and see old Shanghai with historical buildings built of brick with traditional architecture, then you look over to the other side of the river and see a space aged city of glass that was built up in more recent years.

We wandered around for a little while grabbing random shots of city and parks when we were accosted by a young Chinese couple.  They asked where we were from, and when we answered, "the USA," they shouted, "We love Americans!"

The asked us about where we were headed and said that they were on "holiday" visiting Shanghai.  They were on their way to a traditional tea ceremony to celebrate the Chinese new year and invited us to go along.  "The more the happy," they said.  Matt and I mulled it over for a moment, and although he was still skeptical, I figured it couldn't hurt to go look at the tea house, then turn them down.

This tea began as a wad of green, and once it's
boiled, the "flower" blooms.  It's sewn together
so that it appears as one unique flower.
They introduced themselves, but knowing we would have trouble pronouncing their Chinese names, they nicely gave us their English names.  My female friend said I could call her Helen, and our male friend said we could call him Rolex.  "Like the watch."  But of course.

We arrived at the tea house, which looked like a closed restaurant from the outside, and went back to a private tea room.  The woman that led the ceremony said that we weren't allowed to photograph her face because she was a minority.  "Just like you guys!" says Rolex.  We weren't quite sure what it meant for her to be a minority and why that would affect whether or not we photographed her, but there was a lot that we didn't understand.

Rolex and Helen were very patient with us and so was the tea ceremony leader because she would explain something in Chinese, then Rolex or Helen would translate for us so that we could stay on top of what was happening.  We learned about ten different types of teas and got to taste every single one of them.  To start out, she poured boiling water of the "tea god" which looked like a little three-legged frog.  She said that it had seven jewels on its back to match the large spoon in the sky.  (or, the big dipper, in American terms.)

Helen, Shawna, Matt and Rolex.
Photo = Asian-style.
Rolex and Helen were very complimentary to us.  They loved that we were married, and they loved how well Matt treated me.  Helen loved how white I was and was surprised that I was this pale without using any make-up.  Thank you, Helen.  Then, Rolex was taken back by how big Matt's nose was.  Thank you, Rolex.  They asked us about our families and whether or not we had pets.  I showed a photo of little Chester, and Helen said that during the Chinese New Year, you have to keep your pets inside because people may consume them in their celebratory stews.  Thank you, Helen.

The teas were utterly delicious, and it was interesting to hear what part of your health each one improved.  At one point, we drank some lavender tea, and the tea ceremony leader pulled out the hot leaves from the water and gave them to us.  Helen and Rolex showed us how to tear off a wet leaf and put it underneath our eyes to prevent "panda eyes."  "You know, like the animal?  You sit for long hours at computer playing games, then you get dark, panda eyes," instructed Rolex as he installed his wet leaves.  "No more panda eyes!"

We were taught how to hold the tiny tea cups and how to finish each serving in three sips.  Helen and Rolex were great company, and they asked many questions about our lives and how America compares to what we were experiencing.  Helen had asked if we wanted to have children, and I told her that we'd like to someday.  At the end of the ceremony, we were given some red tassels and Rolex and Helen decorated our backpack and camera with them to give us good fortune and many children.

They had to head back to their families, so we exchanged e-mails and parted ways.  They directed us to People's Square, a large shopping center where we'd be able to experience a different part of Shanghai. One thing to remember about Shanghai is that pushing, spitting and littering is socially acceptable and there are basically no street regulations as far as pedestrians and vehicles are concerned.  The traffic lights pretty much mean nothing, and if the motorcycles can pass cars by driving on the sidewalk, they will.  Matt and I learned that consistency is the best policy.  Just keep moving and they will avoid you if they can predict where you'll be by the time they zoom past you.

It was lunch time at this point, so we found a place with pictures we could point at to order and got a bowl and a tray of mysteries.  I was just hoping that mine wasn't clams and intestines... The order was up and we enjoyed a pork and rice lunch with vegetables, deliciously flavored eggplant and some sort of puffy sweet yellow thing for dessert.  We're still not sure what that was.  It was like a sweet omelet chunk.

The new part of Shanghai from the ferry.
Just a side note: today was the day that I realized I've been using the eastern-style toilets backwards, and it became a little bit easier to relieve myself, but still not ideal.  I'll be looking up some tutorials this evening on how to properly use them.

Anyway, we walked back to the river, and found ferry to go across and see the Pearl tower.  The ferry was fun!  It only cost $.30 with the conversion rate.  So worth it.  The buildings were so big and beautiful, and there were some raised gardens that we walked around.

There's a very weird mix of how clean-cut, pruned and styled the landscaping and buildings are with or poorly people treat them.  There is trash and dirt and spit and stains everywhere and always a smell of sewage.  The river is littered with garbage and the smog hangs in the air so thick that the buildings all look faded from a couple blocks away.  From afar, the city looks pristine and futuristic, but when you're walking the streets, you realize that everything is filthy.

One of my favorite parts about the way this trip is set up is the fact that we're going to be able to compare cultures so closely.  After being in Japan for five days, then traveling for two days and arriving and experiencing China, it's made me realize how absolutely different they are.  In my Western-brain, I lumped them together as Asian, but they couldn't be more different.

The skyline at night.
In Japan, people were respectful and apologizing and thanking one another all the time.  To enter the subway, people stood quietly in a line and waited their turn getting on to make sure everyone else was off that needed to get off.  You could eat off of the sidewalk it was so clean, and trashcans were non-existent.  You were expected to take your trash with you and then separate it into burnables, plastics, non-burnables and cans when you got home.  When you smiled at someone, they smiled back and bowed to you.  Their culture made me realize how loud I was all the time.

In China, people worry about themselves.  We learned how to say please and thank you but were directed not to use them very much because it would be weird.  To get on the ferry, there were giant metal gates that people smashed themselves against, and as soon as it opened people shoved and ran to get on the boat to get the best seats.  People littered all over the place, especially in bushes where trash could be tucked under the foliage, and absolutely no one smiled back.  I was given multiple dirty looks and double-takes until I wiped that silly grin off my face.  I realized here that I was too nice all the time.

I'm looking forward to comparing and contrasting cultures as we move along, and I'm trying not to judge them or rank them against one another, but so far, Japan was my favorite.  One more day in Shanghai tomorrow, then we head to Hong Kong.