Orchestrated Chance Meetings

September 19th, 2010
Time: 14:12
Location: Starbucks on Hengshan Lu

So, here I sit at Starbucks, living the Chinese dream. It is a beautiful, slightly muggy Sunday afternoon, I’ve got a caramel Frappuccino by my side, free internet, my nook, and I don’t have to work. It’s the weekend, nobody is working. Wrong. Everyone is working – at least, everyone that I know. Wednesday is Moon Cake Festival or something like that and so the whole of China has Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off. Brilliant, a 2 day week! Wrong. Here’s where it becomes illogical. The holiday is on Wednesday, so celebrate Friday and give people the weekend, right? But that would be logical and TIC – This Is China. Instead, they make-up those days off on the weekends. Kids go to school on Saturday and Sunday so as not to lose a day of school. Kind-of defeats the purpose of a holiday, doesn’t it China?
But lucky me, I work at a Korean Kindergarten and those Koreans, thank God, don’t believe in that whole weekend school crap. Also, they are fine church-going Christians and the Lord ’s Day isn’t meant for any kind of school beyond the Sunday variety.

And that is where I’m headed next. I’m at Starbucks not because I had a bad day or seriously needed a coffee fix. It’s more a matter of blessed convenience. Across the street from where I sit is Shanghai Community Fellowship. Last week I Google searched and chose this church to visit because of the name. Nostalgia is kind-of a thing with me, all the more so being in a foreign country. (Community Bible Fellowship is the church of my childhood.)

Never before have I worshiped with such a wide variety of nationalities. The opening song had at least 4 languages. I sat beside an Italian man, a Chinese couple, and who knows how many other countries. To be honest, I wasn’t planning on returning today – church shopping and all that. But, last night when Rob and I were headed home from the most delicious gruesome dinner you will ever encounter – Chinese Hot Pot, we met a fellow American on the Metro. (As an aside, every time I see a white person a little voice in my head exclaims “White Person!” It’s so weird.)
After some discreet mutual sizing-up, he asked us where we were from. Turns out, Rob and he had met once before at ultimate frisbee. Also, turns out he’s from Oregon! High-fives and fist bumping commenced. Turns out, Forest Grove! More high-fives. Okay, yes, Forest Grove? Who really cares about Forest Grove? The point is, close to Portland and not some podunk town I’ve never heard of before. Turns out, went to school in D.C. – where Rob also went to school. Turns out, this school was a tiny Christian college. Turns out, he also attends Shanghai Community Fellowship, is part of the worship team today and helps with the youth. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to be my new friend. A Christian from Oregon? I need more of you people in Shanghai.

But that’s the reason I am back across the street from SCF and I have a feeling that meeting wasn’t mere coincidence, if such a thing even exists. It’s one thing simply to attend church, but once you start meeting people it changes the game. People require relationships and time and purpose – not just anonymous pew sitting. That can be a bit scary, so I invited along reinforcements. Paulette is joining me around 4 but in the meanwhile I am going to enjoy my coffee and pretend to do my homework.

Tuesday I am off to Hangzhou for a day and a half. I’ll post if something interesting happens - or if I am inspired to make something up. In the meanwhile, I’ll post some pictures of my neighborhood from the window of the metro station and also the carnage of our staff dinner at hot pot.

Why I Need to Buy a Walking Map of Shanghai

September 7th, 2010

Time: 22:13

Location: My couch

Tonight I spent a good solid three hours or so on the streets of the Shanghai in the French concession area. On accident. And on purpose. But mostly on accident.

My feet hurt.

You see, it all started about 3 weeks ago when I lost my tweezers somewhere in my hotel room where they were never to be found again – at least, not by me. In the three weeks since my eyebrows became a beautiful reminder of my father and his gorgeous unibrow.

Super hot.

While I love my father, I’d just as soon not be a stand-in for Bert or Ernie. So, after some searching on the web and becoming an official member of shanghaiexpat.com I discovered a salon solely devoted to the hair on your face – namely brows. I did a little copy and paste action in google maps, did some translation of the chinese characters into pinyin, (a feature google has really got to consider. I mean really, if I’m searching for an address on the American version of google, you think I can read characters?) and scribbled directions and metro card in hand, I headed for Brow Haus.

I got there. Eventually.

I feel like so many of my travel posts involve getting lost. Maybe that’s because that’s when I see the most. I suppose when you’re looking for something you see more.

And I saw a lot.

Shanghai reminds of the river which splits it in half. Ever shifting, never stopping, fluid, wet, and dirty. A car stops in front of you? Weave around it and don’t forget to lay on the horn for a good 30 seconds or so. Traffic blocking the road? By all means, flood the banks and go up and around on the curb. Red light but you’re turning right? Stop? Of course not, pedestrians be damned. Wheels have the right of way in this city and there are no rules. Turn on your lights at night? Why? Gun your motorbike down the sidewalk with a cigarette dangling from your lips and a cellphone pressed to one ear, all the while beeping your horn at those people who dare to walk up on the curb out of the path of vehicles? Standard practice. In Shanghai, you don’t stop moving. For anyone. At any time.

And so, when I realized that I had taken the wrong turn, yet again, did I stop and ask for directions? Um no. Do I ever? Could I have asked even had I wanted to? Actually, yes. For once I wasn’t being pointed at by little children or looked at by every Chinese person who apparently has never seen a white blond girl before. I was in the French concession where white people abound. But, really, it’s irrelevant because I am a big fan of walking aimlessly in wide circles, past old men who indiscriminately shoot snot out of their nostrils and hawk loogies like it’s an Olympic event, over glass-shattered, garbage strewn, dirty wash water soaked sidewalks and through pocket after pocket of the worst smelling , putrid, disgusting, stomach quenching stenches the olfactory sense ever did encounter.

I was *this* close to calling the magic number – a number every expat or traveler to Shanghai should know. It’s pasted on the back of every cab drivers plastic bubble that protects (? nobody really knows) them from their fares all in the name of a “better city, a better life” a.k.a the World Expo, a.k.a “hey world, look at Shanghai. We are awesome and here is a number that you can call for literally anything. Anything. Where’s the best place to eat fried chicken? How do you say hello in Chinese? Can you please tell the cab driver that I want to go to Brow Haus?” But, I abstained, and eventually wandered across signs for a different line on the metro. My theory from London holds true – with public transport you can never really be lost. So, back I went to my original stop, up the stairs through exit 6, past the Chinese army men who never move, never talk, and probably think about a thousand times a day that they have the worst job ever. Maybe one day they can compare notes with the Buckingham palace guards. This time I turned the opposite direction and 10 minutes later finally arrived at my destination.

A good 20 minutes later I left feeling like I had lost 5 pounds off my face. Literally. My eyes actually felt like a curtain had been lifted off of them. I decided to celebrate by going to Starbucks. Back past the Chinese army guards who at this point had seen me pass at least 4 times, past my metro stop, past the old man and his change cup, past the empty police tank/truck thing with its red and blue lights flashing and not a uniform in sight, and into Starbucks for a much needed caramel Frappuccino. Dare to scold me for going to Starbucks while in a foreign county. No, go on, I dare you.

I should say, Shanghai isn’t as bad as I make it out to be. It’s just, my feet hurt and the world just isn’t so happy when my feet hurt. Maybe I should call the magic number and ask them for the best foot massage parlor in town. Or, I could just pop downstairs and have at least 5 to choose from within one square block. See? Not so bad after all.