Rethinking How to Walk

May 24th, 2011
Location: Coffee Bean
Time: 1:02pm

Last week featured seven days of sticky train poles, sweaty brows, and clinging humidity. Shorts and summer dresses were pulled from the depths of closets and shockingly pale legs were bared to the world. Back home, this time of year whispers sweet nothings of long, lazy days spent on the river, warm evenings saturated in the dusky hues of twilight, and the bright glow of blockbuster hits in an air-conditioned theatre.  It smiles at me from across the treacherous months of grey and wet, reassuring me with its annual promises.   Unfortunately, that dear old friend failed to mention that it doesn’t do long distance.  Instead, it has referred me to its cousin, temperate summer’s evil nemesis, searing heat and oppressive humidity.  And let me tell you something – I am not impressed.

Summer in Shanghai whispers no sweet nothings.  It wouldn’t even know how to begin.  This summer promises to be a relentless shouting of smelly bodies, glorious back sweat, slippery metro seats, fetid, rotting filth baking in the sun, grouchy children, dirty feet, crowded train cars, and every kind of noxious aroma the nose ever did encounter all swirled into one gorgeous mass of foul living. 

The excitement is overwhelming me.

So when the weather gods decided to offer a mini break in the form of wind, rain, and plummeting temperatures over the weekend, I was – to say the least – relieved.  Misty days?  Flat, grey skies? This is my kind-of weather. I blessedly put away my razor and pulled out my well-loved jeans and hooded sweatshirts. My raincoat and umbrella resumed their rightful places and all was well with the world.

Until Monday.

Shanghai, in all its brilliant stages of rapid growth and economic expansion has failed in many respects.  Poorly constructed and gaudily adorned monuments aside, this city is also entirely without regard for inclement weather. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a good 75% of the surfaces in this city (excluding pavement) are as smooth as glass. Metro platforms, apartment lobbies, cross walks, sidewalks, hallways, stairways. It’s not as if the good women of Shanghai need any added traction.  Their slippery, stilettoed ice-pick heels were created for such surfaces.  These women with their birdlike ankles, fragile frames, and glittery tops were clearly made for all terrains.  Traction strips on the steps would be like a slap in the face to their effeminate charm of walking gracefully in heels.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have worn heels this year. My life consists of Chuck Taylors and Rainbows. And while neither of these are comparable to a sturdy pair of hiking boots, they haven’t done me wrong yet.

Until Monday.

Not being one to compromise my safety for vanity on a daily basis, I don’t often give much thought to the simple act of walking.  Although, before China I never considered my restaurant selection based upon whether the menu offered pictures, nor did I question drinking from the tap, and I never pondered the best means of communicating ground beef using body language. I should have known better than to assume anything should be taken for granted, up to and including the act of descending a flight of stairs.

Those shockingly white legs are not so white any longer.  They now showcase a few brilliant splotches of purple and blue.  And, I kid you not, if I had a neck brace handy I’d totally be rocking one right now. 

Hey! Ladies who wear death-defying, toothpick thin sling backs and who speak Chinese! Start writing some letters to the city planners or whoever deals with this stuff and get us some traction.  For the love of your necks! Or, at least mine. Please and thanks.

Please excuse me while I take an aspirin (or five).  

Kindergarten Truths

Location: Starbucks, Hengshan Lu
Time: 6:37 pm

It’s finals week.  It’s die week.  It’s make you wanna cry week.

Today everything, including the kitchen sink, was due to end the term.  Luckily, our professors heard our moans from across the Pacific (and the river) and gave us an extension till next Wednesday.  Considering I’m collecting my 200 survey responses tomorrow, this is especially good tidings.
These assignments haven’t left a lot of leisure time for the random musing, so instead I will leave you with a very cheesy, not at all concerned with structure or rhythm, poem.  I wrote it for my practicum class in which we were required to represent our year of teaching in artistic form.


Kindergarten Truths

I once met a boy named Gorilla
He claimed to have come from Korilla.
He would jump when I said hop
And run when I said stop.
He wore dresses and skirts
And bears on his shirts.
His favorite animal was the lion
And you couldn’t catch him cryin’
Unless I made him stand in the corner.
I once met a girl named Sandy
By next Tuesday she called herself Candy.
She told me D was for bat
And skinny meant fat.
She liked to run from the monkey
Her fingers were perpetually gunky
And she would smear them all over my face.
I once met a boy named Ned
Who told me his green hat was red.
He didn’t have any feet
And of course lemons were sweet.
Every morning was always a Thursday
And he told me could fly far away
If only that had been true.
I once met a girl named Joy
Who thought that my pen was her toy
When it was raining it was sunny
And oh, wasn’t that terribly funny?
She was 7-years-old
Or so I was told
But her birth certificate claimed she was 5.
I once met a woman named Trencher
Who told me teaching would be an adventure.
A world of sniffles and coughs
Class clowns and show offs
Big, sunny smiles
Patience and trials
Wet, sloppy kisses
And I love you wishes
And it turns out she was right.
                                May 13th, 2011

Revenge of the Ayis

May 4th, 2011
Location: Coffee Bean, Wuzhong Lu
Time: 12:33 pm

Some people have yoga. Others have boxing.  For Oedipus it was attempting to gauge out his eyes.  We all have our methods of catharsis.  Mine is cleaning.  It’s rather fitting, since the word literally means to cleanse or to purge - from kathairein  "to purify, purge," from katharsos  "pure" (Aside: Hi, Frank Fredericks – Mrs. Dowd’s AP English, anyone?)

Friday is the one day of the week that I can legitimately justify not breaking out P90X or trudging over to the gym. It’s the day I pour my tension and anxiety into a bucket of soapy water and scrub it out of my system.

This last week found me with more than my average share of cathartic exercise.  The previous Friday I’d missed my usual cleaning, and within a mere 14 days my apartment had turned into a den of inequity – cleanliness = Godliness, etc., etc.

Here is why: Shanghai is the dirtiest city known to man.  Okay, so Manshiyat Naser may own that one, but with an air pollution level of 5, on a scale of 5 – severe (thanks a lot, sandstorms), it’s not like I’m living in a Mr. Clean commercial.  I feel like Billy Mays could have made a fortune in this country.

I started the day out in my bedroom: organizing, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, laundry and then moved onto the bathroom, rinse and repeat, the living and dining area, and then on into the kitchen.  Six, count ‘em, SIX mother f’ing hours later I collapsed onto my sterling white tile floors and melted into a puddle of exhaustion.

I have got to hire an ayi.

Besides the utter filth I encountered on the soles of my feet from a simple stroll from my bedroom to the kitchen, my exhaustion could also be attributed to the implements used for removing said filth.  For God knows what reason, the good people of China refuse to produce brooms with handles that reach above waist level.  I have a theory on this: it’s how they keep the ayis from getting too uppity.  Know your place, Ayi! Stay low to the ground and break your back for that 15 yuan an hour! And now that you’re crippled for life, continue to shuffle around, eyes downcast and back horizontal to ground, keeping out of the line of sight for all of us upwardly mobile citizens.

But I swear the people of Shanghai with their noses in the air are getting their comeuppance – and it’s literally hitting them in the nose.  All those stooped ayis you can spot at any metro or street corner may appear to be cleaning but I like to think of it more as dirt displacement.  Walk past any one of those mopping women and you’ll notice that her bucket of water is opaque with sludge and grime.  She dips her already blackened mop into that cesspool and then swirls it across the pavement – spreading the muck far and wide.

Every time I enter the hallway outside the elevators in my building, I know the ayi has recently “cleaned” because it smells like urine.

Sooo , maybe I won’t hire that ayi after all.  In the meantime, my lower back is becoming freakishly strong.

This is me standing over the broom and the mop - flat-footed.

14 days of accumulated dirt.

Just wanted to show you exactly how small the brooms are in relation to a door.  And don't be fooled by that mop.  It looks tall, but as soon as you use it, the handle sinks to the same level as the broom.