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).  

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