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I'm alive! I'm back! I want to tell you about my trip! But it will have to happen in installments, in order to avoid creating the Livejournal Entry That Ate Chicago.

I'm going to start with Shanghai, which is where my travels to India and Hong Kong and Malaysia really started. Way back in January, I had to go to Shanghai to get a tourist visa to India. This was the first time I had traveled anywhere in China alone. For at least the first month after I got here, other teachers were nervous to hear about me even taking the city bus by myself. So it was an important first step.

I took the D train, the fancy modern fast train, to Shanghai, and got off in fancy modern Shanghai South Train Station, and took a fancy modern fast subway train to my stop, whereupon I promptly got lost. It is important to note that at this point I did not have a map or a guidebook, only some directions jotted down from the website of the hostel where I'd made a reservation. I walked in every available direction (which added up to at least seven directions) but couldn't find the road I was supposed to cross. I bought an egg-pancake thing from a street vendor and considered the situation while I ate it. Fortunately, while I was standing there I remembered how to say "where is," so this became my new strategy: walking up to people who seemed to live in the neighborhood (not the tourists, who stick out in Shanghai just as much as in New York thanks to the way they lean back to look up at the tall buildings) and asking "Duolun Liu zai nar?" I could make absolutely no sense of the answers , but everyone I asked had the courtesy to point in the general direction of the road, so I followed in that way until I found it: not just a street sign but an actual gate welcoming me to Duolun Road.


I took this picture later, by which time it was dark.

As I mentioned, I didn't have a guidebook, so I had no idea what this place was. Turns out it's a small, historic street sort of nestled into a very contemporary shopping district. It twisted and turned and even, dare I say, wended its way, and I followed it until I got to the hostel.

Koala Garden house

This place was nice enough I'm going ahead and telling the Internet about it. It's called the Koala Garden House. They have coffee and western breakfasts and dinners. Everyone who works there speaks pretty good English, and the private rooms have actual shower stalls. You're welcome. I checked in, dropped my bags and went out to wander.

I should mention here that one of the differences I've noticed since coming to China--not the most immediately obvious one, but a significant one for me--is the relative lack of a reading culture here. A lot of the teachers here studied a bit of literature in college but tell me they don't have time to read now, and I believe them, given how much time they all have to spend at school. If I'm in public, say in a train station, and pull out a book and start reading, people stare even more than they were previously staring, and usually someone tries to read over my shoulder. (I never know whether the person doing this is actually able to read English or not.) Twice someone has seen me reading and asked how much the book cost. I can't imagine someone asking me this question in the States unless I were reading a fancy-dancy leatherbound edition of something--but who does that? The readers I know all borrow from libraries and from friends, get books as gifts, buy them used, and sell old books to subsidize new ones, all of which means that a book is not a very interesting economic marker. Here, apparently, that kind of reading life is not so common.

For me, books are about as much a luxury as is hot running water. So you can understand why this place has been a change, and why I was so tickled to discover that Duolun Road was lined with statues of literary luminaries. Okay, they were literary luminaries who helped create Communist China, but a writer's a writer.

writer dude
I took a photo of this statue's nameplate, but I can't read it now. Whoever he was, he has very round glasses.

Also there was this church built like a temple.

temple church

I wandered around peering at shops and getting rather lost--in a good way this time--among all the street vendors; gave up on the idea of a proper dinner and just ate a bunch of street food; went into a tiny, tiny tea goods store and bought a teapot from the man who was sitting in there with his young son. The teapot is not, in an objective light, anything special, and it has writing on it I can't read. But I believe in buying souvenirs when you're having a good time, and I was feeling particularly pleased with Shanghai that evening.

The next day I bought a city map--this is crucial, kids!--and applied for my visa to India, which involved a lot of waiting but went off without a hitch, and then went to the Shanghai Museum to look at pottery until it was time for my return train. You are probably not shocked to hear that there is a long history of beautiful ceramics in China, but seriously, look at these beautiful ceramics!

Peach vase
Peaches!

Bug dish
Bugs!

Dragons
Dragons!

There was a room dedicated to export pottery--stuff that got sold to Westerners, in other words. It was incredibly boring compared to the domestic work. I don't know what lesson to take from this. The only intriguing thing was this guy:

Kylin

The label calls him a "kylin." Whatever those are, I'm scared of them now.

This wasn't my first time in Shanghai; I spent a weekend here before with another teacher. But there's something about being alone in a city that puts you in a completely different relationship to it. When it's a foreign city in a country that after three months still feels new, that difference can be really important.

So that was kind of the beginning of my trip. Up next: Jaipur! I promise--a real promise--that I won't take a month to post the next update.
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marjorieinchina

July 2010

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