Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lonely Monday

Monday afternoon I'm bored and agitated, I need to get off campus for a while.

So I head to the French Concession for a stroll. I love the narrow streets lined with century-old villas and cottages, and I enjoy the art-deco buildings on Huaihai Road as well.

Later, I decide to check out the Bund, open again after renovations for the upcoming World Expo. I stand at the rail and look across the Huangpu River at the skyscrapers of Pudong. I watch a freighter pass by.

I turn my back on Pudong and look down Zhongshan Road. Here, the British built a replica of London. It's six o'clock, and the bell tower on the Customs House does an imitation of Big Ben.

I'm lonely and tired. I've done a lot of walking. My feet hurt, and I'm limping a little. The Bund is one of the major tourist attractions of Shanghai, so why is the nearest subway station six blocks away?

On Nanjing Road, a hawker approaches.

“Hello sir!” he calls out. “Watch? Wallet?”

I'm feeling lousy. I've had enough. I turn on him and shout, “Go away!” My hand is raised. I want to hit him.

“Go away,” he parrots.

Six steps later, another hawker approaches. I swat at him like a mosquito. I've lost my cool and I know it.

The subway station is packed. The Chinese are rarely timid, but subways are new in Shanghai—not yet engrained in the culture—so when a full train pulls into the station, the people on the platform just stand there. But I rode rush-hour trains in Japan for years—I know there's always room for one more. I walk up to the open door, shove hard, and step into the train. The door closes behind me.

I get back to campus too late to eat in the cafeteria, so I order a veggie wrap from a vendor outside. There's a crowd—never a line in China, always a crowd—and the guy that paid after me is trying to cut in front. I'm not going to let him do it.

When it's my turn, the cook asks him what he wants on his wrap. I tell her what I want.

She smiles at him and says, “Let the foreigner go first.”

They're treating me like a child! (And they also think I don't understand what they're saying about me.)

“You teacher here?” asks the guy in halting English. Oh, now you're being friendly, huh?

“Yes,” I say.



Puzzled look on his face.

“Xinlixue,” I explain.

“Oh, you speak good Chinese.”

Not good enough to tell you what I really think about you.

The cook hands me my veggie wrap. I could sit on the patio and eat it, but I just want to go back to my room. I've had enough of China and the Chinese for one day.

Mostly this trip has been good. I've done a lot of interesting things, met a lot of interesting people. Sometimes, though, I also feel very isolated—lonely and frustrated. But that too is part of the experience.

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