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October 29 2007

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My opinion of the city hasn't changed much... There are places that were a lot of fun for us, galleries, cafés and very glitzy bars, but all of them were western in style and clientele. It's easy to meet westerners who live here, but none of those we talked to have close ties with locals.
Shanghai seems to me like two separate towns - on top there's a world-class resort for foreigners and the privileged, a place where expats commute to work by taxi; and then, there's another, more pedestrian town: smelly, dusty, not poor but far from wealthy, large, loud and part of a trist political and subsequently cultural reality.
I guess these opposites are blending together over time, and will do so more quickly with increasing wealth. I'm glad we're leaving.

We'll be in Vienna on Tuesday morning. How about beer at 9 pm at our usual spot?

October 28 2007

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But apparently there are too many polygons in Shanghai...
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Today we went up the 88 story Jinmao tower...
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On that particular night we found out that the odds of running into someone you know in a city of some 17 million by coincidence aren't that bad at all!
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Approximately 2000 inch of screen estate to promote softdrinks.
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Picture postcard from Shanghai...
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Apparently Fido Dido is now big in China. I never understood that character at all, not even when I was a child. Is he supposed to be a particularly fresh person?
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We noticed something about the bells sounded odd, so we took a closer look at the tower.

October 25 2007

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I'm posting this from Barbarossa, a cool Moroccan-style lounge in Renmin park, but, yes, its clientele is almost entirely devoid of Chinese.
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In Japan we noticed how tourists would look at each other with ever so slight discomfort. Here it seems that they look at each other almost with relief, as if it were refreshing to make eye contact with someone and be sure they aren't out to scam you. Shanghai may be a great place for adventurers, but frankly, we've been travelling too long and we're too exhausted to put up with constantly being on the lookout.

(pic: Captain's Bar, roof-top bar with a great view of Pudong, belonging to a youth hostel)
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My problem with Shanghai is that for a westerner, it's not a place to have fun, unless you stick to places that emulate a western lifestyle, at prices that are way beyond affordable for citizens. Leave these safety zones, and you find yourself in a gigantic, very smelly city, where people look at you and see an outsider with a large wallet. Walk down the large shopping streets and every ten meters someone tries to sell you fake goods or a beggar tugs at your sleeve. Walk outside these tourist centers and people constantly and very openly stare at you. And then there's also the very real danger of walking into a car (a green traffic light at best means that pedestrians too may cross the street).
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The first thing we noticed about Shanghai was how much more it felt like the Tokyo we had imagined than Tokyo ever did. Driving into the city from the airport, you see fields of huge appartment blocks randomly sprouting in neighborhoods of small houses, quickly followed by the futuristic skyscrapers covered in blinking lights that mark your entrance to the city's center. Shanghai's houses are animated, and I'm not only referring to the 20-story video screen in Pudong - everywhere you look you see buildings with rainbow-colored dots and lines moving across their façades. It is a hugely impressive place, but then it's also tacky, and all the bling leaves you feeling like the urban planners' idea of a modern-looking city was largely inspired by theme parks.

October 21 2007


and that's that...

We're leaving for Shanghai in a couple of hours.
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Tokyo, odds and ends:
We have one of those Japanese space-age toilets in our hotel room!
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Tokyo, odds and ends:

We've been to a small maid cafe. You know, these places where nerds pay a premium to be served by pretty girls in French maid uniforms greeting their patrons with "Welcome home, sir".

For us, the experience was a bit awkward - a sparsely decorated small room with a bar with five guys and two terrified waitresses staring at us upon entrance.

Mia wasn't sure if female patrons were even allowed, so I broke out my tourist-Japanese: "Is it okay to come in?"
- "Hai."
All eyes still on us, I pause for a second, point at Mia and ask "Is she... okay as well?"
- "Hai."

So we get seated and one of the girls comes to our table, kneels down beside it and tells me that they're closing in less than an hour. No problem, we say.

Then she says something I can't understand at all (in general, with the help of a pocket dictionary, assembling sentences, even pretty complex ones, turned out to be rather easy for me, whereas I almost never understood the replies to my questions). It sounds like an entrance fee, which is common in many Japanese bars.

I ask her to repeat and speak slowly. It sounds like 1000 yen (around 6€), but there's more. Something about Mia. I break out a notepad and start to draw the table, two stick figures and two bottles of beer and put little price tags on the drawings - 500 on a bottle and 1000 on a stick figure. The girl chuckles, adds a little male sign to the stick figure, and 500 yen and a female sign to the other stick figure. Communication problem solved.

We receive our beer and that's pretty much it in terms of interaction until it's time to pay our bill. We could have "rented" one of the girls to play Wii Sports with us at 1000 yen per 10 minutes, but we chose to abstain.

As I hand her the money, the girl's finger touches mine, a gesture that is clearly supposed to be part of the experience. Then she asks where we come from. "Osutoria", I say. "Osutoria" or "Osutoraria", she asks. Austria. "Mozart!", Mia chimes in. I try to tell her about our experience with the guy at the hot dog stand earlier that day, who responded to me telling him where we come from with an enthusiastic "Aah, Mozaato!". She has no idea what I'm trying to talk about and chuckles politely with a confused look on her eyes. "Never mind", I say. We leave.
Time for some Mario Kart.
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Tokyo, odds and ends:
Ginza from top of a double-decker bus. A one hour tourist ride, with us being the only passengers on that particularly windy evening.
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Tokyo, odds and ends:
compulsory subway photo
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Tokyo, odds and ends:
For seven nights in a row we'd been wondering about the half a dozen drag queens in bright yellow sweeping the streets around the corner from our hotel in Shinjuku. I finally asked them what they were doing. Cleaning, they said.
"Oh. Did you get in trouble with the law or something?"
"No, we're volunteers!"
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