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Tea that blooms and commuters that loom—blocking the whole escalator: Shanghai surprise(s), part one


See what I mean? It really blooms!
Robert Schrader

Western assumption: East Asian big city dwellers are perpetually on the move, with many places to go and people to see—walk slowly at your own peril.

True or false?

One Western adage which is continually proven to be true is that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let this photograph put to rest any questions you might have. Let's just say said picture was taking exiting a very busy metro station and that there were about forty people behind pictured woman.

And most of them were standing in the middle of the f-ing escalator, free of any sense of urgency.

Today, on my day off, this leisurely pace of rapid transit wasn't as upsetting me as it is when there are four times more people on an escalator half as long and I'm trying to push my way through one of the busiest metro stations in China with ten minutes to go until I'm expected at my desk. Today, it was an amusing picture to take.

Shanghai continues to surprise me in how, well, unsurprising it is. Perhaps it's because of my trips to India earlier in the year and the contrast between this relatively Western metropolis and a place like New Dehli, where five or six taxis, a few motorbikes, an autorickshaw or two and a bus will pile into a road meant for two cars, but the shock about Shanghai is simple: there's not much shocking here.

Which is not to say there's nothing interesting; far from it. From the mummified chickens and decapitated ducks and still-slimy squids at the grocery store to the gold and silver relics scattered amid skyscrapers to the Manhattan-sized skylines that seem to pop up like weeds for miles and miles in every direction, Shanghai is a place I could photograph and write about for years. But it lacks an "in your face" quality I suppose I was assuming it would have, which is probably good in that I'll be here for at least a year. It's also good because a relatively normal pace of living will allow me to explore the city at a comfortable pace over the next fifty or so weeks instead of trying to take it all in at once.

I indulged in my first trip to an old-school teahouse this evening after purchasing some dried red clover, chrysanthemum and lavender at the store yesterday to transcend the bagged Lipton Chamomile and Jasmine I've been drinking since I arrived. Tucked away on the third floor of a semi-rundown shopping center, walls adorned with red brick wallpaper and holes built to allow quick escapes for the mice who apparently live there, the ambiance afforded was unexpected, though greatly welcomed. It was probably the most expensive evening I've had out thus far in Shanghai—around $40 for two people sampling three teas—but my, what teas they were. Overshadowing a delightful, if medicinal red fruit tea and a fragrant, Jasmine pearl was a tea that bloomed—literally. The open flower gave way to a pale yellow concoction which had a leveling quality that induced presence and awareness to complement the awe that transpired upon witnessing a dried bud open in real time as it steeped in hot water. Since I don't drink much anymore—a couple glasses of wine at a fellow teacher's apartment the other night is all I've had since September—this splurge is one I'm able to make as needed, and for which I will most definitely be willing.

My visit to the tea house concluded a day which began early at the Police Security Bureau in Pudong, where I completed my residency process and continued on to see me wander my neighborhood with Sam, a student from Belgium and one of my newest friends here. In addition to heading to Carrefour; so that he could get his Nutella fix and I could finally try dragonfruit—which lacked in taste as much as it did color—we indulged in a couple bouts of less pricey, showy tea and some dumplings that transcended their low price—about $1.20 for 8.

My "weekend" also saw me return to the South Bund Fabric Market, where I recently had five dress shirts and a coat custom-made for about $100. I placed an order to have four sets of matching slacks/vests made—in satin-y silver, midnight blue and two most subtle, pinstriped blues—and most of my pre-existing shirts tailored, all at similarly low prices. It's going to be very difficult for me to abstain for having more clothing made at the cost offered by these clothiers, but, to be honest, my professional wardrobe is already incredible, so I really shouldn't get greedy. That said, I'll probably get five to ten more shirts made so that I have at least a month's worth of outfits. Doing laundry is a bitch here sans electric dryer and with the quality of most irons and ironing boards, so if I can do it less than once per month, it's worth the small expenditure. Plus, I'll look terrific in the process. I'm very much into style and fashion.

Whoops, just became Brenda Dickson there for a second.

In any case, I should probably go so that I can resume planning for my classes—as in my own classes, no supervision or co-teaching involved—which begin tomorrow. God knows I'll encounter several slow-moving Chinese blocking every escalator of which I need use, so it's safe to assume I won't have much extra prep time tomorrow.

Damn, I want another order of those dumplings.