Notes from Shanghai: Preparing for a mission

2010-05-18 09:44

China diary: Day 3
Not a good day today. I’m battling the onset of flu, which came with a moerse headache and stomach cramps. The cold dark skies only serve to dig me deeper into my black mood.

I hope my body is just acclimatising because I have plans for tomorrow. My mission: find the street stalls that sell food on a stick.

Fellow South Africans I met at the Expo 2010 have already pointed me in the right direction. Now all I need are nerves of steel and a stomach.

Being here means I have to get used to doing without a few creature comforts – South African wine being among them. The American sewerage water they pass off as wine here is absolutely disgusting – even our R30 bottle of wine from the local Tops tastes 10 times better.

The other thing I’m having withdrawal from is quality television. If I’m not tuned into CNN, then I’m watching an American war series on HBO Asia or a war movie on their Cinemax channel. The rest are Asian channels with Asian subtitles. Clever that.

But more than anything, I miss being heard. Is English really that difficult?

I ask for a salad with no tomatoes, I get a salad with lots of tomatoes and no dressing. I ask for only a section of the room to be cleaned, they take their bucket and mop, and leave. I ask where I can buy a SIM card for my phone, I get a giggle and a shake of the head.

Part of me understands, of course. Everyone here, especially in a working environment, has their role to play. Cleaners cannot speak to you or help you out with translation on the phone. Only the concierge or front desk can communicate with you.

This means you don’t get to chat with citizens in an informal manner. Everything is rigid and the code has to be followed to the letter.

It’s frustrating for me because I get the feeling that people here would love to throw off the shackles of their strict codes and engage with me. At least, I hope so.

Tomorrow, come rain or shine, I will find the nearest bus or train station and make my way to the place of food on a stick. Stomach cramps be damned.

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