Notes from Shanghai: What a strange people, what a city

2010-05-24 09:35

I have been counting down the days until I get on an aircraft that

is going to fly me away from the East to the South – home sweet home.

I have fantasised about that moment when I would stand at the door

of a South African Airways plane and give the city of Shanghai the mighty

finger. My days in that city have been filled with either fear or loathing, and

I couldn’t wait to break out.
So desperate that I called home and begged for an

early departure because my bullsh*t radar was beeping at an alarming rate and I

was in danger of klapping someone.

So when I was told I could cut my Chinese adventure by three days,

I went down on my knees and thanked all the gods and ancestors I could think of.

I was so grateful.

But on my last day, something happened that introduced some grey

into my black and white vision of Shanghai and it’s people. I had lots of


In fact, I’m still in shock and confused by this alien feeling.

Fear and loathing, remember? So what the heck is this now?

You know those romcoms where the guy and the girl butt heads from

the word go, and only later discover that they are indeed in love? Well, I feel

like that girl. Okay, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m in love with Shanghai

– far from it – but I’m (wo)man enough to admit that something in me was

awakened on that last night.

It all started with my visit to Vika Khumalo, South Africa’s

consul-general, who spent the better part of an hour trying to explain the

Chinese to me.

They are not that bad, he said. They are just curious and express

themselves differently to us.

Khumalo went on to regale me about his and his family’s

(mis)adventures with the Chinese when they first moved to the city four years

ago. I laughed until tears streamed down my face when he told me how these

people used to pinch him to see if he was real or grab at his daughter’s braids.

Once, someone even rubbed his child’s hand to see if the black would come


In retrospect it is funny, but the lack of respect or understanding

of personal boundaries is what gets me up the wall. And incidentally, almost

every other black person I hooked up with later that day complained about


Still, I left Khumalo’s office feeling a little more relaxed and

receptive. I even offered to pose for pictures with a group of people who had

crowded the South African pavilion at the Expo. Don’t ever say I don’t serve my


But it was later that evening when a group of South African

delegates and myself decided to hit the town. I wanted to end my awful week on a

high. We hooked up with a couple of Chinese girls who know one of our party and,

I have to say, those girls will never know what they did for their city and

countrymen in my eyes. They were friendly, relaxed, fun and took us to Mint, the

most happening – and outrageously expensive – nightclub in the city and got us

in without paying.

Determined as I was to hate everything and everyone there, I found

myself literally dancing for four straight hours without ever sitting


The music pumped, the sweat dripped, there was even – horror of

horrors – some flirting going on! By the time I shuffled onto my evening flight,

sunglasses firmly in place, I was ever-so-slightly regretting cutting my trip

short. So who knows, maybe one day...


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