I spent my first week in China in Shanghai doing some contract and visa stuff with the other new arrivals. This was largely boring, and it leaves me with a lack of things to say here about it. On the day of the 15th of October I woke up early, met a whole mess of people in the hotel lobby, and then we were all put into vans and driven to the headquarters of the school I would be teaching at. We got there did some boring contract things, and went about for a walk in the city. We ended up back in East Nanjing Road, where I had been the night before. This time it reeked just as hard of that fake, plastic, Disneyland, times-square feel. I noticed the massive Apple store this time around.
That night I made plans to meet up with some people to grab dinner. One of these people had been in China previously and spoke Mandarin reasonably well. I was excited; I was going to get me some real, authentic Chinese food. We walked maybe five minutes from the hotel and found a street lined with restaurants rather literally around the block from the hotel. But of course, once you got there no one spoke English, so maybe the clerk’s recommendation to send me elsewhere the previous night had been justified.
Anyway, we sat down and I order ‘whatever they are having’, a good technique when you have no idea what anything is. The food was ok, and that’s giving it more than it deserves. Everything tasted over seasoned and oily. But the prize winner was the chicken someone ordered. My best description of it? Imagine a whole chicken that was eaten by a family. The remaining carcass is then cut into tiny bits of mostly bone crowned with a few fibers of meat. This is then fried in a ton of oil and over seasoned. What made this meal great was that no one had the gall to be the culturally insensitive prick to call the dish out for what it was. Every bite was satisfying, but not so much in the taste, but in the idea that the chef was going to meet up with some friends later tonight, drink beer and joke ‘And then we served the foreigners a plate of leftovers, and they FUCKING ATE IT!!!’
I get a strange gratification in thinking that that is how the experience went down.
A man can dream, right?
The rest of the week was pretty much wash rinse and repeat of this, replacing the contract signing with other boring bureaucracy and a bit of English teaching theory that can best be described as CELTA lite. It felt like a waste of my time until I remembered that I was being paid for it. I got with it after that. Even the meals we had were sort of same-y from day to day; that is to say, largely bad. I rolled with it. But what I liked the most about shanghai despite all this boredom was all the opportunities it afforded me to ride around in Shanghai’s excellent, excellent metro system. I don’t know why, but I really get off on metro lines. I love them so long as they work (which is why I hate DC’s). The only problem I had with them is sometimes they had incredibly confusing exits.
I was taken out to one nice meal while I was in Shanghai by a former flatmate of my father. She took me to a restaurant that was well recommended as a place you take foreigners to. The food was the best I had so far, and that made it ok at best. I had a chicken in a pot, which was a whole damn chicken in a whole damn pot. The meat fell of the bones (this is a good thing). The feet were till on it, and I thought my host was joking when she asked me if I wanted them. Then she ate them. I’m still working p the courage, but I’ll try them eventually. I’m told they don’t taste of much. After this restaurant, my ration of good Chinese food to bad went to record high of 1/11.
One last thing to report on my time in Shanghai. While I was at work we were broken into teams and told that with our team we would have to teach a 50 min class together on my last day in Shanghai. I was assigned to a group with three greenhorn teachers, all of them Chinese. They were nice enough but it seemed obvious that they didn’t get it. We barely had any time to practice. All things considered, we had a few hours to practice before we had to do it. I got the idea of what the school wanted immediately, but the other teachers seemed clueless. I did my part, and I think I did it relatively well, but it may have been the worse class I ever taught.
Every day I had in Shanghai was sunny and beautiful. That all changed on the 22nd of October, when I had to get on a train and move to Hangzhou. That day, a nice thick layer of pollution rolled in…