Shanghai is similar in many respects to New York City. Soaring skyscrapers, busy streets, teeming crowds, and dudes pimping fake Rolex watches. Walking around the shopping district on Nanjing Road, as I did on Saturday, is a something like strolling through New York's Chinatown. Except that it goes on and on and on (no Little Italy in Shanghai) and there are a hell of a lot more Chinese folk milling about. It also is remindful of New York in that spending a day prowling the streets is a draining experience, as much if not more mentally than physically.
The hotel where I am presently sequestered in is located in Pudong, so named because it is east of the Huangpu River. Pudong is a booming financial and commercial district, with bright lights and gleaming office towers that exemplify the go-go capitalism of the "New China." Puchi (The name's Poochie D And I rock the telly, I'm half Joe Camel And a third Fonzarelli) is west of the river and is home to The Bund, where you can find historic buildings with a variety of archictural stylings, as well as the Nanjing Road shopping experience.
To get from Pudong to Puchi, you can take a pedestrian tunnel that runs underneath the Huangpu River. This being the "New China" and all, it's not merely a tunnel, it's a tourist attraction. Cable cars whisk you through the tunnel and you are "treated" to a visual display that includes smoke, lasers, trippy music, shimmering lights, and even giant puppets. It's all supposed to be so very futuristic, but it has more of a late '70s Pink Floyd laser light show at the planetarium feel to it. The first time through it's mildly amusing. When you make the return trip it's slightly annoying.
A Westerner walking down Nanjing Road is well-advised to observe the same protocol that military convoys do. The key to survival is to keep moving at all times, even if you run into an ambush. You're always a target. But if you stop, you're that much easier to hit.
The hustlers can spot a Westerner like a circling hawk eyes a field mouse in the thick grass. And they pounce with the same ferocity and desire to feed.
The pitch usually followed the same progression:
"Sir, you want shoes? Watches? Antiques? Wallet? DVDs?"
I swear that one enterprising gent followed that up with "Pussy?" but his English was poor and it's possible that I misunderstood his offer.
While they're running through the gamut of goods available for purchase, they're attempting to stab a brochure into your hands and walking beside you. Right beside you. I quickly learned that a simple "No" would not suffice. My boilerplate response soon evolved into a rapid and firm "No. No. No." accompanied by vigorous shaking of the head and employment of the international wave off signal.
The one item that I desperately wanted to buy was a t-shirt that simply read:
"NO, I don't want a frickin' watch, shoes, antiques, wallet, DVD or ANYTHING ELSE you have to offer. Leave me the hell alone."
Unfortunately, such an item was not available for purchase as near as I was able to ascertain.
When it comes to spitting in public, the average Chinese man (and even woman) plays second fiddle to no one, not even a good ol' boy from 'Bama. Having your shoes spat upon at any moment is but one of the hazards (and easily the least serious) that you face when strolling the streets of Shanghai. It's a wonder that the population of the city has grown to what it is (around sixteen million souls) when you observe the behavior of drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians first hand. Somehow, what from what appears to be random acts of mindless stupidity and utter chaos, a strange ordering emerges in the traffic cosmos that allows the vast majority of bodies in motion to avoid collisions that seem all but inevitable to the watcher.