Have a Nice Day
Again, I couldn’t help myself. Like a demented lemming, I headed for the tallest building I could see, which handily seemed to be at the end of the Nanjing Road. It seems I have always been this way, and the traits are visible in childhood photos. If the photo was of “The kids at a monument”, there I am trying to get on top of it. I once managed to get onto the barrel of a deck gun of a German battleship that had come to town, waving madly like a 4-foot Cher (without the catsuit) as my Dad tore his hair out. My Mam came home from the shops one day to find me sitting on the roof of the house, calmly watching the world go by on our terrace. This was obviously done by climbing out a third storey window and pulling myself up onto the roof via the drainpipe. It was quite an operation to get me back in, and the poor dear tore quite a few lumps out of her hair too. A landmark building in Dublin is the Central Bank. It was a big deal when it was built, and is still quite impressive. Dad told me that they had to reduce its height by a storey around that time as it had exceeded is planning permission. I recall being quite upset at this, which I’m sure disturbed him greatly. Thus stymied, my attention turned to planes where I would sit like a lunatic with a pair of binoculars in the garden watching them fly over, and eventually at night time trying to spot a star through the smog. Thank God adolescence changed all that, but I am still inanely attracted to tall buildings.
So happy was I with a purpose to my day, no bleedin’ guidebook for me! Nothing like a fairly aimless wander through a city with a loose target at the end to soak up the atmosphere, and hopefully gain an insight to how things worked.
The city had a real vibrant intensity to it. Not a New York kind of vibrant intensity; there is still something inexplicably laid-back about New York. This city was big time boom time, with everyone going somewhere, and you’d better not get left behind. It felt like the city had not reached where it wants to go (as perhaps New York largely has) and everyone was racing to catch the ever increasingly distant finish line. You could say that about many cities, but if you sit on a bench and looking closely, Shanghai will stand out as unique and wonderful. You notice the giant banks, and huge neon advertising hoardings, but then you see a street vendor in an alleyway frying up some cockroaches. Or the smartly dressed business man with cell-phone in one hand, and his pet cricket in a little wicker cage in the other. This is not even so unusual in Asia, but Shanghai has a mad mix of past and future with no present; an endearing worldly naivety mixed with a hunger for international capitalism under a communist government and a still evident socialist philosophy. It is quite hard to capture the spirit of this city as the contradictions are so obvious, but believe me it is a fascinating place and just has to be soaked up to feel it.
On the move again, I still had to negotiate a number of junctions on the Nanjing Road before I got to my tall building target, which was no mean feat – they were particularly insane, even by Asian standards.
It is a mystery to me how Germans can come to Asia and not have their heads explode in the first ten minutes. I was once accosted by citizens of Munich for attempting to cross a totally empty road, because the little green man wasn’t yet ready. So if you are in Asia (or anywhere else for that matter) and find bespectacled blond people by a pedestrian crossing (possibly rocking on the ground in the foetal position), have a heart – take them by the arm and help the poor souls across.
The insanity of these junctions was demonstrated by the presence of pedestrian police, who stood in front of the pedestrian crossing to hold back the throngs. They walk up and down, policing, and barking at the chancer who tries to make a run for it. Now that I think of it, the Germans would love it, nodding soberly in approval as the hapless chancer is yanked back by the collar and suitably publicly embarrassed. The cyclists swarming by were unmercifully taunting the cop with their bells, which I thought unfair, but maybe they were just saying hello.
It was strange being directly policed; I had never been (intentionally) in a riot for instance. And this is what is basically was ï¿½ a controlled riot. Imagine the start of a marathon, or the Oklahoma land grab, and all the pent up nervous energy that that involves. Now put two marathons/land grabs at right angles to each other and blow the whistle…oh the fun of it! The rule with the traffic was ‘biggest wins’, which is not unusual in developing countries where lane discipline is not yet a concept, such as Italy. Quite democratic really, Mr. Mao. This whole process is made for surrealism, such as the gaggle of ten or so old folks in wheelchairs who zipped out of nowhere grimly challenging the six lanes of traffic. Amazingly, no-one was hurt, this plainly being a regular occurrence. A nearby Russian roulette veterans club was obviously their destination.
Finally I relented and got a taxi, as I was becoming increasingly German and groaning gutturally at the approach to another crossing.
I was seriously impressed with Shanghai taxis.
For example, reasons not to pay the fare include not enough use of “Hello, how are you?” or “Thank you, have a nice day”! Now I don’t know where you come from, but where I come from, Dublin, that is simply incredible. If a taxi driver in Dublin was smoking, spitting out the window while swearing or cutting other drivers up while smoking, spitting and farting you would still pay the fare and smile for fear of the abuse you would receive. If you refused to pay because he didn’t wish you a nice day, his head would undoubtedly shoot off his shoulders and remain in orbit. You see, we have a lovely tradition of giving taxi licenses to criminals and ex-cons, who look upon their fare as a ‘package’ to be ‘delivered’, and as was all know, packages should be inanimate. All that time to philosophise in jail gives them the enviable ability to know the answer to everything, and if only they weren’t so busy delivering packages they would sort out the world’s problems. Not all of them are criminals of course, but there are enough of them in the ranks to infect the good apples. If you are a tourist coming into Dublin airport and happen to have a compass handy, use it. The route into the city is not south, west, north, east, south, it is directly south.
Of course they have a particularly offensive union leader to facilitate all this. I wish he would land in Shanghai after an adventurous stag party, and have to get a taxi. He might see the error of his ways, and introduce the Shanghai standard of dinky white gloves and a cap for the driver, and the crazy notion of helping customers with their luggage. What is more likely is that they would have trouble fitting him into the cab at all, and the story of it would be told to frighten little children. I didn’t have the heart to refuse the fare; the cabbie obviously couldn’t speak English, and was visibly squirming with frustration and embarrassment at not greeting me in my own language. Or maybe he was constipated, but I happily paid up, and got out by the Bund.
The Bund is where the old trading concessions were given to (extorted by) the main western powers in the 19th century. It has a row of impressive architecture and I’m sure there is lots to see and to. I’d even bet there is a direct bus service from the Four Seasons to it and back, but my goal was staring at me across the river like a giant golfing trophy, the Oriental Pearl Tower (“First highest in Asia, third highest in the world”). And in front of me was the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel which seemed to lead in that direction, which was very handy for lemmings like me.
Having never heard of a sightseeing tunnel I couldn’t imagine what it was or what was to be seen; my total illiteracy was still brutalising my senses. It is quite scary being totally illiterate. This isn’t like France where you can get the gist of things, or Sweden where their first language seems to be English; there is nothing whatsoever to go on, especially when you don’t even no how to say hello! As you can imagine, your senses do become quite important to your survival:
Sight – Yellow “M” = food
Sound – Whistle and scream = don’t cross the road!
Smell – Where are all the stray dogs?..Oh in there, being roasted on a spit
Taste – I really hope this is pork….
Touch – Who the hell invented chopsticks?
It is truly amazing how your latent senses will (eventually) help you get by.
Well, it turned out to simply be a tunnel about 200 metres long where tourists get in to little pods and get dazzled by the amazing light show as you travel under the ground. I couldn’t help but think of our insanely expensive tunnels in Dublin, as to account for the crapness of this attraction, it must have only cost ten Euros to build, or five cents a metre as the politicians doubtless proudly announced. By this maths, for the cost of our own Dublin Port Tunnel we could have built a huge network of interconnecting tunnels under the city. In fact, we could have excavated entirely underneath the whole city to build a new one there, or a giant rugby pitch, or have the old city lowered to live underground if we so wished. We would even have had enough money left over to bury a few other undesirable towns around Ireland while were at it, but instead we employ all our potential tunnel designing Chinese residents in takeaways, and this probably won’t happen.
As you go along in the pod, a ghostly voice amazes you with what was coming up in terms of dazzling lights. My Japanese pod companions were delighted with all this, marvelling (“Ahhhhhh” = “That’s marvellous!” in Japanese) at the trilingual PA system ghost and the swirls of fairy lights gracing the walls of the tunnel outside our little glass bubble. ‘Nascent Lava’ ahhhhh and ‘Dangerous Water’ ahhhhh were followed by ‘Meteor Attack’. There was an impending doom in the ghosts’ voice, and I believe I ducked my head a little at the announcement, but we were only attacked by a battery of strobe lights. They could make an extra few quid using the Meteor Attack as a tool for epileptic trigger research, as at this point I wanted to roll around on the ground, foaming at the mouth. Then you were out the other side in front of the international convention centre, the natural light instantly calming my overstimulated brain. As China opens up and becomes more liberal and mischievous, I hope someone slips in to an Halliburton convention across the road, drops them all an unhealthy dose of magic mushrooms in their ice-fish with eggs soup and sends them all through the Bund Tourist Tunnel. I’d imagine if they weren’t already rolling around in epileptic agony that upon being presented with a plate of cold salted duck’s gizzards that evening, they would all happily kill themselves.