Seahorses and Chocolate – Shanghai, China

Seahorses and Chocolate
Shanghai, China

The giant golf trophy (Oriental Pearl Tower) at last stood before me. It is ostensibly a TV transmission tower, but is also used for getting foreigners lost in its lift network, lots of fun and games for everyone! All the way to the top says I, and I get out and rush to the glass to have a look. It at first seemed to be frosted, as if a giant was having a shower on the other side, but it soon became apparent that the top of the tower was just shrouded in mist. It was a hot and humid day, with temperatures in the thirties, so I supposed it was to be expected. The mist would intermittently clear and the features of the city could be seen. The shipping on the Huang Pu river below was especially interesting, with huge container ships delivering the raw materials to run the biggest manufacturing economy in the world, and others heading out to sea to deliver the finished products to the rest of the world (and likely a bunch of illegal immigrants to California). It was amazing to look down upon one of the great trading fulcrums of the world. I noticed that the humid air was condensing on the outside of this air conditioned globe, running down the glass in rivulets. This tower seemed to be generating its own miniature weather system on the banks of the Huang Pu River. An image came to mind of the final scene of the movie “X-Men”, but luckily there were no mutants to be seen in the tower. I thought this was pretty amazing, although I’m sure the people on the ground below getting unnecessarily rained upon would disagree.

It was a bit unnerving being in the midsection of a glass (and steel, but mostly glass) orb 1000 or so feet up, kind of like when your mate dares you to walk across the frozen river. But apart from one fat kid kicking the glass, there didn’t seem to be any immediate danger to it cracking – there were no practicing sopranos around,for example. All in all it was pretty impressive engineering, and the impressive engineers even had a sense of humour to their brilliance, the glass partition segments meeting the outer glass around the orb being shattered, in a crazy paving manner. Nobody else in the all-oriental lift group seemed to pick up on this; I was being stared at as I touched it in disbelief. I’d imagine it is in harmony with some Eastern philosophy, yin and yang, chaos and serenity, cracked and not cracked. It may have been necessary to crack a few windows to keep us aloft and ok with the gods in this part of the world. Or perhaps someone just took a lump hammer to it in a kind of ‘champagne bottle on the ship’ commissioning ceremony, a mad frenzied smash and run around the circular mezzanine.

Encouraged capitalism was the surprise on the way down, where two lift journeys up turned into five down, via various gift shops and a post office “The Highest in the World”. I sent my free postcard (obviously the communist concession to this tower of capitalism), but nobody else did. They must think westerners are nuts, always doing the weirdest things, like posting postcards. I wonder will it get there, but as I for some reason (and there was a reason at the time) didn’t put a first name on it; just O’Sullivan, it probably never will. I think I felt slightly paranoid as I was the only one writing the card, and didn’t want to give the whole game away by putting a first name down. Yes, that was the reason; some crazy part of my brain imagined it being whisked away to Party HQ for analysis, ending up with a possible surveillance/phone tapping at my parent’s house. For those who aren’t aware, sending a postcard to O’Sullivan, Bear is like one to Jones, Wales; or Useless Civil Servant, Dublin. Although there probably aren’t too many gypsy O’Sullivan offspring from Bear in the first highest tower in Asia, it still isn’t fair on the postman.

I spied the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium from the top Pearl, and said I’ll have a bit of that. I like aquariums. I like to see fish in their natural habitat, to better learn how to catch them whilst fishing. I usually find them to be peaceful and pleasant ways to spend an hour, and this one was looking promising. No shark, an eel and a couple of fat cod for this one. Presumably because coastal Asia is to fish as America is to cheeseburgers, they have 300 species, ‘10,000 fish from four continents’ swimming about in a big blue building, which must rival any aquarium in the world (I wonder, do they think Americans have attractions with 10,000 cheeseburgers…). They also had seals, penguins, turtles and a Chinese alligator that were all very healthy and well fed. This occurred to me to be very symbiotic and a good population control for the aquarium. Rather like China itself, it looked like the aquarium also had a ‘Central Committee’ to ‘look after’ the masses. Perhaps we need a few dinosaurs in the west to keep our farting ruminants from destroying the ozone layer!

By the third or fourth ‘Zone of Fish’ (favourite zone: ‘The Threat to Humans in Amazone: Pihranas’. Dangerous during droughts when they are starving, apparently. I smiled at the memory of one of them stuffed on the mantelpiece at home, jaws agape) I noticed a strange tension in the air and the Japanese were starting to get very animated.

I like Japanese people, and their manner of animation. I was always fascinated by these smiling, bowing little people who just love to get blind drunk on rice brandy and sing songs to their brethren eating their dinner off the body of a carefully selected girl. Despite their knicker-sniffingly bizarre customs they still manage to be incredibly polite and formal, and you kind of feel drawn to them like a protective uncle whose nephew is a bit odd but a really nice chap.

Growing up in the west, it seemed to me that all oriental nationalities look the same, as they surely think we do; Chris Evans being the notable exception. But Japanese and Chinese people are obviously different, and have different feelings toward one another, perhaps like the English and French. For two giant countries lying beside each other with a history of invading each other (like all good neighbouring countries), it is bound to be an interesting subject worth exploring further. But I was only here two days.

In this particular aquarium, the Chinese staff seemed disapproving of the hordes of Japanese tourists. At first, a raised eyebrow from the Chinese attendant as an excited lady discovers a tasty fish swimming about and wants to share it with her family. (In Japanese) “Look Fred, here’s a Weedy Sea Dragon, looks a bit different in our Sunday afternoon sushi roll, wha?” Fred starts bowing at the fish and tapping at the glass, exclaiming loudly at it. “I will eat you again soon, you sexy sea dragon, you make my heart beat like a thousand Kyoto snow monkeys in mating season Hai!”, or words to that effect. The attendant then says to himself, “My Mao, how did we ever let these cretins invade our cherished country? You were a great leader and never again shall we be ruled by such fools. Now we will put their food behind glass and taunt them with it; have it swim around to tease them and make them pay 100 Yuan for this torture! Haah!” At this point a faint smile crept to his lips as he planned to feed one of the weedy sea dragons to a reef shark later on once a large enough crowd had gathered, which shocked me slightly.

I passed by a tank with a low wall about three feet high which you could lean over, with a brace of turtles within, amongst other things. To my astonishment, a previously non-violent middle aged business type made a sly grab for the larger of the two. Luckily for the turtle, there was a scuba diver handy who shooed the turtle-less executive away, much as my Mam does when I pick at the dinner while it is still on the cooker. It was in a familiar way, as if he was used to dealing with poacher-executives, or perhaps as if they knew each other. Maybe later he’ll do a deal and slip the turtle out the back door to the waiting executive’s limo, and he and his mates can scoff up in the Four Seasons.

As I entered the 155 metre underwater viewing tunnel, I was met with a dull roar, and the penny finally dropped as to why the Japanese were getting increasingly agitated as we moved through the zones of fish. What greeted me in the tunnel was ‘Charlie in the Chocolate Factory’, but a frustrated bowing Charlie as all the chocolate was behind 1 inch glass, and swimming around. For good measure, there was a scuba diver in the tank tweaking the fish’s tails, taunting, as an umpalumpa might have waved a chocolate bunny rabbit under Charlie’s nose and then threw it to his mate to feed the chocolate Chinese alligator.

There was a very strange energy in that tunnel which made me very nervous. Hotel Reception Girl (after a hasty translation and giggles all round) had already commented that the Shanghai mosquitoes seemed to like international food (me); what if the possessed Japanese tourists would mistake me for a somewhat hairy tuna and savage me? It would certainly take some explaining to Peter above at the gates of heaven, “Emm, mistaken for a weedy sea dragon boss and was torn to pieces by a crazed (and godless, wink wink) Japanese mob. Can I get in now please?” I was already hemmed in from behind by another salivating group of Japanese or I might have made a break for the fire exit. I was in it for the 155 metres, but thankfully I had the advantage of height, especially as the Japanese were bent over to better see the haute cuisine on offer and paw at the glass.

Ah, hang on. This is not entirely fair. They seem to be a genuinely fish-loving people (whales are mammals) and looked fascinated, or in thrall to this fishy domain. And I found myself hypocritically eyeing up a mid size Red Snapper, grilled, with tomato relish on the side.

Then I remembered the cute little seahorses in zone three, and the furtive whispering and gesticulating around their tank. Oh dear.

Some creatures were put on this earth to look good and make you happy. Seahorses, chipmunks, eagles, Helena Christiansen. They make you feel happy when you look at them. Some are nice to stroke and pet. Some would be nice to stroke and pet. Snapper is in the come on, eat me – it’s ok category; like pork (“I’m smart but a minger…The horses tease me about my stretch marks anyway. Go on, take a side of bacon. You’re welcome!”). I could see the Japanese plotting to sun-dry the seahorses, pregnant males and their doting wives laid out in pairs to a hellish death, to be then ground up into diabolical potions and served as a tasty snack on Sundays. I felt noble and righteous thinking of the innocence of my grilled snapper in comparison, as a vegetarian would look on his companions savaging a hatful of kittens, whilst thinking of celery. I didn’t like the glint in their previously karaoke-happy eyes anymore, and battled my way to the end, out of the tunnel and up into the Shanghai afternoon. But I knew they would be back to log-riding normality once they emerged from the tunnel of aquatic temptations, and their fish-dementia gene was switched off again.

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