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Since my trip to the mainland, I’ve been mulling over my impressions of Shanghai and Beijing, and how they compare to the closest thing to a big city Taiwan has- Taibei. Before my vacation, I had a really distorted view of what the mainland was like. Living in Taiwan, I haven’t really had access to much mainland media, and everything in the papers here is pretty negative. Anyway, this is what saw in Shanghai: continue reading…

Though there is a huge gulf between the haves and the have-nots in Shanghai, it wasn’t that apparent in most of the city. In general, the city divisions are very large, and one doesn’t walk straight from high-rises into a ghetto. I did manage to get one picture of a clear divide from John’s apartment, though. The people on the left side of the bridge have money. The people on the right don’t.

Rich Side, Poor Side- resized

While I was walking along the street in Shanghai, I noticed something unfamilar about some of the posters. They had pinyin for each character! Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have that in Taiwan!

Something you won't see in TawianSomething you won’t see in Tawian Hosted on Zooomr

You move me —
You move me —
Open sea and city lights
Busy streets and dizzy heights
You call me —
You call me —

The Analogue Kid

It’s 2AM, and my last night in Shanghai is drawing to an end. It’s hard to imagine that in half a day’s time my vacation will be over and I’ll be flying back to Taiwan. People say that when time flies when you’re having fun, but in this case it didn’t. This has been the best vacation I’ve ever had, and yet my two weeks here have felt more like two months.

After an enjoyable day of reading The Diamond Age, I met up with John and his wife and had some 火鍋 for dinner. Unlike most of the 火鍋 I’ve had before, it wasn’t buffet. Still, it was extremely good. Heck, I always love that kind of food. I also saw an interesting before dinner.

I arrived at our meeting place pretty early, so went walking around a bit. Nestled between skyscrapers, I found a relatively large Catholic church. The architecture looked like it wasn’t that far off of what one would find at home, or in Latin America. There were also some fountains in front of it. At the time, it really seemed like an amazing sight. In the middle of so many commercial buildings, in an area where I’d least expect it, was a a church. It was a nice looking one, too. I really wish I’d been able to get a snapshot of it. It wouldn’t have made quite the picture that the Starbucks in the Forbidden City did, but it would have been good.

After dinner, we went back to his place, and watched Ice Age 2- a pretty entertaining movie. Just as I was about to take off, I finally saw Lennet. I’d heard he wanted to ask me some stuff about living in Taiwan when I’d been staying at the apartment before, but he got back late every night and amazingly it was the first time I’d talked to him. I guess he’d lived in Taiwan before, but that was before he could speak much Chinese. Now that he speaks Chinese really well, he’s gonna move back to Taiwan. He was saying something about not letting the Taiwanese “corrupt his Chinese” or get rid of his ability to pronounce “zh”, “sh”, “ch”, “r”, etc… I’m really curious to see how it will go for him. I hope people don’t laugh at his “standard” accent.

Part of me doesn’t want to go to sleep. Right now, I know what’s on my mind. I know what I feel and I know what my plans are. By allowing myself to fall asleep, I’ll be yeilding control to my future self. Who knows how I’ll feel or what I’ll want to do tomorrow? Can I trust my future self to make the most out of my last few hours on the mainland? Sigh… now there’s a healthy line of thought. Bed, it is.

Unlike my last train ride in China, this one was boring once I got on. The soft sleeper was air-conditioned, clean and smoke-free. My roommates on the train were all tech professionals whose companies had paid for their tickets. We had a pretty good conversation. They were pretty curious about my life in Taiwan, and they loved the kids book I showed them. They’d never seen zhuyin before, and one of them hadn’t even heard of it. “What’s this weird stuff next to the characters?” she asked. “It looks sort of like Japanese.”

Though the train was a bit more cramped in terms of sleeping space (you can’t hang your feet over the end of the beds), I slept well and was ready to go when I rolled into Shanghai at 8:00AM. Not knowing quite where to go, and having lost my cellphone earlier, I decided to look for the hostel Micah had recommended to me earlier.

He was right. Mingtown backpackers was a good hostel… a really good hostel. So good, in fact, that it was booked full and about 20 people were milling around in the lobby, waiting to see if a room would open up. I dropped off my bags, put my name on the list, and then headed out with a couple of Mexican guys and a Frenchman that I’d met on the way.

The two Mexican brothers were hard-core. Despite the fact that they currently live in my home-state in the US, and that this was a cheap vacation for them, they’d taking the hard seat train all the way from Xi’an to Shanghai. It was a trip of over 20 hours, the train was far my crowded than my 普快 hard sleeper had been, and they didn’t have a bed. It cost less than 100RMB.

We wandered around the city for a few hours, checking out various hostels, and bargaining aggressively. Eventually, we found one that seemed to be an ok deal, after a 40% price drop, and it didn’t look like it would fill up. We made a note of the location, had some lamian for lunch and then checked back on Mingtown.

It was really, really tight, but we managed to get rooms. I ended up paying 55RMB a night, and I had three roommates. When I walked in the room, I was shocked. There was a Chinese girl from Shenzhen was staying there. I couldn’t believe it! They put foreigners in the same rooms as the locals! After chatting with her for a while, I found out that they even charged us the same price. Right, on!

I shouldn’t publish it on my blog and drive even more travelers there, and in turn drive up the prices, but Mingtown is a nice hostel. The rooms are air conditioned, there’s a free washer and dryer for everyone to use, and the staff is super helpful. If I ever go back to Shanghai, I’ll definitely consider the place. The crowd was pretty different at Mingtown than it had been at Leo’s, in Beijing. Other than those two Mexican guys, I didn’t see any hard-core backpackers. There weren’t any groups of hard-drinking joie de vivre types, either. Instead, there were more English teachers, who lived in other parts of China. They could pretty much all speak at least some Chinese. One girl had done the CET Hangzhou program, and could speak and write far more Chinese than I could. There were also a fair number of Taiwanese tourists, too. It was a nice hostel, but the experience wasn’t all that bloggable.

One thing I’ve often wished for, was to meet people who were more critical of my Chinese skills. I’m pretty sure that a Chinese person in the US, whose English was as good as my Chinese is, would get very few language related compliments. With their vastly lower expectations, however, Taiwanese people I meet invariably make a fuss about how good my Chinese is.

Today, I finally met someone really critical of my language skills- John’s Ayi! Since everybody else was out, and I was staying there, I let the Ayi in this afternoon. After I explained that I was a friend visiting Shanghai for the week, and the initial shock that I wasn’t John or Lennet wore off, I started talking with her about work. She cut me off pretty abruptly and said…

Your Chinese isn’t that good. It’s not as good as John’s, or as that… that… that other guy who lives here. His Chinese is better than yours is, too. I don’t completely understand what you’re trying to say. Can people understand you in Taiwan?

Ouch.

Yesterday was my first whole day in Shanghai, and it was awesome. After showing late the night before and crashing at John’s place, I was psyched enough about finally being here that I was still able to get up pretty early. John had a final in the morning, but after he got back from that, he showed me around the subway system a bit, and we grabbed some lunch. After that, he took me over to the Chinese Pod studio to check the place out. It was quite a bit different than I expected, but still very neat. continue reading…

People who have known me for a few years in Taiwan will have no doubt recognized a common theme. I was going to visit mainland China last summer, but I just didn’t get the chance. I hope I can make it this next time. I must have said those two sentences once or twice a month for the last three years! In 2003, I couldn’t go because of SARS. In 2004, I was broke and looking for a job. Last year, I left Modawei and came to Ron’s school. At the time, I was pretty busy moving, etc…, so I didn’t have the chance to go then, either.

This summer will be different, though. Despite my overwhelming desire to save money, I’ve already booked tickets and I’m going no matter what. I’ll arrive in Shanghai on Sunday night, July second, spend about a week there head up to Beijing for a few days, and then come back to Taiwan on Saturday the fifteenth. To help me out of my Taiwan-induced bourgeois wimpiness, I think I’ll take the train from Shanghai to Beijing… maybe the hard sleeper. I’ll definitely be meeting up with John, and hopefully some other people, too. If you live in either of those two cities and want to meet up, or have any suggestions of places I “must see”, please let me know. This is going to be awesome to finally have a chance to see the mainland! I’m psyched! I’m already practicing my 捲舌 and checking out online China guides.

Sometimes, it’s unbelievable what can be hidden in plain view. I tend to be pretty open. My interests, my hobbies, my work, and even my stock purchases are online for all to see. In some ways, it’s a big benefit. I’ve bumped into old friends, and even gotten useful information about studying, working, and investing in emails from my readers. But, there’s another way that’s much cooler than mine is- quietly lurking behind the scenes.

Somewhat inspired by my old roommate Andrew’s success with language teacher exchange site, MYU, I decided to register a domain I thought would be useful for a similar, but non-competing, endeavour. Out of curiosity, I checked up on URLs similar to the one I had registered, but for Japan and China. I was shocked when I saw the name that came up on one them. I recognized it as the name of someone who by all appearances was a quiet academic. Quietly amassing power in a variety of areanas, that is! With further investigation, I found that the same individual ran a software business, a political effort, a dozen separate online ventures and has connections with some truly powerful people in China. I’ve discovered who the digital kingpin of Shanghai is!

How much do you really know about the people you interact with? You might be surprised.