Thursday, February 3, 2011

A-boom, boom, boom, BOOM! begins again.

So last night was New Year's Eve here in China, the one that really counts - Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year to most of the world, even though, in fact, it is celebrated at about this time all over Asia and is known by a different name in pretty much each country (for instance, Seol-Nal in Korea, or Osho-gatsu in Japan). People have been intermittently shooting off fireworks essentially since I got here, but the frequency with which your ears are assaulted by their reports has steadily increased over the last few weeks to a fever pitch last night.

Damn, I feel sorry for kids who only get to blow things up once a year.

Being an open-minded sort of person, I decided I would join in the fun - I bought a pack of sparklers and the smallest amount of firecrackers I could (1000) at the stand I came across on Tuesday afternoon. There was one on my street corner, but I passed it by, and never came back to it. Oops. I burned all the sparklers standing on my balcony around 9 last night then went down to set off my 1000 firecrackers in the parking lot...see, I'm catsitting, and I didn't think Puddin would have been too happy with me if I set 1000 firecrackers off on the balcony. I figured it would take a while for them all to go off, and I didn't want her having a heart attack or, worse, diarrhea from the scare, but as it turns out, a thousand firecrackers only FEELS like it should take a long time exploding. In actual fact, that 4-foot string of firecrackers which feels like Rambo ought to be feeding it into his machine gun, when lit, is over in about 30 seconds. Not even a minute. Who knew?

I felt like I'd done my part to ring in the year of the rabbit. I got settled into my apartment and started watching Glee again, but just past 11 it became impossible to continue - there were just too many flashes of light distracting me. I went to my room and tried to read, but this was even more distracting, because I could see them out my window, in the distance. As midnight approached, it became RIDICULOUS how many bursts of light there were going off, some of them directly outside my window. Frickin cool is all I can say. Sometimes I'm thankful for China's lack of public safety laws.

Well, after opening the window long enough to realize how much sound two panes of glass actually DOES kill, get high on the smell of gunpowder, and get these pictures, I managed to fall asleep. I woke randomly four hours later to bug Socrates on Skype, and it was eerily quiet...for about five minutes, and then I heard the reassuring sound, in the distance, of small explosives going off. Yes, even at 4:30 in the morning, somebody in Shanghai was still lighting fireworks. Naively, I thought that perhaps it was going to quiet down after last night, while hoping otherwise, but no - it's 8:30 at night and already the artillery brigade is going. Most excellent! From the window last night I could see the parking lots accumulating a covering of shredded red paper, and although the groundskeepers of our complex had cleaned pretty much all of it up by this morning, it looked something like this:

It's a good thing the Chinese parents don't have the same kind of work ethic mine did growing up, because those kids would have been out there trying to clean up the mess all day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cycling Shanghai

Due to a lack of funding*, I am spending my first vacation in a VERY long time in my own apartment. This is fine. I have lots of things I need to do. Hell, I joined the gym for this specific reason. Of course, the gym won't reopen for another day or two, due to the holidays, and I can't find the motivation to work on things like my illustrations or unit planners, so instead I've been reading Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses series and watching Glee, and once a day going out for a bike ride. Shanghai is a little bit soulless - what can you expect from a city built on the opium trade? But it does have its moments. These are a few of the ones I've found while I've been tearing up the streets on my bike the last few days...

The thing I've really loved about biking all over the city is the fact that you get a much wider-angle view of it. Riding the subway you see nothing. Riding in a taxi everything goes by much quicker. But down on the ground, pedaling, you see everything as it goes by. You realize how huge and high those elevated roads are. I still haven't begun to feel for Shanghai what I felt in Seoul, but on the other hand, I never could have cycled across Seoul. Hell, don't know if I even WOULD have. It's a much bigger city and with Namsan being smack dab in the middle it's harder to navigate, and much less bicycle friendly. Some people thought I was crazy for getting a bike here, but I stand by my assertion that it's a pretty great place to ride.

Just when I thought I had left the last year of my life behind, I pedal down Yishan Lu, cross under the middle ring road, and get smacked in the face with THIS. RAK Ceramics was the parent company of RAKESS, and thus the sponsor of my UAE visa. It brought chills to see it again...and not the nice kind.

So, today I finally got to visit Jing'An Temple. The smell of incense wafting out the gate literally stopped me in my tracks. I can't really explain why, but I love Buddhist temples. There's the smell of the incense, and the architecture, and that feeling of being somewhere so completely foreign. I find them incredibly peaceful. And Jing'An is a pretty good one.

And underpants, hanging out to dry over the sidewalk. Found this little gem in the French Concession. But there is a reason WHY there are so many pairs of red underwear - apparently wearing red knickers is some kind of good luck at Chinese new year. APPARENTLY they have the power to scare tigers and an evil monster called Nian Shou. I say, any excuse for red underwear is a good excuse.

*if anyone out there wants to donate to the "Send Mutrux to yet another fabulous destination you're too lame to visit" fund, email me and I'll send you my paypal info :-D