Old Town, Shanghai
Hello from here, a long way from there. It’s the second morning here in Shanghai, and my mind is already reeling, less so from the travel and wear and tear from the sardine transport of United Airlines Economy class, and more so from the feeling, reassuring, of how different other parts of the world are from what we call home.
I have two days ahead of the Learning 2.008 conference which brought me here, to try and “see” a teeming city of perhaps 24 million people. Yesterday, conference organizer and generous Shanghai veteran Jeff Utecht took me, and fellow presenters Clarence Fisher and Brian Crosby on a morning tour of his old “neighborhood” which included a walk through what is coyly map labeled “Old Town” which truly is not the glass scraper part of the city; a winding labyrinth of tiny “shops” (loosely termed, some are more like stands at a market) busy with people coming and going, bicycles hauling everything from fresh vegetables to oxygen tanks.
I noted it all seemed rather fractal like every back alley had a smaller back alley, and while I felt this wave of amazement at how luxurious my small home would be to these cramped boxes, people know as home where-ever they live. We passed one place where a woman was eager to bring out a young family member who spoke English, a young woman who was soon on her way back to San Francisco where she was studying Business Administration at one of the Cal State schools- she traveling in the opposite world direction from us.
Then we enjoyed elsewhere a tea tasting, chasing off the pesky hawkers of Rolex watches and name brand shoes in some more touristy areas, a lovely dumpling lunch. Jeff then equipped us with the essentials of cards from our hotel with names of locations written in Chinese so we could pass them for cab drivers; we went for a bit to the more commercial area around the “Tech Globe” which turned out to be one in a series of indoor malls; some of them 5 stories high of small stores (loosely termed) all selling electronics, computer stuff, cameras.. and all which seemed to be staffed by young bored looking people, as there seemed to be a 5:1 employee to customer ratio.
The traffic here is a contact sport, and each taxi ride an adventure in careful assertiveness. Cabs are cheap, a 20 minute ride must have cost less than $4.
By early evening, a wee bit of the lag has caught up; Clarence, Brian, and I walked to a nearby restaurant where no one could understand us and we managed to be a slight spectacle of pointing at menus and gesturing, but it all worked out for some wonderful food.
Trying in the evening to work on variable speed internet, at times it is no different from him, others it just crawls or stops. I let a flickr upload run all night to do 70 photos, and it lost about 12 on the way.
The sun is peeking out among the gray, and it is one more day to explore a bit, hopefully get some gigapan scenes, and just soak in a different world.
Oh, lastly, thanks to the survey person who called on my phone (new iPhone provided by NMC has an Austin #) at 5:30am to ask me questions about mass transit in Austin ;-) I should have answered the questions rather than just saying, “I don’t live in Austin” with some Shanghai’d responses