We’ve been calling Shanghai home for one month. Actually, I was purposely not calling it home for fear it would only delay our 2 year old’s adjustment to this new and very different way of life. But among other things I’ve learned, 2 year olds adjust to new places and ideas easily (and even more true for 7 month olds). I don’t know why this is surprising. Almost everything is new to a 2 year old.
In honor of this anniversary, I give you the Five Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Shanghai in the First Month:
1. The city is not kind to baby strollers. We recently went to the Aquarium (very Chinese – enormous and impressive with mazes of underwater tunnels that allow you to see all kind of fish around and above you. While very cool, also made me a bit claustrophobic. What if a tunnel sprung a leak?). When we got to the entrance we were not surprised to find there was a small flight of stairs up to the doors with no ramp in sight. We were surprised to find an elderly women try, feebly, to get up from her wheelchair to walk up the stairs. She was basically carried up by her travel companions while a guard, making no apologies, carried her chair up. When we followed with two strollers and our privileged American attitudes (you know, you could like totally get sued for not having a ramp where we’re from), he was not only unapologetic but seemingly rather annoyed that we needed help carrying our up our strollers. (Actually, we didn’t need help carrying them up, we’ve become quite good at maneuvering them up stairs, escalators and past clogged streets.) But on principal, we waited for a hand.
Once we made our way in, we pushed and shoved our way to the first set of escalators and up we went. I might be horrifying my mom friends in the US but Hunter does get a kick out of riding up the escalators in his stroller. (Just wait til you hear about all the riding in taxis we’ve been doing without car seats! Please don’t judge!) And by the way, it is totally acceptable to push and shove and clip people with your stroller, just accept the same in return. In a city of 20+ million, I guess you have to operate under every woman for herself.
We shuffled through the first couple of rooms and into our first “underwater” tunnel (see my terrible photo) to another set of escalators. This set was WAY more crowded – like10 times worse than Walmart at 5am on Black Friday. We spotted a guard and tried to do the international sign for “elevator” (note: there is none). He again, looking rather annoyed, motions us to a back room and uses his key to call up the elevator. We get in and point to the buttons asking “which floor”? Now he’s really put out and gets in with us. He takes us down a flight and points us in the direction of a long, dark hallway. When we get to the end, we have to unfasten a ribbon, roping off the entrance and find our way back to the crowds. Now, why would you build an aquarium, primarily attracting kids, whose predominate mode of transportation is a stroller, and make it nearly impossible to get around with a stroller?
It’s this way all over the city. Riverfront promenade? Randomly elevated sections with three or four steps but no ramp (just enough to be annoying). Want to get into a mall? Restaurant? Park? Same story. My best guess is this: Because of the one child policy, you almost always see one child with six adults (parents and both sets of grandparents). With six adults, you can pass the kid around often and easily either eliminating the need for a stroller or allowing another to push and carry an empty stroller. The handicapped? I think they are “encouraged” to live in the countryside.
2. China (men, women, children) love babies. LOVE babies. I thought it was just because mine are the cutest but I think it’s all white babies. I think they love Chinese babies too but they see them all the time.Even one of our guide books talks about how you should expect your children to get lots of attention. Our Chinese friends think nothing of interrupting a dinner, swarming us while walking, waiting or otherwise, in any public space just to get a look (and often a picture) of our kids. George is convinced there must be some website here called picturesofwhitebabies.com where they all end up. It was kind of cute at first but it can be a little much. Nolan puts on a good show for them – smiling, laughing, engaging. Hunter can be a little more reserved.
Taking pics of the boys.
Waitress “babysitting” Nolan while we eat. Advantage of eating early.
3. The Chinese also love elevators. This goes back to #1. While they can be somewhat hard to find, most Chinese people (seemingly perfectly capable of riding an escalator or climbing stairs) seem to almost universally prefer to take an elevator. They will walk way out of their way, all pile into an elevator taking up all the room so that the people who really need them have to wait. And wait. And wait. This is compounded by the fact that only certain elevators will go to certain floors. There might be three elevators but when you have to get to the 4th floor, only one stops there. When it finally does stop, sorry, you have to wait because it’s so packed with healthy men and women with two good legs, that you and your big American strollers, with your big American bags and your big American kids, won’t fit. But don’t worry, at least your kids will have a handful of friendly faces to entertain (or scare) them while you continue to wait.
4.The Chinese can’t understand each other. This is not good for someone who is trying to pick up some of the language (not that the Chinese language is something you can really “pick up”). We live on Dongtai Lu (Dong-tie Loo). Every time we get in a taxi and try to say Dongtai Lu, there is a 3 minute exchange between us and the driver that goes something like this:
“Dongtai Lu please.”
“Yes, Dong-tie Loo. Jin Mao Tower (famous skyscraper two blocks from us). Dongtai.”
“Yes, Jin Mao. Dongtai.”
“Ooooooh. Dongtail Lu. Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t follow who was supposed to be us and who was supposed to be the cab driver because we always end up saying it the exact same way. We thought this was just because, you know, we don’t speak the language. But the same thing happens when I take Jiang, my Ayi (pronounced I.E.). She is a house cleaner, cook, babysitter, personal assistant. Essentially, my new BFF, if only she spoke English! We have taken several cab rides and doesn’t matter where we are going, there is always a moment when she and the driver just repeat the same thing like they don’t understand one another. (But I suppose they might say the same thing, wondering why Honey Boo Boo needs captions – or so I’ve heard.) Having them try to read what my Google translation app yields the same results. Several moments of confusion followed by a hesitant nod instilling no confidence that they really get what you’re trying to say. We have alot of, “I think this is shampoo and not lotion” moments.
But don’t get me wrong. I do not mean this is a critical way. I just find it interesting. I still am amazed that while most people don’t speak English, they all seem to know at least a few key words. How many way Americans could help a Chinese visitor find food, water, or a taxi using their language?
5. The early bird does not get the worm. The early bird can’t even get a cup of coffee. Now, I realize my kids get up early. Too early for any normal adult, but aren’t most kids this way? Aren’t most parents up with, and often before the sun? I’m on Facebook. I read your grumpy status updates at 5:45 AM. I know you’re out there. But actually, the Chinese government blocks Facebook. Maybe this is like the stroller. Somehow Chinese children are not up early and there is no subsection of the 20 million people here that just want a latte before 10 am on Saturday.
This is really only true on the weekends but you can’t really do anything before 10 am. No breakfast, no quick trip to the store before it gets too crowded. Well, to be fair, you can get into a mall before 10 but the elevators and escalator won’t be running. (I suppose you could start queuing up early to be sure to get in. But oh, wait, the one running doesn’t go to the floor you want.The bakery, which is rare anyway, may open at 8 but this is also when they start baking. No “time to make the donuts” alarms ring at 4.
But again, I remind myself that if a Chinese person came to live in Connecticut and really wanted meaty noodle soup for breakfast, they would have way more to rant about in their blog.