Not From Around Here

There are lots of things that happen in any given week when I think, “Really? This is normal?” And then I stop and realize I’m judging and remember this is why I like living here. The “challenge” of living in an unfamiliar place is exactly what makes it fun. But the following are observations that assure me, I’m not from around here. And to be fair, I’m not sure how “normal” some of these instances are or how unique they are to China but I will share and you can decide.

Getting hit by a taxi:
I got a note from the women Jiang (our Ayi) works for last Thursday around 4:30 saying Jiang was hit by a taxi on her way home. She didn’t have details other than the fact that she was “speaking but dizzy” and going to the hospital. Later that night she told us she was released from the hospital with no major injuries and might be back on Monday. Then Friday, we got another note saying she went to the doctor (it’s unclear what they actually do when you visit a hospital here) and that she should rest for a week as she had a lot of bruising and slight concussion. When we did see her a week later, we played charades and I gathered that she flipped over the hood of the car and had four stitches in her head and some really nasty looking bruises on her legs, arms and stomach. She is fine now and we’ll never really know how it happened but in my head it goes something like this. Jiang has the green to cross so she steps into the crosswalk while the taxi has the red light but decides to go anyway. He may or may not have stopped to slow down.

And then, not a week later, as I was walking Hunter to school, we noticed traffic had slowed more than usual and saw flashing lights. As we got closer, I saw a scooter about 10 feet in front of a woman laying still on the pavement, no helmet but cell phone in hand.  A taxi with a broken light and dented fender was parked on an angle in front of her. Two police officers and another man (the taxi driver?) were casually talking to one another over the women. On the one hand I was relieved that it didn’t seem too serious but on the other, it seemed like there was something more the officers should’ve/could’ve been doing for the poor woman. The officers and the woman were still there, in the exact same positions on my way home. The taxi and the third man were gone. Thankfully, all had been cleared three hours later when it was time for pick up.

Repelling down one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers to wash windows:
You can’t tell from the picture but those men are hanging by rope. I couldn’t tell how far up the end of the rope was…it just keep going up. What also may not be clear from the photo is how high up they were. The ground is not where the concrete begins in the pictures. We are on the 18th floor and they were at least 10 stories above us. A few months ago, they cleaned our building in much the same way. Three men (they looked like teenagers) hung from a rope harness with a squeegee (one held the hose) in one hand and a big suction cup in the other. They started at the top (45 stories) and bounced down the side of the building, stopping at each floor to wash and rinse the sides, secured by a big, hand held suction cup. It made my hands sweat just watching.

Getting stuck in an elevator:
I’ve written before about my disdain for riding in elevators in Shanghai and I was convinced that the mall, around the corner from us, was the most miserable place in the world to ride an elevator. Well friends, it has been surpassed by the elevators in the building where Hunter goes to school. Actually, they are only really bad during peak hours: 9 am, noon and presumably, 5 pm. But I happen to only ride them at 9 and noon. As is commonly accepted and certainly not considered rude in China, you shove. Elevators are meant to be stuffed with as many people as can fit. And then a few more. You don’t wait for those inside to come out before stepping inside, everyone moves at once. It’s like getting caught in an awful rip tide.

So a couple of weeks ago, I was on my way up to get Hunter. I push my way in with the crowd that has come down to buy their lunch from the convenience store in the lobby. Microwavable convenience store food is HUGE here. There is usually a small counter with buckets of gravies warming. In the gravies are various meats on sticks. There is also usually a small warming oven with dumplings and stuffed buns. On another counter there are microwaves. Lots of them. Like five or six. Somewhere there is rice because they all end up leaving with small, piping hot trays of rice, gravy and meat. They get little cardboard oven mitts to carry them away (a cross between the circular cardboard strips that go around coffee mugs and a hot plate). Certainly people buy hot dogs from 7-11 so I guess it’s not that strange but really, who is buying hot dogs at 7-11?

Anyway, I’m in the overpacked elevator, steaming with over dressed people and their fragrant lunches. (I should also note here that people in Shanghai dress for the season, not for the actual weather outside their doors. This was April but the temperature had reached into the 80s. People are just now, starting to shed their wool sweaters, long pants, tights, boots, and coats.) So we’re in the elevator, have I mentioned how crowded, hot and smelly it is? I have to get to the 6th floor. We reach the 3rd floor – a high traffic stop – the tides move and the doors close. We don’t move. Someone pushes the button for the next floor. Nothing. Some people look annoyed, others are on their phones, I have a look of sheer panic. Someone pushes the open door button. Nothing. I think I’m going to pass out. People are starting to talk. More button pushing and nothing. Finally after what felt like an eternity, the doors open.

So, no I didn’t actually get stuck and to be honest, it was probably only 2 minutes but that doesn’t make for a very good story. And the thought that it could actually happen is just that frightening that I had to share. (Like when people are afraid if they talk about something, they’ll jinx it and it won’t happen, I’m just doing the reverse.)

Being a bike delivery guy:
So again, this is a bad picture but the guy on the three wheeled bike was easily 70 years old, pedaling a huge couch and chair. He had to stop at the light before crossing the street and was having a hard time getting going again. The guy on the two wheeled bike was stopped with him. I don’t think they new each other but he could tell the old man needed some help and pushed him along until he could pick up speed again. Many not-so-fit people cart some really heavy goods around this city on three wheeled bikes. It’s equally reassuring (that we are all probably stronger than we may think or look) and scary (that these people are going to get hit by taxis who are in some unspoken game of survival of the fittest).

Being welcomed into a store by this:
Nothing says, “come in and browse my fine wares” like a wooden he/she guarding the door, with a spear/broom, making a scary face.

Transporting your infant around like this:
That’s not a helmet the boy is wearing, it’s a cotton hat (says the women in the taxi holding two toddlers with no seat belts, let alone car seats). Look a little closer and see that the mother is sitting side saddle in a tight skirt. Look closer still, and note they are coming off the sidewalk to now start driving in the street. Scooters/motorcycles have free reign to drive wherever they please (as long as they stay out of the way of taxis). Look closer still, and note the two uniformed men more interested in giving the guy with the flowers directions then reprimanding the small family on the scooter. As they drove away, the women teetered ever so slightly with every bump in the road. We saw a lot of this in India. But you kind of expect it there. Thirty seconds in India and you know you’re in a third world country. Shanghai is modern, cosmopolitan and clean. But still surprising.

Washing the pavement in the rain:
I’ve mentioned this before but here is a picture. It was raining on and off this whole day and yet…

I don’t get it…clearly, I’m not from around here.

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