Okay, feeling the last vestiges of jet lag slip away from my body. So now I can get onto posting about my travels... because not being able to get onto the large majority of my regular websites while in China had nothing to do with it...
I must admit, I had the same stereotypical bias as just about all Americans do about Asian driving, and the worst part about it all is that I AM Asian! Each time I witnessed a bone-headed move on the road, I would think, Man, an Asian driver! Giving us all a bad name! After being in China a few times now, though, I have come upon an epiphany and feel compelled to defend the Chinese driver.
In China, driving is like dancing a Tango. It's close, personal, and fluid. Two partners dance closely together, incorporating intricate dance moves, all the while managing to avoid the other Tango-ing couples on the dance floor. It's smooth and amazing.
In the States, it's more like Country Line Dancing. No one really touches anyone else, and for goodness sakes, there are set steps, here people! If you don't know how to dance, well, come an hour before everyone else gets here for the tutorial, and then stand in the back and watch how it's done before you get your two left feet on the dance floor and mess everyone up.
Separately, the two are just fine. It's when someone tries to dance the Tango in the Line Dance that everything gets screwed up. It's then that everyone who's Line Dancing is like, "What the hell is going on, and what are you doing? You're messing up the line!!" The Tango-ists are like, "What? This could be a much sexier dance if you would just shimmy your hip up to mine." And all hell breaks loose.
On the flip side, no Line Dancer in their right mind would try to join in on the crowded, tango-ing dance floor. They're the ones who are stopped on the ramp, even though it says 'Yield', trying to find a space to get onto the highway. Hours later, they're still there, looking for a lull...
Now, don't get me wrong. I had a few close calls at high speeds in China, and some abrupt stops that may have given me whiplash, but for how crazy the traffic is? It's a pretty amazing scene.
And just so you know, I am an excellent, albeit aggressive, driver.
The DVD Store
I have a second cousin, Helen, who lives in Shanghai. She was raised in Brazil, and in a much higher branch of the family tree, the family split to the States and Brazil. So it's really cool to have a multi-continental family - you never know where you're going to be and who you'll meet.
Anyway, one night, Helen wants to show me a fake DVD store. When the World Expo started in May, the Chinese government began cracking down on knock-off vendors of purses, DVDs, everything. After all, folks from all over the world would be there, and they can't have these people seeing what really goes on in China, can they? So this particular store gets the pressure and when Helen goes by the next week, she finds it has changed to a clothing store. Only it's a really small clothing store. Turns out that the front part of the store is just a facade, and that the back wall is fake. A little bump here and special tap there, and voila! You're in the recesses of the backroom where now the DVDs are stored and still available for purchase, as long as you're not the Chinese police.
Helen is amused to no end by this, and on the last day of the Expo, when I happen to be visiting, we walk over so I can see this craziness. Only when we arrive, it's back to being a DVD store. "What happened to the clothes?" she asks the working help. To which the reply was, "We remodeled all day today. You know, the Expo is over." Ah, yes. Of course.
One day, when walking around Shanghai, trying to shake off the jet lag, I happen upon a hair salon. Now, I LOVE Chinese hair salons. I usually go just to get my hair washed. For 50 yuan, which is about $8-9 USD, they'll massage your head while washing your hair, then give you a shoulder and back massage for about 30-45 minutes, and then style your hair.
That day, I thought, you know, I should get my hair cut, too. I lost my hairdresser in the States so she could be a stay-at-home mom, so what the heck, what's the worst that can happen here? Well, the worst that can happen is that you get a Chinese hairdresser who can't speak a lick of English. I always thought my Chinese was pretty decent, but when it comes to Hairdresser Chatter? Well that requires a whole new superior level. When I can rap with the hairdressers with gossiped impunity, I'll consider myself fluent. Oh, the hair? Yeah, that looks really good...
Then when in Beijing, I thought, I'm going to try out the Blind Massages. What's that, you say? Well, they've trained people who are blind, or even partially blind, in the art of massage. I've always read that these massages were really incredible because without the use of one sense, they're sense of feel is that much more heightened! So off I went for a traditional Chinese massage.
Now, the traditional Chinese massage is different from the Swedish massage in what I think are two major ways. The first is that disrobing isn't required. They'll get to all your knots through your clothing. The second is that it's much more vigorous, with some hand-chopping and the rapid working of muscles. It's not as soothing as the Swedish massage, but boy, will they get all those kinks out. And honestly? There was enough of a rhythm to it that I found myself drifting off to sleep anyway.
I got an excellent 60-minute foot massage and a 70-minute body massage. My masseuse kept finding these knots and would start really digging in, saying, "Boy, does that hurt? That should hurt." Between clenched teeth, all I could say was, "Oh, just a little..."
Granted, the ambience wasn't great, but it didn't matter, because the total cost of a 2-hour and 10-minute massage? $13 USD. As my coworker said when I told him, "That's criminal..." I can't disagree.