Monday, December 18, 2006

FROM THE ARCHIVES You can have it, honestly

One week till Christmas and I've never felt less festive in my 18 years of existance.

Getting through December 25th would be so much easier if I weren't being constantly barraged with annoying reminders that don't even mean anything to the people here.

Santa is a joke to them. It's not that I ever believed in him as a child and he holds some importance to me, it's just I can't help but grimmace every time I encounter a Santa applique or statue. Coca Cola would be horrified at how China has butchered the dear old man. He's hidious! Absolutely grotesque! A disgusting bulbous nose, hot pink cheeks, pale albino-looking eyes, and his beard is simply all wrong. Often he is not even wearing a red suit; often it is a ghetto sparkly silver costume.

And the repetitive tinny music is all wrong. Everything is all wrong. Christmas is a stupid consumer holiday that is being reluctantly accepted by every Chinese person who enters a shopping mall or grocery store decked out in gaudy tinsel. It doesn't mean a stitch to them, yet still it exists. It's being shoved down their throats and they don't even understand it.

Being away from my family and friends this year would be much easier if I forgot about Christmas. It's not the presents and apple cider I miss. It's being home that I miss. Since I can't go home for another month point five, I'd prefer to forget about Noelle and go about my exciting daily life. But Silver Santa won't let that happen. For shame.

I hinted at a trip to Shanghai in my last post. It happened. Andrea slept over the night before on the couch in my bedroom. We all got up at 5.30 Sunday morning and made our way to the bus station. The 3 bus ride was decent, which blew me away because my expections are very low of most things in China. There were only about 8 other people and the seats were comfy. Big plus. The first half was spent watching terrible Chinese kareoke music videos. If it was a love song there'd be aerial views of a nuclear plant. If it was a power ballad we'd see random shots of avalanches. The second half we watched a Kung Fu movie that was shot in Hengdian, the place where I started my acting career. I had previously posted some pictures of a Buddha with 1001 hands in Dongyang. It's very impressive. Several of the fight scenes from this movie were shot infront of this Buddha. Tres Cool.

But Shanghai - it sucked. I was there for 4 days a couple months back and it was perfect. Good weather, lots of money, fun new culture etc. The only negative experience I had that time was being scammed by my "friends" Sunshine and Little Boy. Speaking of which: while I was in Shanghai yesterday the same deal went down. The three of us were standing outside the museum discussing which exhitbits to visit when we were approached by five "university students" on "vacation". SS and LB had given me the same pitch. These "students" kept us talking for about 5 minutes. They asked about Canada, told us we were all very pretty, asked us how much Chinese we knew etc. Once the warming up phase was over, the leader casually mentioned how cold it was outside. "We're off to go drink some hot tea! Would you like to join us, girls?" he asked. "Uh no it's fine we're about to head into the museum," I answered quickly. "Are you sure??" "Yes I'm positive. Thank you for the invite, but no. Bye," I said firmly and we walked away. I'm street smart. I'd been through this before.

But of course almost getting scammed again was the least of our problems in Shanghai. It pretty much all started the second we got there. Cassandra realized that she forgot her money. Of course she had enough to get around and buy food, but the only reason we came to Shanghai was for her and Andrea to deposit money into their Canadian accounts at Citi Bank. Without money to deposit, I couldn't help but ask myself why we were even there. Shanghai is notoriously expensive and it seemed like I was wasting previous money on a pointless trip. I was a little bit ticked.

Things went downhill once we got to the Bund. Cassandra had a paper in her purse with our traveling instructions and destinations written in Chinese to show taxi drivers and train people. That's how we got there. So we were at the Bund, taking pictures like a bunch of ridiculous tourists and prancing along the waterfront through throngs of people when a guy approached us, took me by the elbow, and pulled us into an art gallery. "I'm the owner of the gallery," he said. "That's nice, but we're not interested," I said and turned to leave. The guy turned to Cassandra. "Do you have your wallet in your purse?" he asked her. She was flustered and confused but looked in her purse to make sure it was there. It wasn't. "Someone stole it," he stated matter of factly, "they ran off that way." "Oh my god," Cassandra said. "Everything was in there. Even our travel information to get back to Dongyang!"

So Cassandra and Andrea ran off angrily down the street in search of the criminal. I stayed and talked to the gallery owner. His name was Forest and I found him to be quite gentlemanly. He told me that he saw a young boy with a tall man walk close to Cassandra and reach into her purse, then they fled in the other direction. My first thought was of course "Why didn't he try and stop them?" and naturally my second thought was "Forest must not be the owner of the gallery and he's in cohorts with the thieves or he is the theif himself". I clutched my own purse close to me and looked him up and down suspiciously. He was wearing a thin tight leather jacket and I knew he couldn't possibly conceal Cassandra's large purse within it. His pant pockets looked empty as well. "You girls need to be more careful," he said, interrupting my evil thoughts about him. "Always carry your purses close infront of you and never ever leave them unzipped. That's what thieves look for." Right then I knew he had nothing to do with it. I knew I could trust him. I also knew that the precious sheet of paper we had with our travel info on it was inside of Cassandra's stolen wallet. Uh oh. "Can you be a really good friend to me, Forest?" I asked. "Could you please write down in Chinese the names of all these directions and places?" I scribbled the info down in my notebook and he translated. I was so grateful and thanked him a million times over before I said goodbye. It's really great to encounter people like that in dire situations. And it turns out he really did own the gallery.

After a few minutes of searching I managed to find C and A. Cass was freaking out. It was truly a compromising situation. Credit cards, 300RMB, identification, etc were in the wallet. Cass called and cancelled her credit card and she had extra money in her jacket so it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but of course that doesn't get rid of the sick feeling of being robbed. It's like you've been violated and taken advantage of. Andrea and I tried to calm her down but it was in vain; she was pretty much miserable all day.

We went back to my fourth love, the Shanghai Museum, and stayed for a short while. I could have stayed all day but it didn't seem like the other two enjoyed it as much so we left. Meaningwhile our money was being depleated very quickly. We went to an international grocery store expecting great things. We were let down. How many types of Cheese were there? One. One mild cheddar block. Psssht. In general the selection was terrible. The store's only redemption was its bread. I bought a loaf of puffy french bread and ate it on the train back that night.

The train *groan*. After a terrible exhausting day all we wanted to do was head home. We got to the station at 6pm and discovered the earliest train back was at 10. We reluctantly bought tickets. We had barely any money left and 4 hours to kill. It was beastly cold outside. I just wanted to go to bed. We spent 4 miserable hours window shopping *yawn!* and at a stupid coffee shop. I hate coffee but I had to get something so I ordered Rose Tea. This is getting boring.

The train ride back was 4 hours. And it was late by one hour. Typical. It was crowded, cold, and I saw a few cockroaches (one of which crawled from a headrest into a sleeping lady's hair and I didn't say anything!). Andrea and I had a very long interesting discussion which lessened the pain a wee bit, but overall I'd say it was miserable. We got into Yiwu, Dongyang's neighbouring city, at around 3.00am. Fortunately there was a hoard of cab drivers eager to pick up good-paying late-night customers. We came home to our starving neglected puppy half an hour later. Andrea slept on my couch again and left early this morning. I had class today. I'm exhausted and I've got a list of things as long as the Yangzi River that need to be done. Our toilet is clogged by the way; I really need to pee.

But I'm still in good spirits. I still love China and all it's many flaws. I still haven't experienced culture shock at all and am beginning to wonder if I ever will. Here's hoping, but it kind of seems the odds are stacked against me.


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