Chinese Things On May Day Monday

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, May 02, 2010 was originally posted on May 05, 2010.

DAY 13: “Any idea what you want to do today?” Scott asked me the Monday morning of the long weekend for International Workers Day (a.k.a. “May Day,” like Labor Day in the USA).  He really had no plans but to run errands on his day off.  I suggested seeing the popular pedestrian strip Nanting Road, and maybe check out some of the markets I’d been recommended.  Also,

“We should all get massages,” I added.  (Why not, at under ten bucks for an hour-long massage from a professional blind masseur?)  He agreed.

Shopping and errand running was a good way to see life in Shanghai as it is, and all of its different people.  We left Qiu-qiu (pronounced “tcho tcho”) at home, grabbed a Starbucks coffee and Starbucks Dragon Roll (a sweet gelatinous dumpling), and took to the streets of Shanghai on what was shaping up to be a beautiful day.

NESTLED BETWEEN SKYSCRAPERS in Scott and Juju’s Pudong neighborhood was a small road of little houses and stores, with ordinary people maintaining the status quo.  A friendly Chinese tailor took Scott’s pants, as well as my new fancy white dinner jacket to bring the sleeves in (from the shoulders not the ends, for only a buck!).  A cute little boy from a family that ran a stationery store told Juju how old he was (three).  An old woman sold me and Scott some meat-filled sesame pastries for breakfast, while an old man sold Juju a vegetable-filled bun.  It appeared as if the little things like this might happen any day and have happened for decades; the only difference in the neighborhood was the new automated library book dispenser, which we reckoned was put up in time for the 2010 World Expo in attempts to put China in an even better light.

(The Expo had caused many changes in town, from the new security checks on all freeway approaches, x-ray security checks upon entry at all subway stations, plus the staff of Scott’s apartment suddenly started wearing a new snazzy uniform.)

Taking the train to different parts of town, we went shopping, but above all, people watched.  “You could just stand here and get some of interesting picture,” Scott told me as stood around, waiting in an underground shopping concourse while Juju picked out earrings.  Within five minutes, a group of military police marched by; a janitor picked out an unfinished Coke bottle out of the trash to check if the cap was a winner; and a man carried his kid over a trash bin so he could pee through the intentional hole in his pants (picture above). 

“You’ll see that all over,” Scott told the dumbfounded me.  “That’s very Chinese.”

Another Chinese thing is to list your personal ad in public in the green city oasis of People’s Square — sort of like an offline  Eligible bachelors post their best profiles up on a fence in hopes of finding a mate — although most were probably done by parents itching for their kids to get married.  Most of the ads were for SCM seeks SCW, although there were a few of the opposite.

“This one says she born in 1970, she has a house, works for a foreign company… she no want tiger,” Juju said.  “You want?” she asked me.

“I’m a tiger,” I admitted my Chinese zodiac.

We meandered to nearby Raffles City, a huge shopping mall flanking People’s Square, imported into China by the Singaporean company of the same name.  It was here that thousands of people saw Avatar in IMAX 3D — something the Chinese government wanted to curb because Confucius came out the same weekend, and they didn’t want an American movie to blow out a Chinese movie’s box office numbers on its opening.  (They failed.)  It was also here, at the ground level Starbucks, that Juju and all the suburban kids would meet on weekends, when they all came into the big city to party — sort of like when Bridge & Tunnel kids invade New York City on a Friday night.

ONE MORE CHINESE THING, especially in Shanghai, is the bootleg goods market.  Most items in the world are manufactured in China, and factories have the know-how to make anything as similar as any high-end brand.  Similar-looking that is; the craftsmanship may or may not be as top-notch — although you get what you pay for when it’s 10% or less of the real price of a real item. 

After browsing the snacks and hickory nuts (Mmmm, hickory nuts…), and eventually settling on a cup of Chinese stick food from a snack vendor, we walked the busy retail pedestrian mall of Nanting Road, where bootleg touts came from every direction, approaching the obvious tourist with a laminated chart of fake items one could get.  “[They come to me when I’m just five feet away from Juju,]” Scott said.  “[But when I’m walking with her, nobody comes.]”  As an experiment, we sought to capture that on camera; and as soon as Scott walked out of China’s version of H&M, he was already approached.

“You want to check one of them out?” Scott asked me.  “It’d be worth seeing.  [The secret shops] aren’t far, just in the little side alleys.”


“This will be the first time I seek them out.”

Soon enough, a woman approached us and led us down a little shady alley to a shady door a block away from Nanting Road.  Inside the secret room were fake luggage (Gucci, Louis Vuittons, etc.); sunglasses (Ray Ban, Oakley, etc.); and what I was interested in, watches (Tag Heuer, Omega, Patek Philippe, IWC, and something the woman pronounced, “Lolex.”)  Nothing caught my eye.

“There’s a better selection at the other market,” Scott informed me.

We grabbed yet another snack (Chinese egg and custard pastries) before taking the subway across town — in a train car where a French(?) hipster and a middle-aged Chinese guy both wore trendy glass frames with no lenses in them — to the Shanghai A.P. Xinyang Fashion & Gifts Market under the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum, the “Fake Market” as Scott calls it.  “Hi, shirt?”  “Hi, watch?”  “Hi, DVD?” came the calls from all the vendors there.  Bootlegging is pretty common and accepted in China; all the hiding of it was a relatively new concept that the government wanted since the world was in town for the Expo, and be all hush hush.

The fake market was full of everything — clothes, electronics, toys — including foreigners (and two rare Black guys!) playing the bargaining game.  “The rule is whatever they tell you, you move the decimal point one place,” Scott told me.  We ended up at a watch vendor Juju had been to before, who led us to the back room and showed us the goods.  Scott narrowed it down to a metal-banded Tag Heuer, while I was interested in a classicly simple-looking IWC — both fake of course, but very convincing.  The Watchman wanted 300 RMB for Scott’s and 200 for mine (about $44 and $29) but we played the game.

“Well I don’t have to get it now.  I can get this at Chinatown in New York,” I said, not even bluffing.

The Watchman was resistent, but we continued on.  “Come on, you’re already getting a deal, selling two watches instead of one.”

“Okay, okay.”

My bargaining skills worked and I got my new fancy/fake watch for about twenty bucks — The Watchman even threw in a spare battery for free.

“I tell him you are a famous writer and he will tell everyone to give you business,” Juju told me, who was the real mastermind behind all the negotiations. 

“Let’s see whose watch stops working in the morning,” Scott joked to me.

JUJU DID SOME MORE SHOPPING, store to store, while Scott and I chilled out and waited as a good boyfriend and friend of good boyfriend should.  Juju’s attention from clothes and lingerie were always averted whenever a white baby was in sight.  “Foreigners love Chinese babies,” Scott said.  “And the Chinese love foreigner babies.”

And speaking of baby-making — how’s this for a segue? — it sounded like a complete sex orgy when we finally made it to the massage place after all our shopping.  Three blind men beat, pounded and twisted the three of us, causing us to moan out the moves that hurt so good with our O-faces.  (“Oh, oh… Mmmm…  oh god… oh my god, what was that…”)

“ALRIGHT, LET’S GO OUT and get you some more food porn,” Scott said, refreshed and hungry for dinner.  We took the car across town, through the “Tron roads” (as they are to be called from now on), to Song Ji Xiang Lai Xie, one of Scott and Juju’s favorite restaurants, specializing in Sichuan crab made fresh.  It was a nice final dinner (for now) of friendly conversation, crab, and a second bowl of crab, with vegetables, mushrooms, and Budweiser — what you drink to be a little trendy, the way it is when ordering a Tsingtao in the USA.

What happened after was probably the most exciting part of the day.  Juju forgot to turn the headlights off and the car battery died, which led to a frantic series of events, made even more frantic by the woman who ran the parking lot.  I gathered the translation went something like this (or at least this is what it sounded like to my non-Chinese ears):  “[Oh my god, your battery is dead?  You left the lights on?  Oh, you’re so forgetful!  Well you have to get it fixed!  Hurry, hurry, before they close!  Here, take my bike!  Take my bike!  Don’t lose it!  It’s that way, then go right and you will find a shop!  I hope they are open!  Go, go, go quick!”

Juju hopped on the bike, caught up in the frenzy.  “Where’s my bag?” she asked Scott.

All eyes were now on Scott who now had to search the car, and the restaurant for Juju’s bag, and with limited Chinese.  All he knew that “bao” was the word for bag — that is, if he pronounced it right.  One really Chinese thing is that the words in the language change based on intonation.  (This is not completely far-fetched since in English “contest” can mean a competition while “contest” can mean to oppose.) 

He ran to the restaurant and couldn’t find the bag, searched the car nothing.  Adding to the frustration was the old woman who didn’t know what he was trying to do.  Bao, when pronounced differently from bao means something completely different in Chinese.

“[Bao.  When I have many things, I put them in a bao]” Scott explained to the old woman like a four-year-old. 

“Oh! Bao!”  It was turning into an Abbott & Costello routine.

Eventually, Juju came back, the bag was in the car after all (it wasn’t the bag we thought she brought), and a teenage Chinese kid jump-start the car from a battery that he’d strapped to the back of his bicycle

This temporary moment of frustration, anxiety and lack of electrical power was short-lived — until we had to deal with the loss of power back at the apartment.  But that too was quickly resolved by a building worker who lent us a fuse.

“Is your watch still working?” Scott asked me the following morning before he left for work. 

“Yup.”  It was 6:53 am.

In the end, everything worked out.  It was how I ended my stay in Shanghai — along with a breakfast of noodles and pork buns, and one more sweep of the mop to clean up Qiu-qiu‘s pee.  I would return in a few days on the way back from Seoul, my next destination, where Chinese things would be replaced by Korean ones.


While all of these may be “Chinese things,” there are different things that separate the Shanghaiese from the rest of China — much like New York City being unique to the rest of the USA.  “All the people in China don’t like Shanghai people,” Juju told me at Tuesday breakfast during a bike-riding pitstop en route to pay the electric bill.  “[Shanghai people get angry and the littlest things.]”  She said this in response to the heated argument that broke out between a loud yelling woman and the staff, who was complaining that they had brought her second soup (to take home) too soon, and that the noodles would soak up too much broth.

Next entry: Seoul Man

Previous entry: Crouching Tiger, Hundred Tourists

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Chinese Things On May Day Monday”

  • Korean things next.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/05  at  03:12 AM

  • Is anyone else’s email notification for comments not working?  I didn’t get any and just realized a lot of people had been commenting on the previous entries.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/05  at  03:53 AM

  • do they make adult sized pants with the hole in them?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/05  at  04:04 AM

  • Uh, I want to see that library book dispenser - how the heck does it work?

    Those mushrooms look YUMMY! I will check the comment notifier, I don’t usually do that… but for you, I’ll do it. :D

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/05  at  08:13 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chinese Leftovers And Other Asian Appetizers," which chronicled a trip to Shanghai and Huang Shan in China, as well as brief excursions to Manila, Taipei, and Seoul.

Next entry:
Seoul Man

Previous entry:
Crouching Tiger, Hundred Tourists


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