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Shanghai Randoms #3

28 Dec

Merry Christmas everyone, friends or random readers! Hope you’re all having a fabulous time off. I’m too busy spending quality time with family and friends to write anything lengthy but here are a few totally random pictures of Shanghai mostly, which I’ve been collecting for a while. Hope you’ll enjoy them and happy new year to all!

In summer, there are street dancing classes. This one is next to our house.

In summer, there are street dancing classes. This one is next to our house.

Vendeuse lotus Pudong

In the subway

In the subway

Waiting for the train to arrive

Waiting for the train to arrive

On summer holiday

On summer holiday

In Sanya

In Sanya

The method of those who can't afford pampers

The method of those who can’t afford pampers (it took me a year to finally get this shot).

Crazy laundry

Crazy laundry

On how to combine a loft and Graeco-Roman temple and miss a column out of two

On how to combine a loft and a Graeco-Roman temple and miss a column out of two (Shaanxi Bei Lu).

Global city, major attraction. Still I'm always amazed when I walk on the Bund.

Global city, major tourist attraction. Still I’m always amazed when I walk on the Bund.

I just can't get enough...

I just can’t get enough…

Prosecco at the Peninsula

Prosecco at the Peninsula

The ashtray I intend to steal some day

The ashtray I intend to steal some day.

Promoting appropriate behaviours

27 Nov

We’ve all had unpleasant experiences on public transportation, in any city anywhere in the world. Somebody speaking too loudly on their mobile phone, somebody pushing you or stepping on your foot and not apologising, someone throwing something on the floor and leaving it there, etc.

A lot of people who live in China or who have visited some of China’s big cities will tell you Chinese people are rude. It’s hard and unfair to generalise of course, but it is also fair to say that some of their habits are different from ours and therefore some things, which are frowned upon elsewhere, are accepted here. Examples are: spitting loudly on the streets, making noise when you eat or not refraining a burp afterwards instead getting it out discreetly. Of course, like everywhere else, rude people exist here as well and I have seen spits in our elevator or, worse, one of my students spitting in class. Obviously, as an intolerant lǎowài*, I was so shocked that I yelled at him instantly. It is also fair to say that some Chinese people are particularly uninhibited, like the man taking off his shirt and casually lying on his side at Beijing Airport (see this post: Shanghai Randoms #1).

In new situations or settings, it can be argued, some people do not know what is acceptable behaviour from what isn’t and it may take some time to adapt. The subway or underground network in Chinese cities is not old at all. I would say about 10 years at most. When you take the underground in Shanghai (and probably in other cities – it certainly was the case when I was in Beijing in 2004), what you will notice first is that people on the platform certainly don’t wait for people to get off the train before getting in. So if you are unfortunate enough to commute during rush hour every day (thankfully I don’t), it can be an extremely violent experience at every station. Likewise, when there are free seats, people will rush like mad and push you around to put their asses down. No courtesy to be seen here. And there are far worse behaviours, which shock Chinese and foreigners equally – this China Smack link probably tops it all. So that’s why, I assume, the underground company has decided to put these videos (taken it seems from the CCTV cameras inside coaches) of people behaving inappropriately, such as picking their toes, and to point out what’s acceptable and what’s not during your daily or occasional commute.

* lǎowài: respectful word for foreigner

Visits – Sānyà

1 Sep

In July, after enduring much heat and, for J., much humiliation (Cf this post), we headed to the beach. Although Shànghǎi, again which literally means “above the sea”, is on the sea, we never saw any of it, except perhaps from the plane shortly after taking off or before landing.

Sānyà was very nice. Perfect beach, lovely sea. It’s a city on the island of Hǎinán, located to the south of China, just across Vietnam. Sānyà is on the sounthern tip of the island. We were very well advised by our friend and neighbour C., who had been there many many times. She told us not to bother doing any research and to go Yalong Bay, where the most beautiful beach of Hǎinán is and, out of the many hotels there, to head to the Mangrove Tree Resort. We did exactly as told and had a perfect time lazying in the sun and… observing middle class Chinese by the beach.

Their behaviour is really contradictory! On one hand, most Asian people are known not to like being exposed to the sun. Being sun tanned is associated with working in the fields, which is in turn associated with the countryside and poverty. You will see many people in Shànghǎi walking with an umbrella on a sunny day. On the other, more and more middle class people are heading to the beach, in Sānyà and elsewhere in Asia, for their holidays, even though a fairly significant proportion of them (including people in their 30s) do not know how to swim. I can’t give a definite explanation to this rush to the seaside. But I suspect it may be a fashion imported from Europe (where it was also once frowned upon to be tanned). The fact that paid holidays are a very recent introduction to labour laws (initiated only in 1999 to boost domestic tourism) probably contributes to this too. Some of you may have seen pictures like the one below.

Thankfully Sānyà wasn’t like this at all. The beach, on a weekend in July, was practically empty, while the hotel was fully booked with 99% of customers being Chinese. Those few Chinese who ventured to the beach did so with a lot of caution. A lot of them came fully dressed, maybe just to have a peak, considering that was enough to enjoy the sea. A whole other lot of them were in swimming suits and still used umbrellas to walk from their chaise longue to the water, perhaps even into the water. And some of them wore funky gear. Others were slightly more adventurous.

Breakfast time

The beach!

Those girls took pictures of one another under the umbrella, in the sea, with the view, etc.

Could she swim at all?

The adventurous ones

It has been proven that sun exposure can be quite harmful and I have stopped over exposing myself a long time ago. Maybe it’s just a slow process to be able to fully start lazying around nearly naked by the sea. At the moment, Chinese people appear to be still too flustered and excited about seaside holiday to fully relax on their chaises longues.

Heat and humiliation

8 Jul

When I left Shanghai end of May, the weather was warm, occasionally verging on hot. When I came back a few days ago, there was no more room for thermal ambiguity. It is now properly HOT! Tài rè le!!! Too hot! The temperatures, announced on TV and the net as low 30s, are really in the mid and high 30s. That would be barely bearable on its own, but you have to factor in very high levels of humidity. So high I don’t want to know how much. Look it up for yourself. All I know is that the first breath of non-conditioned air at the airport felt like I was mutating into a fish. It was like breathing water…

The few first days after my return, I didn’t go out much. The sun, which apparently had not shown its face for a while, was scorching. If there was any wind, it was really hot, like blow drying your hair. So all I did were small excursions to run errands and went back inside, turning on and off the air-conditioning.

Two days ago we had a really strong shower, throwing a depressive atmosphere over the city. It was weird to go out. So hot you didn’t feel like putting on any additional clothes than what minimal decency requires from you. It was also a first for me, heavy rain and heat, summer clothes with flip-flops and umbrella, being both sweaty and drenched. See, in Lebanon, it practically never rains in summer. Maybe once every 5 years. So I guess for as long as I live and in spite of 5 consecutive rubbish English summers, summer and sun will always go together for me.

Now I don’t want to sound like I am complaining. I really wouldn’t dare to, when I know what people who aren’t as fortunate to have their flat fitted with 4 air-conditioning units have to endure. Or those who have to take the tube everyday or those who have to wear suits and visit chemical factories. A friend fainted in the tube during her morning commute, the doctor said she was quite dehydrated. And my boyfriend came back from a day’s factory visit in the worst mood he is capable of, feeling sweaty and dirty under his shirt and suit. To sum it up, as my friend C., a long term resident of Shanghai and Guangzhou before that, says: “In Shanghai, there is no other way. During the summer season, you will be humiliated.”

Integral sun glasses

Clever dog: lying down right under the air-conditioning unit

Men’s coping strategy to handle the heat: rolling their shirt or t-shirt up and exposing their bellies. Not the best example but will strive to find a better one.

Shanghai Randoms #2

14 Jun

Our balcony

View from a friend’s house – very typical of Shanghai

Mailbox – in the former French Concession

Chinese don’t like number 4 because it sounds like the word “death”

Cats in hammocks

Chinese are mad about crickets and the sound they make!

Surviving Sichuan food

On motorbikes: like father, like son



Chair seller

Must buy two of these eventually


Shanghai Randoms #1

6 Jun

As some of you may know, I am taking a break from Shanghai these days and enjoying more familiar places in Europe. I do have a few pending posts to write but until I do, I thought I’d keep whomever is reading this blog or just stumbling on it entertained with a series of totally random shots that I’ve been collecting since moving to China.

Hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I was amazed, amused or puzzled when I witnessed them live. For more regular updates, you can follow me on Instagram. Just look for jolicanard.

Boats on a boat

The map of China in our kitchen

Way too warm at Beijing’s airport

Siesta in the printing shop

Workshop in the old city

Getting dinner ready I suppose

Sacrificial paper

Just down my street, selling a turtle

Checking the quality of the goods

Oddly enough, one of our favourite snacks over here

Six months on…

1 May

and I’m still jobless (yekhk) but when I think about our state of mind six months ago, things are actually positively interesting. We’ve been around a lot of places in Shanghai and, although we still need to discover many more, we generally know what people talk about when they mention different spots around town or street names. Linguistically, not wanting to brag out too much, but my Mandarin is quite satisfactory. I manage fairly well on the street, in most shops or taxi situations and, most importantly, to negotiate prices. Script-wise, I may know less than 150 characters (I have to double that by July 22nd for my second exam), but six months ago, had anyone told me that within this short period of time I’d be able to have basic text message conversations in Chinese, I would’ve never thought it possible.

It’s interesting to look back. Five days after arriving to Shanghai in November, we were invited by one of J’s friends, a Lebanese who has been here seven years now. We had just moved into our flat, done a thousand things on that day and were really exhausted. That evening, we met what is probably the majority of the Lebanese community in Shanghai. Leaving the party, we felt a bit depressed seeing how comfortable these people were in this city, how well they spoke Chinese and all the things they knew and we didn’t. And, mostly, we thought they were kind of crazy anyway coming to China and settling here, some at a really young age… For about two weeks after getting here, when I walked on the street and spotted other foreigners, my eyes widened up as if I was looking for some sort of solidarity on their behalf just for being here too. Most of the time, they passed by without looking at me.

Today, after having had family and friends coming over and meeting two days ago with other Lebanese people visiting Shanghai, I feel I’m part of a sect. I can spot foreigners who have just arrived to China, their eyes open wide when they see me. I smile compassionately. With other lǎowàis*, we have the same codes, exchange tips on where to find this or that type of food we miss, are always amazed at the Avocado Lady’s stock, make sense of the lùs**, who employs an āyi***, who’s the best tailor at the fabric market, what VPN**** is better to access Facebook or You Tube or all normally censored websites and how many devices you can connect it to… and even mimic taxi drivers!

To top it all, we finally organised our overdue housewarming party yesterday. It also happens to be my birthday today and it’s heart-warming to be surrounded by about 15 people we didn’t know at all six months ago, some of whom I hope will stay lifelong friends.

* lǎowàis: respectful word for foreigner

** lù: road in Mandarin

*** āyi: aunt, auntie, but also meaning cleaning lady

**** VPN: virtual private network, usually accessible at a monthly or yearly fee. It’s basically as if you’re using the Internet from the US or another network from non-censored country. We use VPNExpress.

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