Tuesday, January 13, 2009


First Shots from Shanghai

I haven't had a lot of playtime since I arrived, and I have yet to break out the Nikon, but here are a few shots taken with my tiny pocket Sony.

Since one of the reasons for me to come here early was to make connections and "win hearts and minds" I have to be careful to be sensitive to local sensibilities and to appear focused on my task, so I haven't been on a serious photo shoot since I got here. But I did escape the office for a few minutes yesterday afternoon, and stepped out on to the "smokers balcony" of the Best Buy building to make quick snaps of the surrounding architecture and the lake that sits in the center of the office park in which I am working.

The tall building on the left here is my hotel- The Ramada Plaza Pudong, and the one on the right is a very striking building which appears to have both residential and commercial tenants. (a bank, some apartments, and some others.)

The most of the skyline in this part of town could be Atlanta or any big city anywhere, but when you get down to street level, you know you are nowhere else on earth. Major streets and large businesses in this part of town-- dominated by expats and visiting Western business people-- have signs in both Chinese and pinyin, and many have English signs as well. The logos on the buildings are those you would see in any corporate park in the US - Not just Best Buy, but Kodak, Jack Daniels, etc. But don't look up too intently-- or you'll be nailed by someone on a motorbike driving with absolutely no regard for traffic laws.

Things that surprise me here--
The fact that smoking is not the cultural anathema that it has become in the States-- There are lovely crystal ashtrays and boxes of matches everywhere in my suite, and restaurants have smoking sections. Instead of forcing smokers to huddle 50 feet from the entrance to the building, there is a redwood deck with a view of the lake and umbrella tables at the office.

And I still have yet to see a vending machine-- for anything. Well, there are ATM's, but I haven't seen a Coke machine, or a newspaper box, or a machine to purchase a bottle of water or a snack--- though those items are readily available in shops that range from Carrefours (an experience not to be believed-- think Sam's Club meets a Flea Market meets Filene's basement-- on steroids) to small Mom and Pops that remind me of the corner bodegas you'd find in any urban area.

Chinese food is not what most Americans think of as "Chinese Food"- It's a huge country, so there are enomous ranges, of course, but it is not typically the obnoxiously salty or overpoweringly spicy stuff found in your local take out place. The dishes I have tried so far are basically simple-- but there is a facinating and often baffling array of condiments served with these simple preparations of chicken or meat or seafood or vegetables that allow the diner to create a one-of-a-kind meal from the standard offering. I've also learned to close my eyes and taste, rather than judge things by their appearance. Some things that look unappealing actually taste really good.

And I love the fact that breakfast here is not the maple-syrup covered sugar fest or eggs and pig-of-some-sort cholesteral fest that it often can become in the States. Though those things are certainly available. (But why would I travel to Asia to eat the same stuff I can eat in the Residence Inn in MN?) Yesterday I had the most amazing savory vegetable-filled bun. The bread was not unlike challah- a rich, braided egg bread- filled with mixed chopped vegetables. And fruits that I didn't recognize, but thoroughly enjoyed. (a black and white relative of the Kiwi that neither Lisha nor Dina had a western name for). Since I've never been a big fan of traditional American breakfast food, this is a delight.

And I've had 2 excellent guides to understanding local culture- Lisha and Dina. I need to go now, but perhaps later or tomorrow, I'll talk about going to Carrefour with Lisha and some of the folks from the office at lunch time, and then going back after dinner with Dina to do some shopping. Dina was almost beside herself with delight over this very Chinese experience, laughing out loud and smiling from ear-to-ear at the readily available treats and staples that she remembers from her life here, but cannot readily find in the US. And Lisha's personality is more reserved, but it is clear that there is the same sense of "coming home" that I feel when I land in Philadelphia, find myself surrounded by real cheesesteaks and pretzels and water ice-- all the treats of my childhod there-- and not their "mall food" version cousins.

This trip has been a chance to see Shanghai through their eyes-- but also to wonder how Minneapolis and LA look to someone who doesn't really thik of them as the "standard."
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