Monday, February 27, 2012

Random Observations 2/28/2012

  • I went out for my first run the other day here in Shanghai. If I had 6RMB (about a dollar) for every one of the – what the heck is that crazy white girl doing? – looks I got while I was out, I would have had enough to take the whole family out for dinner and drinks. Seriously. It wasn’t even that long of a run (about 3 miles), but almost everyone on the street was staring. We’re the subject of constant gawking (the other day, a guy even ran his bicycle into the curb as he stared at Doug and me walking home), but the sight of me running in my spandex knickers was apparently just too much.
  • At home, I’m very price conscious when I shop. I have almost no brand loyalty when it comes to grocery shopping, and I almost never buy clothes or household goods if they’re not on sale. But here, it’s a whole different story. There’s a constant calculus of – is it really the best idea to buy the cheapest so and so in China? Take for instance frying pans. We needed a new non-stick frying pan (as ours was beyond gross), but given that lack of safety regulations, do I really want to buy the cheapest kind of pan coated with god knows what (one of my Fulbright colleagues reports there are still pans on the market that have a chemical that’s been linked to Parkinson’s – sweet)? Same with things like rice or laundry detergent. Really makes me appreciate safety regulations in the U.S. While there are times when I think we may have gone a bit overboard back home, it’s comforting to know that I can confidently buy cheap things in the U.S. and not constantly worry that I’m shaving a few years off my families’ lives.
  • And speaking of risking lives, crossing streets here is a nightmare. I know Doug pointed this out in his previous post, but it bears repeating. One of the State Department officials at our orientation commented that the most dangerous time to cross the street is when you have the green cross signal, and he was totally right. The rule of the road here is might makes right. And in that system, pedestrians are the bottom of the barrel. So, when you’re crossing (with a green cross signal mind you), you have to watch out for right turning cars, trucks and buses that do not even slow down in making their turn, and scooters, electric bicycles (the silent but deadly killers), and bicycles going through the light no matter what the color. And any one of the last three can be going right, straight, left – even through the pedestrian traffic with you. Oftentimes, you’ll find them running in the opposite direction of traffic or on the sidewalk with you. We’ve told the boys that the way to cross the street is to swivel your head – left, right, left, right – the ENTIRE time you’re crossing the street. Throw in a bit of brief sprints or back tracking, and you really start to feel like you’re in a real life version of Frogger.
  • Walking down the sidewalk is no safer than crossing the street either. In addition to the above mentioned fact that scooters, bikes, and electric bikes often ride down the sidewalk, it’s not uncommon for cars to park on there too, which means they need to drive down the sidewalk to get to said parking spot. Oftentimes, the sidewalks are sidewalks in name only.  For example, the sidewalk just across the street from the park is completely taken over by bicycle parking, requiring you to step out on to the hair-raising street to make forward progress. It’s also not uncommon for little store fronts or carts to take over the sidewalk as part of their business. Just outside the gate of our complex, there’s a bicycle repair cart that does a brisk business, meaning it’s impossible to walk on the sidewalk most of the day. Despite all this chaos, we rarely see any accidents. Maybe everyone has come to expect the unexpected, so they’re constantly aware of the potential for danger. Maybe we’ve just been lucky. Regardless, all this chaos certainly makes everyday life far more interesting.


  1. My question was going to be-how many accidents/injuies/deaths are there? But it sounds like to the folks who live there-it is a way of life!

  2. Sounds insane and awfully stressful. But exciting and vibrant as well. Thanks for painting us another colorful picture of life in Shanghai.

    Please tell the boys"no darting". We know how they love to run ahead!