Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Random Observations 4-19-12

I’ve complained a lot on this blog about discourtesy in China. I have to announce, however, that in Shanghai people are remarkably good about giving up their seat on the metro to kids and seniors. People hop up with alacrity when an older person enters the train—and I’m not talking barely-walking old, I’m talking anyone who looks like an elder. Parents with babies always get seats, and even primary-grade children can score a seat from a grown-up. Berkley plays on this, we think, looking forlorn and sighing in the hopes someone will let him sit; sometimes it works. In fact, youth might trump seniority. Quin tried to give up his seat to an older woman once and she steadfastly refused.

Speaking of elders, Chinese seniors have a commitment to exercise that’s very admirable. Every morning there are hundreds of retired folks in Zhongshan Park doing light exercise—tai chi, dance, calisthenics, etc. I wish this ethos existed in the US.

My favorite tai chi guy


The park-goers also have some other interesting hobbies. Kite-flying is a serious sport here, with grown men bringing sophisticated rigs and then standing around holding the boring end. Lately I’ve seen a lot of people playing with these whirly-whistle pods that they hurl around their bodies along a looped length of rope. It looks similar to diabolo, but they are shaped differently and they make an eerie sound, sort of like an alien spacecraft. It looks like decent exercise moving it around—kind of like a hula hoop. Last couple of days I’ve seen guys with long bull whips, crackin’ ‘em in the park (which is better than doing crack in the park).

Crack that whip!  Spin that whirly-gig!


Team sports appear, too—the favorite being badminton. But, I want to bring back to Dartmouth the latest one I’ve seen, which is like hacky sack combined with badminton. My Google Machine tells me the sport is called jian zi (which I confirmed with the group that let me join in on their game). People play in the round, like hacky sack, but they also play on a small court with a net. Instead of a sack, people play with a kind of shuttlecock called a jian zi, which is composed of feathers attached to a base of little rubber or plastic discs. The shuttlecock flies with a sort of dampened quality, like in badminton, so it’s a bit easier than hacky sack. Looks like a blast. And you could play with a Tsing Tao in your hand, too.

Jian zi.  This group let me sit in; they were impressed with the laowai's skills (honed over many hours of youthful hacky sack)


The best park spectacles are the singers, though, because they often have terrible voices and then sing through these karaoke boxes that are turned up too loud, causing them to distort, with the reverb turned all the way to 11. Remarkably, there’s almost always a crowd.

I’ve found my new favorite breakfast. On the way back from the bus stop, I go to this little kiosk-shop that sells bao zi (definitely not to be confused with jian zi), which are steamed, filled buns. The ones I like are stuffed with bits of tofu and greens. Super tasty, especially dipped in some chili sauce. Best part: I can get two for 38 cents.

Yum


One final observation: despite what the weather reports say, I’ve found the wind in Shanghai comes always from the East.

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