November 2, 2007

Out & About

Two coworkers and I went out to dinner last night. They picked me up at my hotel in a cab. Apparently my hotel is very new (I think it opened in May) and so not a lot of cabbies know where it is yet. Also it's in an out-of-the way place, so that didn't help. So they had gotten lostand turned around a number of times :-)

We headed out into traffic - I must repeat how glad I am that I'm not driving! People are on bicycles, with no reflectors or helmets, standing in the middle of intersections as cars whiz around them. Motorbikes try and angle for the best spots possible, which is often in between 2 lanes of cars. Cars change lanes quickly, and while very close to other cars (or people or bikes) and often without signaling. I guess you have to be very alert as a driver.

Traffic signals are generally followed but the goal seems to be to move forward as quickly as possible (which is funny since we're in a metered cab) regardless of what's in front of you. For examples, if a car is stopped in front of you with its left turn signal on, it's acceptable to swerve around (on its left side!) if if you're going straight. I guess it's possible the driver is not actually turning left , so you might be safe :-)

I gasped and cringed a lot. My co-worker (who's been here 2 years) just laughed and said the only thing that shocks her now is an actual accident. I guess she's seen surprisingly few of those.

Crossing the street, you'd better look both ways. Cars making a right-hand turn often try and find gaps in between groups of people crossing perpendicular to them. You better not be in that gap! Pedestrians seem to have the right of way, but drivers like to make you fight for that right :-)

I changed $25 into about 180 RMB at the hotel'sfront desk. I'm pretty sure this is the first foreign currency I've ever held that's actually mine. My dad used to bring back francs from Europe, and I have seen/held shekels from Israel, and everyone's seen pesos or Canadian dollars (loonies!) but those were like gifts or trinkets because I was in the USA. These RMB are actually going to buy me stuff :-)

My hotel has a TV that gets about 6 english-language channels, including ESPN and HBO. I watched a bit of Serenity this morning.

Anyway, we ate some dim sum at a shopping center on Nanjing West Road last night. The food was very good (I haven't been sick yet). Since we took a cab out to there, we decided to take the metro back to the last stop and then hail a cab from there. Taking the metro was pretty smooth, especially since I'm used to the system in Washington DC / Northern VA. You get a fare card, insert it in the turnstiles, and go on your way. Prices seem to be fixed depending on where you start and where you're going, which again is like the DC system. But you also can use your metro fare card on the bus or in the taxi, which seems very helpful.

In fact, just walking around the shopping center area, and using the metro, really felt like I was back in DC. Just a very large city, with lots of people and good public transportation. I liked it. Of course Shanghai is at least 5 times the size of DC, and we were only in a small portion of it. And fewer people speak English here ;-) But the overall feeling was very familiar.

In the distance we saw the Pearl Tower, the Jinmao Tower, and the future World Financial Center. They looked enormous, and they were still many miles away.

Taking the taxi back to my hotel was an adventure. We dropped one coworker off just fine, but I'm staying in a different hotel. Which, you might recall, is somewhat difficult to find :-) So we drove around the area for like 10 minutes, getting very lost. Luckily my co-worker knows a smattering of Mandarin and was able to converse with the driver, or at leastunderstand his frustrations at getting lost.

Finally we called the hotel from the road and all was well. But I felt incredibly useless sitting in the front seat, not able to understand the driver (except for when he said "sorry" over and over) but understanding the fact that we were lost. If my coworker hadn't been there, it would have been a long (and expensive) trip.

Interesting :-)

I went to sleep just fine at about 10 PM and woke up around 8:30. Today I've had breakfast at the hotel (very good) and learned how to say "good morning" in Mandarin. I imagine that the hotel staff are used to white people practicing Mandarin, poorly, on them. They're very nice about it. So my vocabulary is up to 3 phrases: good morning, hello, and thank you. My goal is to learn a couple more phrases before I leave.

In about an hour my coworkers and I are going to hit up The Bund and then do some sightseeing from there. My camera's rechargeable batteries seem to have failed, so my co-worker is going to try and bring some AAs. If not, I'm sure I can buy some somewhere.

Tally ho!

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