Sunday, April 4, 2010

Musings in Harbours - Shanghai

I’m now sitting in the same chair in the ship’s library, a leather chair that’s very comfortable and has a footrest that’s the perfect height for my leg.  There are five of these chairs, all in front of the big windows, but only one is located near an electric socket.  I write here as well as doing internet and email, and so it’s helpful to be able to plug in my computer.

It’s night, not quite as late as when I wrote the above in Hong Kong, but it’s equally dark outside.

Shanghai is a very modern city of about 20 million.  At the moment the many tall buildings, some of which appear as if a science fiction fan designed the architecture, are lit up, in bright colours, some of which sparkle on and off.  I use the word ‘modern’ intentionally, for everything I see appeared in the last couple of decades.  China opened up to outside investment in 1989, and in 1988, the largest buildings in the area I can see from my chair were three storeys high, and they were farm houses.

Shanghai is now the most popular city to live in, here in China, and so is also expensive.  I didn’t get out today, usually on our overnight stays in cities, Melissa scouts out places I can go during the first day, and then we go out together the second day.

There is a noisy group of people next to me.  I know some of them, and they are nice people, but at present they are watching the brightly lit smaller ships going by and making cracks about them.  The ships are either harbour tour boats, dinner cruises, or gambling boats, and they all are beautifully lit up, each one quite different from the others.  One appears to be a three-masted junk, with no sails up, but the lights run as if they are rigging, and it’s lovely.  Another has short runs of lights along the hull on each side, and they are slightly curved, and the rows of short curves look just like gentle waves lit up by the city.

The boats all have Chinese characters in large neon lights, and to me they add to the beauty.  It’s a tacky beauty, in a sense, dependent on bright colours and very bright lights, but somehow instead of being overwhelming as Las Vegas neon is, each ship is fun and lovely.  This is probably because I can only see one or two at a time, so there isn’t too much neon all at the same time.

Anyway, this group next to me is having fun joking that each ship’s writing says something like “Chop Suey” or “Mao Tse Tung.”  A boat with a paddle wheel at the back just went by, decorated to look something like a Mississippi paddleboat, and someone joked that there are really Chinese people sitting at the back, paddling, since the labour here is so cheap.

I’m am very tired tonight.  I’ve not been sleeping well, as it’s difficult to find a position where my ankle is comfortable at the same time as the rest of me.  And I’m a night owl,  wired to wake up at ten p.m., even when I’m tired.  I’ve tried various things, melatonin, Benadryl, but nothing helps.  And, of course, I can’t go to the gym and do a hard workout, something that often does help when I have insomnia.  Maybe it’s the exhaustion, but the jokes from the people next to me really bother me.  I don’t like to see anyone acting so smugly superior.  I’ve also heard this same group, complaining about our ports in Cambodia and Vietnam because, and this is a direct quote, “It was impossible to avoid seeing the poverty.”

It’s true, in South America there was a shuttle bus at each port that did not allow pedestrians in the port itself, due to the danger caused by cranes and front-end loaders, and these buses always took us to a ritzy shopping area.  Sometimes we drove through a poorer neighbourhood, but most people didn’t look outside the bus that much.  And in Africa, the smaller towns in Namibia were quiet with little street life, but there weren’t the beggars we see in Asia.  In Cambodia, though, as you’ll see when I post that blog (or maybe I already have, I tend to wait for a time when the internet access is fast, as it is often slow, before uploading photographs), the shuttle bus took us to a market place downtown, but it was impossible to avoid seeing the dirt, the constant litter we’ve seen in every country since India, and the poverty.  Beggars, many missing limbs or horribly disfigured, were everywhere.  All the people trying to sell us something, or offer us a ride in their tuktuk, a motorized or bicycle-driven open-sided taxi, were very aggressive, refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer.  I know that last bothers people, but this is still part of our experience of this country.  I can’t sympathize with people who wish to think every place we go is a little part of paradise, and that everybody there is delighted to see us.  Plus, so many of these very wealthy cruise guests still haggle when buying something, happy if they can save themselves a dollar or two that would probably mean another meal to the vendor.  Haggling is a game, and can be fun, but I get the impression that many cruisers are very afraid of somehow being conned into paying too much for something.  I’m not the best judge of how to handle bargaining in a poor country, because I do not have to worry about every last dollar.  I often feel, if a price seems fair to me for what I’m getting, and most things in these countries are amazingly cheap compared to what they’d cost at home, I will pay that price.  I’m not trying to show myself as some special angel, just that I wish wealthy people could share more.  Either that, or I’m just very grouchy right now.

To be fair, I did hear many people, after Cambodia, talking about how hard the tuktuk drivers worked for them, especially those people who used bicycle vehicles, and how they were happy to pay the ten dollars or whatever was asked for a two-hour tour.  Not everyone wants to hide from reality, in order to feel they are above it all.

I guess I am a little grouchy this evening.  The group next to me speaks so loudly that everyone in the library can hear them.  This is actually rare.  While the library is a hangout area, most people speak quietly to others near by.  I actually took a strong dislike to one of the men in this group, for he, while being mobile, was rather rude when I once asked, back when my foot was still painful and needed to be raised all the time, if he would mind moving to a different leather chair so I could use the plug.  He had every right to say no, of course, but he was rather nasty about it, and said he might want to use the plug, but he never does.  He was rude on another occasion, when I wanted to sit in the chair beside him, and he wouldn’t move his foot, even when asked, which meant I couldn’t get myself into the chair.  He asked why I wanted to sit down, and I said because my ankle was broken, and he said it looked as if I was already sitting.  Which I was, in my wheelchair, but I still got very upset.

My first impulse on that occasion was to run away and sit somewhere else.  I get this impulse whenever I feel unwanted, run away so as to no inflict myself on anyone.  I was a bullied child until I was 13, and so was unwanted a lot, and sticking around usually meant more unpleasantness..  Anyway, I am a grownup now, and am trying to change this rather futile behavior, and so after I went away, I returned.  He had moved his foot a bit, and so I sat next to him.  He started talking to me, asking me about my foot and what I did on the ship, since he could see from my name tag that I do something here.  He was actually quite pleasant, and even apologized for his earlier behavior.

So he’s not a bad person, I actually quite enjoy one on one conversations with him.  He just likes having a court of other people around him with whom to laugh and joke.  He’s even interested in writing, and shyly asked me about “a friend’ who was writing a novel.  I suspected he was talking about himself, but I answered his question about what I, as a teacher and editor, would expect to find, strengths and weaknesses in such a first novel, and he must have found it helpful, because he started coming to the writing class.  He’s been very pleasant since, even brought me a book by John Lescroart.  Lescroart’s a thriller writer, and his first book has just been rereleased, after his 20th was published.  He did a fair amount of revision on that first book, before this new edition, and he wrote a very interesting forward about what he changed and why.  The cruise guest brought me the book because he thought I’d be interested in reading that forward, which I was, especially since most of the things Lescroart changed are because of things he’s learned that are also things I teach in my beginner classes.

Anyway, I suppose everyone has their own prejudices.  I must, too, I know.  It doesn’t mean I have to like sitting and listening to other people making fun of what is different than themselves.

Okay, enough grouchiness.

No comments:

Post a Comment