This alternate universe known as Shanghai has an energy to it, a vibe that imbues the flow of humans rushing through the streets with an unnatural momentum as though nothing common can stop it, not even an oncoming train. So the government has implemented these rolling gates. Otherwise, you better believe trains all across the country would be forced to stop to wait on the majority of drivers and motorcyclists who clearly believe traffic laws are entirely optional.
Though it was never in my life plan, Shanghai became my home away from home last July. Actually, I should say that I moved here in July of 2017, but it became my home at some point during the fall semester at my new school, probably when I realized the administrators, teachers, and students were quickly becoming my new extended family, and I was feeling safe both on campus and off. Exploring Shanghai on foot, one city block at a time became my hobby and pastime. No longer is walking the desperate, momentary escape it had been for me in Changsha. The day I walked all the way to the Bund and became engulfed in the flood of wide-eyed tourists on East Nanjing Road still echoes in my mind, a fantastic triumph of spirit and fortitude which I’ve subsequently repeated several times. Now, I know this is where I belong (for the time being).
Despite all of the beginning-of-year mini-disasters at my school, I have to say that life has been pretty good for me so far this semester. I’m only teaching two literature courses (instead of 3), and my basketball practices will start tomorrow afternoon. I’ve been averaging over 7 hours of sleep for the past three weeks. That’s an improvement by about an hour over last semester. Although I haven’t yet lost the extra kg’s I gained over the summer, I feel pretty healthy, no aches or pains anywhere, and my basketball skills (such as they are) don’t seem to have diminished.
For three days last week, I traveled with my school on our fall field trip to a place southwest of Shanghai called Nine Dragons. I guess you’d call it a secluded resort area on the coast surrounded on three sides by small mountains. I’d call it a picturesque local except for the three massive sky-piercing smokestacks clearly visible off in the distance from nearly every place in Nine Dragons.
On the afternoon of the first day, the students were placed at random on teams then performed a bunch of cooperation-based tasks, basically team-building 101. When I asked a few students how they liked it, they invariably said it was very difficult. They don’t get a lot of team activities at our school.
On the morning of the second day, we rode horses around the inside of a coral, led by the horse’s trainers who held a lead. I found it a little boring, but some of the kids liked it. We also did some archery followed by kart racing, which I enjoyed most of all the things we did. I’m not hyper-competitive, but I’m proud that I passed everyone in my heat once and passed one person twice. After my race, another foreign teacher ignorantly said my kart was much faster than theirs. I didn’t waste my breath explaining to her that she was slow in the corners, didn’t follow the racing line, and probably wasn’t strong enough to press the throttle all the way to the floor. I just let her think my kart was faster. Hell yeah, it was faster. I drove it faster.
In the afternoon of the second day, we went boating in a small harbor and around some small canals which connected to it. Our small, under-powered boats each held four people. I rode with 3 of my 10th-grade students, and we had a pretty good time tooling around on the water. Once we had found the outlet, we made a tentative plan to escape to the ocean, but we ran out of time and needed to head back to the dock to head to the next activity.
One of the 10th-graders brought a few clubs with him on this trip, a 7-iron, a wedge, and a putter. Too bad he didn’t bring his driver, or we could have had a little driving contest, but he thought we were going to be playing on a par-3 golf course. Most of us had fun pointlessly trying to hit little white balls into a rolling field full of little white balls while Andy, the boy who had brought his own clubs worked on his short game.
The last stop of the day was to play a war game the Chinese kids call CS (Counter-Strike). The war is fought with guns that fire plastic pellets which aren’t supposed to hurt much, but seeing as how I’m a teacher, I didn’t take the chance to get shot in the face by my students and sat this one out. Though most of the kids had a great time fighting it out among the modified shipping containers, one boy was obviously upset that someone he had shot would not admit to having been shot, and I suppose it might have changed the outcome of the game. So I reminded the boy that it’s only a game, and he calmed down. I think he was just hangry, and all of us were looking forward the the big meal at the end of a very long day.
One of my favorite supermarkets to shop for imported foods like milk, cereal, lunch meat, butter, and cheese has been Metro. It’s a German company with stores in nearly every major city in China. The one nearest where I live is about a 45-minute walk each way, but it’s absolutely worth the trek, even if my shoulders nearly give out from carrying 4 liters of milk plus assorted coffee making ingredients.
On my most recent trip to my not-so-local area Metro, I was struck by just how empty the store shelves were. In fact, there were large empty spaces within the store where entire isles of goods had previously been displayed for sale. At first, I thought perhaps Metro had just been scrimping on the holiday pay during the Spring Festival my not having employees restock the shelves in order to save some money. But as I traveled deeper into the large warehouse, I found more and more such vacant areas. In fact, the entire office technology (my favorite) department was simply gone. It was at this point in the nearly fruitless shopping excursion that I hypothesized that the store must be depleting its stock in order to prepare for closure. Shit!
I continued to mull this idea as I continued shopping. I picked up 4 boxes of muesli cereal, 2 liters of milk from New Zealand, 2 plastic cereal/noodle bowls, and a bottle of Hersey’s Chocolate syrup. Other items on my list were nowhere to be found, including toothbrush, ham, cheese, butter, and bread. I suppose I’ll need to re-source these particular products because of what I found upon leaving the store after bagging my meager groceries.
Beside the exit stood a notification board (entirely in Chinese) which confirmed my hypotheses and explained why the store would be closing on February 25th. Of course, I had to use Google Translate to convert the text to English so I could understand it, and after doing so, a mild melancholic feeling descended over me as I trudged home, heavy with despair if not actual food-stuffs.
The next nearest Metro Supermarket location is at least a 45-minute metro (oh the irony!) ride away from home, but I doubt I’ll be making that trip anytime soon. I suppose I’ll just make do with the Carrefour, Bravo, Tesco, Lotus, and Walmart still within walking distance. Besides, I can spend the time I’ll be saving by not walking so far on less productive things like playing video games and binge-watching TV shows.
I don’t know how I missed it before, but I finally found the Walmart located at the nearby Wanda Plaza. I guess I must have walked right passed the unmarked entrance at least twice while wandering through the mall. I suppose I wasn’t looking for it because, according to Google Maps, there isn’t supposed to be a Walmart inside Wanda Plaza, but it should be across the street, right beside Carrefour; Google Maps fail.
I felt pretty happy about finding the secret Walmart, but they didn’t have the big can of coffee I wanted to buy. Instead, I bought a medium sized jar and one of creamer. I bought white sugar and brown sugar. I bought some seaweed snacky-snacks and some strawberry cream cookies. I also bought a couple of stainless steel forks with smiley faces on them. The last thing I picked and placed in my cart was a plastic container to put either sugar or oatmeal into. I haven’t decided which. Oh, and I bought a couple of salt/pepper shakers too. I think that’s all I bought at the secret Walmart.