Thursday, October 11, 2012

Back to China

I'm back in Beijing (more on that in a bit), and the only souvenir I've brought (other than, don't laugh, Japanese cat food for Smudge) is a set of observations about Japan:
1. It's impossible to remain in a bad mood. Too many people are smiling at you all. The. Time.
2. The deer of Nara are charming. I'm still thinking about them. Even as I was fumbling in my purse for a cracker, one tall doe stood before me bowing her head in a graceful sweep and then looking at me with her big brown eyes. Impossible to resist.
3. Tokyo is the most orderly large city I've ever seen. And much greener than I expected, with little pockets of trees, bushes, and flowers squeezed into parks, medians, building terraces and roofs, the side of the road. I suddenly understood why the Japanese love all things Disney. It's the same vision: tidy streets, orderly lines, smiling faces, and nothing disturbing or bad. There are signs that prohibit smoking while walking. There are signs that ask you not to talk on your cell on trains, subway cars, and buses. And people obey. When pedestrians cross the street, cars wait for them to cross. They wait.

None of these observations are new to anyone who has traveled between Japan and China before, but they're still remarkable. Yesterday, on the plane from Tokyo to Shanghai, there was this transformation before my very eyes. Moments before, I seemed to be sitting with a planeload of Japanese tourists, quiet, calm. We even were served sushi and little smoked mackerel fish for lunch.

Then the plane landed in Shanghai. It's true that no one jumped up the minute the wheels touched down. But once the first guy stood up to pull his bag down from the overhead bin, the mood changed and suddenly I was being shoved from behind as I stood in the aisle, people were shouting into their cell phones in Mandarin, and the entire plane seemed somehow transformed from polite Japanese to loud, crass Chinese.

I sat in the Shanghai airport in my own little bubble of culture shock. I moved three times, twice to get away from Chinese who plopped themselves over several rows of seats and proceeded to shout back and forth, and once to get away from a bunch of people eating such a strongly scented dinner it seemed as if the smell would get in my clothes.

And my re-entry to Beijing was also a little rough. I took the train from the airport, which was nice, but was met at the Dongzhimen station by a rowdy and rather aggressive group of taxi drivers who wanted to know where I was going. "Home!" I yelled at them, trudging past them with my suitcase. "No? No?" they said somewhat threateningly.

Down the street, a bunch of guys had just left a karaoke bar, and were drunk, weaving, and peeing into bushes. I just went home to be greeted by a very happy cat. Today, though, my internet suddenly stopped working. While I grumbled and made horrible assertions about China, I learned late in the day, after the very patient Mr. Zhang was badgered to come here, that one plug had been ever so slightly dislodged and disconnected the modem.

Now how I could do email earlier in the day and then suddenly find it disconnected when there was no one in the room is beyond me. Gremlins, I guess. But I really in all honesty have to say I can't blame this on China. My stupidity carries the day.

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