On the Prospect of Being in a Chinese Family’s Vacation Photo Album

It’s been over a week since I returned from China, and life is busier than ever (I even have some homework to do). After developing, scanning, and editing the 5 rolls of film I shot while in the mainland, I’m going to do my best to describe my ridiculous, sleep-deprived, cold, and overwhelming week in China.

Shanghai was first. We arrived on new years eve, and after a couple quick touristy sights we went to a restaurant for a new years ‘feast’. For all of you who were wondering, jellyfish does NOT taste anything like jelly or fish; it’s crunchy (ew). Luckily, the pepper beef and steamed cabbage was insanely good, so we didn’t starve. That night the group went out and were seduced by a deal where it was 100 RMB (16 USD) for an open bar and entry to 2 clubs. I mean what could possibly go wrong with 15 20-something-year-old Americans in a Shanghai nightclub with an open bar on Chinese New Years Eve? I won’t bore you with the details but it involved a lot of dancing, stuffed snakes, cigarette burns, and an extravagant (and potentially unsafe) amount of fireworks being set off in the street at midnight. In fact, from that night on, it was normal for people to launch fireworks whenever and wherever they wanted. The first few nights we kept thinking the city was under attack, but by the end of the trip they had become so common that I was beginning to wonder if China had permanently ruined 4th of July for me.

Despite our successful first night, the rest of our time in Shanghai was kind of a bust. Because of the holiday, everything was shut down the next day, and on Monday the museums and other cultural areas were still closed. Shanghai has undergone extreme growth in the past 20 years or so, and you can tell a lot of thought went into the planning of the city. Even so we heard horror stories of the traffic jams, and apparently despite the 4-lane highways and well designed roads drivers still sit in 2 hours of traffic regularly.

Up next: Beijing. I was unsure how much I would like Beijing, but I have to say it was amazing. Our four days there were a whirlwind of amazing food, ancient temples, bartering for knock-off Ralph Lauren shirts and propaganda posters, unsuccessfully googling “Tiananmen Square,” bizzarre modern art, more delicious food, climbing the great wall, sledding across a frozen lake using fire pokers to push ourselves, and fighting through swarms of chinese trying to follow our tour guide as she led us into oncoming traffic. For some reason I thought that because I had already been in Hong Kong, the culture shock wouldn’t be so intense, but it was just as extreme (maybe more) as when I first landed in HK. It’s just hard to get used to driving past giant Apple stores, Maserati dealerships, Gucci stores and Burberry shops, then turning a corner and finding yourself at an ancient temple gate.

After a while it was difficult to express anymore astonishment at our surroundings. “OK, China” became a common response as we just accepted whatever ridiculousness was thrust in front of us. Mao looked back at us from our money and on every corner you could find someone wearing a big furry hat with a red star on the front. People asked to take pictures with us, and I’m pretty sure my friend was proposed to by a waiter. One parent even thrust his daughter into our arms, claiming it was her homework to have her picture taken with foreigners. She looked terrified. I can’t help but wonder how many of us will end up in a family album somewhere. I could go on, but there is too much, so here is a list of some remaining highlights:

– green tea + oreo blizzards at Dairy Queen. Seriously delicious and they don’t exist anywhere else

-communist puns: “Mao Money, Mao Problems” and “Commi Maybe” (I can’t take credit for either of those)

– FOOD: the best kung pow chicken ever, bullfrog, delicious tofu, pumpkin cakes, some fusion that I could never classify, and a million other things I can’t remember. More adventurous people ate scorpions and grasshoppers at the street stalls

– Getting in the elevator and seeing the chinese news station showing footage of the Russian comet and thinking that north korea had launched a missile and freaking out

– The Great Wall. One of those things that neither words nor photos can do justice. Oh, and to get down we took a GIANT METAL SLIDE. It’s awesome and fast and guards jump out and yell at you to slow down (ha).

Check the pictures below.

Advertisements

Sneakers and Smartphones

I spent a couple hours in Mong Kok yesterday, which is basically a huge shopping district across the bay on the peninsula. On Nathan street there is block after block of high end clothing companies, while beautiful european models gaze down on you from massive billboards, begging you to just try and look as good as them. There are so many watches, that even if you put on a new one every minute, you probably would die before you wore them all. If you wander over a block or two, you find the more “real” Mong Kok: Tung Choi street is lined with booth after booth, selling everything from wigs to board games to Beats headphones to handbags to children’s toys. One section is just groceries. Behind the booths are tons of restaurants and massage parlors and tons of camera stores. The cool thing is that it’s not full of tourists like you think; locals are all over, doing their shopping like it’s no big deal.

Further up Tung Choi I stumbled upon what I have now dubbed aquarium village (creative I know); literally every shop for almost 3 blocks is an aquarium or pet shop. My personal favorite was The Techno Aquarium, which I still maintain they should make into a bangin club.techno_aquarium

How they are all still in business I have no idea. On either side of Tung Choi are streets filled with more restaurants, pharmacies, camera shops, and shoe stores. I am now beginning to think that every Hong Kong resident owns 28 pairs of shoes, half of which must be adidas. Either that or they just buy them because they are bored. Literally every street has 2, if not more, adidas shoe shops. It’s not like they are empty either; every shop is buzzing (this was a Monday, mind you). Like aquarium village, I’m unsure how every one stays in business. Pure craziness.

After finally finding this tiny little film shop that will hopefully (fingers crossed) develop my 120 film, I grabbed lunch at a local joint. The number of restaurants in Hong Kong amazes me. On every street there are usually 3 different food stalls and 7 noodle restaurants, most of which serve pretty similar things. I usually just go for one that looks clean enough to eat at. While I was waiting for my food, I looked around at the groups of locals eating next to me. Literally every single person had some sort of smartphone or tablet (or something inbetween) in their hand. I counted at least three people with headphones in, watching something while their friends sat next to them! No one was offended either, because they were all busy playing games or texting or doing who knows what. I was the only one without some sort of device in my hand and was also the only one sitting alone, but I felt more present than anyone in the restaurant. Sometimes there would be sparse conversation, but the participants wouldn’t even look up at each other. I’ve always been kind of wary about smartphones and what they’re doing to society, but the way in which people here are pugged into their devices is plain scary.

When I left the restaurant, I suddenly became aware that everyone had a smartphone in their hand; at least 15 people nearly ran into me while they were looking down at their screens. Not only that, but on every corner there was a store selling the damn things, and every bus has an ad for the newest tablet-phone! In general, the culture of Hong Kong is extremely materialistic and possession obsessed. I’ll write more about that when I have gathered my thoughts a little better.

In the meantime, horse races tomorrow, and hopefully some photos! Stay tuned in.