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March 1st, 2006

The Shanghai Curse

Posted by natdavauer in Around the World

The Shanghai curse has been lifted. 1987: Tickets to Shanghai cancelled due to outbreak of cholera. 1997: Tickets to Shanghai cancelled due to extreme lack of interest. 2000: Tickets to Shanghai cancelled due to decision to see somewhere “more interesting.” 2006: We arrive in Shanghai with plans to live in this mysterious cancelable destination.

Shanghai turns out to be the unhappy medium between Beijing and Hong Kong. Half the lights and glitz of Hong Kong, a truly east meets west city, and an even smaller fraction of the ancient culture that makes Beijing so fascinating. Not that it is devoid of any value. It has a rich history, albeit a westernized one. This is where communism began. This is partially WHY communism began. Ironically, the very building that the Chinese Communist Party was founded in is now a tourist attraction for the very westerners it previously banished. You know, the ones who are leading Shanghai up to be king of the capitalist hill. The problem for us is that it doesn’t suit the temporary life of the live-in tourist; people who want to experience a place longer than the average week but have no interest in permanence. People who want to be reminded that they are not home but not necessarily wish they were.

I suppose the prior 19 years of near misses has created expectations that can’t be met. How could it possibly live up to NYC, Hong Kong, Tokyo and London as a metropolis on the cutting edge? Could it possibly feel more Chinese than Beijing without a Great Wall or entombed Mao Tse Tung hanging around downtown? The great cities of the world have met their match however in the area of street-food. There seems to be no more satisfying day in Shanghai than one spent wandering in no particular direction with no particular goal besides trying the next item steaming in a cart on the street. There are steamed buns with mysterious innards; sometimes green and helpful in the illusion that you are eating healthy. There are also all manner of meats on sticks including live scorpions. I won’t easily forget the cookies that first taste good and then hit you with an aftertaste that explains why they cost less than three cents. There are of course dumplings and noodles that can be mixed with just about anything in sight. My favorite is the flat bread with a sprinkle of pork that makes for a handheld pizza pie at the bargain price of 24 cents. NYC hot dogs are an institution for sure, but the variety is limited and they are hardly a value.

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