Tuesday, December 7, 2010

China Travels, Part 3

Pretty much the ONLY family picture we took in Shanghai
(Apologies for the delay between posts--I have a really good excuse this time.  Mali and I spent five days in Cambodia.  Blog posts and pictures coming soon!)

When people have asked me what our China trip was like, have told them the difference between Beijing and Shanghai is this: Beijing was way cooler from a tourist perspective, but I wouldn't want to live there, while Shanghai wasn't so great as a tourist (with children), but I could totally see myself living there.  And since we really didn't go anywhere or see a whole lot in Shanghai (I'm not joking when I say that from the perspective a touring family it wasn't that great), I'll use the contrast with Beijing to highlight two of the more notable aspects of Chinese culture from my point-of-view.

Expectorating: The major difference between Shanghai and Beijing was the notable absence of human saliva on Shanghai sidewalks (remember, this comes from the perspective of a guy who likes to tool around barefoot).  Everybody in Beijing spits; men, women, and children.  I kid you not, I saw a lady walking down the street, dressed to the nines, who then snorted and hocked a loogie the proportions of which would make a Major League ballplayer blush.  I'll give Beijing the benefit of the doubt on this one, and say that maybe we just happened to stay in a part of the city that just wasn't as clean, while the section of Shanghai we stayed in was ridiculously immaculate.  I will end this section by saying that Shanghai is one of my favorite running cities--wide clean streets with minimal foot and bicycle traffic to interfere with a leisurely jog around the neighborhood.

The only playground we could find...and that's it.
Staring: Everywhere we walked in Beijing we got started at.  Let's get the obvious one out of the way--a family of seven anywhere in China is certain to attract attention.  Add to that Mali's physical features, and everybody in Beijing just assumed that she was Chinese and spoke to her in what I can only assume was Mandarin.  Walking around with her white husband and their five kids, there was no way to avoid that attention, especially in Beijing where mixed-race families appeared to be extremely rare.  I noticed there were more couples like us in Shanghai.  But even those families had only a few kids, so we still got stared at.

But nothing, NOTHING in Shanghai compared to what happened every time we sat down to eat at McDonalds in Beijing, especially at breakfast time.  It seems that every morning at that particular McDonalds about half of the people in the restaurant are not actually there to eat.  They are there to stay out of the cold until 08:50, at which point they all dutifully file out of the restaurant and go to work.  Just never-you-mind the family of seven--with four kids under the age of 10, no less--that just came in and is looking for a place to sit together to eat breakfast.  Don't bother moving to let them sit down.  No, seriously, you should really just sit and stare at them like they are animals in a petting zoo.  Just please don't spit at them.

Thank goodness for the ball-crawl...there are five in there, I counted
In sum, we really enjoyed our trip to the Middle Kingdom.  Maggie swam very well at the Shanghai swim meet (her team was one of only two that was not from China), while Anne and I stayed at the hotel with flu-like symptoms.  I was afraid the Chinese authorities would not let us leave, but they were happy to let us go because we didn't have any explosive residue on our bags.  I would love to go back to China again, maybe when it's warmer, though.  And when I'm not feeling sick.


  1. What a great adventure for your family. As for the spitting, that is a common thing in Mongolia also. In Mongolia, it freezes on the sidewalk and stays until the summer thaw. It adds to the semi-treacherous sidewalk slide. Thanks for the stories. What an amazing world this is! Mother

  2. Brent, sounds like a good trip. My experience was the opposite of yours, though. I thought Shanghai was much dirtier than Beijing. Must be the "part of town" thing. I noticed you run barefoot, or in minimal footwear. Have you heard about the Barefoot Runners Society (www.barefootrunners.org)? It is an international group of barefoot/minimalist runners that visit online about our various journeys into "barefootdom". ;-) Visit sometime, join if you want to (it's free). Good Running!

  3. Love the recap of your trip. How Awesome that you guys got to go!!!