Carlo in Shanghai: Week Two

Well, there it is, my second week, therefore second entry in the journal I guess?  (and, if I may quote a classic such as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, do not call it diary)

I am getting more and more acquainted with the city, and once you get to know it is not too bad. Of course, all the things I said before about the general population still hold in place, but people smile back at you and little kids are not scared. Which is something.

I started working, and is extremely interesting. I work – of all things! – at a firm that imports clothes and food from Italy and retails it. The boss is a Chinese man who speaks Italian and goes by the name of Vincenzo, but nobody else speaks Italian, and their grasp of English is even more tenuous. Still, they are extremely kind and nice people, once you get to know them. The wonderful thing, for a person like me who loves to eat, is that I get a full lunch for just above 2 euros. Sure, it’s Chinese stuff, but hurray for the artificial devaluation of the Chinese currency, I guess.

Jing An TempleFrom what I have gathered so far, there are three different Chinas.

The first one is the one of the gigantic skyscrapers, the efficient infrastructures (the metro works like a charm) built over the grave of communism. A first world country, shiny and clean, a byproduct of globalization. People wear designer clothes, drink imported water, eat at McDonald’s and love spending their Saturday afternoons in malls.

Then we have the Old China. Little of it is left in Shanghai, but last weekend I went to Suzhuo, a city which my coworker described as small (6 million people according to Wikipedia) which is called the Venice of China. Of course, just like Shanghai is called the New York of China: a complete exaggeration. The city was great nonetheless. Characterized by its centuries old gardens (UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and by its channel, it was a nice break from the chaotic environment of the Pudong area of Shanghai. People seemed more relaxed – although they still drove like madmen – and there are more kids, families enjoying their Saturday afternoons and a sense of happiness.

Lion's Grove Gardend, Jing An Temple, study abroad exchange, a semester in China, John cabot exchange programLast, and definitely least, we have the Third World China. The one on the outskirts of the city, the one among the main city centers. Barracks and scraps, poverty and misery. People sitting on the edge of the road selling vegetables and fruits on lurid bed sheets. All the things you see on the Amnesty International ads on TV, but with more pollution and less black people.

That was a depressing last paragraph, wasn’t it? Let us talk about the Fake Market then. I guess some comic relief is needed. What is the Fake Market? The name kind of gives it away, but let’s say that it is a place where the word “copyright” has the same weight as “restraint” does in the Red Light District in Amsterdam. There are vendors selling everything. Fake clothes, of course, but even fake iPhones with fake iOS and fake touch screens. It is an insane experience. If you do not look Chinese – and I SO do not look Chinese – be ready for sellers to run after you waving their calculator screaming for you to come and buy their ridiculously cheap products. If you do go, they will shoot an extremely high price (let’s say, 22 euros for a t-shirt). That’s where the haggling begins. You’ll say a price. They’ll say “no too little, too little, I lose money! You ruin me!”. You’ll leave. The further you get, the lower the price they’ll scream at you until – unless you’ve been unreasonable – the price will be the one you said or something very close. They will shout and cry, try to make you feel bad – especially if they’re women. But they’ll give up. And you’ll pay three euros for the t-shirt.

Student Spotlight