The Town That Time Forgot

……………And back to my beloved China.

The Time That Time Forgot

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Today, on the way home from the Chinese New Year performances at the children’s school, Brennan referred to the village we pass through as “the town that time forgot.” I have written about this town before, how poor it is, and the contrast between it, and the high-tech American school down the street. This statement made me start thinking about other things in Shanghai, and how they compare to what we see in the United States.

The cargo trucks which we see on the streets of this city look like they drove right out of the 1960s. Whether they are that old or not, I do not know, but the design does not seem to have changed since then, and they all look very weathered. The taxis seem to be 80s style VW Santana. Run down and stinky. Painted in crazy colors like “Aquafresh” green and “Monk garb” yellow.

Most of the time, the locals here do not wear helmets when riding bikes, scooters, or motorcycles. If they do don headgear, it seems to have popped right out of a Godzilla movie, or maybe Hogan’s Heroes, and is usually not secured to their head. Here it is very common to see an entire family (usually one man, one woman, and a child, but sometimes more) riding around town on the same bike. Baby or child sandwiched between mom and dad, or a woman or child riding side-saddle on a board attached over the back wheel.

Outside the gates of our compound, they are building new housing. The crane they are using appears to be a hand-me-down, passed on from generation to generation for the last 40 years. Some of the materials they are using look like they have also seen better days. Rusted metal re-enforcing bar, broken bricks. These will all be concealed in a thick layer of cement. In China, the bricks go on the inside of the structure, never seen unless the building is going up, or coming down.

In Shanghai, there are no drive-thru restaurants. Take out, actually requires getting out of the car (unless you order Sherpas, like we do, and have it delivered to your door), and your food cannot be paid for with a credit card. Regulations on food, such as milk, eggs, and meat are just recently starting to catch up with western countries. Fresh fruits and vegetables are sold off of the back of trucks and carts parked throughout the city. Many locals buy their food on a day-to-day basis, as not everyone has a refrigerator.

This “lost in time” feel can also be very charming, though. In China, you can walk around the corner from a five-star hotel, and feel like you have just travelled to a quaint 1940s Chinese village. A place where life is simplified. Far from the hustle and bustle of today’s world. Where neighbors sit and chat outside for hours at a time, while they shuck corn, or snap green beans. Above their heads, their laundry is hanging on a line to dry.

Shanghai is at the same time, very modern. The five-story science museum is like none I have ever seen before. There is a Maglev train. It is not uncommon to see Ferrari and Porsches. There are almost 100 Starbucks throughout the city. Five-star hotels, five-star restaurants, upscale malls, countless fancy, expat, housing compounds, international schools, and billion-dollar western companies. Disney is very close to a deal with the Chinese government to build its largest park in the world here (Shanghai Disney is now expected to open in 2016.)They have recently opened a cruise ship port. The soccer events for the 2008 Olympic games were held in Shanghai, and the World Expo will be held here in 2010.

I guess these things are what keep Shanghai so completely engaging to me. I never get tired of watching out the car window, as we travel the streets of the city. I will always see something I have never noticed before, or something I expect I will never see again.

 

Visions of China…….

This blog was written during our time in Shanghai, our second home, which I miss everyday.

Visions of China

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

As I look out the window of the tour-style bus that I ride with the children on Tuesdays, I think about how my views of China have changed in the last 8 months. When we first arrived I noticed the extreme poverty that is prevelant in so many areas, and how it is so close in relation to areas of extreme wealth.

Right outside of the gates of over-priced, over-sized, ostentatious compund, is a gentleman who sells Chinese pottery. He has just recently chosen this spot to set up “shop.” A mere ten feet from his products, stands his tent. This is his home, not just shade for the day. Just 50 feet from his location, the migrant worker’s housing starts. This is a “neighborhood” built of tin shacks, where the men, and sometimes their families, who are building the new part of our compound live.

When we first arrived, I was greatly bothered by these sights, but they are common to me now. I still find it very sad, but it is no longer a shock to see. It is everywhere. Tucked into the corners of downtown Shanghai, next to five-star hotels and expensive shopping, and on the road which leads to Shanghai American School.

I have stopped looking at these things as upsetting, and begun to enjoy watching the people within them. I find these areas are one of my favorite parts of life in China. Of course this is from the outside looking in. I could never imagine living this way, but they handle it gracefully. It is all they have ever known.

On the road to the school, there is a small, poor, town. It is not a tin shack town, but a few steps higher on the housing ladder. People sit outside their homes eating breakfast, doing laundry, taking care of grandchildren. The “shops” consist of open stalls, selling whatever the locals may need. Everything looks old and dirty. Items we would probably never touch. The local school looks like a warehouse, or even an abandoned buiding. It took me a long time to realize it was the town school. I see the students occasionally, lined up to go inside.

A few hundred yards away, the gates to another expensive housing compound, and an international American school. Millions of dollars of materials and technology, just a short walk from poverty. We know which provides the better education. We know which kids are sure to have a full tummy at night. We know which children have a better chance of physical health.  I wonder how the souls of those children compare with mine. I’m sure they’re full of family, friends, and love, with no expectation of anything else.

 

 

Thank You……A Letter to God

Thank you, God, for all the blessings you have given us.

Thank you for my husband. For the life we share. The adventures we have taken. For making him the thoughtful, smart, funny, loving man that he is. For helping us find each other. For helping us make it through tough times together, and continue to grow closer.  For a love so deep, I can’t even find the words to describe it. Thank you for Billy.

Thank you for our parents. Without them, we wouldn’t exist. They kept us safe through childhood. They shaped our personalities. They gave us the tools we need to succeed in life. They love us unconditionally. They are always there when we need them. Thank you for keeping them on this Earth with us for as long as possible. Thank you for our moms and dads.

Thank you for our three beautiful children. For showing us the  love that fills a parent’s heart. For trusting us with their well-being. For keeping them safe. For everything about them. Even the rough moments. Without those, we would take the happiest times for granted. Those difficult patches will help our children grow into strong, independent adults. Thank you for Ethan, Brennan, and Carleigh.

Thank you for our siblings. Without them childhood would have been a much lonelier time. Thank you for giving us someone to play with, and learn from. Someone to fight with. It is through our interactions with them, that we learned many valuable lessons in life. It is them we  turned to in tough times. It is them we continue to turn to. Thank you, for our sisters and brothers.

Thank you for our friends. They help us through the day-to-day. They are like family. They join us to celebrate the good times, and mourn the bad. They are a shoulder to lean on when we need it, and to prop up when they do. We learn from them. We grow with them. Thank you for the friends you have blessed us with.

Thank you for the home we live in, the clothes on our back, the food in our cupboard, the water that flows out of our faucet. Health. Love. For my husband’s job, good schools for our children, and the transportation to get to them. Thank you for giving us everything we need, and more.

Thank you for the sun and the moon. For the green grass and trees, the blue sky in day, and the starry night. For the sound of birds, the smell of flowers, and the feel of a cool breeze. For our oceans, lakes, mountains, and valleys. For rain, snow, and fluffy white clouds. For the occasional rainbow. For glorious  sunrises, and vivid sunsets. For those little, yet big, things that inspire us, and give us hope. Thank you for the beauty of Earth, and the galaxy around it.

Thank you, God, for the life you have provided us. It has been far from problem-free, but the good far outweighs the bad. We have learned from our experiences, and grown because of them. We would not be who we are today without them. Thank you, God, for the all the blessings you have given us.

 

 

A Soft Place to Fall

We live in a small community. Our town is a mere 2.6 square miles of densely packied houses, within a huge metropolitan area. It is where we bought our “starter” home. We said we would be here about five years, and they told us that many people say that, but few leave. We have been here 18 years. For us, it has become a soft place to fall.

We have added on to the house, and made many improvements. It has grown with us. It exudes who we are. It is a virtual rainbow of colors, some bold, some subdued. Wood floors and plantation blinds. Paintings, photographs, knickknacks, and furniture from all of our adventures. All these touches bring warmth, comfort, and character to it.  It’s not a very big house, only 1600 square feet, but it’s just enough for me. I have told friends for years that I like a house that “hugs” me. It feels safe. It is a soft place to fall.

We moved to China for four years, but we always came back twice a year. Christmas and summer were spent here. It was home base.  We didn’t rent it, or move our things out. We left most of our possessions here. When we walked back in, we felt like we had never left. We have friends and neighbors who have been here with us for many years, through thick and thin, good times and bad. They are like family. They are here when we return. It is a soft place to fall.

Our community is chock full of young families, but it wasn’t always that way. When we first moved in, it was mainly retirees. The “downtown” area was dated, and although it had a bank, post office, grocery store, gas station, and a number of other small businesses, it wasn’t the kind of place that people would come to hang out on a weekend. I had a feeling in my gut that was going to change. It was a great location, and a better value than the areas around it. It is now full of unique gift shops, restaurants,  pubs, spas, and coffee shops. Many of the old houses have been torn down for new builds. Others have updated existing homes. There isn’t a day you won’t find people wandering around the area. Walking dogs. Pushing strollers. The local ice cream shop has a line going out the door every day. I see people I know every time I go out. It is a soft place to fall.

This morning, I was woken up before 7am to a child hollering up the stairs…”There is a fire truck at the next door neighbor’s house!” I rushed outside to find our neighbor standing outside his house, surrounded by emergency vehicles and personnel. There seemed to be every available officer from our town and several from the next town over. We are lucky to not have many crimes,  or emergencies in our community. Not much happens here. They come out in large numbers when something does. There were at least 6 police cars, two fire engines, and an ambulance. They had arrived no more than two minutes after his call. They are looking out for us. We are safe here. It is a soft place to fall.

The events of this morning reminded me of the things I love about our town. Standing outside talking with neighbors about what was going on. Being there for one another. Our hometown heroes, our police officers, taking the time to chat with us, while they waited for the electric company to come. Accepting the coffee I offered. There is truly nothing better than having a small town feel, within such a large metropolitan area. It is our little slice of heaven. A soft place to fall.

We stumbled upon our town while looking for this house. It is small enough that I had hardly ever heard of it before then, much less known where it was, or imagined that I would spend so much of my life living in it.  It was unexpected. A pleasant surprise. A blessing from God. It is OUR soft place to fall.

 

Time-Travel in Shanghai

Although it’s more appropriate for a Throwback Thursday, today, I’m returning to one of my most memorable moments in Shanghai.  Where old and new, Asian and Western, and poverty and wealth collide.

Thursday Time-Travelers

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bill and I have spent the last few Thursday nights on the town, while the kids stay home with Ayi.  This past week, we had an errand to run before we went to dinner.

Bill is traveling to India in July, so we needed to turn in the documents for his visa. Once we arrive at the necessary office, they directed us to a side street across the road, so Bill could get the correct passport size photos taken. Mr. Tao parked the car, and he and Bill went to the “cubby hole”  which was the “photo shop.”

As I waited in the car, I watched the local activity, smacking myself for not having my camera with me. We were on a street that looked like we had teleported back in time to the 60s or 70s in China. Much farther in the States. We sat by an ancient two-story building, lined with doorway after doorway, only 10 feet apart. Older Chinese men and women, sitting in front of their homes, on bamboo chairs, sharing each other’s company, in the late afternoon sun. Beside one of the doorways, was a cabinet holding what appeared to be a number of family’s wares.  Next door, a gentleman closes up his “shop” for the day, putting away the homemade sign with a handsaw drawn on it. Taking down the worn kettles and pots that had hung on the wall. Upstairs, someone sits close to the open window, resting their elbows on the sill, and leaning out into the fresh air.

Two school boys walk up to the car, one staring in at the console. The other slapping him on the back and telling him, “Too expensive,” in Mandarin. They then walk to the back of the car, where I notice they are now looking at it from the rear. They are so entranced by the car that they have no idea I am watching from behind the tinted, rear windows. Our car is one of thousands of silver, Buick minivans which travel the streets of Shanghai everyday, but it would seem that none have ever been so close.

Once BIll and Mr. Tao return, we head to dinner, a mere five-minute drive from the small side street. The restaurant is one of about six or eight expensive, modern, and chic locations on the Huangpu River which runs through the city. They serve gourmet international cuisine and fine wine, with panoramic views of the cityscape. They spare no expense in dinnerware, furniture, or staff. It is a well-known and frequently visited location in the life of the wealthiest Chinese, and the expat community, but not one of the people on that side street that has endeared me today, could ever imagine.

Bill and I are early for our reservation, so we enjoy a glass of wine in the bar one floor below the restaurant, where we meet and chat with the owner of both.  She is Australian, and was the first to open a restaurant overlooking the river. She is directing her staff in rearranging the furniture. It’s early, so no other customers are there. Later, it will be packed.

Once we are seated on the terrace for our meal, we order a few starters of lobster and salad. When it is time to order our main course, I order “Veal Faggot with Sweetbreads.” I am initially deterred by the word “Faggot,” because I don’t know what it means, then decide it is probably just the way it is served, and veal sounds good, besides, “Sweet Bread” sounds delicious…..I like “sweet” bread. Bill goes with steak.

Before the meal arrives, Bill gets a “swimmer” in his wine, and we let the waitress know. I think she will get him a new glass, Bill thinks she will “fish” it out. BIll wins. She brings over a spoon, cloth napkin, and a new, empty, wine glass. She fishes it out, puts it on the napkin, tells him “good wine,” and asks him if he wants the clean glass. Meeting the owner already, I know she would not approve of this, but we let it go, chalking it up as one of the quirks of living in China. The waitress leaves, and Bill decides he doesn’t want the tainted wine after all, so I chug it down for him. The wait staff chuckle behind us at his facial expressions.

Our meal arrives and it is tasty, but mine has a funny texture, and where is the sweet bread?! I learn later, online, that the “faggot” was the giant meatball that was on my plate, and is made up of all the “extra” parts of the animal.  The other half of my dinner, which had a strange texture, but was fabulous, was the “sweetbread.” Not at all “bread,” but instead a dish made of glands from around the heart and neck. Who in their right mind would call this “sweetbread?!” Towards the end of our meal, fireworks start going off across the river, and the skyline is lit with the lights that make Shanghai, Shanghai.

Two different worlds, only minutes apart. Both scenes are beautiful. Both scenes forever engrained in my memory.

 

A Rainy Day in Shanghai

This is a throwback blog from our time in Shanghai. With all the rainy spring days we have had lately, it seemed appropriate. It was a second home to us, and I always love to reminisce about our China days.

Rainy Day…..

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yesterday was a rainy day. I sat by the second story window of our local Starbucks, drinking a non-fat latte, and watching the people on the streets below. With my indoor seat and warm beverage, I think that regardless of the rain, it is a beautiful day.

I watch the lady who sells Mylar children’s balloons on the sidewalk. She has them tied to the back of the bike she transported them on, and I wish I could have seen her trip from home. That would have been a great picture. She sells one each, to two young Chinese women, and as they walk off with their purchases, a man walks behind them, smirking at their childish fun.

Locals pass on their bikes. Their children sit in wire seats behind them. On motorized scooters, children stand behind the handle bars and their parents legs. Others have sandwiched a child between two adult riders on the seat. Age is of no concern. No helmets are worn. Some wear ponchos, some do not. It is not raining very hard yet, so no one is in a hurry.

The armored car arrives to service what has to be one of the most used money machines in Shanghai. Two security guards get out dressed in bullet proof vests, helmets, and carrying what look to me like machine guns, followed by two money handlers. They move into the building with one guard in front, and one in back. The one in back must feel pretty cool, as he has a swagger to his walk. I have been at the ATM when this entourage arrives. It is unnerving, to say the least.

When they are done, they return to the truck. The swaggering man ditches the machine gun and helmet, but leaves on the vest, and returns to the building. The other guard takes off his vest and helmet,  leaves the gun in the truck, and returns to the building in black street clothes. They come back out minutes later, nothing in hand. Must have been a bathroom break. I can tell they are young. This must feel like a very powerful job.

By the time I am ready for Mr. Tao to pick me up, it is pouring outside. There are several silver Buick minivans parked by the road, but it is a 25 meter walk across the courtyard to the street, and I have forgotten my umbrella. I call him to try to figure out which van is ours, but it is lost in translation. His English is limited. I see a police car in the area and I bet on the fact that he has seen it, and parked around the corner. They don’t like drivers to sit on this part of the street to wait. Luckily, if Mr. Tao doesn’t understand you when you call, he usually assumes he is needed at the pickup location.

A minivan pulls up, and I decide to run for it. There are literally thousands of silver Buick minivans driving around Shanghai everyday. It is the telltale sign of an expat. The windows are tinted so I can’t see in, and the license plate can’t be seen from the side of the car. It is raining too hard to try to get to a better angle to see it. The automatic door opens and I jump inside. Generally, your driver will open the door as you walk up, so I am betting it is him.  One day, I will get into a car, and it won’t be, but the rightful owners will be right behind me. The door being opened for them.

I never tire of watching everyday life here. I love experiencing a different culture. Some of it is mind-boggling, but much of it endearing. There is rarely a boring moment, when you live in Shanghai.

 

 

A Letter to my “Otherly-Raced, Religioned, or Abled” Friends

I am not racist. If you are a good person. Kind. Caring. Thoughtful. Honest. Polite. You will always be my friend. I don’t care what color you are, or what religion you believe. You are my friend.

I could never say that I didn’t notice your color, because I did. Just like my red-headed friend, or my really tall friend. I noticed, but I will not treat you differently than any other friend. If someone asks something, where I have to point you out as an area of reference, like “it’s over there next to the tall, red-headed girl.” I will. I may refer to your color: “See that Asian girl? It’s to the right of her.” But that means nothing about how I feel about you. We all have differences. I am short, and a little over-weight. Feel free to point that out. I don’t care. It’s who I am.

I don’t care if you go to church, synagogue, or mosque. Believe what makes you the best person you can be. What gives you hope. What makes you get up every day. Don’t try to change who I am, and I won’t try to change you, but help me grow as a person. I enjoy learning from my friends, or anyone for that matter. I love other cultures, and experiencing them.

I don’t mind a good debate. Don’t get mad at me if I don’t agree though. I will do the same for you. Mutual respect for differences is important. I have lived in an area that is populated by many, many people who have political views that are not the same as mine, for most of my life. That is not a problem for me. Again, if you are a good person, believe what helps you to be your best you. What makes you happy. What makes you thrive. I will never hold your beliefs against you.

If you have a disability, please don’t be offended if I say that word. It doesn’t mean I look down upon you, or think you are any less than me. It’s just a word. My friends are full of gifts to give the world. You contribute to society in many ways. You contribute to MY life in many ways. I don’t care if you can’t walk, talk, see, hear, or anything else for that matter. It doesn’t mean anything to me, so don’t be offended. It implies nothing, except  maybe a closer parking spot.

If you are not a good person, I don’t care what color you are. Bad people come in all colors, religions, races, and abilities. If I have a friend who is not who I thought they were. If I find out that they are not the kind, thoughtful, honest, and polite person I thought they were. They won’t be among those I call friends.  I surround myself with people who I feel have a positive effect on the world, and humanity. I don’t care what color you are, or what god you believe in.

Good people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and religions. I will take all the friends I can get. They are blessing from Heaven. Be a person to be proud of, and I will call you friend.

 

The Countdown

As Bill and I count down to our 25th anniversary trip, I am going to reflect on some earlier anniversary celebrations. The following blog entry is one of my mom’s favorites.

Bill and Beth Celebrate 18 Years…..

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Saturday night, Bill and I went to a restaurant called “La Villa Rouge” to celebrate our anniversary.  It is set in quaint old house, which was once part of a recording company. A park has been created behind it, where the record factory once stood, and at this time of day is scattered with older women doing Tai Chi, and children volleying balls around. We had the place to ourselves, as we were having an early dinner, with a table by a large window facing the park. It was the kind of restaurant where kids are not commonly seen, and you get a little bit of very tasty food, at a very steep price.

We ordered a bottle of wine, with no worries about who would drink how much…..a benefit of having a driver, and the couple who hardly ever drinks, finished it off. That would be a first in 18 years. Now if you had been the waiter, or the other two gentlemen standing at the desk, you may have thought I was drunk on my way to the ladies room. This impression may have begun to develop when the American girl (that would be me) came down the stairs and missed a step at the bottom of the first landing. Our waiter, being the gentleman that he was, put his hands out to try to catch me if I continued to fall. He was, however, still a flight below me. I steadied myself as I walked across the landing and then promptly stumble down one…..”I’m fine”………two….”Whoops!”…….three……”Honestly, I’m not drunk!” …….more steps. All the while, our fine, young waiter is standing at the bottom with his arms out, trying to save my ass. Each time I stumble, he apologizes. “Oh, saury……saury…….oh, saury!” Just for the record, they were shallow steps, and the back of my heel kept catching on the last one. I was not drunk! Just very relaxed.

After dinner, we went to the beautiful Shanghai Oriental Arts Center to see a Yue Opera. We were two of what appeared to be five westerners in the whole place, and better dressed than all but the cast. Apparently dressing up is not what they do for the opera in China. They had screens with English translation to the sides of the stage, but you could get the basic story without them anyway. It was the story of an army general and his wife, and there were several other male characters in the show, however, in the tradition of the Yue Opera, every one of them was played by a female. It was a fun experience, and the costumes were gorgeous.

After a romantic, child-free evening together, we arrived home happy, relaxed, and in the mood, so we climbed into bed………….pulled out the fifth season of 24, and watched four episodes. Perfect. 18 years.

 

 

 

Encounters with The Law

When we lived in Shanghai and something would happen that we thought was unique to our current location, we would say, “This is China.”  Below, I have posted an entry from my first blog discussing one of my favorite “This is China” moments.

My First Encounter with the Shanghai Police…..and My Second

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Everything was as usual on Thursday. I was trying to get things done, Carleigh was trying to make it as hard as possible…and I had a limited amount of time. Wednesday afternoon, Bill informed me that the next night we were going out to dinner with one of his superiors, and I had nothing to wear. Thursday afternoon, just hours before dinner, he informed me that it was my job to pick the restaurant… no pressure there. Nice.

So Carleigh and I headed to the mall, and after three hours, came out successful. Great, so far so good! I got home with a few hours to spare before dinner, and decided which of the new outfits I was going to wear. Good, step two done. Now, I needed to get our AYI, Yuan-Yuan, to iron the skirt. I would have done it, and tried, but she thought she was failing us if she didn’t do it. I got the voltage converter out of Brennan’s room, and got out our American iron, for the first time in Shanghai.

It’s a little appliance, so I didn’t think to check the wattage of the iron, with the wattage max on the converter. After AYI started ironing the skirt, I left the room. About two minutes later I heard a pop and a scream (from Carleigh) and the converter was smoking… piece of junk! I just bought that! My phone rang, and it was Bill.  I told him the story and, engineer that he is, he advised me that  irons draw quite a bit of current….hmmmm, what do you know… Iron: 1500w, converter max: 150w. Whoops, my mistake! I told Yuan-Yuan not to worry… in charade form… and moved on.

Then she tried to turn on a light… no power… no power ANYWHERE downstairs… oops! We must have flipped a breaker. She made a call to maintenance, as I never mess with that stuff in China, for fear of screwing something up. Maintenance came and flipped the switch back, and the house alarm started trilling. They shut it off…..no problem. Five minutes later, compound security showed up. Yuan-Yuan explained the situation. Actually, with the little bit of Chinese I know, I heard her RAT ME OUT!  “Tai Tai (wife) gave me the wrong converter!” Do they really have to know whose fault it was?!  Five minutes later, the police were at the door. She explained again, and then they looked to me, forcing me to feel the need to charade my explanation.  They smiled. I’m sure that was fun for them. Entertainment by Expat. I signed a piece of paper that they assured me was not a ticket, and they left. I then set AYI up with a larger converter, and she promptly  plugged the iron into the 220v instead of the 110v plug. Since the iron was from the States, it immediately started smoking. Good grief! Now the refrigerator was not working. Maintenance showed up again to fix the problem, and I thought to myself…..”Did you RAT YOURSELF OUT THIS TIME, AYI?!

During all this, I still had to find a restaurant which was suitable to take Bill’s boss to for dinner, and make a reservation. Mr. Tao was supposed to come pick me up at 5:30 and take me to Bill’s office, however, signals got crossed, and when I called him he was still sitting in the car under Bill’s office at 5:40 PM. By 6:00, I was on my way to pick up Bill and a coworker, cross the river to pick up his boss, and make it to a 7PM reservation on “The Bund, ” which lies on the old side of Shanghai, along the river. With rush hour traffic, it would take a miracle.

We actually made it by 7:15PM and the restaurant was fabulous, with a beautiful view. I figured, not much else could go wrong, so I stepped out of the box, for me, and picked the wine for the table. Luckily, it was a great choice. At least after the stress of the afternoon, things were going more smoothly. After dinner we walked along the river, which was bustling with tourists and vendors, and offered a gorgeous view of the cityscape on the newer side of Shanghai.

Eventually, we called Mr. Tao and set off to our pick up site. We linked arms to cross the busy Chinese street, and one of us, I won’t say who (but it wasn’t me), decided it was time to cross the street, illegally, in front of a police officer. Now for most of us in the group, we could just feign stupidity and language barrier, but we did have Wen, who was a Chinese Aussie, with us. It was her idea to pretend we didn’t know the language, which was funny because she is the only one who DID, and looked like she did. No surprise, we were stopped. She pretended she didn’t understand him and had never lived in China, and he didn’t even attempt with the rest of us. We were sent back to the other side. No worse for the wear. For me, on that day, it was par for the course.

 

 

 

The American Gawker

I don’t think there’s any getting around the natural curiosity of people. Everyone at some point or another, will be interested in what someone else is doing, buying, reading, wearing, eating, saying, etc. In most cases, it is not intended to be malicious, something has merely peaked interest for some reason or another. Below is my version of the American Gawker.

The Incognito Gawker- This person is out in a public environment and the weather is such that they have sunglasses on. When something out of the ordinary catches their attention, they realize that they can place their head so it does not seem they are watching, while moving the eyes to an effective viewing position.

The Tourist Gawker-The Tourist gawker is also out in a public place, usually with at least one other person in their group. In this case, the gawking is usually caused by an unusual appearance or activity that could be easily captured in a still frame form.  One person will pose for a picture in a manner where the subject of interest is in the background, allowing a photo to be taken without it appearing suspicious.

The Morbid Curiosity Gawker- This gawker, or gawkers,  are either a secondary cause of a traffic backup, in the case where the accident is at least partially blocking traffic, or the main cause when it is not. As he or she slows down to try to identify the possible injuries or deaths, cause of an accident, damage done, and vehicles involved, they cause the remaining traffic to have to slow, or stop.

The Dart-Eyed Gawker- While watching a person, or group of people, this gawker will get caught in the act. This causes them to dart their eyes in another direction, as if they were actually in the process of turning to look at something else all along. It rarely works. Busted!

The Gap-Mouth Gawker- In this case, whatever the situation that is grabbing someone’s attention may be, it is so shocking that even though they will not walk right up to it, they will be beyond the worry of being noticed, so caught up in their amazement they are in a full-on stare.

The Background Gawker- This person is usually at a family event, a party, or wedding, and sits along the side of the room, or in a corner, watching events unfold. Rarely, does anyone even realize this person is still there. Hidden in plain view.

The Modern Technology Gawker- This gawker initiates a texting circle among friends or neighbors to find out what is going on with a mutual friend or neighbor. In most cases, these are started once a police car, ambulance, or other emergency vehicle is seen near, or at the subject’s house. It can also be caused by unfamiliar car observances, loud noises, or social activity.

The Small Town Gawker- This gawker will come out during the same situations as the Modern  Technology Gawker, barring snow, rain, hail or cold (these conditions would fall back to the above method),  and drift toward the subject of interest. Once finding another neighbor who may have information, they will gather at a distance and compare notes.

The Social Media Gawker- This person may, or may not be, a “lurker” who rarely posts, but reads news feeds and checks the home page of anyone that may peak their interest. This can happen on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, or any other similar social sites.

The Foodie Gawker- This most commonly occurs in restaurants where someone sees an interesting dish pass by on a tray. This person wants to know what it is.  If they still have a menu, they will immediate start scanning to find the item. This also occurs at ethnic restaurants. When one wants to find the tastiest and most authentic food or dish, they will find a restaurant with the most people who appears to be from the nation that the food is from, and then watch to see what they order.

The American Gawker usually does not want to be identified. They prefer to gawk on the sly. This happens for a number of reasons. One is because we are (correctly) taught that “staring” is not polite. We also don’t want to appear to be “nosy.”  In many cases, such as the Foodie Gawker, and once the situation has cleared, the Modern Technology Gawker or Small Town Gawker, they could just ask the person involved. This, however, is usually avoided due to embarrassment, lack of relationship with the subject, or fears of how the questions will be received.

Human curiosity is not going anywhere. Inquiring minds want to know. The gawking will continue, the methods will change and evolve with time. Who knows what it will be next!