Thursday, May 21, 2009

So You're a Tourist in Asia

Having been over seas for a rather long time I find tourism to be painful. Being a tourist in any part of China is even worse as it seems that part of the expected thing for anyone who is not Chinese is to visit one of the loud and densely packed markets of fake goods. I was staying in a room near People's Square in what is loosely termed downtown Shanghai; loosely because as far as I can tell downtown Shanghai is roughly the size of Daegu.

Whenever I left my room to venture out on the streets I would be immediately mobbed by several touts who were only to happy to drag me off.

"Hey nice, lady, you want bag?"

"I'm not that nice."

"Hey lady, you want some sunglasses, I have some sunglasses."

"I'm wearing sunglasses."

"Hey, lady, come, come, it's very close." This ended with making the mistake of grabbing my arm. Granted I know better than to punch anyone in Asia so I preformed my best look to kill and walked on after extracting my arm.

I walked with my erstwhile manager through the square the second night in Shanghai.

"They always bug me, I just can't get them to stop."

"Stop smiling." I told her. She's pretty, short, blond, and always happy. She's a pushy touts dream.

"Okay, we are going to a restaurant I want to take you to."

"Do you know where it is?"

"Somewhere around here." A gentleman starts walking towards us. "Oh crap, I made eye contact," she says. He and three others surround us and follow for a minute before finally I stopped.

"We aren't buying, go away." They looked at me for a second. "Go...away." At that they actually managed to leave. My manager looked at me like I had preformed some kind of magic trick.

"That would never work for me."

"It's all about the attitude," I responded. We kept walking and I projected the best I've-been-teaching-for-eleven-years look. This is a surprisingly effective look, scares the hell out of six year olds, hajumas, and teenagers making out in the playground. And it actually and chased more than a few people off who might otherwise have harassed us.

I walked by one female tout and apparently my attitude was so domineering that it earned me a "bitch." What can I say, I'm good.

We walked on through the entire square; the lights sparkled in the evening and the dust. The dust was thick coming off the desert and after only a few minutes of walking my throat felt scratchy. I noticed a clump of Chinese gathering suddenly on the street and was curious as to why they were stopping. I looked up overhead and realized they were stopping for the Saxophonist on a balcony. I grabbed the Blond manager and pulled her aside.

"What?"

"Look,” I pointed up. And just as I pointed he broke into a saxophone rendition of “fly me to the moon.” The streets were throbbing full of people but still there were a few dozen who stopped to watch the show. When there are seventeen million a few dozen is hardly a crowd, but it was interesting to see so many people so enraptured by a single moment. Even with my hard-assed attitude I was pulled in by the charm of it. The Chinese flags flapped in time to the music and it was a second where suddenly it felt perfectly okay to be a tourist.

As with all moments this one too passed quickly. "So where's dinner," I asked.

"I think the restaurant closed. We walked by the empty building about five minutes ago." Ah, blonds. We scouted into the night to try and find a way to get to a vegetarian place in Shanghai. The city continued to throb around us as daylight fell away to cold clear night.

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