Welcome to China, Lǎo Wài: Round 1… Fight!

I realize my most recent post was about the Chinese New Year; therefore, this post is actually chronologically backtracking. So if you’d like to some additional context before reading what follows, read the post below titled: Cholo Jeans, Dragon Shirts, and Rainbows: An Oregonian Lands in Shanghai – dated January 21st. After my friend Steven picked me up from the Shanghai airport on Friday the 13th, we ventured through the subways of Shanghai until we came to the stop near the Holiday Inn Express I had booked for us (using my free hotel nights, of course). Finding the hotel was an adventure in itself, but after finally making our way there and checking in, we decided it was time to get some food as it was already after 9:00pm. What happened next, neither of us could have anticipated, but I’ll try my best to concisely explain the events that followed. After stepping outside the hotel, we noticed a group of people pushing each other around in front of the businesses across the street from us. We decided to cross the street to get a closer view of the action. As we began crossing the four-lane street, I noticed a drunken woman kicking and clawing at a few drunken men. As we got closer, one of the men ran up behind the woman, dove through the air, and tackled her to the ground. At this point, Steven and I rushed across the street to get a better idea of what was happening. As the man and woman rose to their feet, the man held the woman back from trying to kick the other men in the group. Since there were pedestrians all over, we walked up a bit closer to get a better view of the action. I pulled out the new camera my mother had just bought me as a parting gift and started filming the scene. Soon after, the man pulled the woman off around the side of the building while the other men continued to shove each other around and exchange words. We followed the couple around the corner and Steven suggested we get a bit closer to film the scene, so I handed him the camera and trailed him as he stepped a few steps closer. We were quite amused by the situation, and as a bit of commentary, we began singing Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl.” We joked with one another for another minute when the woman suddenly spun her head around and noticed we were there. Within a second, the woman had transformed into a zombie from Dawn of the Dead and began screaming and running at us. She first ran toward me so I quickly jumped back and held my arms out suggesting, “I have no beef here… chill out.” She grabbed at me for a moment, and when I pulled away she turned her attention to Steven who was jollily jogging away and laughing. She then returned to zombie mode and sprinted after him until she caught up to him and ripped the hood off his jacket. I then began walking at a brisk pace toward them as she was clearly not in nearly as jovial a mood as we were. As Steven turned to look for his hood, the man who was previously restraining the woman (the same one who dive-tackled her to the ground) sprinted up from behind Steven, and without warning, performed the same WWE flying-tackle on Steven. As the man and Steven tumbled to the ground, I realized crap was getting real and that these drunken people were in state of complete irrationality. My brisk walk became a sprint and I dove onto the man, ripping him off of Steven’s back in a headlock. As we rose to our feet, Steven pulled the man up by his collar and cocked his fist. In that moment Steven made the critical decision to let the man down without laying waste to him, but by this time the camera was in the woman’s hands as it fell to the ground when Steven was tackled. I tried to regain the camera, but the woman was incoherently drunk, and she completely crushed the lens attempting to access the photos on the camera. She gave the camera to the man, who demanded I delete the video. Since she had broken the camera, it was impossible to delete anything from it. We told them they owed us money for the broken camera but they refused to reimburse me for the damage they had done to it. They then said they wanted the SD card, so I offered to sell them the SD card alone. Once they refused my first offer and demanded I simply give it to them, I doubled the price. That was definitely their first economic lesson in supply and demand. After additional struggling over the camera, I convinced them to let me take out the SD card. Once I removed the SD card, Steven regained control of the broken camera and I put the SD card in my pocket. The man then began calling over toward the rest of the group of drunken men and tried to convince Steven and me to walk over there with him. We stood our ground and refused to further engage with him. Within a minute, the woman was back over attempting to attack the men in the group again, distracting the attention of the man who attacked us. We used that opportunity to disengage and leave the situation, a few scratches, bruises, and one broken camera later.
My camera didn't necessarily look this bad, but its functionality was uncannily similar.

My camera didn't necessarily look this bad, but it functioned similarly.

I’m happy that the rest of the men were too drunk to be aware of what was happening between the couple and us, for I fear that things could have escalated much further if that were the case. We managed to escape the attack with minimal bodily damage, but I definitely learned to never underestimate the savagery of drunken, morally undeveloped people. Thanks for reading this far and keep checking back – my next post will be about some of the eccentricities of living in a completely different culture. I’ll find a way to include something about Oreos in there, so it should be quite a bit lighter than this post.

It’s a War Zone! It’s a Zombie Apocalypse! Oh… Yeah… It’s Chinese New Year.

I’m in the midst of writing a blog update about my first night in Shanghai, but I felt the urge to post this update because tonight was the Chinese New Year. The Wikipedia page does a really good job of explaining it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year, but for those without the patience for that, I’ll just say that this is the most important holiday in China, and the actual festival goes on for a couple weeks. In short, this is a big freaking deal. The past few days leading up to the festival have been interesting because most businesses have been closed – the few that are open are fast food restaurants like McDonalds and KFC or establishments that cater to ex-pats, with the exception of an occasional small market. This has made finding food difficult, but the upside is that the streets have been nearly void of cars, bikes, mopeds, and pedestrians. I felt as though I had strolled into a zombie apocalypse film as I walked through the streets to find lunch today; where there are usually thousands of unnecessarily loud people scurrying about, perpetual horns honking, and numerous mopeds trying to run me over on the sidewalk, there were few traces of life other than a pair of children playing badminton in the eerily empty streets. This quiet and piece was welcomed for I knew that within a matter of days it would all be replaced with the noise and air pollution of eight million people and their respective modes of transportation. While I enjoyed the lunchtime walk, my silence was quickly stolen by the sounds of fireworks in the distance. By 2:00pm, the sounds of firecrackers could be heard as a somewhat constant white noise. By 4:00pm, it sounded as though I were holed up in a bunker in the middle of a war zone. This would go on for the next 9 hours until things started to die down around 1:00am. There are still several fireworks going off outside as I type this (it’s 3:00am now), but it has calmed down enough that I should be able to sleep with earplugs in. What was most impressive about all of this, however, was the view from the top of my apartment building as the clock struck midnight. I assumed that the fireworks display would be rather exciting, but I don’t think I could have prepared myself for how fantastic it would be to see thousands of fireworks simultaneously fired amongst skyscrapers in the center of a huge city. I didn't have a camera to record the scene, but the picture posted above is one I found online, and it’s from part of the city I’m in so you’ll have an idea of how intense it was. I also found video footage that somebody took of the fireworks display here in Nanjing in 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOswG9QAN6o From the looks of their footage, it seems that they’re right in the same part of town as me, so this footage is actually pretty close to what I saw tonight. Skip ahead to about 3:00 in the video to get an idea of what kind of experience I had. Also, take note of the fireworks exploding right next to the cameraperson – since I was on the roof of a ten story building, this was happening to me as well because people were lighting off fireworks from the ground next to the apartment building. The whole experience was somewhat surreal, and I realize it’s very difficult to explain it in a way that makes it real for others, but suffice it to say, it was absolutely fantastic. I’ll be posting another blog soon that details the reason I didn’t have a camera to document the fireworks this evening, so keep checking back and I’ll keep posting updates. Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!

Cholo Jeans, Dragon Shirts, and Rainbows: An Oregonian Lands in Shanghai

So, I have a blog now. I don’t really know much about blogging (believe it or not). But since the intent of this blog is mostly for updating the folks back home in Oregon, I think I’ll just ramble and story-tell and hope that some of you find it interesting. On Wednesday, January 11th, 2011, I spent my last day in the United States. While I would have loved to have spent the day relaxing with family and friends, I instead spent it frantically packing up the last of my things, cleaning my portion of the house in which I lived, working out final details with my roommates, banks, and landlord, and attempting to enjoy a few final moments with my family and my partner. I obviously made it out in time to catch the plane, but I must say my parents were instrumental in helping me accomplish these final tasks, and Carolyn was there for hugs and support when I became overstressed. After a long and stressful Wednesday, my parents, Carolyn, and I took off to PDX around 3:00am, Thursday the 12th, so I could catch my 6:30am flight. Once we had all had our hugs and goodbyes, I was off through security and onto the plane for my first leg down to LAX. While the plane ride could have been less comfortable, I decided I can greatly increase my comfort in the future by wearing fewer layers. You see, in order to maximize the space in my suitcase, I wore several layers of clothing which resulted in me feeling and looking like a marshmallow. This wasn’t a huge deal while I was still in Oregon where it was near freezing temperatures, in fact, it was rather cozy. But walking into LAX wearing three layers of pants, four shirts, and two coats where everybody else was wearing shorts, tank-tops, and flip-flops made it quite apparent how Oregonian I am, not to mention unbearably warm. Navigating the LA airport in my marshmallow suit was a bit tricky and uncomfortable, but soon enough I was in the relentlessly long security line for international departures. When I finally got to the checkpoint, the TSA agent gave me a smile and nod and pointed to the rainbow patch on my laptop bag. He said he wished he could be so forthright, but that he was worried about such an upfront display of personal identity in his line of work. He joked about giving me a pat-down and then let me on my way. While this was just one simple and short-lived interaction, I was struck by the reality of this man’s situation. It evoked feelings of empathy for the man and feelings of anger toward the people and organizations responsible for the environment that provoked this fear. To speed things up a bit, the flight was long – over 14 hours – and I was quite happy to step off the plane into the airport in Shanghai. One wonderful surprise is that my friend Steven took a train to Shanghai to pick me up so I would have someone to help me navigate my way after arriving. As I strolled through the arrivals archway wearing my cholo jeans and dragon shirt, he spotted me right away. We exchanged smiles, and once I passed beyond the gate, I was greeted with a bear-hug. We were soon on our way through the airport, chatting as though it hadn’t been nearly a year since we last saw each other. As we ventured through the Shanghai subway system with all my stuff, I felt strangely at ease, partially because I had been here once before, and partially because I knew I was beginning a great adventure of personal growth and learning.