September 4, 2008: The quest for Starbucks

Greetings from Shanghai everyone! This will be the first installment of hopefully many to come on my experiences, observations, and research notes from my time in Shanghai. For those who want comments on my research, unfortunately, these past few weeks have been mainly settling in, and I haven't yet had the chance to really begin my research. But these are my experiences thus far.

Before I arrived, I had read that Shanghai was a lot like Los Angeles; very difficult to navigate and extremely spread out. I am finding out just how true that is, as nearly every time I try to go somewhere new, I get really lost. My first experience with getting lost in Shanghai was on my second day. After a restless, jetlagged night resulting in 3 hours of sleep, I decided that my priority for the day (besides unpacking and familiarizing myself with East China Normal) was to find a Starbucks (make fun all you want, it's my comfort food). I knew there were zillions in Shanghai (just like America), so I asked the people at the front counter of my dorm where I could find the nearest one. They gave me directions to a nearby shopping center about a kilometer away, and (being the adventurous girl that I am) decided to walk. I walked around this area for nearly 3 hours until I finally chanced upon a subway stop; after looking at the map, I realized I had overshot my goal destination by a few kilometers. I asked a few people in convenience shops (after refueling with a couple of tea eggs) how to get to the shopping center with the Starbucks, and they gave me confusing directions, telling me to go in opposite directions from what my map indicated. I decided to (and rightly so) ignore these instructions, and try my luck with my crappy Lonely Planet map.

All this exploration involved partaking in the most dangerous activity one can do in China: crossing the street. Many would think of robbery or kidnapping as something to fear, but in China, a society marked by punctuality, rush, and urgency meets a complete dismissal of traffic laws. Multiply this by 17 million people, and you have Shanghai's insane road system. Even if you decide to abide by pedestrian traffic laws and only go when the green walking man appears, that does not mean you are safe to cross the street. There is no concept of "yield to pedestrians on right hand turns" and the 17 million bicycles on the road will travel amongst car traffic, in designated bike lanes, or on the sidewalk, whichever is fastest. While some Chinese feel safe talking on their cell phones or listening to ipods as they cross the street, many are much more aware of the acute attention that must be paid as one traverses on foot. In China, there is a clear hierarchy on the road according to size, and sadly, pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain.

Eventually, by 2 in the afternoon (I had set out around 9:30) I found a Starbucks. This may seem like a pretty stupid experience, but I actually had fun exploring the area near the university.

I also learned how Chinese people give directions; they don't give clear directions, but instead tell you to "go that way." Beware if you have to turn, because they usually don't tell you where. I learned this on my quest for Starbucks and on my way to find a bus stop; supposedly, this bus stop was right near Zhongshan Park (the same location as the elusive Starbucks), but once again, I wandered the streets of Zhongshan park, asking multiple people for directions. I had written down the bus number and my destination (the airport), and with every person I asked for directions, the added more and more street names, shopping centers, or landmarks to look for. I was bounced around a 2 kilometer radius for 2 hours until finally I gave up, mostly because the buses had stopped running by then, and I grabbed a taxi. On the plus side, people were very friendly, even if they didn't know what I was talking about. Oh, and ironically, I found 3 more Starbucks...

This pretty much took up my first week, other than registering with the university and meeting with other people. More will soon follow.

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