1. The SARS Farce
I've been in Shanghai
for 6 days now (arrived 4.20pm Saturday, May 31) and I've hardly seen
anyone wearing masks in the streets. The most common sight of masked
people are the employees. Maybe they're told they have to wear them
or maybe it's because they're in contact with so many people that
they're just being cautious. All I've got to say is that no-one is
taking it too seriously in Shanghai. With only about 10 deaths attributed
to SARS amongst a population of 16 million people, it's understandably
I thought I'd
be going to a country so paranoid about getting SARS that everyone
would jump with fear at the slightest cough by a stranger (or friend).
But it's just the opposite. When someone coughs everyone just smiles
and says "SARS!" with a sarcastic grin on their faces.
But I must admit
the government is taking it very seriously. And so they should. It's
devastating the economy by deterring maybe 70% of their regular tourists
from visiting due to the hype built up by the media worldwide.
And this is what
I've noticed � Basically, Shanghai is spotless!
- As soon as you
get off the plane, you're met by large signs at the airport informing
you that the airport has been disinfected.
- As you board the trains, light rail and buses, you notice the floors
have been sprayed with disinfectant.
- The stores are spotless, and the staff are forever cleaning their
- And the fines for spitting have been raised from 50 RMB to 200 RMB
(AU$40) � about 10% of an average weekly wage.
Of course everyone
owns a face-mask. Several, in fact. And there was no way I was going
to be in China without trying one on. So on my first day out, I wore
a mask for as long as I could (about 30 minutes). Don't laugh, but
it's summer here and it gets very hot and stuffy under that mask.
At the Bangkok airport, an Indian guy in a dark blue turban had one
on for only about 15 minutes, and when he took it off you could see
the sweat pouring off his beard.
Bangkok was an
interesting experience. First of all, it's the quietest I've ever
seen it, with not many people to be seen in the normally packed passageway
through the terminal. Again the signs emphasized the cleanliness precautions
the airlines had taken to prevent the spread of SARS.
I had arrived
from Melbourne about 4 hours before my connecting flight to Shanghai,
so I was one of the first to enter the waiting lounge (when it finally
opened its doors for the passengers). And then it was like I was entering
a SARS epidemic area.
Before they asked
to see my passport and boarding pass, I had to fill out a SARS declaration
form about the state of my health. Then once I lodged that with the
airport ground staff, one of 2 nurses asked me to take a seat and
placed a heat-sensitive tape across my forehead. The temperature was
written down on my SARS form (along with the time it was taken) and
only then was I allowed to proceed into the normal waiting area.
And it didn't
end there. Forty minutes before landing at Shanghai, we were again
asked to fill in THE SAME FORM! And our temperatures were taken again
by on-board nurses. My temperature was fine both times, but a couple
of passengers had temperatures of 38 degrees (the warning limit),
and so we were all asked to stay on board for another 10 minutes before
they got the all clear from the medical staff. It was obviously very
embarrassing to the young ladies involved, because everyone was looking
at them suspiciously.
Well, it was 36.5 at Bangkok, but rose to 37.5 on the plane, so I
wasn't much off being a target as well.
But I'm always
looking for the positive in all this. And here's the biggest positive
I noticed �
The flight from
Melbourne to Bangkok was fully booked, and I was unfortunate enough
to get stuck in the center seat of a 5-seat row. This meant that 2
people had to get up whenever I wanted to get up. Needless to say,
I kept my movements to a minimum and only got up twice on my 9 hour
flight. After all, I had to watch out for a fear more daunting than
SARS � DTS, or Deep Thrombosis Syndrome. So exercising my legs was
But on my flight
from Bangkok to Shanghai, and into a SARS infected country, the plane
was only about 25% filled, so I had the luxury of having 4 seats to
myself. And many passengers took the same advantage to catch a few
hours sleep as they slept across all 4 seats.
So my final analysis
is that SARS is a grossly over-rated threat, though I agree with the
precautions taken by the government because they have obviously curbed
the increase of SARS throughout the world. And the side benefit of
seeing China sparkling (not usually the norm) is a wonderful bonus.
But having said
all of that, I'm glad I'm not going to Hong Kong or Beijing.
at Century Park, one of Shanghai's largest parks.
2. Childrens Day
In Australia we
only celebrate Mothers Day and Fathers Day. But in China, on the first
day of June, they celebrate Childrens Day as well. And families go
out in the parks in droves.
Century Park would
have to be the nicest park I've been to in China. And I can honestly
say it's on a par with the best parks in Australia, even giving the
Melbourne Botanic Gardens a run for their money. But one thing Century
Park has which the Botanic Gardens will never have, is wall to wall
people � and atmosphere!
Century Park is
so big that there's a light-rail (Metro) station at either end of
it. The cleanliness is something which is unprecedented (probably
due to the SARS precautions) and the architecture and landscaping
tastefully designed. There's nothing tacky about this park!
But I did observe
that almost every large tree was a recent plantation. Beijing is hosting
the Olympic Games in 2008 and Shanghai is hosting the 2010 World Expo,
so I guess they've got these trees planted early so they'll be well
established by the time the hordes of tourists arrive for these international
events. But this is something which China is brilliant at. Overnight
transformations. Where else in the world do you here of parks created
in a matter of a few days, or hospitals built in just over a week.
But when you've got 1.3 billion people in the country, there's never
a lack of manpower available.
After paying the
10 RMB (AU$2) to enter the park, I was immediately impressed by the
kites in the air. Dozens of adults (and the occasional child) were
merrily battling to keep their kites from becoming entangled with
the other kites flying only metres away. Nothing boring about these
kites. Some were traditional diamond shaped, others had tails and
then others were shaped like butterflies, yet they were all brilliantly
coloured in bold yellows, reds and blues.
It was around
noon, and as I walked up a paved pathway disecting the park in two,
I passed by many Chinese sellers. Most of them were selling kites,
but there were a few unusual people too. One of them was busking,
in the sense that he was playing what appeared to be a hand-made instrument,
something like a violin which he played vertically on his lap. But
the one which impressed me most was the guy who'd sat down with some
reed leaves and began making little origami creatures out of the thin
strips he tore off the leaves.
When I got there
he was displaying a large (10 cm) grasshopper, which looked so real
you half expected it to hop away. And as I stood in awe of his skills,
he quickly completed a (40cm) coiled cobra. And rather than continuing
to make the same creatures (maybe it was his ego), this man began
to skillfully make a butterfly with a 15 cm wingspan. These creations
sold as quickly as he could make them, and no wonder. At 2 RMB each
(AU$0.44 cents), they were too good to refuse. On my return about
an hour later, I noticed that he'd gone. A small amount of reed leave
remnants marked the spot. But with this sort of occupation, these
sellers can't risk staying there too long. Earning a living off the
streets is illegal in China, and the Chinese have adopted a hit and
run policy when it comes to trying to earn a little extra money to
But I did have
a little fun. In the middle of Century Park there's a small lake (20
minutes to walk around it). As I was walking around its perimeter,
I saw a young boy (maybe 5 years old) with a camera, trying to photograph
his parents. But every time he pointed it at them, they ran for cover.
So in a friendly manner, I sat down on a rock near his parents and
gestured him to take my photo. After a moments hesitation, and I guess
a word of reassurance from his parents, he raised the camera to his
eye and took my photo. Just like a young pro.
I'm sure that
in years to come they'll look at that photo and remember the crazy
Aussie guy who couldn't resist being photographed.
famous Bund with some old colonial buildings in the background.
3. Shanghai Summer Nights
On my first night out, I
walked to the local shopping center, a mere 6 minutes away. The road
to the shopping center is along a black, smelly river, but it doesn't
seem to bother the frogs which can be heard croaking in their hundreds.
And the first thing I noticed
were the kites flying in the black sky. Most of the 20 or so kites
in the sky, had small flashing lights which made it easy for them
to be located hundreds of metres away. Yet others couldn't be seen
at all. But I knew they were up there because I could see the guys
holding the spools, and the lines definitely rose at a 45 degree angle
with an unmistakably taught tension. But the location of the kite
could only be left to my imagination.
One lady jumped excitedly
and clapped her hands with glee as her husband released more line
for his kite. And her husband remained cool as a cucumber, even though
it was obviously a feat which deserved such enthusiastic acknowledgement.
Others ran along the newly made road in an effort to launch their
kites which had recently been grounded. But I couldn't help but smile
at the number of people flying kites in their pyjamas!
Men, women and children
in pyjamas could be seen everywhere! It was almost like they were
making a fashion statement. They were walking in the streets, they
were flying their kites, they were shopping in the supermarket, and
they were also at the local dance!
Well, I'd better clarify
that a little. In the car park outside the shopping center, there's
a nightly ballroom dance from 7.30-9.30pm, next to the chinaware market.
It's free, and the locals just come and dance to the music which comes
from a CD player, or tape deck, with loud speakers. It's all very
orderly, and the majority of the dancers are middle aged or older
(as you may have guessed). It's very well attended with about 30 couples
on the dance floor at any one time, while a greater number of people
watch them from the wings.
And the pace never seems
to wane. The shopping center closes at 10pm, yet even though the dancers
have long since departed, you can still see hundreds of people in
Yes, even the
ones flying their kites.
article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey