Thursday, June 05, 2008

Art Of Noise

The first thing that struck me when I stepped on Chinese soil for the first time was how quiet it was.

Given that the population of Shanghai is estimated at between 16 million and 25 million people, this may seem a strange admission, but there's a reason for it.

In a piece of bureaucratic genius, all Chinese people take their holidays at exactly the same time.

Which means that, when the holidays arrive, 1.3 billion people take to the roads, rails and skies and trample merrily across their vast country in seek of a break from their day-to-day lives.

It also means, as our host Paul pointed out, that all Chinese transport hubs need to be 10 times the size they would be if the government-approved holidays didn't exist.

And so it was that Mrs Wife and I arrived at Shanghai's new(ish) Pudong airport, where it seemed that our flight was the only one that was arriving or departing.

The baggage reclaim hall was eerily quiet. The queues for immigration control were minimal and efficient in a "why are you coming to China?" way.

But, having cleared customs, we were given our first taste of real Shanghai.

Firstly, the heat blasted through the open doors of the terminal building. I've been in hotter places in the past, but not for a while. I shouldn't need to point out the climatic differences between Aberdeen and southern China.

But a much stronger force hit us as we walked out into the arrivals hall - the racket generated by any group of Chinese people.

From my observations, I think the Chinese may be the loudest nation on Earth. If something can be done, it seems that the Chinese ethos is that it should be done as noisily as possible. If a car has a horn, lean on it while you drive. If your scooter sounds louder if you rev the engine harder, make sure you rev it to its limits, preferably while blasting away on your horn as well.

And this mentality extends to all walks of life. If you're meeting someone at the airport, shout at them from the moment you see them. If everyone else is shouting as well, just shout louder - you'll win eventually.

I'd been to crowded cities before we visited Shanghai, amongst them Hanoi, Bangkok, Singapore, Sydney, Los Angeles, New York and London. None of them are even in the same league as Shanghai.

As I've already said, China is a nation of 1.3 billion people. And wherever you go, it feels like half of them are there with you.

Get on the bus, and you'll be lucky to get a seat (even luckier if someone moves out of your way so that you can sit on the empty seat beside them). Attempt to take the subway and, if it's a busy period (ie between 6am and 9pm), you'll be squeezed against three Chinese guys, all of them fiddling with their PSPs, all with the volume turned up full, all playing different games.

Visit a restaurant, whether a traditional Chinese eatery or a KFC or McDonalds, and you'll fight through a scrum of hungry punters, then find yourself seated next to a party of eight playing drinking games at the top of their voices.

Frankly, Shanghai is bedlam. Practically everywhere you go in the city centre, someone is attempting to sell you something, whether a "long kite", a fake rolex or pirate DVDs.

But despite the madness, it's a place with its own charms - from the futuristic Pudong skyline to the relaxed charms of the French Concession and the good-humoured banter of the antiques market in the Old Town.

There are plenty more tales to come from our Shanghai experience - stop me if I'm boring you....


Anonymous said...

... excellent recap!... welcome back!...


Misssy M said...

No, not boring me...loving it! Would love to go and want to know more. Keep the stories coming.

the tomahawk kid said...

"long kite" ?????

rhyming slang ?

BobG said...

Any good photographs? I'm finding this quite interesting.