Friday, June 13, 2008

Croaked It

I've spent most of my life in Scotland, and as a result, I'm always keen to see a new part of the planet - broadening the mind, I think it's called.

Mrs Wife and I have trekked through the jungles of northern Thailand; stood halfway up what, at that time, was the world's tallest building and looked out onto the minarets of Kuala Lumpur and onwards to the haze-shrouded hills on the horizon; snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef; swum in the warm Pacific waters around Fiji; and drunk cheap Mexican beer in a Hollywood garden until the early hours of the morning.

But despite all our previous globe-trotting, there were some things we encountered in Shanghai that we've never seen anywhere else.

For example, on a day trip to Qibao, we spent an hour or so wandering the tightly-packed streets, where we were told we were experiencing "real China".

Many of the shops on these streets were traditional Chinese eateries, where passers-by can grab a quick snack as they head onwards towards their next engagement.

And the food on offer was a tad different to that found in your average greasy spoon cafe.

We saw whole birds impaled on skewers and deep fried, beak, eyes and all. Meats of in an arresting array of unusual colours that we didn't even want to know what animal had met its maker during the butchering process.

Most alarmingly of all (and something that still gives Mrs Wife a severe case of the heebie-jeebies) was a woman sitting on a doorstep skinning a bucket of live frogs and transferring them to a second bucket. The second bucket was a writhing mass of slithering, blood-soaked limbs.

Eating habits aside, the Chinese have an attiutude to many things that, to western eyes, seems strange.

Public spitting and urination is taken for granted. Infants don't wear nappies, but instead have trousers with big holes at the rear. When the child shows signs of needing to relieve itself, it is dangled over the nearest bush/gutter/river and left to get on with things.

Personal space doesn't exist. In a country of 1.3 billion people, perhaps that's understandable. But in the street, people in cars, on motorbikes or on bicycles will cut across your path without warning. On the pavements, pedestrians will do the same, walking diagonally in front of you so that you need to check your pace or stop suddenly to avoid banging into them.

In short, China can, for the first few days, be an infuriating place to visit. But, once you've adjusted to the pace of life in one of the world's most crowded and chaotic cities, it's easier to adapt to the rhythm - knowing that cars don't always stop at red lights, that Chinese people have no interest in anything that is happening directly behind them and that if you really want to buy something in the "fakes" markets, pick a price you'd be willing to pay and stick to it.

Just watch out for the woman with the bucket of skinned frogs.


Erica said...

Good God! That makes Hell's Kitchen seem almost civilized...skinned, writhing frogs?? Spitting and pissing??

What was it like being in a communist country? Did you see any giant posters of Mao?

I do admire your roving spirit, as China is one of those places I have absolutely zero desire to visit, and I think you may have just reinforced that.

Groanin' Jock said...

To be honest, aside from the fact that the media is controlled by the government, and is therefore all pro-China, you wouldn't know you were in a communist country when you were in Shanghai. It's a shopper's paradise, and is geared up for commerce in the same way as Singapore or even New York. There were no massive pictures of Mao, but he's still on the bank notes, and there was a statue of Lenin and Trotsky in one of the city centre parks.

Misssy M said...

This reminds me of one of my Gran's favourite wee stories from her 6 years in Hong Kong. She would tell me about her maid and being frightened to go into the kitchen when she was preparing her own meal, for fear of the writhing frogs and other stuff she'd see on the chopping board.

Still frogs legs ARE quite nice. But as my Gran said, "She'd eat the whole frog, not just the legs- nothing wasted"

And do you know, I'm quite relieved that the Chinese don't put their kids in nappies- there wouldn't be a landfill big enough!

I'm off to India in 3 weeks, I'll see your piss and shit and raise you some dysentery.

Ole Blue The Heretic said...

Great stuff I wish I was there. I love to travel.

Anonymous said...

"Public spitting and urination is taken for granted. Infants don't wear nappies" "On the pavements, pedestrians will do the same, walking diagonally in front of you so that you need to check your pace or stop suddenly to avoid banging into them."

Jock it is time to admit that it was actually Dumbarton you were visiting.

Jaggy said...

I've always thought I would try anything once, but I'm not sure I'd do the writhing frog thing. The other meats and birds I think I'd at least have a drumstick, if Gordon Ramsay had prepared it.