Before any further discussion can be had on life in Shanghai, there is one important topic that much be addressed. That topic is dogs. Wearing clothes.
Pet dogs in Shanghai are pretty common. Walking down the street, you’ll usually run into few dog owners with various breeds. You see lots of mutts, big, poofy dogs like Huskies and Samoyeds, or traditional Chinese breeds like the Shih Tzu. The most memorable, however, are the poodles. I’ve seen dozens of almost identical-looking brown poodles. They’re absolutely adorable and they look almost like stuffed animals. Apparently they’re a sort of status symbol, because lots of hip young people have the same fluffy, brown, sweet-looking poodles!
Something else that I’ve noticed is the dog clothes. Most little poodles that I see are wearing vests. Brightly-colored, precious little vests. Occasionally you see a dog in a little “shirt” with a matching pair of little dog “pants”. I have no explanation for this, other than the fact that it really is adorable. You see it so frequently that it melds into the background of Shanghai: little brown poodles wearing tiny human clothes.
Anyway. This week in China was a busy and chaotic one. Classes reached a fever pitch with field trips, late-night stress-eating, and an emotional debilitating Chinese test. For our sociology class, we visited the Propaganda Poster Art Centre, which is one of the weirdest museums that I’ve ever visited. For starters, it doesn’t have its own building. When we stepped off the bus, we were standing outside of what appeared to be a residential apartment. As it turns out, the museum is inexplicably located in the basement of the apartment complex. The museum itself is essentially one large room filled with Chinese propaganda posters, organized chronologically. It’s a pretty interesting museum; Chinese propaganda slowly evolves in art and style, all the way displaying a bitter anti-American fervor. There are Korean War posters of imperialist Americans colonizing poor Korea to militarily threaten China. There are posters of righteous indignation decrying American military intervention in Vietnam and the Caribbean. There are even Cultural Revolution posters railing against American decadence and capitalism, while simultaneously decrying the Soviet Union for political and military disputes. It’s a very interesting exhibit. I bought a reproduction of a poster of an evil-looking, blue-skinned American soldier reaching menacingly for Beijing, while a Chinese and a Korean soldier prepare to cut his clawed hand off with their bayonets. And also one of a group of Chinese ballerinas. All armed with rifles. They’re great posters.
Another thing that I experienced this week was street food. My Chinese roommate, William, took me out to see a small clustering of street vendors that set up later at night not far from my apartment. The reason why they set up so late is because around 8 pm, Chinese policemen apparently stop patrolling the streets. And the reason why the vendors are afraid of the policemen is that they sell food without licenses. They’re like any normal street vendor, if slightly less…hygienic. There are people selling strange, burrito-like wraps. There’s a guy who sells what he claims are Indian parathas, which are basically banana/chocolate/meat crepes (Amrita indignantly claims that they’re not real parathas, but she still eats them anyway, so…). And there are skewers, both vegetables, and various meats.
Eating street food is sort of a gamble here. A lot of it is fine, but there are a few stalls or kinds of food that will make you violently ill. It’s like Russian Roulette, if the punishment was several days of food poisoning. As such, you need to be careful. According to my Chinese friends, the noodles and meat are too dangerous to eat. There was a noodle stall the first night we passed the street food vendors, but no one was buying, because they kept getting people sick. No wonder the cops keep trying to shut the place down. As for the meat…well, it’s usually labelled as beef or pork. I don’t want to start any rumors, but according to William and a few other Chinese people that I’ve spoken to…
…dogs in Shanghai aren’t just walking around wearing cute vests.
Moving on! Let’s talk about classes. Or more specifically, the classrooms themselves. Our apartment complex is right next to campus. And by that I mean literally right next to campus. I can see Teaching Building No. 3 from my window. It is literally thirty feet from the door of my apartment. The only problem is that there’s a wall in the way. And it’s nine feet tall. And topped with barbed wire. And in case that wasn’t enough, the barbed wire is electrified. Yes, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics is ringed by an electrified concrete wall. I can literally see my building, but I have to take a 20-minute detour to walk to the nearest gate. China and its walls. On the plus side, it does take me past the baozi stall, so…
I’ll leave you with this: my Chinese language partner claims that Teaching Building No. 3 is haunted. He told me that it was built on the site of an old hospital’s morgue, or something to that effect. Apparently, there was a hospital here before the campus was expanded. The story goes that there was some incident many years ago where a student claimed to have seen ghosts in the building and went insane. That’s why Teaching Building No. 3 closes before the other teaching buildings; students won’t go to night classes there because of the stories. I’m glad to know that ghost stories and fears of the supernatural cross cultural barriers. For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen anything particularly of interest as I gaze out of my window towards the building. Although, last night I did see a strange light by the side entrance…
And here’s the worst English of the week. It’s the sign that’s in my bathroom with some helpful instructions. Kind of. They’re definitely trying to be helpful.