Me and Chairman Mao
Okay, before I start, I should admit one thing: I have never seen Shanghai Surprise, the classic (cough, cough) Eighties movie starring a young, angry, photographer-attacking Sean Penn (when did he get old enough to become "brooding," by the way?) and Madonna, back before she got religion and started babbling about Rama Lamadingdong or whatever it is she does now. But anyway, my point--as usual, I have one somewhere--is that, never having seen the movie, I feel like I can't really fully appreciate Shanghai.

However, with that caveat in mind, I will say that Shanghai is pretty freaking fabulous. Compared to Beijing, everything in Shanghai is just a little better. Or, if you don't care about being politically correct--that is, if you don't care whether or not your coffee beans were grown in the shade by only the most well-treated, highly paid third-world workers--you could say everything is a bit more "normal." For example, people here use the sidewalk for walking, not for "off-street" parking. And--even to equally better--they hardly use their horns at all, as opposed to Beijing, where the thirteen million inhabitants have apparently not been driving long enough to realize that horns, rather than magically parting all the cars before you like Moses doing his Red Sea thing, just make annoying beeping sounds. It makes riding around in taxis here in Shanghai more pleasant, anyway. Although things aren't perfect: like Beijing, the Shanghai city planners are not afraid to put left turn lanes in the far right lanes of busy, four and five lane avenues. (When you combine this with the fact that drivers here don't stop to turn right on red, I'm surprised anyone here gets out of a car alive.) I know, that sort of turn arrangement doesn't make sense, but I say this to you: remember the slide at the Great Wall.

Anyway, on top of everything mentioned above, you can add the fact that some areas of Shanghai are actually pleasant to walk through. In fact, I believe strolling is even possible. Again, this is compared to Beijing, where--thanks to the fact that what passes for the sidewalks are filled with construction equipment, newspaper stands, and "off-street" parkers--the majority of any walk is spent on the side of the road dodging bicyclists and taxis. As a result, we spent part of this afternoon strolling around the French Concession--just meandering down broad, unbroken sidewalks filled with trees and department stores. It looked so much like a city in the US--right down to the Starbucks, natch--that I kept expecting to turn the corner and see a Barnes & Noble or Red Robin or something. (Historical note: back in the day, the different international powers carved up Shanghai into their own little districts, so the French Concession was the part that--duh--was conceded to the French.)

While I did not find a Red Robin or a B&N, we did eat lunch at Pizza Hut, where the entire staff was wearing reindeer antlers. Quite festive. There was also one guy dressed up as Santa Claus. A very grumpy Santa Claus. I'm not sure if his foul mood was connected to the fact that I was taking pictures of him and we were all laughing--although we were trying not too--but I'm guessing it probably was. Then again, he could have been angry simply because they were making him restock the salad bar. Apparently in China, Santa has to work more than just one night a year.

Santa at His Day Job

In other Shanghai news, I have also figured out why the rivalry between Beijing and Shanghai approaches, from what I am told, intense dislike. It has to do with Shanghai cuisine. More specifically, it has to do with Shanghai's specialty dish: the hairy crab, a delicacy available only in October, November, and December. Now, just think about this. Up in Beijing, you have a whole city full of Beijingers. Or--as you no doubt remember--BJers, as they call themselves. Then, down the coast in Shanghai, you have a whole city in love with hairy crabs. Now I don't want to get too (um, any more?) graphic, but obviously BJers and hairy crabs just do not mix well together at all. Oil and water, man. Oil and water ...

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