China: Volume II

After spending four months abroad (from already being abroad?), I’m finally back in 上海. For the second time, I’ve packed two, way too heavy suitcases, boarded that 11-hour plane ride, and made it back to the land of not-so blue skies, 包子 (bao zi, meat or vegetable filled bun) and really interesting stories. Actually, I take that back – the sky has been incredibly blue lately — thank you the People’s Republic of China for holding a military parade and shutting down all the factories for a weekend, us 老外 really do appreciate it — and the sun is actually beginning to shine through windows. I promise, that is actually exciting when that happens.

So, what’s new? People always ask me to tell them stories about China, and honestly, there’s so many that it hurts my brain thinking about them all. But I’ll try to tell a few. Those of here at this little enclave we call NYU Shanghai were just dropped into a new area called 金桥 (jin qiao), which is still in 浦东 (pu dong, the financial, more ‘foreign’ district in Shanghai – where you see all the tall buildings), but it’s a little bit more residential, that is, there’s more to eat, explore, etc. I actually couldn’t really think of anything apart from eat, and that probably says a little bit about me. Anyway, I’m not entirely interested in the residential area, and you probably aren’t either. But, what I’ve seen, is pretty cool.

The campus is about a 15 minute drive away (driving in a high speed taxi), or six subway stops away. Almost every time I go, I’m probably catching a taxi. Again, probably says a little something about me. The excuse that I’m going to use is that about 70% of all my interesting stories occur in taxi rides. 出租车师傅’s in China are amazing, and I encourage you to start taking cab rides for that purpose only.

So, I get in a cab, not really expecting much. And the guy says “hello”. Which for a pretty international city like Shanghai, isn’t rare, but it isn’t common. After that, we drive for a little bit and he starts fiddling with the radio, and finally says “ah, my music!”. The taxi transforms into a scene from Pitch Perfect, and Jessie J starts blasting from the radio, and the cute 50-year-old taxi driver is bopping along to the words. After awhile, he asks where I’m from, and I tell him 澳大利亚 (Australia). He’s completely amazed, and says that he never finds any Australians in Pudong — so I’m honoured to tell you that I was one of his first ever Australian taxi passengers. For some reason, I feel as though that’s something taxi drivers here would keep track of.

Continuing on with transportation stories, this one involves Uber – the personal taxi app. That happens to be illegal in China. I’ve learnt that one thing companies are very good at here is getting around China’s laws, bylaws, guidelines, restrictions – you name it, and a good company, gets around it. Fun fact: publishing exact GPS coordinates on a public platform is also illegal in China. If you are trying to use GPS location, it’s always going to be slightly off. But Baidu (the Chinese Google) and to some extent, Google Maps, have both worked their way around it.

So just because Uber is illegal in China, doesn’t mean we don’t all use it. If the People’s Republic of China is reading this right now, then I have never used Uber here, I swear. I’ll go delete the app now. The issue of enforcement is interesting though, because the police can only monitor the roads, not app usage or anything like that. I could have the app on my phone, and it doesn’t mean I’m calling an Uber. Which is exactly what is happening.

An Uber is called, potentially by myself, and because of all these issues with GPS coordinates, you actually have to call and talk to the Uber driver, which is something no one wants. Get me from Point A to Point B with limited interaction, thank you. So, there are five of us in this Uber, and we are just about to get on the highway, when my friend from the front seat told us that there were a bunch of police crowded around the entry ramp. For the record, we were dressed to go out, there were four girls and one guy, and none of us were Chinese. You could not get a more Uber scenario. The Uber driver proceeds to take his phone (showing the app) off his dashboard, and looks at us and tells us that we’re all family friends. And we’re all sitting in the back thinking we’re completely going to be arrested. For calling an Uber.

We weren’t. The police didn’t stop us. But, this is apparently a genuine worry over here, and something that is just classic China.

I honestly don’t know why all my stories involve taxi drivers – maybe it’s a sign that I need to spend less time in taxis, and move all my stories to the subway.

Apart from that, it’s been a year since I started this blog, and apparently it’s still going. Which means I still have stories to tell and haven’t gotten sick of Shanghai yet. I’ll try to write more on here, but I now have a student newspaper to run, five classes and somehow keep up a social life. And get some sleep. I’ve officially become the impossible trinity.

But really, I didn’t quite realise how much I missed it here.

Bella 冯茵

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