Shanghai

Shanghai

 

If you are a seasoned traveller with a spirit of adventures, when you come to Shanghai don't loose a unique opportunity to follow non-tourist paths and get deep inside the city life, tune to the city rhythm… In that what in the beginning will seem chaotic: traffic, packs of motorbikes, mixed character of crowds, in this flow you will see its logic, some order. The most crucial is to let it go: a pace of Moscow, tasks and worries, you need to embrace accomplishments and impressions of a totally different scale.

 

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Like a taste of tea opens with every next brewing, the same way China opens itself fully with every day.

 

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Usually one can hardly consider city's sketches picturesque: there are mainly faceless typical skyscrapers (echo of socialism). There are almost no traditional Chinese motives in architecture (we won't count parks for tourists). A break of architecture in Chinese conciseness is obvious, it looks as if tradition is hiding yielding to unification of 21st century. Futuristic layout of Shanghai serves as an ambitious symbol of China's renovation, a symbol of Chinese self-consciousness… This way Chinese imitating Americans give their preference to stone jungle. There are practically no trees in the city, buildings replace them with a vengeance. There are small hints of green – some waves of lianas of bridges and intersections.

 

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Ecological problems are inevitable in such conditions. In any weather the sun is dull, there is a constant haze covering the city, a mist which is common for China mixes up with smog. One can see clear sky only when leaves Shanghai. Still here are also some hints of province life: crowing of cocks in the morning and frogs' croaking in a pond close to your hotel bring its flavor.

Beijing is patriarchal. Shanghai is West oriented. The West methodically works on it: gets it dressed, feeds with fast food, gives it coffee and vine to drink, simply speaking, masters it. As if playing up to West, Chinese sell themselves, sell at a very high price.

Such association as «Chinese is heartfelt» is no longer relevant. This way Taiwan – China in its concentrated way – easily refers to traditional values, bringing fresh breath into them. In Taiwanese shops one can easily find handmade clay teapots at a fabulous price from our perspective. It is based on ancient technology, unique «tradition», plus so widely spread these days author's interpretation. By the way in China there is no distinction between purchasing modern and antique items… whether it is a cup if Tan dynasty or a modern one from Longquan – there is a unique understanding of beauty in both of these items. Tradition reproduces itself with no interruption, its gist is untouchable, only the shape can differ. From century to century, from item to item masters carry the idea of «beauty», its spirit…

 

 

When you admire porcelain, clay items once again you think about privacy of Chinese world of traditional values, which will not always be understood by a western person. Beyond the borders of the Celestial Empire, alienated from its environment, Chinese products turn into exotica – fascinating, but rather distant. In China porcelain from Longquan blooms, blossoms out with all its spring freshness… In boutiques in Moscow its light fades.

 

 

Still everything is absolutely clear with «cineseria» which is so easy to recognize. For instance in such tourist places in Shanghai as Yuyuan market, counters are overladen with low quality souvenirs. Even though the market is located downtown and is stylized in a traditional style, it doesn't make a right impression. People sell there Chinese «stock products»: factory made low quality porcelain, silk and cashmere; lighters stylized like ivory, lacquer boxes, kites and of cause tea… Still everything what relates to tea here is totally meant for tourists, who hardly understand that in real they saw only a «tea scenery» built for foreign tourists…

Such row of pretty typical Chinese «souvenirs», which are usually openly tasteless is more clear and usual for us. In its turn it gives a false illusion of low prices for all Chinese products.

 

 

Will it be appropriate to think that demand in this case gives rise to offer? One can only buy by mistake, but one can not sell by mistake. There are untypical for Chinese culture oil painting prevailing in artistic shops in Yuyuan. Mostly it is kitsch: a lot of socialist realism and Andy Warhol's stylization, some Japanese motives in anime style… That what is given as a unique painting in a traditional style, in real most probably will be a usual print, which you can find in other ten similar shops.

 

 

There is a totally different picture in Chinese tea markets… They are open for visitors, but you can hardly see here any tourist. Here a Chinese history goes at a high price and it is justified. At the same time if you don't have a chance to visit Chinese provinces, in such market, only possessing a high experience, there is a chance to find worthy tea samples.

Every shop in such markets has its face… like its owner. In most cases it is a family business, everyone «from young to old one» spend day by day at the counter, they sell tea from their home province. Taiwanese tea shops have always been more expensive than others, but exactly in them you need to search for so strongly beloved in our lands milky oolong… There are some authentic Yunnan shops stuffed with national wonders and Pu-erh teas of all types. There are «glamorous» tea boutiques of well-off Chinese who drive along Shanghai in expensive cars and send their nephews to study in London. Then newly born nephews talk to foreign cliens in advanced English and unsuccessfully try to implement Western service standards into their business. For patriarchal Chinese trade it is a practically fantastic phenomenon.

 

 

The main trade principle in such markets is a friendly conversation over a cup of tea. Everyone has a specially equipped tea for a tea ceremony with an automatic water drain. Not to let anything interrupt the low pace of a tea ceremony everything is at hand: a teapot, clean bottled water, and tea things.

 

 

According to the law of Eastern markets, any bargain is a real process. For a «white person» (and Chinese can hardly tell the difference between Europeans, Russians and Americans) the price is always higher. You can't do anything with that – such a mental attitude of Chinese. To buy tea without tasting, judging guided only by a sort name and a price – you would rather leave this attitude for Moscow routine. And a selection of tea is a very laborious, time-consuming case which requires special and very rare in its gist «tea knowledge». Chinese have a general principle in such cases: «according to your knowledge you will be rewarded», if a client doesn't understand anything in tea, why should they sell him tea of a high quality?

It is crucial to feel, hear your heart, and find in this variety of tea sorts the exact quality. One should not be in a rush here. The main rule is to relax, clear your head from a heap of unnecessary thought. Our common business model – the work for speeding up stops working. Beeps of IPhones, lights of displays, drumming of fingers against key boards, time frames, budgets… The more technical means appear, that seem to be meant to make our life easier, the more hectic is our schedule as a result, the more tasks we tend to squeeze into the frames of one day. We are always in a rush… In China at the same time people can do something very fast, almost with lightning speed, but there is no rush in it. A Chinese values his time: he wakes at dawn, he will never miss his lunch in midday, in the evening he will devote some time to his family. He acts in proper time according to his human nature and not against it.

 

 

One more exciting adventure without hesitation can be called a trip by a Chinese train, this trip is full of curious observations for any European. First of all it is a train station. Chinese easily manage practicability with such a huge amount of people! A station is designed the way that the ways of departing and arriving passengers don't cross, even more passengers of a separate train occupy a line in a waiting room specially meant for them (according to a «gate» principle in airports). There is absolutely no feeling of tightness and compression (may be only by ticket offices). An express train itself is ultra-modern, like a Sapsan train. When you look to Chinese distances through a window of a train you can't notice a Chinese thrift: there is not a single empty spot of land. There are sowing fields everywhere, green houses and buildings. Here and there one can see how rape cheerfully turns yellow. They say a true China is not in the mountains, but in villages. The red takes far away from the city to a mountainous area where the air turns more and more fresh with every kilometer. Even a constant light mist is not that thick and dark as it was in Shanghai, it is soft and airy, visually it wipes out borders between the Sky and the Ground.

Naturally, speaking about China, one can not forget about Chinese cuisine, which has always been worthy of a separate notice. It is a special combination of tastes: salty, spicy, unflavored, sour, sweet, all these tastes accompany each other in harmony. At the same time sweets are not that much of a desert, but an independent taste in main courses…

 

 

In any restaurants there is a circular meals serving, literally the food «makes a circle», meals are ordered for a whole company of guests and not personally. Obviously there are only chopsticks out of cutlery, mastering them you will not want to try anything else, it is a way more convenient with chopsticks!

Very often you can meet a «life menu»: all meals are shown to customers raw or alive. One needs to guess, visualize this ingredient cooked, it develops an ability to improvise about culinary theme. But whatever you will imagine, the result will anyway surpass expectations. Those food combinations offered by Chinese are so uncommon for us, so tasty. After that a western molecular gastronomy commercialized in media seems a complete perversion. Truth lies in simplicity! Still there is some sophistication in Chinese cuisine. At the same time all the food is very light. There are a lot of vegetables, beans, everything is fresh. There is no heavy feeling after a meal, which is so common for Russians. All ingredients are easily combined and digested. Rice baked in a pineapple is incredibly tasty!

 

 

Here are just some of the most unusual dishes for us: sugar cane (served for a desert, you chew it then spit out); green bamboo (stewed like haricot); all types of germinated beans; starch noodles; sticky rice in the shape of «dalma»; «foreign» fungus (visually they pretty much remind our toadstools), corn and pumpkin drinks (thick, warm, absolutely not sweet, it is very nice to wash down your meal with such drink).

Baked bugs – it is an expensive Yunnan meal, of cause you don't eat it every day. It taste like crisps, in general it is nice! Some of worms mostly live in bamboo and are considered to be extremely good for health, «pure protein», it is difficult to pull them out of bamboo, that is why they value so high.

 

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At this mouth-watering issue, in order not to tempt readers' imagination any longer, we will finish this story, because, as Chinese say»there is no such feast, that would not come to an end».