My Shanghai Morning


Some days in China are weird and cool and randomly bonkers. The rest, though, are just me getting about the day like I would anywhere else in the world albeit with more spitting and debris involved (none of it mine). Some days rock - and some make me want to sit in the storage cupboard and drink gin from the bottle.

This morning, for example, I woke at 6.30 am with a stiff neck from yet another night spent on the sofa bed without any pillows because our shipment hasn’t arrived yet. I considered the chances of getting away with a shower before Baby A woke up demanding things. I also tried to recall when I might last have had a shower…two days ago? Three? This is what they mean by ‘letting oneself go’ perhaps. I tiptoed oh-so-quietly out the door towards the bathroom and just as I reached it, I heard a plaintiff little voice squeak ‘Ma-ma’ over the baby monitor. I think he’s got bat-hearing. I do accept however that it is not socially acceptable to give up showering entirely just because you live in China and can guarantee you won’t bump into anyone you know (because you don’t know anyone) so I brought the monitor into the bathroom and listened to Baby A chat away to himself. I don’t think ‘Ma-ma’ means me anyway - he points at old men on the bus and says ‘Ma-ma’. He picks up dead caterpillars and says ‘Ma-ma’. I’m not sure he has a name for me at all yet - he’s only just realizing that I’m not part of him, like a really big arm.

I popped out of the shower, wrapped myself in my towel, forgetting of course that I had used the same towel yesterday as a makeshift picnic blanket for Baby A and Babybel. There was a dried fusilli poking my belly button and I ended up smelling like an Italian deli rather than the clean-tinged-with-lime-blossom I was aiming for. Baby A thought I smelled nice and spent most of the bus ride into play school licking my shoulder which is a step up from licking the people beside him or, even worse, the window. He also smelled nice having had an emergency bath just twenty minutes earlier. It’s best not to dwell on that part of the day.

The bus itself was a bit surreal. In fact, I wonder if it was originally a bus at all. It had tables inside - old wooden tables screwed into the floor. It also had no roof upstairs. Like one of those open top tour buses. I think someone put the ‘bus’ together from scrap metal, twine and the remnants of an old schoolhouse. The bus driver spent the journey hurling abuse (at least I think it was abuse but you never know in Chinese) at a woman sitting half way back who also seemed to work on the bus in some capacity. Her job appeared to be to shout the name of each stop when we arrived at it. That would seem acceptable enough were it not for the fact that the bus had a automated PA system installed which also announced the name of the approaching stop. Bus worker lady made it a point to shout louder than the disembodied voice that was trying to do her out of a job. It was a stark, if noisy and slightly odd, representation of the struggle of the human worker to remain relevant in the face of increasing technological advancements.

After dropping Baby A at playschool, I had to catch two metros downtown for a bank appointment which would hopefully allow me access to online banking. I say downtown but, in fact, Shanghai downtown is an area about the size of Ulster so downtown could be anywhere really. This was, I suppose more downtown that the downtown I was in previously so maybe it was rightdowntown or downtown+ or hyper downtown?

As I waited between trains, I caught sight of an ad for something. I’m trying to improve my Chinese reading so rather than glazing over Chinese script, which is the natural reaction to so many squiggles in such a small area, I tried to read it. For once, I actually knew every character in the ad (there were only four so I don’t think I should crack out the champagne just yet). My short-lived chuffedness with self came to an end when I realized that, despite knowing all the characters, I didn’t know what the sign said. The first character was ‘ocean’ 海, the second was ‘horse’
, the third was ‘king’ 王, and the fourth was ‘country’国. Ocean Horse King Country - hmmmmm. I was standing there for quite some time trying to work this out. What’s the point in studying Chinese characters if you don’t know what they mean even when you know what they mean!? Eventually, my finely tuned intellectual powers, in conjunction with the pictures on the ad led me to believe that Ocean Horse was actually Seahorse and then I reckoned King Country was Kingdom. Ta-Da! I have cracked the Chinese language. Seahorse Kingdom - so obvious! Now, if only I could work out what Seahorse Kingdom means. The train came and, as a result, the meaning of Seahorse Kingdom is likely to remain an eternal mystery to me. Maybe it’s a circus show with seahorses. That would not surprise me.

The bank was relatively uneventful. I think it’s a special foreigner bank because people take tickets and queue - there was no pushing or shouting. Also no one spat on the floor. It was barely like being in China at all. I took the opportunity of being hyper downtown to pop into M&S (I never move anywhere that Mr Marks and Mr Spencer have not already installed an outpost) and stock up on random foreigner goodies like chutney, fruity tea and mayo.

Two more metros later and I was back to pick up Baby A. He was wrecked and fell asleep on the bus. I limped home from the bus stop - at a pace a drunken turtle could have bested - with a backpack full of groceries, a sleeping toddler in my arms and a blister on my toe. It was only noon. I was exhausted. I still didn’t know what Seahorse Kingdom means but at least I managed to dodge the drips from the underwear drying out the windows above the pavement. Plus, at no stage did fish guts land on my exposed skin. That’s a winning morning if ever there was one.
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