Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pictures are Worth 1,000 Words

I know I haven't written recently much, but there are so many topics I still want to cover that I haven't gotten around to: the pains of changing my visa, the difference between being an "expat" and an "immigrant," the joys of being an American-born Chinese person and struggling with the language, starting work in a Chinese office...but I admittedly haven't gotten around to it.  I'll get to those in the future, I promise.

What I've actually been doing a lot of recently is taking photos in the subway.  I have a 45-minute commute one way, so I have a long enough ride that I can people-watch.  And people-watching in the Shanghai subway is...interesting.  For one, everyone is on their smartphone watching videos and they ignore people they're with or forget to actually get off at the correct stop.  I even learned the term for these people in Mandarin -- 低头族 (ditou zu), smartphone addicts, or I think the literal rough translation would be "those who keep their heads bowed."  (I learned this from listening to some podcast)

There's been some really funny/odd/disgusting things I've seen in the subway, and I've sent them to some people swearing I need to start a blog or hashtag, #shitiseeontheshanghaisubway.  So here are things that I've seen and observed.

There's the odd exception:

I took this photo today in the Lujiazui subway station at rush hour.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Shanghai, Lujiazui is the financial district.  Normally at rush hour, this station is overflowing with people shoving and elbowing their way onto the escalator, and it's total chaos.  Today, it was like an apocalyptic movie with it being the first day of the Chinese New Year holidays.  There was hardly anyone in the station.  I basically just went around taking pictures of the empty city, but this is the empty station, which is very rare indeed.

There's the matching ridiculousness that goes on:

Matching outfits!  Yes!  (I'm being sarcastic.)  The two kids on the left, poor souls, had matching Paul Frank coats and the mom and her son on the right had matching skull coats.  The photo on the right is actually thanks to my colleague Shani because I was telling her about all the ridiculous things I've seen on the subway.  Surprisingly, this coordinated outfit thing isn't limited to kids or kids and their parents.  I can't even say how often I see couples in matching outfits, from their hats down to their socks and sneakers.  Every time I see it, it makes me cringe.  On the other hand, I wonder if they have matching outfits because they haggled and got a great deal for it?  Chinese people love to get a great deal, but it's a bit tacky in my book to wear a matching outfit with anyone on purpose.  Accidentally?  Then it's ok, but you'll probably still get mocked for it. 

There's the smartphone addicts who make great parents:

On the left, take a look at the little girl in the pink jacket sitting down.  Who's her mom, you wonder?  Or is the little girl by herself?  It took me awhile to realize it, but the woman standing in the red coat with her back to the little girl is actually her mom.  I only figured it out because she put her phone down once and said something to her daughter.  On the right, you can see the little girl is amusing herself with a birthday hat or something while her mom is glued to her phone with her headphones on.  I also thought the little girl might be by herself, but her mom said something to her without taking the headphones out.

You might argue with me that I just happened to take a photo when these moms were looking at their phones.  Sadly, that wasn't the case.  I observed these mothers ignoring their daughters for the whole ride.  And unfortunately, this happens so frequently that I'd actually say it's the norm.  At New Year's, there was a table of adults behind us, and one of the guys at the table was playing on his iPad the whole time and ignored his friends or family, whichever they were.  Couples go on dates and ignore each other, which makes me wonder if they're writing to each other on their phones.

When I first arrived here in Shanghai, I was impressed with how everyone is so connected and everyone seems to have the latest iPhone or Xiaomi or Samsung smartphone.  But I think the connectivity affects how people interact with each other, where people just don't want to converse and they'd rather watch their favorite show instead.  And as I mentioned already, this is normal here.

There's the purely disgusting people:


OK, I'm not looking for disgusting people on the subway.  I'm really not.  But sometimes it's hard not to see them, and unfortunately, I think what people put up with here, what westerners consider disgusting, might be more acceptable.  Let's take the guy on the left.  He was picking his nose the entire 30 minutes he was sitting next to me on the train.  I tried really hard to ignore him, but it was like he was digging for oil there.  I also scooted away once there was space, but it seems that picking your nose in public is apparently acceptable because I see it all. the. time.  Not only that, I've noticed that men here will often have one fingernail much longer than the others.  And by "much longer," I'm meaning creepy long, something that I don't even have because I can't type with long nails.  Anyway, the purpose of having the one long fingernail?  So you can find gold up your nose!  I wish I could tell you I was making this up, but I'm really not that creative.  I asked Ningxin when I first came to China if there was a beauty aesthetic with the nail, and she was like, "Nope, it's for picking your nose."

Speaking of fingernails, we have the guy in the photo on the right who just decided to cut them on the train.  Maybe this is just me, but I find it particularly repulsive to have fingernails flying left and right, not to mention the noise it makes rubs me the wrong way.  Unfortunately, this also seems to be a thing that Chinese people find OK to do in public.  I know people in the office cut their nails and I just wonder why they can't take the five minutes to do it at home.  I think cutting your nails in public is something I've heard of people observing on the subway in New York City, but I am personally generally not OK with it.  This is the face I make when I see these things on the subway:

That is my grossed out face, everyone.  Well, one of them.  That particular one is what I sent to a friend to explain my reaction to the guy picking his nose.  So if you run into me on the subway and I've got that face on, I'm probably disgusted with something.

There's the eternal sleeping:

People sleep here on the subway a lot.  I know people have told me before that they've been impressed that I can fall asleep basically anywhere, so maybe it's a genetic thing and Chinese people are just really good at sleeping where ever they are.  The woman in the photo on the left was dead asleep and wound up waking up at the end of the line where I got off.  She also got off, looked around puzzled, realized that she had missed her stop, and got back on the train.  The woman in the photo on the right was sleeping at the station and possibly waiting for someone.  In other countries if I saw a person sleeping at a subway station like this, my assumption would be either a. they're super drunk and fell asleep there, or b. they're homeless.  However, this person was clearly neither because a. the subway closes down so early that you can't fall asleep drunk in the subway station to be found the next morning and b. the area where I took this isn't really where a homeless person would live.  Which is why I concluded they were waiting for someone and just fell asleep.

There's the excitement when the train is emptier than usual:

The photo on the left was today during rush hour on line 2.  Line 2 is the worst when it's not Chinese New Year, but I took that picture just to show how exciting it was that there was space on the train.  Moreover, you can see that everyone has suitcases because they're all traveling home for the Chinese New Year holiday.  The photo on the right was when I took the last train home one evening at around 11 pm from Jing'an Temple.  Again, it was also on line 2 and it was so amazing how empty it was that you could actually see down the entire train.  Normally when I'm on the 2, I'm squashed into someone's backpack with another person's head in my face and I'm gasping for air (thankfully I'm taller than average here, so it works out fine).

And lastly, there's the absolute cuteness:


The first photo I took because this baby was super cute in (presumably) her pink onesie that looked warm as hell.  Plus the onesie had little feet and the hood had bunny ears.  The dad was cuddling with the baby the whole time, while the mom was (unsurprisingly) looking at her phone.  I should also point out the weird furry boots the mom is wearing.  That's also a common sight here in China, but I'm not categorizing it with "absolute cuteness."  The second photo was of a little girl with her mom.  The little girl had this penguin hat which had these long flaps that came down with pockets at the end to keep your hands warm.  Cute and ingenious!  And the last photo was because of the little boy's backpack, which is a fish.  How adorable is that?  

Stuff for kids here is incredibly cute, I'll admit that.  But it weirds me out when this then extends to things for adults that are supposed to be "cute," but by western standards just come off as, well, childish.  Seeing grown women with a large collection of stuffed animals in the back of their cars (like a life-sized Stitch doll, as in, Lilo & Stitch, which yes, I have experienced here) or grown women with a Dora the Explorer luggage decorated with Hello Kitty stickers while also carrying a Michael Kors bag (real or not) is just sort of this weird dichotomy where I can't take these people seriously.  I get it, things for kids are cute, but please stop buying these cute things for yourself.

There's a lot of other stuff I've seen on the subway which I haven't gotten pictures of -- men holding their girlfriends' or wives' purses, a Chinese guy with very impressive fro-y dreadlocks, the amount of food people eat, the fantastic (by which I mean really funny/hilarious/terrible) knock-off products that people have...the list goes on.  I might add more stuff as the year goes on because I'm sure that I'll be seeing some really amazing things once summer comes.  Or I'll just be terribly grumpy because it'll be really hot and the train will be really full, as always.  We'll see what happens.

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