*post from 3/27/2013. had to switch to tumblr due to issues w/old blogspot address…
So far as I can tell, Shanghai is a city of gray. Gray streets, gray buildings, gray skies. Not even a glimpse of green to be found anywhere. Granted, all I’ve seen so far is about a block, as our flat is across (a busy highway) from the CDC.
Yesterday’s main task of securing the apartment proved to be highly entertaining. We showed up to the place and met three real estate agents, who, with their black leather, constant pecking at smartphones and strident tones seemed like something out of the Chinese version of “The Wire.” Getting the apartment required two hours of negotiations, lots of yelling (from what I could tell), angered phone calls to the landlord and insults. We were told that we were stingy, when we tried to bring the price down, and lazy, when we said the apartment was dirty.
As laowai (outsider) and especially as one who doesn’t speak or understand the language, I am more or less exempt from these wheeling and dealing. Most of the time, I just look on bemusedly as I can’t even tell from their wild gestures and laughter whether they are pissed or making pleasantries.
In some ways, I relish being an outsider. My silence opens up a whole world, often unnoticed during conversations, when I am so concerned with what someone else is saying, or what I might say next. I notice the mottled grey-green of the Platane trees lining the streets, the smell of chou dofu (stinky tofu) from the wizened old street vendor, the dumpling-cheeked child. I revel in the luxury of these details, and wish I could carry this awareness with me when I am back in the land of English.
As for the apartment, we’ve settled in quite nicely. After hiring an ayi (housekeeper) at the going rate of 20RMB/hour ($3.50), the place has been cleaned up, we have fresh sheets on the beds, and enough cooking gear to make soup, stir-fry and coffee. What more could a girl ask for?