The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 18 - Why Shanghai women are notorious

Shanghai laneway
The population of Shanghai: 23 million (without counting all those migrants from the countryside who do not have permits to be here).

(Just as a point of comparison this is greater than the entire population of Australia).

By my estimate about 20 million of this population are currently driving crazily on the street outside my hotel. I thought Beijing traffic was extraordinary until I arrived in Shanghai. If Beijing is about power and the past, then Shanghai is about money and the future. It's all about the hustle, (in Beijing you are not constantly accosted by young men saying "Shopping, lady, handbags, designer handbags?") and is a city of extremes - great wealth, great style. Property prices are the highest in China, a 3 bedroom apartment in the French Concession rents for about 30,000 rmb per month (about $4500), and I see many stylish women displaying the mainland obsession with designer labels, crossing the road swinging Tiffany, Prada and Louis Vuitton bags. A story in today's paper tells of fake 'Italian' brands of designer clothing sold throughout China being exposed as local products. Since the melamine milk scandal which killed a number of children and made about 30,000 very ill, the Chinese have lost confidence in Chinese-made products and are mad for imports. Many of these so-called 'imports' are of course fakes. This is the land of the simulacra!

There are also very disturbing sights here indicating great poverty and squalor - maimed beggars with twisted limbs, and incredibly young, bedraggled mothers dragging miserable pinched small children through the appalling traffic, with much shouting and slapping. The contrast between wealth and poverty seems greater than in Beijing. Perhaps in Shanghai it has always been thus, and the foreign influence has always been greater as well. Now of course it is exacerbated by the fast pace of change.

My translator, who works here but comes from the north, in Xian, tells me that Shanghainese women are famed throughout China for their spoiled and manipulative behaviour (also, apparently, for their odd habit of wearing their pyjamas out in public, complete with high heeled shoes!) and the men are known to be good at cooking and housework. When I jokingly tell her that she should be looking for a Shanghainese man to marry, she curls her lip and says, "No way, I would have to tell him to 'man up'!" We are in a taxi and the driver is listening to a Shanghai radio soap opera in dialect (I am missing the Beijing rolled 'r' accent), and she says, "Listen to those high voices, what did I tell you about Shanghai men!"

Driving into the far distant Puxi suburbs to visit the Shanghai American School this morning, outside the window at an intersection I saw:

A middle aged man in a very new, very stiff and shiny, bright blue pinstriped suit, smoking a cigarette, serenely pedals his bicycle through a chaotic jumble of cars, buses, taxis, trucks, and motor bikes. The driver of every one of these vehicles is smoking, flicking ash and cigarette butts out their windows, and occasionally spitting as well. Meanwhile, in the opposite direction, an old woman in a headscarf and face mask, and traditional cloth shoes, rides a motor scooter, with a basket of eggs on the back. A young man wearing a studded leather jacket, and with a very sharp and studiedly 'rock star chic' haircut, steers his motor bike across with his 2 feet, without using the engine. A girl in a hot pink jacket and gold gym boots strides to the beat of her i-pod in the middle of this traffic. You can't say 'lanes' of traffic because there are no lanes. Driving in China is Darwinian, and I frequently genuinely fear for my life. It's sometimes terrifying, but never boring!

Tomorrow: artists Chen Hangfeng and Monika Lin, and some more galleries.........