Home Improvement

May 13, 2006

In this post, I had mentioned that I had found a market which deserved a post all by itself. Well, here’s the post.

I had walked up and down Zhoujiazui Road in search of a cheap and clean place to have lunch. I’d seen what looked like a florist while wakling up and while walking down, and while walking down made a mental note to go inside and take a closer look.

So, after lunch, I walked up again and did take a closer look.

I entered, and discovered to my pleasant surprise that it wasn’t just a florist- well, it was, but the florist was just one of the many shops that were built into a sort of indoor market.

Unlike a regular minimarket, this one had no grocery stores, or courier shops, or PCOs. It was built around a theme: home decoration. Only that it took quite an extensive view of what counted as home decoration. Sure, there were shops for sculpture, porcelain, and paintings. But most of the shops were dedicated to pets.

And not just cats and dogs (though those were there too), but also birds:

Cockatoos of Some Sort

A Lovebird, I think

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

There were also several small furry animals:




… and squirrels.

There were also lots of turtles.

Turtle Power

Go Green Machine

Hero in a half-shell

I've run out of TMNT references

There was also an entire lane dedicated to aquariums, fish, and fish food. It was impossible to photograph any of the acquariums without getting a reflection of either myself or the flash, so I did the next best thing and photographed the fish tanks the fish were kept in before being put into the aquariums:

Fish tanks.

Towards the more exotic side of the scale, there was a pair of iguanas.


There was also a box of frogs, but I have no idea whether they were meant to be pets or pet food:


But the most interesting pets in the market were to be found at a shop that sold nothing but crickets.

Crickets in Glass Boxes

Most of the crickets were kept in glass boxes.


Crickets Redux

But for the final sale, they were shifted to little cane cages.

Nobody over there spoke English, so I couldn’t figure out why crickets were so much in demand, but I’m guessing that the idea is to hand the little cage in your garden so that when it starts making its noise, your garden sounds natural. Of course, I could be wrong.

There weren’t only pets, as I’d mentioned earlier. There were also shops for porcelain (especially tea sets), paintings and scrolls, sculpture, and drawings on the sides of dried-out gourds. Unfortunately, their owners weren’t too enthusiastic about me taking photographs- especially as I pottered about the sculpture shop for ten minutes, asked about various items in a mixture of sign language and punching in numbers on a calculator, and finally refused to buy a bust with a different Buddha (frowning, smiling, laughing, and blissful) on each side.

I was able to get some photos of Bonsai and Bonsai mountains, though.

Bonsai Mountain

A bonsai mountain (though I doubt it was grown the way Lu-tze did it in Thief of Time).

Bonsai mountain range

And an entire bonsai mountain range. If you look closely (or follow the link and check the orginal size), you can make out the pagoda and the boatmen and the foot of the mountains.

And finally, what had pulled me into the shop to begin with: bonsai itself.


An afternoon well spent, it was.

Shook Lee Ya

May 13, 2006

May Day is a holiday in China. A week long holiday, running from the first of May to the sevent of May, and ruthlessly devouring any weekends foolish enough to be in the vicinity. People from all over China take the week off to stay at home or to travel. Many of those who travel come to Shanghai. And everyone who comes to Shanghai comes to the Bund.

On the first of May, as I went up to the Bund, a girl in a pink jacket called out to me. ‘Indian?’

I stopped and said yes. The girl introduced herself as an English student at Beijing University.

Alarm bells went off in my mind. This was exactly the sort of thing Wikitravel warns travelers to China about: being befriended by university students who then drag you to an art gallery and make you buy high-priced stuff you don’t really want. At the same time, the temptation to have a conversation that didn’t use sign language or phrasebook entries was irresistible.

“Are you a student?”

“Not anymore. I’ve finished studying. I start work in July.”

“Okay. You speak English?”


“What language do people speak in India?”

“Many. Hindi in the North, Marathi in the West,”- she was already looking bewildered with two languages, so I finished off with “and four languages in the South.”

She blinked and shook her head. “But English is the second language for everyone?”


“You look a little Chinese.”

“I look Chinese?”

“You look a little Chinese.”


“I don’t know.”

She paused.

“There is a Chinese Art Museum in Shanghai which I came to see. Would you like to see it?”

Alarm bells rang again. Art Museum? This looked more and more like the scam described in Wikitravel with every moment. On the other hand, I could always refuse to buy anything she was selling- heck, I didn’t even have much money with me, and being taken to a new part of Shanghai by a pretty English-speaking girl had its attractions. Of course, at this point of time I wasn’t counting the 400 US dollars in my wallet- which I’m sure Chinese university ‘students’ would just love.

She led the way. The ‘Museum’ was only fifteen or twenty metres away- it was a room in the basement of the Bund promenade with a latched but unlocked door. Paintings and scrolls were hanging on the walls.

She pointed out a set of Four Seasons scrolls, and then to a scroll of a red and black fish.

“The Chinese character for fish is pronounced the same way as the Chinese charcter for more. So the painting of a fish sybolises that you’ll have more money in the future.”

“Oh yeah. I heard that story yesterday.”


“At the home decoration market on… let me look… Zhojiazui Road. Sombody explained it to me there.”

“You speak very good English.”

“Thank you.”

“At Beijing University there are some people from India. But their English isn’t as good.”

“In different parts of India, people start learning English at different times.”

“How do people in India say thank you?”






“Okay. Shook-lee-ya.”

“Xie xie.”

We shook hands, and went off.

It was anticlimactic. I hadn’t been forced to buy overpriced art, or even had a pitch made to me. Nor had I been dragged into a side alley and mugged. My passport was still with me, as was my air ticket.

Wikitravel should come with disclaimers in big cyan boxes: “Be aware of the dangers, but take risks anyway.”

Lady Bus Drivers

May 12, 2006

In Shanghai, quite a few of the public transport system buses are driven by women.

Of course, it is always a bad idea for women to drive anything, but putting grumpy Chinese aunties behind an eighty-ton hunk of metal and rubber is a particularly ingenious method evolved by  by the Chinese state apparatus to cow the population into fearful submission.

On seeing the Chinese Police

May 12, 2006

A thought comes. The American Desi sort of claim that India is free because you can piss against a tree any time you feel like it is silly. Being able to do things illegally without fear of the consequences is a measure of how incompetent and/ or corrupt the police is. The real measure of liverty is being empowered by the law to do whatever you damn well please.


May 12, 2006

As you ignore the hustlers on Nanjing Road, they actually move up the value chain in what they’re offering, probably reasoning that it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Thus, the patter goes “Hello! Rolex Omega Mont Blanc Shoes bag! bar! beerbarladybarsexbar .” With a crescendo of desperation to make a sale building up.


May 11, 2006

Call me a chuavinist, but I prefer the stink of Bombay to the stink of Shanghai.

The smells of Bombay duck, the shit of all of the open defecators, and the effluent-poisoned sewage mix up to produce an alive sort of smell- like an unsavoury ruffian you nevertheless befriend, and who eventually grows on you.

In Shanghai, the smog presses down on the city, trapping the garbage, which ages with a stale, withered smell. It’s like the smell of the elderly grandmother you never have anything to talk to about.


May 11, 2006

The Shanghai skyline has a side benefit. You can look up, look around, and find out if you’re walking in the right direction just by seeing where a skyscraper is in relation to you. The way ancient seamen would navigate by steering towards the pole star, you can reach your destination by walking towards or walking away from the Pearl TV Tower, or the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

30 April: A Travelogue

May 11, 2006

Today was a day where cash was wasted. It’s one thing to spend money and get something out of it, but today I just got ripped off, or ended up with cash lost in translation.

I could ascribe it to not being experienced enough a traveler, but that’s no excuse. I’ve done enough travel to know where it is that there’s a high probability of being suckered.

I started out from my hotel in the midmorning. I travelled away from the river instead of to it, hoping that I would find something interesting and some place to eat.

I did find interesting things: gardens at the road intersections, and the fact that my street had it all: luxury hotels, machining workshops, convenience stores, hardware stores and real estate agents. As for places to eat, it had the entire range from mom-and-pop outfits to reasonably classy restaraunts.

A hard-to-break habit acquired in engineering college and uncertainity about how much I could afford to spend in the days to comedrove me into one of the mom-and-pop, or rather, mom-and-daughter-and-niece cafes. After a little back and forth with mom and daughter, English-speaking niece appeared. I settled on a set lunch and a banana shake. Not great, but not bad either, and it fills the stomach, which is a good deal for eighteen yuan.

After lunch, I hit the road again. I walked into what looked like a florist and discovered that it was actually the entrance to a much larger market- one so remarkable that it deserves an entire entry to itself.

I got back to the hotel, and checked my secondary mail account as an afterthought. I found that my dad had paid my credit card bill by check, not knowing that I had already paid it online. My credit limit, therefore, had increased by fifteen thousand rupees. Hooray! I could now spend more freely.

So now that I could spend more freely, what did I do? Walked into the cheapest restaraunt on the Bund for dinner. I said it was a hard habit to break, but it turned out to be an expensive one as well. The place made up for the low price by serving a horribly inedible meal- and charging fifteen yuan for a glass of green tea- a bottle of which costs two and a half in a supermarket.

Oh well. I resolved to stop skimping, and spending as much as I liked if it was worth it. And I started by asking a taxi to take me to Motel 168 near Dalian Road.

Ten minutes and fiteen yuan later, my cab pulled up at Motel 168, not near Dalian Road, but on Dalian Road. I finally understood why the reception hadn’t been able to find my reservation the previous day: they didn’t have it. My taxi driver on that day had taken me to the wrong Motel 168. This taxi driver had dropped me to the right one, but this was hardly any consolation, especially since all my luggage was in the wrong one.

Still, the wrong hotel had its advantages. It was seedy, yes: the primary clientele seemed to be Shanghai university students who had come there for an intimate afternoon; and single misfits like me got telephone calls in our rooms at midnight asking if we wanted massage. Still, it had undeniable advantages: free internet access in the lobby (albeit from a terminal running Windows 98 and IE5), it was on the same road as a market I might not have discovered otherwise, and joy of joys, its very limited selection of TV channels still had the Chinese feed of Star Movies, which comes with English subtitles. Chinese horror movies manage to outdo the Ramsay Brothers ones in sheer cheesiness. The motivation behind the entire plot of one was summed up by the subtitle: ‘Blood Monster raped and killed Mindy!’ In another one, an intrepid Chinese aunty destroys evil demons by photographing them and capturing their spirits on film. I also saw the ending of a Hong Kong ripoff of City of Angels. Mere words cannot describe it.

But coming back to my predicament of being on Dalian Road instead of near Dalian Road. Not wishing to get even more lost by trying to find tyhe direct route, I actually ended up walking the distance twice over: from Dalian Road to the Bund, and then back to my Motel 168 using the route I knew. Adada.

But I did reach it without further disaster, and after I got into bed I turned on Star Movies Chinese to watch Karate Girls, the fascinating story of a Chinese-pop girl group who go to a monastery to learn Karate. What a wonderful way to end the day.

The Joy of Literal Translations

May 8, 2006

Please Forgive Us
God’s Final Message to All His Creation has absolutely nothing on this most excellent of apology signs.

Careful Landslip Attention Security

Now, isn’t that so much cooler than just saying “Careful: Wet Floor”?

Civilized Service Model Channel

If only Indian Railways had Civilized Service Model Channels. Or any Civilized Service.

The Lingdom of Foods

Perhaps it’s an aphrodisiac.

Buy Down Wear

If I have to Buy Down Wear, shouldn’t I Down The Stairs?

Information Toilet

Don’t even ask.

Drinking Cashier

Why doesn’t he join Alcoholics Anonymous then?

Fashional Coffee

A place full of Orientalism as well as Occidentalism; a spiritual paradise for enjoying yourself. Unless you’re Edward Said, of course. And he’s dead, so it’s all good.