Friday, June 27, 2008

It could just be the jetlag, but at the moment I think these might be three of my favorite photographs ever. I took them yesterday, dazed and delighted, in a city whose thick air muffles endless and sharp sounds, suffuses would-be-orienting light, and ferries that ubiquitous Big City garbage smell to the part of your nose that's closest to your brain. I've been traveling since late May but this if the first time I've had the giddy feeling (with its edges of recklessness and trust) you get when you're aimless and open, aware and ignorant, knowing only that your metrocard is fresh and that, if you can find your way back, you'll have a room over your head tonight — all despite not understanding a single lick of what anyone around you is saying.

Shànghǎi is a crowded city, of course, and one of savage contrasts — but beyond the clichés it strike me as a city constructing itself, as I read it has for centuries. (The oldest evidence of human habitation here is nearly six millennia old, but it was the canals that drained the marshland in the 1600s that kicked things into high gear.) I'll refrain from waxing philosophical about an economy, history, government and future I would be kidding myself to think I understood. But I will say that Mandarin (and Shànghǎihuà, its distant cousin) is a mystery to me and that visual learners seem to have it especially hard. Four tones? Somewhere in those characters? I wonder how long I can get by with a hopeful smile and my three workhorses: 你好, 对不起, and 谢谢 — hello, I'm sorry, and thank you.


At Sun Jul 13, 02:43:00 AM CDT, Anonymous Luke the Monk said...

Yes, basic Chinese. I did not learn Chinese characters at all, but I did learn bing shui- "cold water"! That came in very handy. I went about the same time as you did. My sister also taught me, "buyong" which means essentially, "I don't need it" to those offering merchandise as you walk along...


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