With Koichi's help my 3-word Chinese vocabulary exploded into about 15-20 written (e.g.: "east," "center," "not," "gate," "mouth" (and the related words "entrance" and "exit"), "product," "month"/"moon," "eye") and spoken (e.g.: "hello," "thank you," "north," "south," "east," "west," "center," "capital") words. Unfortunately my vocabulary did not include the word for "shampoo." Now, normally that wasn't a problem. At all of these hotels there would be a set of complimentary toiletries and accessories (kind of wasteful actually; in fact, the news said that Beijing hotels during the Olympics, in efforts to be more "green," would not be giving them out) and the shampoo generally came in the little bottles, clearly marked in English. Except at the Super 8 where the shampoo and the body wash were in the more economical labeled bins mounted to the shower wall. Of course, I couldn't read the labels. So I guessed. One was milky white and smelled like coconut. The other was blue and smelled more detergeant-y. I decided the former was shampoo and the latter body wash and proceeded accordingly.
After we left Xian we flew back to Shanghai. Koichi had never been there and wanted to see it, and my return flight was to leave from there anyway. We ended up back at the Super 8, which wasn't so bad because this time I knew where it was. I came to like its location. It did require a bus and subway ride into the city center, but it was redeemed by being in a less congested and touristy area. In the middle of Pudong it was at the center of this new China being built and interesting in its own right as a front row seat on the transition. But seeing how it was still a bit away from the commercial skyscrapers it was not someplace that tourists would be likely to overrun.
Of course, Koichi wanted to see the rest of Shanghai too, so after settling in we took the subway across the river, whereupon we walked to the Bund. The Bund is the boulevard along the river built up by Western interests 75-100 years ago. Across the street there's a promenade that runs along the riverfront. It's very pretty, especially looking across to the shiny, colored skyscrapers sprouting up in Pudong. You just have to ignore the deplorable state of the river.
Then we walked back towards the center of the city and People's (Renmin) Square, where we were to meet my friends at the other KFC for an international dinner (the four of us all were of different nationalities). Unfortunately the Chinese friend was ill and unable to make it. So since the other friend was living in Pudong, we went back to the new mall to search out dinner. (There's lots of restaurants in it.)
My friend seems to be really enjoying China, and is quite fearless about what he eats. I was not so fearless. Some of that was because I was fatigued, which I suspect meant that I was more likely to be vulnerable to some under-prepared food. I was also really nervous about the water, and after smelling the Hutong River up close my attitude hardly changed. I really couldn't tell what would be safe to eat and what wasn't, even in modern, Western places where I feared anything with ice in it. I noticed in the grocery store that certain goods - especially, though not necessarily ones produced by Western ventures - bore a "Q" on them as apparently some sort of quality seal. So it strikes me that China is taking food safety seriously. (The Chinese news channel referred to "standards for export," which gives some indication as to why they might care.) Goods with the "Q" symbol seem to cost a little bit more than those without it.
But in restaurants you were on your own. I hoped that glossy restaurants in glossy new malls would be more likely to be hygienic, but there was no guarantee. I might have been just fine, or even better off, with the vastly cheaper street food. But because I was afraid of exposing myself to something unhealthy, I wasn't eating all that much in general. And that meant I couldn't afford to get a meal wrong. Thus the gravitation to things that were familiar, and (particularly near the end of my trip) more fast food. On the other hand, I still had plenty of adventurous meals.
This particular meal turned out to be only semi-adventurous. At first we almost went to a hotpot restaurant. But we had to leave it when we realized we had no idea how to order a hotpot meal, and no one's Chinese or English skills were good enough to overcome this problem. So we went to a more regular place instead. My friend was a little concerned about us leaving the first place without ordering, because apparently that is seen as quite rude, but the dining gods got their revenge at the next place when they asked us if we'd like a knife and fork… (OK, it was well intended, but still! We were all chopstick-savvy...)
The next morning we were going to take a river cruise, but that idea got nixed because we couldn't quite figure out where to go for one. I would have looked it up, but I no longer had my guidebook. The Israelis in Xian had a long way to go on their China exploration trip and were being seriously let down by their guidebook (I think it was a Lonely Planet, which is surprising because usually Lonely Planet is quite good.) On the bus back they were borrowing my Rough Guide, which, though a little outdated (lots of prices have since been raised on the tourist sites) and a little incomplete, detail-wise, had so far served me pretty well. At this point, with only my return to Shanghai left in my trip, I decided I didn't need the book anymore and told them to keep it. They look thrilled. They offered to mail it back to me. I said that was silly - it would only just get dusty on my bookshelf - but the next time I visited Israel they could give it back to me. They agreed. So it turns out I missed it a little on my last day in Shanghai (particularly the historical explanations in the back that I hadn't sufficiently studied) but this is the kind of thing you need to do if you're going to wander around the world hither and yon. You need to build up the travel karma points when you can.
The other reason I wasn't so keen to sail on the river was because of the river itself. It's really a problem, what China has done to its waterways. The pollution is often such that they can't be fished, and the water certainly can't be drunk from the tap. This is true all over China, and poses the biggest barrier to it being a fully modern country. It's practically bizarre, particularly in Shanghai: how do you get this bright, new metropolis, where the running water isn't potable? It's not a quaint juxtaposition of Old China-New China; it's a serious problem.
So instead of the river cruise we went to the obviously pretty new Science and Technology museum, which was easily findable at the Science and Technology subway stop. It was a great museum, although a little expensive. It wasn't too bad for us, but for a Chinese salary it must have been a stretch. (The tour guide in Xian said that the higher prices for the historical areas were becoming unaffordable for the average Chinese person.) Anyway, the museum was really interesting in two main ways: one, that as a museum it had interesting exhibits. The usual science and technology subjects, but presented in interesting ways in an interesting building. There was, for example, a gigantic wing that was a greenhouse you could wander through on labyrinth paths. The second significant way it was interesting was in its descriptions. There were plenty of English captions, pretty well written, but the propaganda that showed through was really amusing. In the health exhibit, for instance, it cited the WHO (I think that's the source it used) saying that well-being included more than physiology. Apparently the word "moral" somehow ended up in the description of the necessary healthy lifestyle, although WHO hadn't appeared to have defined it. The museum defined it, however, by talking about how it required "obedience" and "patriotism" and other such qualities.
There also was an exhibit on ecology, which cheered me. One part of it talked about rehabilitative efforts being performed on the Shanghai river. Apparently, it says, fish have recently started living in it again, and they've stopped dumping untreated sewage in the river. That's great. And if the propaganda is to be believed, China may be taking the issue seriously. Which is also great. But it has a long way to go before the water situation will be ok. Or the air situation. While China's recent development boom has allowed it to develop in more efficient and less-polluting ways, it's still putting a big burden on the environment. A billion people driving cars, for instance, is not a good thing for the air. Of course not that many people drive cars today, but if that's the goal then those thick, suffocating days are going to get much worse.
After the museum we went back to the hotel so I could shower (in the water, such as it is). I had Koichi take a look at the bins in the shower, and he informed me that they were the opposite of what I had surmised. I felt disappointed in myself at first for having guessed wrong, but on my next shower I opted to continue to use them as I had been. I don't know what I was dumping in my hair, but it made it feel all silky...
For more fun with toiletries, Koichi attempted to ask one of the hotels for more toilet paper (as pictured right on the right). It worked on one occasion, but on the next one they instead delivered the object on the left. It looks like an air freshener, although I forget what it was exactly. But the point is, it was *not* toilet paper, nor a sufficient toilet paper substitute...