It seems obvious now but it’s taken me my whole adult life to learn: Every place is the most itself. Nowhere is as New York as New York; no place is more Detroit than Detroit. Comparisons can be made but those comparisons will always be linear, incomplete. The important differences aren’t in degree but character.
Shanghai is indeed the most Shanghai. I spend most of my first weekend seeing family. Meals with dad, meals with my cousin Shaun and his girlfriend who both work in the gaming industry here. I go to their booths at China Joy, this country’s version of E3, and I’m convinced that the most successfully-translated works of American culture are in fact Overwatch and League of Legends.
I stay out during the day so I’m not tempted to sleep. I try to assemble the pieces of my elaborate coffee ritual: a Hario dripper, grass-fed butter, some kind of blender or milk frother. But it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t seem to fit the place I am in, doesn’t pair with the street-smells of potential meals. It occurs to me that this is a form of violence – trying to force my old breakfast routine into a Shanghai context. But still I cling to the familiar for dear life. I’m not ready, yet.
Jetlag is like Rocky Balboa – just went you think you’ve got it beat it comes back out of nowhere and pummels your ass. I fall asleep briefly at a “shamanic sound journey” at an upstart spiritual center in Tianzifang after pretending to crawl around like a leopard. I nod off on the subway back to the bus back to my parents’ new apartment, way west past the end of the Number 2 line.
Sitting at a street-facing coffee bar on Huaihai Lu, I watch a man stop at the corner as his dog poops on the sidewalk. The man takes out from his pocket what I expect to be plastic bags but is actually just a pack tissue paper, and before picking up the poop, he first WIPES HIS DOG’S ASS.
“Do people do that here!” I ask Shaun the next day before dinner.
“At least he picked up the poop at the end,” Shaun says. “Some people just throw the tissue on the ground afterwards and leave the poop.”