Shanghai (and expectations)

So Shanghai. Western China. Or the sinicized West. Hard to say quite which. I guess it depends on what you call ‘western’ in these globalised days.

Is the reminder (in English – my Mandarin is still a little rusty) to put on the non-existent seatbelt when I get into the cab a metaphor for China more generally? The trappings of the west only in theory.

Reality in Shanghai is sticker shock. Especially after Yunnan. Lots of things cost even more than back home (notably beer). Holy. Perhaps this means people in Shanghai earn more than the average New Zealander. They mostly don’t look like they do, but appearances, as we know, can be deceiving.

Saw a crazy-looking guy at a train station on the way here. He looked like he lived on the side of the tracks. A smoky fire, a pile of dirty-looking trash that might have been belongings. Was he naked? Hard to tell at my distance. Certainly he was not wearing many clothes.

The interesting thing was that everyone ignored him. It was as if he was not crouched there at all. Even people who walked within a few feet of him did not look his way. Maybe he does not exist in their world, so if they do not look at him they do not have to acknowledge the conflict between the world in their heads and the world in their streets.

I have seen a similar thing before. A year or so ago a friend and I set off for the airport in Singapore (which is close enough to being Chinese to suit my purposes here). I had my bag (I was leaving). He was dressed in a bear suit (he was seeing off one friend and meeting some more).

The reactions of people on the streets were fascinating. Particularly (and this is the case in point) the Chinese people who never once looked at the bear despite walking past him on a narrow footpath. They could walk for 50 metres straight towards him, wander by and never once so much as glance in his direction. Bears don’t walk the streets in Singapore you see.

And speaking of expectations, it was nice to be on the receiving end of some this weekend. I played Ultimate with the team from Singapore. A very different team from the competitive, but really pretty relaxed by international standards, squad last year. This year much more intensity and focus; more like a team from the US or a team at Worlds than the top team in Asia facing no serious competition at a small weekend tournament far from home.

So here I showed up to pick up with this team, expecting relaxed playing time and a few laughs. And instead I found a team that actually expected me to do something useful on the Ultimate field. Once I realised, unfortunately belatedly, how much better was my performance? Oh how important expectations are. Our minds drive our bodies, after all.

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