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What Exactly is Normal? M’s Rules for Living In Shanghai

Photo thanks to a very observant F Tobin

Ahhh…back in Shanghai, and back to normal. But what is normal exactly?

I started thinking over the weekend that perhaps I’ve been living here too long, and things that were once eye-popping, or funny, or just downright alarming, seem totally, utterly normal. Take the brass band in the back of a truck I kept seeing all weekend in Shao Xing, for example, as they were shunted from one Chinese wedding to another. A truck full of gold suits worn with trainers, along with bugles, cymbals, trombones and drums. Why were they there? I didn’t even think to ask. I didn’t even take a photo, for pete’s sake, but luckily someone with me did. No, I just mentally noted that the truck in front of me was carrying an entire brass band in the back, and then looked out of the taxi’s other window at a dog wearing shoes and a raincoat. Like I said, normal. Or at least normal on a rainy Saturday in Shao Xing.

So how the hell did that happen? How did the bizarre transmute into the mundane in such a short space of time? So I got to thinking….what was it that I found so crazy about Shanghai when I first arrived? Other than the strange foods, what cultural habits seemed so out of tune with life as I knew it?
Then I remembered M’s Shanghai Rules. M is one of the coolest ten year olds I know, slightly obsessed with Pokemon, but also a keen observer of life around her. She wrote these rules off the cuff for a newcomer to Shanghai who was finding the whole experience a bit overwhelming. They have stood the test of time and we relay them to every visitor who stays. Have a read (I’ve aded my comments in brackets), then add your own ‘Shanghai Rules’ below in the comments section!
1. Buses are the top of the food chain
(Shanghai buses are death machines driven by megalomaniacs. If you see one coming, step back on to the curb, then take another three steps back.)

2. Don’t mess with them
(Sensible advice. They don’t stop for little old ladies, they don’t stop for mothers with new born babies in their arms, so they certainly ain’t gonna wait til you cross the road safely. They’ll just mow you straight down.)
3. The green man doesn’t mean it’s safe to cross
(Just as buses are at the top, pedestrians are definitely the lowest life form on Shanghai streets. Nothing pisses off a Chinese Buick driver more than a bunch of pedestrians thinking they have the right to cross the road just beause the green man is flashing. The black Buick is the status symbol of the road, and if you have nothing but legs for transport, you’re clearly way below everything else with wheels, including wheelchairs.)

4. Always look left and right when crossing the road
(Not just a quick glance. Give yourself whiplash looking in front, behind, above and below, as well as left and right. Repeat in sequence until you are across the road safely. If needed, go frogger-style, one lane at a time, with traffic whistling past you as you perch pathetically on a thin white line)
5. Be careful what you step in
(Wonder why Chinese people always remove their shoes at the front door? The ground is a minefield of spitgobs and other unmentionables.)

6. If you step in poo, don’t assume it’s come from a dog
(Toileting toddlers in split pants rather than nappies can get messy. Better to do it on the street than in the house)
7. Always carry tissues with you
(Toilet paper is in extremely short supply in all but the flashest facilities. If there is toilet paper in a restaurant toilet, I automatically grant it 4 stars in my mental rating system, regardless of the food.)
8. Learn how to squat
(Not just in the bathroom. It’s helpful anywhere there is a spare few inches of space, and your legs are tired. Crowded subways are a local favourite spot for squatting, and Expo queues.)

So there you have it. Shanghai streetsmarts in 8 easy steps. Been to Shanghai? Live here? Don’t forget to add your rules too!

A sensible cyclist decides to let the bus have right of way, even though she is on a pedestrian crossing and the bus is going through a red light. I can see the driver giving her a ‘Don’t even think about it….’ kind of look.