Monday, October 13, 2008

The Umbrellas of Shanghai

When I first got to Shanghai, it did rain a lot, there were a lot of umbrellas lining the street. But when it's sunny, the other umbrellas come out: the irradescent, the laced, the non-waterproof. Yes the Shanghai women are particularly known for their white skin, and it takes a lot of minding to keep it protected from the sun's harsh rays.  Notice the girl at the front of the pack...she's forgotten her umbrella, but in this case a book will do.  Where I come from, that is a pose reserved for celebs keeping low key from the paparazzi.
Here is a perfect example of the Shanghai Lovely I keep mentioning.  Pale-faced yet well-rouged with those perfectly arched eyebrows and a pleasant but neutral smile. My cohort 'Honey,' who took me to get my visa, has exactly the the sweet voice that you would imagine coming from this lovely--pitched high, but delivered legato, with little 'mmmn's and 'ahhhs' singing through.  And it's the asking of details minute, with just enough care so that you know she's regarding you attentively, that adds to this particular charm.
'Honey' was the one who pointed out the umbrella effect to me.  I had noticed but she mentioned the care for white skin that is known among the Shanghai ladies.  I told her that where I come from, people pay to sit in booths, radiated with ultraviolet rays, or go to a body shop to get spray-painted bronze like some sports car.  It shows that you love the sun and that you are rich enough to have leisure time to sit around and bake.  
The men are men, but publicly affectionate.  Brotherly. Comraderly.  It was a shock to me that first time I taught in China--at that time in Guanzhou, the men would hold hands very openly, as did the women--but it was rare to see a man and woman holding hands. It felt like such an innocent, pre-Freudian society that didn't read sex into everything. And that was at a time before the lack of siblings. I don't see much man-man, boy-boy handholding these days, but I sure see a lot of boyfriend-girlfriend affection, arm in arm, hand in hand.  And the girls love to latch arms as they hold their umbrellas and still hold hands a lot.
The Shanghai Lovelies stroll with their umbrellas and the men walk as comrades in arms in a peaceful, calm setting, as no lawnmowers or weed-whackers interfere with any buzzy, fumey motors.  The Ladies who Labor hand cut all the grass, from sun up to sun down.  It's still cheaper for Lida to hire these lawncutters, and it creates jobs for the ladies from the countryside.  No dependence on fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, as I'm walking to class, I'm still overwhelmed by all of the English text that is constantly expressing from the shirts of the youth.  It's non=stop, and not just brands but odd little statements like 'Function Makes Itself' or 'Love Be a Sparkle Field.'  The other day I turned the corner, and a butch girl was wearing a sweatshirt that exclaimed in caps: GOOD SHIT.  I'm thinking of sporadically sitting in random parts of the city and making lists of the shirt texts just as I did with a stream of Jeepneys in Manila.  It unscrews the head of American English.
There were two Shanghai Lovelies in front of me, sauntering slowly to class.  Yes, frizz will make you sexy.
And yes, believe in yourself.  But I didn't quite catch the fine print about 'excitement.'  Can anyone make it out?

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