This weekend I’m at a training conference in Shanghai for the math curriculum our elementary school uses. I’ve been to Shanghai twice before, both times in transit to other places but with a short stopover planned to see or do things here. This is the first time I’ve actually come TO Shanghai, and the first time I haven’t had any special plans related to location. Not that things haven’t happened anyway.
Last night our whole group went for dinner at a steak house in the same part of town as our hotel (which in a big city like Shanghai isn’t saying much in terms of closeness!) I would estimate that our group ate about 2 kilos of pure beef, ten potatoes’ worth of baked/mashed/fried goodness, plus my Caesar salad (ever since summer I’ve been trying to eat minimal meat so that was about the only thing on the menu for me – but someone did share a couple bites of his steak with me and it was delicious!) So that was a very special meal.
Today the conference started. On the bus from the Best Western – which is pretty standard for here, nice but since it mostly caters to Chinese people I could give you a long list of ways it differs from one in the West – as I was saying, on the bus to Shanghai Amer. School, another teacher warned me about the shock of the area we were going to. She was spot on. We drove through a pair of ornate gates into a manicured expanse of golf course, suburban homes, and extensive school complex. O.o Wow. We were all staring around ourselves wondering if the Enterprise had come back in time again and Scotty had accidentally beamed us all to an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the States, or perhaps dropped a suburb from there down in China.
After the meetings today I stayed an extra three hours to work on assignments for my current grad class with the wifi in the secondary library. It was good to have some alone time. More to come when I get back to the hotel hopefully (most of the staff was planning to go out and see the city tonight). I borrowed a couple books to read, then went out to wait for the taxi that had been called for me.
While waiting in the gorgeous Shanghai evening, I watched frequent groups of electric scooters buzzing past on the mostly-deserted roads. My thoughts over time:
-Hm, I expected foreigners here but those are Chinese folk. I should not have made assumptions! Chinese families can afford super-ritzy homes too, after all. (Make no mistake, they would be upper-mid homes in the States, but on the edge of a crowded Chinese city these places are opulent.)
-Wow, there have been a lot of Chinese people going by and no foreigners at all. Hm.
-Oh look, a white mom and daughter walking the dog and roller blading.
-Wow, a white man walking up with a drink in his hand, walking past the guards and into the school, I bet he’s a teacher going to get some grading done on a Saturday evening.
-Oh, some white, English-speaking boys playing in their yard, how cute.
-There goes another… and another… and another electric scooter with a Chinese person on it.
-Hm, I’m noticing two different trends here. White people walking around. Chinese people all headed towards the exit on electric scooters.
Suddenly I felt like I was in a scene from “The Help,” China version, though presumably (hopefully?) without the bigotry and prejudice that underlay the American story. The work day was ending and the hired help were headed home. At least, that’s the story I settled on in my mind, in this little piece of American – and Chinese – life in China.
Input from others? Information I’m missing regarding the situation? For the record, I have hired help of my own here, have BEEN hired help myself one summer in the States, and I mean no judgement on the institution in general nor on this specific case by comparing it to that movie/book – it’s just not something I grew up with and thus a surprise when I notice it all over again in a new context/way. Surprise makes us uncomfortable and hopefully reflective. So I thought I’d share the moment of surprise here to look back on one day, and for feedback from readers.