Super Power Peripheral Vision

Shanghai is a big city and if you have a big city you have traffic. For the most part traffic flows amazingly well considering the number of cars, trucks, scooters, recycling bikes and pedestrians who are all vying for the same space.

Watching the traffic flow is like seeing a dance. The light turns green and it’s off to the races. With all the cars, trucks, scooters, etc, converging upon each other, you would think that there would be mayhem and death. But there isn’t.

Ok, sometimes it doesn’t work

This street I have to cross on my way to physical therapy is ALWAYS a mess, no matter what time of day it is. Once traffic is in a grid-lock it pays to be a scooter or pedestrian.

What I find incredible is that if you watch closely, a majority of the pedestrians and scooters and drivers of the cars never seem to turn their heads to check out the traffic. They just stare doggedly ahead without flinching. Today I saw a woman head out into the street, just as the light had turned green for the traffic to her right. Even in the middle of the street, with a taxi looming down on her, she never hesitated or turned her head. She kept walking, and the taxi gracefully moved to the left to accomodate her.

You don’t have to see my skin or face to know I’m a waiguoren (foreigner). I look like a bobble head when I’m crossing the street, swinging my head from left and right. I’ve watched Chen shi fu (whom I trust completely) doing the same thing the other Chinese people on the road do; he appears to have his eyes fixed straight ahead of him, oblivious to the traffic around him, but yet he’s moving in and out, and across traffic, without mishap.

My conclusion is that they all have superior peripheral vision that doesn’t require them to turn their heads to see what is going on on either side of them. Either that or they have an incredible trust of the system–perhaps the fact that you see very few accidents means that everyone is on the same page, that they can trust that everyone will behave in a prescribed way, and somehow it works.

Maybe another reason there aren’t too many traffic jams, (except at rush hour when things can slow a bit) is that when they are working on or near a road, they don’t do the “let’s take traffic down to one lane for 5 miles before a construction site and one mile after,” like we do in the States.

I spotted these guys on Nanjing Road, just a block from our apartment, painting white spots on the yellow line. It just happened there was a small break in traffic at this moment.

As is typical, the cars that day were bumper to bumper, whizzing past. But yet, there were no “15 miles an hour in construction zone” signs; no “construction ahead” signs, nothing. Just two guys in orange suits acting as traffic cones.

Perhaps the real question should be, why are they painting white spots on the yellow lines?

As long as we’re talking worker safety:

You wouldn’t get me to work up in a tree with only a short rope to keep me from hitting the ground if I fell.

One time I was on the treadmill in the gym and some workers were trimming the plants in the window boxes outside of the window a couple of feet in front of me. The guy who picked the short straw was squatting outside the window with a rope around his waist, which his compatriot was holding on to, inside the window. This guy was 7 stories up, walking on a tiny ledge, trusting that if he fell, the guy holding the rope wouldn’t let go. My heart was racing, and it wasn’t because I was running on the treadmill (I don’t do running, unless forced.)

I’ve been walking about 10 blocks down Nanjing Rd to my physical therapy appointment and I’m finding that pedestrian traffic can sometimes run as slowly as the traffic in the streets. There are times it gets so slow and crowded that it becomes impossible to even pass people. It’s like driving on a 2 lane road and having to wait to pass until there’s a break in the traffic ahead.

There’s a number of reasons that pedestrian traffic can be as slow as molasses in January, but a few stick out. The biggest issue is people walking, and holding on to each other. They are most likely in “Sunday stroll” mode, so they are langorously walking 2 or 3 abreast, making it so difficult to get around them and they won’t lose their grip on each other no matter how crowded things become.

Perhaps it will come as a surprise to you, but these aren’t just boy/girl couples. These are most often women, very occasionally men, and sometimes daughter/mother or son/mother.

There’s a couple of styles you see:

The “arm on the shoulder” walk.

The “arm in arm” walk–the most popular. (I like the guy relaxing on his scooter, checking out the girls.)

Or the “holding hands” walk. I made a snap decision and took more of the girl with the cute outfit than of her friend in the boring outfit. Trust me they were both girls.

The chinese are very affectionate to their friends and family. Strangers (even chinese), not so much.

Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, depending on the time of the year, that clog up the sidewalks.

What are those boxes that everyone seems to be carrying this week? They’re boxes of moon cakes to be given away to friends and family in celebration of the Moon Festival.

Walk past one of the popular places to get mooncakes and you see a line like this. This wraps all the way around the corner and halfway down the block to the store, severely cramping anyone’s attempts to walk down the sidewalk. Every time I’ve gone past here this week, the line has gotten longer.

These are the moon cakes  and tea we got from Shanghai Center. That is a real wooden inlay on top of the box!

I almost always walk faster than everybody else when I have a destination to get to, so these traffic jams on the sidewalk leave me longing for a horn I could use, like cars do, to let people know I want to get around them! Perhaps everyone in Shanghai can see sideways, but they still don’t have eyes in the back of their head!

In other news, Meredith took me to see my first rock concert, at the ripe old age of 54. I’m afraid the kids never got to hear tales of rock concerts of the past from this mother.

So how did it happen that I went to the concert with Meredith, instead of Meredith going with her friends? Especially since I only know 2 of their songs?

Because all of Meredith’s friends are gone this week, as if they’ve been sucked up by aliens.

This is the week of the interim trips her school does every year. Last year, you might remember, Meredith went on a horse trek out in the hinterlands of China (there’s a picture on the blog if you go back that far.) Turns out this year, Meredith got the only interim that doesn’t leave Shanghai. She’s the only one in the high school besides the other few kids in her group that would have been able to go to the one night performance of Maroon Five. I think she would say that getting to go to the concert was worth not going to far flung places.


Her group did service work at a couple of orphanages in Shanghai. The picture above is at a government orphanage. The rest of the time was spent at an orphanage set up by a Christian Chinese man in honor of his mother. It caters to older children with physical and mental disabilities. The kids are rarely adopted out, but many of them do spend time in foster homes.

One of their projects was to take formal pictures of all the kids.

So, the concert was a great experience. We were up in the nosebleed section, 5 rows from the top of the massive Mercedes Benz arena (and I, of course, forgot the binoculars). The place was packed, although true to form, there were still people arriving 45 minutes after it started. (People are pretty casual about showing up for concerts and such. Events almost always start at least 15 minutes late, because most people haven’t shown up by start time.)

The feel of the drums in your chest, thousands of people singing together and the light show that went along with the music is something you’ve got to experience at least once in your life.

I just thought these guys would show up on stage and sing. I was blown away by the artistic quality of the show and how professional it was.

We had some time between the end of Meredith’s day and the concert, so we went to dinner. And then there was still a lot of time to kill, so we got ice cream.

We were so happy to know this about our ice cream.

Just like these green tea donuts Mark and I found at Krispy Kreme last Saturday, there was green tea ice cream.

But there were also some new flavors we haven’t seen before:

Ben and Jerry’s take note–a new flavor to introduce to Americans.

We got a sample. It was…mashed potato ice cream.

Then we went to the bathroom and and came across these suggestions on the wall.

I would have been happy to “treasures with the paper” if they’d actually had some. Sadly, it was a typical BYOTP chinese bathroom.

Still, having time to kill, we scouted out Pines grocery store–a new one for me. It was incredibly western. Now I know where to go to get more obscure items not found elsewhere.

It would seem that the residents of Pudong have a love affair with Spam in all of it’s varieties. This was one of several huge displays in the store.

On another note, so that I can still call this a knitting blog:

Baby set and quilt block for the knitting group’s own bunch of orphans

I have to include one gratuitous chinese child picture (I took it long distance with my iphone, so it’s not the greatest)

Mark and I watched this spunky little girl for quite some time after we had finished our coffee and tea. She was just adorable, trying to get the attention of a couple of boys who were roller blading around her. Her parents looked like they were going to burst with pride. She really was special.

And finally:

Elevator flowers


About DECRYPTKNIT: knitter on the loose in Shanghai

Hi, I'm Marisa Newhouse, a former pharmacist (for a brief time during the Reagan administration) who's real calling was probably anything that has to do with cooking, plants, literature and especially knitting; hence my last and favorite job, working at Woolyminded, a wonderful yarn store. But now, I have moved half a world away to Shanghai where my husband will be working. Lots of people are interested in what we will be doing here and I have always kept journals of our travels, so I thought I'd do it the modern way and keep a blog.
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2 Responses to Super Power Peripheral Vision

  1. Kelly says:

    This was a fun one! Enjoyed very much…

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