Crossing the Street: An Underdog Story

I saw a man jump up in the air and karate kick a tree the other day. Then he continued on his way as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Haven’t we all had days like that?

In Shanghai, for foreigners, there are unwritten rules to crossing the road. (These are the same in virtually every large city in the world.) They are clear, and simple:  when Shanghai people walk across the street, you also may walk across the street. When Shanghai people run across the street, you also should run across the street, as in GO, GO! GO RIGHT NOW!!! You are under no compulsion to follow when they cross; there are times when the residents will just proceed whenever they good and well feel like crossing, forget how thick, angry, and menacing the flood of rapidly approaching vehicles appears. Sometimes the rush of traffic is well underway and people will somehow meander their way through the deluge, as if they are uniquely motivated to shatter all of Frogger’s records, right here, right now, this intersection, this afternoon. I joked for the first couple of weeks about how I would surely be hit by a car one of these days, but quickly abandoned that quip as I realized it was causing people to be deeply disturbed rather than humored. This was most likely due to the somewhat high probability of it actually occurring.

I recently reached a road-crossing milestone in my time here in Shanghai. I crossed the street… and the Shanghai people followed me. Yes. I know. It’s crazy. I’m not promoting crossing the street when you shouldn’t, kids, but I can’t say I don’t do it on very rare occasions. No cars were coming, but no one was walking, and I decided to take the first step. Across the street, heads popped up to look at me, curious, disbelieving. With each step, the distance yawned ever wider, the chasm between me and safety impossibly daunting. The pedestrians opposite me gawked, but then one started his journey across. Then, another. With a growing awareness of our collective bravery, I sensed companions a few strides behind me. I’m pretty sure there was some sort of inspiring music playing in the background. I can’t be certain, but someone may have even began to shout “Rudy! Rudy!” but that didn’t even really make sense and so it quickly faded.

I was always in a hurry to get home in the early days so that I could peel off my business attire. I say peel off quite literally; sometimes, in Shanghai, I’m pretty sure the summer, to put it simply, hates you. It hates the fact that you are there, and so presents itself in the form of soaking humidity and heat to ask you not-so-kindly to leave. It’s doing the equivalent to what the Warped Tour might be attempting to accomplish if it blasted Shania Twain, or if Kohl’s put on death metal at 100 decibels on a Black Friday. If you can endure, you earn the right to stay. It reminds me at times of the summers back home. I’m not sure about Shanghai yet, but I do know Texas, and she is a proud nation. (Random unbelievable fact:  this city’s population is almost equal to all of Texas.)You can never simply call yourself a Texan; as I say all the time, your stripes must be earned. This can be done by enduring the blistering summer heat in a quest to purchase a snowcone, by enduring the blistering summer heat to roadtrip somewhere in an A/C-less car, or by enduring the blistering summer heat. We actually obtained the enviable record of ‘Hottest Summer in US History‘ this year. If you begin to get comfortable, Texas will blow a tornado your way, or call in a hurricane, or get bitterly cold without dropping snow to make it enjoyable, or just turn rain off for months or years at a time. But her testing builds character; her people love her, and she loves them back.

Maybe Shanghai is the same way. I must get used to her. I am one step closer to conquering her streets. Next, to follow the lead of the city’s old men and wander the sidewalks in silk boxers and slippers… and for legendary status I might carry a couple of chainsaws onto the subway.

p.s. The weather has since calmed as power shifts from summer to fall. It’s weather that makes you want to listen to iPod-commercial-music (think the most famous example, 1234 – Feist). It reminds me of the weather back home in October or November, whenever everything gets perfect. Paisanos, enjoy it for me! Please eat a snowcone! Or Bluebell (lots of it)!

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2 thoughts on “Crossing the Street: An Underdog Story

  1. Becky says:

    I was just telling Jason about “Sunny with a high of 75” on our way to school in the dark on Exchange (pre-construction era). That weather forcast will be yours forever.

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