Laval, QC, December 2006
Notes from the road: I'm sitting here, safe and sound in my hotel room on the 33rd floor, looking over Shanghai as it awakens for another day of frenetic activity. The pace here reminds me of a supercharged New York City: Never mind that it never stops. Rather, it never seems to slow down. It makes for an interesting visitor's perspective, but I doubt I'd have the capacity to live here. Beyond the language thing and the distance-from-all-that-matters-to-me thing, I need occasional bouts of quiet and reflection. I love being surrounded by friends and family, but every day should have at least a few minutes of simple alone-ness. I doubt that's possible in a city of this density.Your turn: Yes, the picture: I'm hoping you can guess what this is. Leave your best guess in a comment, and I'll post a response here in 7 days. I'll give you one small hint: there is some relevance to my adventure this week.
I've had some, um, interesting experiences walking around the streets here. While walking beside the river, I suddenly saw the Good Year Blimp flying incredibly low. I startled my colleagues when I freaked out and scampered up the footbridge steps to get a better view. I had visions of witnessing a blimp crash and then sprinting back to the hotel to file my pictures with some famous wire service. In the end, it was a hot dog pilot doing things that would get him (had to be a him) grounded in the U.S. Blimp Top Gun, anyone?
Earlier, I had been asked to pose for pictures with a pretty young woman in a red dress. Her male companion (older...kinda creepy) was incredibly insistent. He didn't speak a word of English, but his body language was pretty clear: may I take your picture with her? Sure, I thought. When in Shanghai... But he didn't just want a picture. He wanted lots of pictures. Different poses and perspectives - all in front of the Chairman Mao statue. Lovely. I'm sure those shots will end up on some Communist Party propaganda poster someday.
I have had more photographic magic moments here than anyone deserves to have. Here's an example: The sun rises really early here, like around 4:45, but it's hard to tell precisely when because of the intense smog. So I went up to the restaurant on the 66th floor of the hotel with my Nikon in hand to capture it in some way. The vista was stunning, and I stayed there for a bit, capturing whatever tickled my fancy. I felt like a sniper - long lens, high perspective, picking off targets. It was surreal. The place was desserted, so I hung around for a bit.
When I finished, I crossed to the other side of the building to see if the views were any better. They weren't - the light was flat toward the east - so I settled on the shelf of wine glasses beside the picture window overlooking the city. So here I am in my shorts and t-shirt (I dressed for the occasion, can't ya tell?) shooting long exposure images from the bar. I'm playing with my camera's remote control when a restaurant worker reports for duty and sees me. He does not speak English, but he looks annoyed. He manages to ask me for my room number. I get just a little nervous, and say "pictures" in animated tones as I point to my camera and smile. Then, when he goes to get help, I duck out for the elevators and scoot back to my room. No knocks on the door yet, so I think I'm safe. Maybe next time I'll ask permission first. Or not...
The crazy thing is, I've got enough stories in my notebook to keep writing for months. It's incredible how intense this experience has been. Lucky doesn't even begin to describe how I feel.