Friday Alone in Shanghai

As I find my way around this fabulous city by myself, I wish more and more that I could communicate; I make feeble attempts with my Chinese/English Dictionary. Sometimes I use Google Translate. Both strategies have left me and my victim confused and frustrated. Occasionally, however, I find someone who is willing to laugh with me; today, they were all far too serious.

I needed to exchange a $100 for Chinese currency (RNB). To begin with, it took at least five stops and numerous confused inquires before I found the bank that would perform this service for me. Next, I had to get past the guard who instructed me to fill out a form in triplicate and to sign a paper written exclusively in Chinese. (I had no idea what I was agreeing to.) As I sat in the chairs waiting for my number to come up, I was reminded of the interminable waits at the DMV before it was possible to renew car registration online.

Eventually, my number was called. I had to produce my passport and present my information (filled out in triplicate). But wait! I had crossed off a minor mistake which is not acceptable and once again, I was instructed to write all of my personal information on the form in triplicate.

Then, something about my passport raised some flags (or so it seemed). The young woman behind the glass enclosure typed in my critical data, compared my passport to the information on the computer screen, called two other women over for consultation, fiddled with my passport, bent it, curved it, turned if over and over. I envisioned myself being taken into some back room. Did I have the number of the US state department with me? No, it was back at the hotel. Would my sons know how to find me? What on earth had I done to merit such scrutiny? These and at least 17 other questions and concerns raced through my mind during the seemingly endless wait.

Probably, everything was quite routine, but it unnerved me. When the young woman behind the glass wall finally started counting out the money, and filling out no less than four receipts, and passing to me the copy of my information written in triplicate, and the money, and then my passport, I breathed.

Now, I know why I was told that it’s easier to use the debit card at the ATM.

Functional currency safely stowed away, I was at liberty to do some people watching. This young woman fascinated me. What catches her eye as she speeds down the street, pulling her load? What is she thinking? (Click on any image to see it full size.)

19 thoughts on “Friday Alone in Shanghai

  1. I can relate to your woes Mona. What we did was to get our hotel staff to write down whatever we would need for the day in Chinese, including phrases and addresses. Makes life a little bit easier. Beautiful shots.

    • That is a good idea about the hotel staff (except they speak on slightly better English than my Mandarin, which is horrid). I am learning how to communicate, however, through gestures and nods. I take my translation dictionary and point. ALSO, usually there is one young person (usually a customer) who is fluent in English in most restaurants.

      I am having a great time experiencing the culture, which might not be possible if I were babysat by a tour guide.

      Thank you for the compliment. I upgraded my camera (still a prosumer level) and I can tell a huge difference in the clarity and quality of the images. My three greatest challenges are exposure, composition, and finding something out of the ordinary to shoot.

  2. She is probably thinking, I am not going to look her way (meaning you with the camera), and she probably saw you come out of the bank after being in there too long. She could have thought that maybe you just robbed it and she don’t want to get involved.” (smile) Enjoyed your post and pictures. I have a great imagination as well. (smile)


  3. Mona, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog posts about being in Shanghai, and really appreciate you taking the time to share some of your experiences. I can’t imagine how unnerving it must have been to be in a strange bank, where you can’t speak the language, where your passport is being carefully scrutinized, and when every sort of possible (bad) scenario can’t seem to help playing out in your mind. All because you are trying to complete a rather routine monetary exchange transaction.

    How brave are you? Just being in a different country brings plenty of chances to test our bravery. I love it that you are willing to go out for walks and take your camera with you, exploring the area around where you are staying. Knowing you are out there exploring makes me feel proud of you, and makes me feel like I should challenge myself more, even within the safety of my own rather small life. You are an inspiration. Really. Thanks again for sharing parts of your journey.

    Safe travels. Enjoy!

    • Thank you ntexas99. 10 years ago, I would not have attempted any of this. Now, I’m simply enjoying the adventure. I’m trying to be smart about everything and not make myself a target. Last summer I traveled on overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing & spent 5 days alone in Beijing. Although I sometimes would like to share sights and experiences with someone, I think I almost prefer traveling alone.

      More to come as I will be in the country until the end of July.

  4. Oh ho! This money and language thing! I also can relate to this. I had to take my passport to SA ambassy to certify that I am still alive for my pension! What a thing to do! First I could not find the place because they had moved buildings twice. Then I had to make an appointment to see someone that could read Afrikaans because my form to complete was in afrikaans. That’s why the police station could not certify it, they did not know what was written on the form!

  5. Yes I can sympathise with you with all the ‘everything in triplicate’. It’s no wonder the queues are always so huge in banks here because everything takes so long.

    • The queues seem to be huge just about everywhere … and many times the queues to get on bus, subway, train, and plane are not lines but groups. Have you experienced this?

      • yes it annoys me no end I’m afraid. I was brought up with a British sense of fairplay; we wait our turn for stuff. People just standing around in a group waiting to pounce and push in just goes against everything I believe in

    • Sandi, YES! and I will be available. I am at the Shangtex Hotel on North Shanxi Road. I will get a Chinese cell phone sometime today. This is great.

      • I have since learned from my friends/partners that is is standard operating procedure. I don’t feel so paranoid now.

      • So, So glad you responded. When you have a phone, give me a call or text. I’ll take a train up tomorrow morning.
        And yes, the money thing is SOP… I had a little giggle while reading it. To send Western Union home to pay my storage unit takes 1 hour and 40 minutes, multiple people, and hundreds of rubber stamps! Amazing!

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