define( 'WPCACHEHOME', '/home/sybrrgeek/' ); //Added by WP-Cache Manager What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

When we got the news, nearly a year and a half ago now, that we’d be moving to Shanghai, naturally I started doing some research about the place. (After I spent a few weeks praying to whomever it is that an atheistic-leaning Unitarian prays to that it was all some big error, and that G would suddenly be offered some huge amount of money to stay in London, that is.) I got on the web, I went to the library, I talked to people, all that sort of thing. Eventually I came up with two things that I was really looking forward to doing in Shanghai:

1 – Eating xiao long bao, or ‘soup dumplings’ – a local specialty.

2 – Seeing people wandering the streets in their pajamas.

Thus it was from these two desires that the name for this blog was born.

On the first point, let me just say, the dumplings are awesome. Which is probably in part why my ass is not getting any smaller whilst living here.

Alas, the second part of my ambition – although fulfilled within hours of landing at Pudong International – is currently under threat, as discussed in this op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. Long story short: whilst the arrival of Expo has brought many great things to this town, it has also brought some changes that are not as desirable, at least not to everyone. One of these is the recent appearance of The Pajama Police.

A little background, for those of you who don’t already know – one of the endearing quirks of this city is the propensity amongst locals to go about their daily business wearing their pajamas. The reasons for this are twofold; first of all, until pretty recently most people lived in cramped semi-communal housing where they shared washroom facilities, so people were generally used to seeing each other in less than suited-and-booted states of dress. Secondly, also until pretty recently, people didn’t even have pajamas, in the sense that there were no clothes that were specifically designated as “sleeping clothes” – people just wore whatever was oldest and most comfy.  With the introduction to the market of purpose-made pajamas, owning a pair became a bit of a status symbol. “Check me out, I have a set of clothes just for sleeping!” But of course if you only wear them for sleeping, then no one will see you in them, so of course, you should probably wear them out to the market to buy your vegetables as well.  Plus, you know, they’re comfortable. (So that’s threefold, then.)

But… the Powers That Be have decided that the sight of people sauntering about in jimjams reflects poorly on the image of Shanghai that visitors to Expo might take away from their experience here. Their thinking is, it’s a bit ‘peasanty’, uncultured, backwards, less civilized. You have to understand, the Shanghainese really really do pride themselves on being the most hip, most cultured, most forward-thinking city in China. So having people roaming about in their pj’s is a bit of an embarrassment. Or so we’re meant to think. Frankly I have yet to meet anyone, local or foreign, who finds the habit anything other than charmingly eccentric, and laments that if this custom is truly stamped out, it is a sad loss of a unique characteristic in this city’s culture.

Because really, let me tell you, the pajama thing is totally NOT the highest item on the list of things a person might see here that might cause them to think that there is something of lack of civilized behavior in this particular part of the world. Here is a list of things that can be routinely witnessed that would rank a little higher up on the offense-o-meter of your average tourist:

– blatant nosepicking by restaurant waitstaff, along with occasional bogey-flicking

– removal of earwax with a small spoon and subsequent inspection of findings

– the incessant, ceaseless, everpresent spitting, always, all the time, everywhere, accompanied by that horrible sound ( which I suppose we have to be grateful for because at least it serves as a half-second warning)

– complete inability to allow passengers to disembark from the train/bus/lift  before pushing in

– riding motorized vehicles on walkways (apparently it is completely acceptable to drive a scooter straight into a group of pedestrians, so long as one is leaning on the horn whilst doing so)

This should in no way be regarded as a thorough and comprehensive list. I am sure I have blocked several other examples from memory. Basically all I’m saying though is, I really think that there’s an awful lot of other stuff that might be better to focus on than the pajama thing. For real.

BTW I didn’t take the photos above, I just stole them off the net. The first is not even from Shanghai but if memory serves a review of a restaurant in San Francisco, but I just really liked it so there ya go. The second is from the flickr gallery of a fellow expat – please do go have a look at his other work, but don’t blame me if you don’t get anything else done in the day, because he’s got about a million really amazing pictures, including lots of great ones from the Shanghai 2010 Expo which just opened earlier this month. (And which I will be writing about eventually, if I ever get to go, which I have been meaning to,  except something stupid always gets in the way like crappy weather, or my child deciding to catch a vomiting bug on the day I planned to go, and suchlike.) I remain in search of the opportunity to snap just the perfect photo – that of someone actually eating dumplings, in their pajamas. I carry my camera with me you know, just hoping, one day, that perfect shot will present itself, without me having to stage it. This new turn of events does not help – but I remain hopeful!

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