Over the past 6 months I have been fairly single minded due to the direction and tone taken in my country, as well as new addition to the family, expanded role at work, study for a professional certification, as well as husband duties and my first born’s annoying habit of refusing to eat and increased raucousness as she turned 3. Just to be clear, this sentence right here will be the last one mentioning politics on this posting, cross my fingers. Over these past six months there has not been a lack of questions, queries, or experiences to report on here in Shanghai or China. I have tried to keep up with pictures but as previous business will show, I had little time to go out and take pictures, or write blogs either. For that I apologize as I have neglected one or two of my main focus points found on the top of the blog’s main page.
I also frequent quite a few other websites, most recently Flickr, if you visit my PhotoStream will you see some familiar and not so familiar photos. I also occasionally drop by a local website for expats living in Shanghai and offer comment, color commentary, and argue quite a bit. All of this in between my duties as father, husband, employee, and hobbies outside of the Internet. One thing that keeps coming up on that site, and through requests from friends back home and Internet friends here is “what’s it like living over there?”
This was something I started to do and kept up on over my first year here, but as I became more acclimated and accustomed to the oddities of living in a foreign country, and in one of the most populated cities in the world, well it fell by the way side. Its hard to maintain the outsider perspective after everything becomes common place to your perspective. So with that in mind I will try, between feedings and diaper changes, temper transoms, quality time, and studying, to blog more about the goings on and perspectives of living in a thriving, overcrowded, and comical city like Shanghai. Its never boring here and despite my lack of literacy or even that much spoken Mandarin, I have managed to learn parts of the city well and some of the odd rituals that are strictly Shanghainese.
So for starters I will discuss cinema going. Everyone likes the movies! Going to see a movie in China is quite an experience to say the least. First off you need to have some background information. Shanghainese people love sweet things. For that reason the popcorn in movie theaters here is popped with sugar. Imagine my surprise when my wife and I went to our first movie here and I dug in and popped a handful of sticky sweet stuff into my mouth. These kind of shocks are never fun to experience. Next is the seating. Here you actually pick your seat, the clerk has a screen showing the screen and all the taken and open seats, kind of like picking an airline seat if you have done so before. Another common and odd thing to us foreigners, or laowai, are scalpers/coupon hawkers. Usually the coupon guys have bought tickets at deep discounts and sell them to people at less then the box office and keep the profit. The scalpers are much more bothersome, especially for blockbusters, that story in a bit. Unlike Thailand there is no standing before the movie starts to pay tribute to the higher authorities, see no p-word references! There are few if any commercials or previews for that matter. Each theater is quite unique and not like the Megaplexes we are accustomed to.
So on to the Avatar story. After just over a week all the 2-D viewings of Avatar were halted to make way for the new Chinese epic Confucius. The wife really wanted to see it so we went to the only IMax theater in town and you would not believe the prices. Before I drop the bombshell I will explain a bit of back story. The government here got out of the theater business. Film makers, and their crews, make money off of the box office sales. Theaters have a base price of around $6. The film makers want to make as much as they can, the theaters want to make as much as they can. A recent study found Chinese people pay the most for tickets of movies then any other country in the world, on a per ticket cost. So guess how much the Avatar IMax tickets were? I don’t know, because a group of scalpers had bought them all for over a week. People in line were getting shaken down for $100 per ticket to see the movie, well foreigner price anyway, and that was a week night. Weekend prices were $125 per ticket! The scalpers were yelling at people who didn’t buy the tickets calling them cheap and saying they had no right to see a movie if they could not afford it, and they were not bargaining either. Needless to say, we didn’t see IMax. We did go to our neighborhood theater that was showing the 3-D regular version and on a Tuesday got in for just $8 a ticket.
I’m not sure how to take this on. Here in Shanghai people bring anything and everything into the movie theater with them. Outside food and drink, cell phone conversations, shopping items, you name it. I don’t like the rules stating if I pay so much for a movie I can’t save myself money by bringing in my own popcorn, peanuts, or coke. Here it obviously doesn’t matter. Every time we go to the movies we see people munching on McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Starbucks drinks, who said capitalism hasn’t taken root here? I will say that the smell of some of these foods really detracts from the movie experience, as does a woman carrying 3 bags, 2 coats, a scarf, and wearing a hat constantly getting up and coming back but this is not just a Shanghainese thing.
Lastly, watching a move here is an exercise in vigilance. I say this because in order for a movie to be shown here it has to clear a board of censors for “sensitive” content. A few times in Transformers 2 the movie obviously skipped due to edits, and that has happened in at least 5 of the 7 movies I have seen here. A new regulation passed this January call for a minimum of 70% movies for the year have to be Chinese, at least I am saved from the droll and unimaginative creations of Hollywood as of late. Its not that big of a deal anyway, DVDs here are less then $2 and if you can wait a month you can get that new release, sometimes even before the move comes out, like with Wolverine, and the best part, not edited for content.
Of course there not that many riots, gang shootings, or 30 minutes of previews and commercials being played here as in the States. It is expensive, the condiments are exotic or down right odd, sushi, but at least IN the actual theater is one place you can do that people aren’t smoking like chimneys. We don’t get to go out to the movies often, maybe twice a year, but sometimes I do miss that extra large popcorn with extra butter, salt, 1 liter drink that costs almost twice the ticket and leaves me reeling for 2 days afterwards.