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And I Quit

October 9, 2009

By Elena Garcia

I did it. After working for six grueling months. I decided it best to stop working and enjoy the fruits of my labor and the remaining time we have here in Shanghai. So in the midst of my trip home I sent my boss my letter and made the decision not to return to a life behind the desk!

Although I’ll save the details of my work life I must say I am enjoying my time off. So far that has included: shopping trips, oil massages and mani pedi’s.

I know I live a rough life!

Just today Garrett and I took some time and endured a grueling hour of foot massages. For those who haven’t dealt with the “suffering” of a foot massage, let me open your eyes.

In China, getting a soothing rub isn’t the same investment as a massage at home. You don’t have to book your weekend appointment months in advance, you don’t have to save your pennies to pay for it and you don’t have to travel far and wide for a great masseuse.

Just a block from our house is a serene spa open until 2 am everyday of the week. Walk in anytime to find the comforts of small Chinese hands and cooling stone fountains. Spend an hour in a chair getting your feet slathered or on table getting your back caressed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, these places are not legit. They come with happy endings and disease control! They’re the kind of places you drive by in the Tenderloin and think… who goes there? I have heard some horrific stories of “ovary massages” and “prostate massages.” I’ve even heard stories of embarrassment and rejection from different massage houses because they didn’t allow girls past the velvet ropes, or so to speak.

Once, after a long day, a few girlfriends walked into a massage house that they had heard amazing things about. With the dim lights, soft candles and haze of trickling waterfalls they lost sight of the dingy crevices. They perused the menu and with chinglish translations to guide them they did the point and pick and selected a service they thought would sooth their stresses away. (Or at least that tension that climbs into your shoulder blades and crawls into your neck, that’s the worse.) But after gesturing to the receptionist, they were shocked to get the gaze of rejection from her. “This massage only for men.” They did the point and pick over and over only to get rejected again and again. Finally they asked which ones were available to them… three of the 15 or so options were open to their relaxation needs. They slowly backed out, never to return.

But most places aren’t like this; for the most part they’re actually quite nice. Especially the one Garrett and I went to today.

Dragonfly is this heaven like destination where stone paths guide you, chirping birds relax your ears and warm cushions pad your bottom. They’re a little more expensive than some of the local places but they’re amazing. It’s like walking into the Four Seasons and having to pay only 20 bucks for your treatments.

For an entire hour Garrett and I floated on warm cushions in the darkness of waterfalls while tiny Chinese fingers rubbed our feet and wiped away our day’s journey. It was amazing!

There are other places which offer the same services and they range in price between 10 and 20 dollars and most are comparable in atmosphere but they’re a little harder to find. Once I had to enter a glooming skyscraper, go up to the 5th floor, roam the grimy hallways only to find the calmest of spas. I would have never found it, had I not been told exactly where to go. I don’t think those types of places are meant for foreigners. Nevertheless, the staff spoke enough English and they relaxed me into sleep.

I must also warn you, these little hands are buff. Just because the ladies are 5 feet tall, weigh 90 pounds soaking wet and have the face of a thirteen-year-old girl doesn’t mean they wont tear your skin and crush your muscles. I’ve walked away sore from the rubs of these ladies. It’s like when you meet them they seem so angel like and gentle and then you turn your back to them and the cast of Smackdown clobbers you like you would never imagine.

But it’s still amazing.

Cheap Street

July 14, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Shanghai Clothing MarketsIf you ever find yourself in China and aren’t afraid of some rugged environments, then do I have a vacation destination for you.

Xie Pu Lu (pronounced cheap-u-lou, which is all you need to say to a taxi driver to get your there) is where bargainers and clothes whores go to solicit goods. It’s a place where the weary, timid and confused won’t survive and the place where my story begins. Cheap-u like many of the bargaining malls in Shanghai is a battle zone. With the number of shoppers filling the aisles, cat calls from sales people, and hustlers trying to make money, I sometimes wonder how anyone survives, or if it’s even worth surviving. Is a sale price worth that much?

If you find yourself eager to get a great deal be ready for war! I don’t know if that means one should come equipped to these places with army fatigues and padding but be prepared for the hard elbows from the twenty-something girl forcing her way into the booth with the hot party dresses. Or the aggressive sales girl with the raspy voice willing to scream and rip the calculator out of your hands for making an “insulting offer.” And, don’t forget the children, the ones pillaging through rusty garbage and riding ten-gallon water jogs like horses. My personal favorite is the hustler on the side of the street throwing puppies around like bean bags, from one card board box to another, doing whatever he can to unload the precious creatures before they get to old and he’s forced to add to the stray population. I sometimes yearn to buy them all and save them but that would only perpetuate these kinds of actions. I try to fight the war but puppies will always make weak.

Having heard, from multiple sources, about the infamous Cheap-u Street, I decided to drag Garrett and head down for an afternoon of blissful shopping.

With the Shanghai Summer rolling full speed ahead, I should of considered our comfort level inside the multilevel warehouse spaces with no air conditioning (which turned my blissful afternoon into a blistering one) and the swarms of people a Saturday afternoon would bring. But I didn’t and we went anyway.

OHH my God.

This, unlike any millionaire’s closet, is where clothes came to die.

Inside these massive six story buildings (each floor the size of a Costco) were thousands of booths with clothes, shoes, belts, purses, jewelry, fakes, no names, graphic tees, blouses, dresses, jeans, shorts, small sizes, men’s sizes, tattoo artists, hair extensions, nail ladies, ice cream vendors… THOUSANDS in each of the 4 buildings surrounding the intersection, with even more scattered along the streets. From the moment we walked in, the dinginess took over and the rickety lighting fixtures guided us through. The dirt and garbage cluttered the maze of booths on each floor. The small windows, which prevented in any natural light from coming in (or air) brought a gray bleakness to the florescent lighting that shopping seem more depressing then shopping ever should be.

I can honestly say, that I am a very experienced shopper, probably Olympic team status but not even I could make it through all the buildings. After about an hour of the “Miss, Miss”, “Lady, Lady”, the slow dehydration taking place and the total disregard for our Chinese language capabilities Garrett and I decided it was time to go. Well, Garrett decided and the astronomical beads of sweat gliding down my perfectly mystic tanned face couldn’t refuse.

A few days later having already gotten my bearings I decided to brave it again with Gina. This time we took an afternoon off work and prayed for cooler winds. Instead we got rain, a few less people and the most hostile sales clerks I’d ever encountered. From the moment of our arrival, they followed us. Smothering us with promises of Dior purses and Rolex watches, we just had to follow then to their booth. Our attempts to ignore them went completely ignored, and they persisted. Our attempts to tell them “No, thank you”, in Spanish, English, and Chinese, went misunderstood. My attempt to fake a coughing fit and intimidate them with a potential swine flu scare didn’t even faze them. And even our attempts to beat them with our extended umbrellas went completely unnoticed. It wasn’t until the same grimy man with the bright orange shirt followed us up to yet another floor that I finally had to stop, turn around and scream at him. Then he understood!

As Gina and I explored the towers of mayhem we became more and more disenchanted. We realized that no matter what the vendors at Cheap-u had to sell it wasn’t worth having to push, shove, and scream at people for.

Irritated, hot and frustrated, Gina and I lost patience in the street that shopping paradises try to mimic. Not even the wonder of a perfect gladiator sandal or belted plaid dress could divert the filth of the building, sales people and beggars, off of us.

After, just two short hours, we realized that we could not win the battle and Cheap-u was left behind. Another pair of shoppers scared off by the infamous Cheap-u.