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Kiwi reflects on startling Shanghai contrasts

(Shanghai Daily)

09:33, May 21, 2013

Julia has a great time in Shanghai's Qibao ancient town.(Photo/Shanghai Daily)

Before I left for Shanghai in March, people's comments to me generally fell into two camps. The first kept pointing out that, at 5-foot, 9 inches I might be rather tall in China. I believe the word "tower" was used on several occasions.

The second camp would stare at me, concerned, muttering things about Communism and rabies and milk containing dangerous chemicals. It was suggested that in China I would be under constant surveillance and would need to remain vigilant against the hoards of rabid monkeys and bats that could fly down from the skyscrapers and attack at any moment.

In fact, I continued to get e-mails from family members with undertones of panic: "Do keep safe, won't you, Julia?"

But rather than feeling claustrophobic and on edge, I've found Shanghai to be the land of the free, the place where anything's possible - even finding clothes and shoes for a 5'9" girl.

Over my time in the city, under two months, I've had a massage from legally blind man, ridden a gondola while sitting next to a turtle in a bucket, and I've seen a man wearing a tracksuit spin dough into a noodle just by dancing, gone to the marriage market, visited a Hello Kitty café and bartered a man down from 140 yuan (US$22) to 15 for a watch. I've eaten chicken feet, pig's intestines, hot pot and dumplings, but also sampled foie gras, Texas BBQ and oysters.

New Zealand may have fresh air and an absence of food scandals, but Shanghai has innovations I didn't even know existed. Outdoor escalators, taxis with video screens, Sherpas to deliver whatever your heart desires to your doorstep, no matter the hour.

And once you've had your fill, you can have a cocktail on the 91st floor of the tallest building, or go to a club where Ukrainian dancers prance around wearing corsets and fake fur jackets, or even get your hair cut at midnight.

Colorful chaos

I've spent a lot of time wandering the old, leafy streets in a love-struck daze, thinking "this is the life," but there have also been occasions that caused me to swear loudly in public, and rue the day I decided to come to China.

Mostly, these were when I attempted to do something administrative: trying to withdraw money from an ATM only to have my card rejected multiple times.

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