Here we go: I am off to China! I will leave the German HQ for a while and experience first hand, what it is like to live and work in the Shanghai „Creative Saloon“.
My sparse knowledge of the country and its people is limited to a few magazine articles, documentaries, and last but not least, stories by colleagues who have already been there.
So I am starting my travels as a blank canvas. Hopefully. Because some preconceptions have made their way into my luggage. The notion, for example, that there is constant haggling in Asia and that people will try to sell me stuff in the streets all the time.
And immediately upon arrival, a very obnoxious lady wants to push a credit card on me. I keep telling her “No interest!” but she will not be deterred. Even though she speaks my language. Where had I arrived? At the airport in Frankfurt. The lady is German. And I am out of here!
On the Chinese Eastern flight I meet a student from Harbin, in north-eastern China. He studies Computer Sciences in Saarbrücken, Germany. For the Chinese New Year, he is going home to be with his family. The landscape there, he tells me, is similar to Germany. Only the winters are a little colder, around -20 Fahrenheit.
The Chinese New Year is China’s most important holiday and is celebrated for a good two weeks. At Shanghai Pudong Airport baggage claim I am greeted by the omni-present wooden sheep, which symbolizes this coming year.
I grab my suitcase and jump into a cab. We drive toward the city center on empty streets. We hardly see anybody. Have I truly come to the most populous country in the world? Yes, but the inhabitants of the mega-city have travelled to the countryside to see their families in mass-exodus fashion.
The traffic mayhem that has to come with this mass transit is unnoticeable as we are driving through Shanghai. The city lies in perfect stillness. As if the taxi driver wants to fill a cliché, he almost clips a motor scooter driving lonely and slowly across an intersection. Loudly honking his horn and swearing he swoops by the scooter by an inch.
In the coming days, Shanghai will come alive again, and honking horns will become a constant metropolitan background noise. Mixed with the deafening explosions of the Chinese New Year fireworks.