A Mattress

A mattress means nothing and everything to me. Nothing because I can’t remember a time I ever once worried about the possibility of not having my mattress, and everything because a mattress is the ultimate symbol of relaxation, comfort, and rest. There are countless marketing schemes linking luxury and mattresses, and mattresses are presented as a trademark of developed living. I don’t personally know anyone without a mattress. To the Chinese fishermen families on Chongming Island, sleeping without a mattress is a daily insignificant fact. I feel lucky and completely naive for not considering just how valuable my mattress is.

The fishermen on Chongming Island live with their families in a small inlet about ten minutes from the Dongtan nature preserve and within sight of several wind turbines that were built in the last two months. The wind turbines are immense, powerful, modern.

Each family owns at least one boat, and they will sometimes live on the boat for extended times during fishing season.

One fisherman let us enter his home, talk about his life, and even take pictures of his house. To say the least, taking pictures of his house made me feel voyeuristic and crude. I wanted to document his life, but I also didn’t want to make him feel like a strange tourist attraction. In fact, I didn’t even feel worthy of such a special entry into his life. I was only meeting him for the first time and I couldn’t even speak his language, but he was already trusting me with intimate knowledge. The even bigger internal dilemma is that his house did strike me because it was so different from mine. I have a mattress, a symbol of luxury, and his family doesn’t. How can I fairly visually document his life when I understand so little about his personal history? Looking back on my photos, I still feel inappropriate. I am reminded of the controversy surrounding Margaret Meade’s Balinese Character. Maybe I’m documenting the fisherman’s life, but more likely I’m just unintentionally exoticizing his existence. I want to learn more, so I can be as fair and understanding as possible.

However, I did take some pictures that I’m proud of. After asking the fisherman’s permission, he let me take a picture of him holding his baby girl. I showed him the picture, and he smiled. I took another of his other child playing. We hope to print these pictures and others to give to the family when we return.

There are obviously a thousand differences between the fisherman and me, but I felt connected as I took a picture of him with his child. Sure, we have different mattress situations and we can’t even speak directly to each other, but we both understand the feeling between a father and daughter. I hope I can learn more about his life and family, so that I can understand the other countless similarities between us.

Biking in Shanghai

Exact Portrayal

From Google

Unearth all of the repressed memories of learning how to drive a car – the speeding up and the slowing down, the parental yelling and writhing in the periphery, and the nerve-racking first time experience of getting on the interstate – and you will understand all emotions that accompany riding a bike in Shanghai. Although many may speak disparagingly of riding in this city, I’ve concluded that it’s liberating, beneficial and by emerging yourself on the streets with one, you start to gain a holistic impression of what it means to be Chinese. I am still amazed by the plethora of bikes that ”orderly overcrowd” the sidewalks and streets in the city and I am still seeking (to understand) its place in Chinese culture. On the surface, I’ve concluded that bicycling in Shanghai (more, the greater China area) is more than a commodity, it’s a commonality; its more than an characteristic, it’s the quintessence of China. Having one is an absolute must in the city, but caveat riding one in this city really gives life to the new age adage “Y.O.L.O. in Shanghai!”

One would think that at the frequency that Chinese people fancy bikes, they would have created the bicycle (or at least have promoted it as a patriotic symbol). However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, just an understood reality that Chinese people love bikes (or perhaps appreciate them more). The culture implication of the “bike” is different in China than in the U.S. Here, it’s a means of cheap, inexpensive transportation. This idea of using a bike to get from point A to point B is engrained in this culture, so much that it has presented itself in our latest Chinese chapter.

Tonghe Bikes

In this chapter, Wan Xiao Yun attempts to convince her mom that she needs to buy a car, but her mother was nonetheless supportive. She continues, “Not only do you get to exercise, but you get to save money, too! Your father his whole life did this, why can’t you follow him?” (NPCR, 166). Although the market on automobiles is on the rise, the simple truth is that everyone rides bicycles here – mom, dad, sister, brother, grandma and grandpa, aunt, uncles and the entire extended family. It is not an odd occurrence to see students sharing bikes to class and a professional businessman (or woman) in a suit pass within 20 seconds of each other.

Despite the fact that the majority of our Davidson in Shanghai group has not adopted this Chinese biking tradition, I have and I adore my sleek black and metallic grey bicycle. I admit that traveling in Shanghai has been difficult to adjust to – safe and secure walking is undoubtedly an extreme challenge – but adding extra velocity (without protective equipment) to the equation makes it that much more difficult. I’ve had to learn two main tenets for the road: 1) I share the same road, and 2) I am not the same vehicle. I’ve become more bold and abrasive with general traffic, but I still let major vehicles (i.e. the 713 bus) whiz past me. Still, I am glad that I bought one and can travel with the rest of the natives, but maybe not like the natives. I feel that they are too uptight in the way that they ride the bike – two hands, slow paces and all in straight lines. I ride with no hands, fast paces and I constantly receive scrutiny from my peers for riding in winding shapes. I think… “Y.O.L.O. in Shanghai!” and that’s how I’m living.

Yikes.. Y.O.L.O.?