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Sebastian Scholl

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Scents of Shanghai: the third time is not the charm

Old Shanghai-0020

In the US we have websites like that help you limit and be disciplined about your social media usage. In China they have the government. The entire country is on social media parental control. And the only way I’ve been able to access my Facebook is by using a proxy server. As a frame of reference – from where I am – that’s like relying on a carrier pigeon to relay a dial-up signal.

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This is my third trip to China. And unfortunately the third time is not the charm. Each trip I make further solidifies my deep respect for Andrew Zimmerman. You know, the guy who travels around the world eating bizarre foods? I’ve always considered myself an adventurous eater, but around here I can barely make it through a supermarket without a sincere feeling of nausea.
Old Shanghai-0012It is not so much the food. In fact, I enjoy most of the dishes I bring myself to eat. It’s the aromas. How everything smells. From the elderly woman frying tofu in a 3rd generation wok using rancid peanut oil to the rotting trash heaps that fester along city streets. A putrid perfume seems to always have me in tail – and I swear, it’s not me!
Old Shanghai-0030The pictures in this post are from Old Town, the original Shanghai settlement. It is almost an hours drive east from what we think of as Shanghai – being the Bund, markets, and downtown – and is a network made up of narrow canals. It’s Asai’s venice… few might say. And instead of poles the boat captains wave long paddles methodically in a fish tail like movement to guide the vessels.
Old Shanghai-0008Shanghai’s downtown area lives up to almost every stereotype I’ve heard over the years. In many areas both Armani jeans and hand jobs can be bought on the same street at the same price. And the typical customer at either business is looking for love as much as they are authenticity. Mobs flood brand name stores in the high end retail districts to rip any sale item off the shelf. And from what I gather, it’s all part of an attempt to emulate a misconstrued idea of western culture.
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It’s difficult to say that it’s a completely inaccurate representation of western materialism. However, it is most definitely a grotesquely exaggerated one. As a consequence of not being able to speak the language I can only take what I experience at face value. What alarms me though is that it seems like they do too.
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I’m constantly having to put my emotions, both positive and negative, into perspective. What I mean by that is it’s important to remind oneself to not create too polar of a perspective using strong emotions. As you have likely collected I’m not in my favorite place at the moment, but to form an opinion such as “I don’t like China” from my experiences would be as ridiculous as someone biting into a lemon and concluding that they don’t like fruit.
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It’s no different than someone visiting Miami and afterwards saying that they love America, or a person passing through Paris and deciding they despise France. All travelers and tourists (I believe) are guilty of stratifying assumptions far beyond what their experiences cover, and in doing so we create the most un-backed opinions. Ironically, the most effective way to avoid doing this is by not trying to dig too deep and think too much, which is best done by taking things at face value…
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I have five more days of specialty coffee training before I start traveling domestically a bit. This years barista champion of China, Jeremy Zheng, invited me to visit his roastery in Nanjing and has planned for us a trip where we will jump around the country to take a deeper look into Chinese coffee culture. I’m excited for this – as I should be. And will likely refrain from another post until the vibes are once again waving at high frequencies.
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Till then.
~ Sebastian


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