Shanghai is less terrible than I expected, since the air pollution seems to have lifted long enough to let in sunlight, but still, walking around by myself makes me want to be basically anywhere else. Especially when I wander into the minority art exhibit of the Shanghai Museum and stare at the traditional dresses of Mongolia and Tibet. I realize I did not research how difficult it might be to visit these places after Shanghai. And I realize that I now I really, really want to go there. I envision myself racing a Mongolian steppe horse across the plains with a band of herders and then traipsing south to drink yak’s milk in the Himalayas. Is this so much to ask from life?
I tell myself this would be more difficult to achieve than navigating Shanghai, which I’m finding peevish given the apparent lack of maps everywhere, including on Chinese internet. Also my lack of Chinese, which means an inability to ask for directions on the streets. The parks are not so bad, so I walk around and observe the free outdoor work-out facilities, which at first glance is hilarious and at second glance is a great use of public funds. I also observe the effort to make the parks natural: rocks for stepping across streams, winding paths. They’re just way too small to forget you’re in the middle of the world’s biggest city, which is kind of depressing. I inhale deeply, trying to get the scent of something natural into my lungs, but it still smells faintly of exhaust and cigarettes and decaying garbage.
However, I discover that I can get a bowl of steaming dumplings for fifty cents and eat it in a narrow, smoky little hole-in-the wall restaurant. They’re delicious, so this improves my mood somewhat.