On my way to work there were some street kids performing magic outside the metro station. A wee girl was shoving knives into a box, which was placed on her little brother’s head. After the knives had been placed the brother pulled back the front of the box to reveal what seemed to be a hollow space (good use of mirrors I suspect) before dancing like Borat for the adoring masses. It was pretty surreal watching a kid dance like a drunk gyspy with a box full of blades for a head. This kind of thing certainly doesn’t go on in central Shanghai, that’s for sure. I’m also not sure what their mother thinks of all this, although I suspect their situation is a little more desperate than I’m giving credit for. You know times are bad if you’re reduced to stabbing your brother in the head for money.
My Aussie mate Ben needed posters for his new room so we went along to the antique street in Hongkou where there’s enough tat for anyone. After practising calligraphy in one bloke’s shop (Ben just drew a really rubbish kangaroo that resembled Otis the Aardvark) we came across a shop where the proprietor claimed to know French. Our teaching assistant Gaea had joined us by this point, which is always welcome as she is mental and makes me laugh. The old shopkeeper let Ben sift through his replica propaganda posters while I took interest in the caged bird suspended above us. “Bonjour!” I yelled at the bird. Nothing. Gaea then tried. “Bonjour?” She enquired nervously, before the bird let out a deep guttural “bonjour” in return. Gaea then screamed. Not a brief scream of surprise but a full-volume five-second scream that nearly shattered every ‘antique’ in the shop. The shopkeeper, Ben and I all tried to dive for cover until the shriek subsided. “Oh my god! The bird talked to me!” Yelled Gaea, in a voice loud enough for a conference centre, but actually in the smallest shop in Shanghai. It took the rest of the afternoon to convince Gaea that the bird hadn’t really had a conversation with her and it was unlikely they would become great friends. It was in fact talking parrot-fashion, having learned to mimic certain noises rather than seeking another acquaintance who could help it practice it’s French. Gaea wasn’t convinced. She now has a bird for a friend.