Show Me In Shanghai

Of all the places you might travel with your skateboard, China is one of the most complicated and yet most interesting destinations possible. While the obvious hurdles of language and culture may be enough to keep even the most adventurous skate rat at home on the couch, for those who aren’t afraid to exit their comfort zone, the citites of China, specifically Shanghai and Hong Kong, are virtual skate playgrounds. With miles of untouched marble plazas, industrial areas, and even a few skateparks-if you want them-the Chinese (by force or by accident) are gearing up to have one of the most popular skate destinations of the next decade.

With boards and shoes already being made locally, it’s quite possible that in a few year’s time China could be a real force in the world of skateboarding. And so it went that Dustin Dollin, Andrew Allen, Van Wastell, Johnny Layton, and Scott Kane ventured forth into the Orient, on a mission to discover what the world’s most populated country had to offer.

Face

Perhaps the most relevant cultural phenomenon for skaters to be aware of is known as “saving face” or simply “face.” It means keeping one’s honor and self-respect. It comes into play in many areas of life in China, such as bargaining in business and even asking a girl on a date, but most importantly when dealing with security guards at spots. In business, haggling is considered an acceptable part of getting the best out of a deal, for both customer and vendor, and it’s a centuries-old custom that’s forged into daily life. Skateboarding, however, is a relatively new thing in China, and security guards haven’t quite figured out how to deal with it. Here’s where knowing a little bit about “face” can get you a long way. You see, the Chinese police and security guards don’t like dealing with foreigners in general. As well as the language difficulty and inconvenience, dealing with skateboarders tends to confuse their ideals about honor and respect. The most they can do is ask you to leave or shoo you away, and as long as they appear to have the upper hand at that moment, then they’ve retained “face.” Here’s the trick: generally they’re only doing it to appear dominant in the eyes of whoever is watching at the time-passersby, other pedestrians, their superiors, or anyone who might question their authority. So as soon as those people are gone, you can come right back again, and usually they won’t do anything. It’s kind of a strange cat-and-mouse game where the cat shows he can catch you on the first chase, then after that he knows that you know and lets you go anyway. Either way, despite being kicked out of several spots initially, we were then able to go back a second, and sometimes a third time due to this bizarre code.

Food

Getting something good to eat is obviously a concern in any foreign country. If you’re an adventurous eater, then Shanghai is definitely the place for you. If you already like Chinese food, but want to play it safe, don’t worry-there’re lots of excellent, clean restaurants with English menus where the food is amazing. Just like the Chinese food you would get in the States but with better, more authentic flavors and more variety. And cheap, too-food is considered high on the list of priorities for the Chinese, so a good cheap meal is available to everyone. If you’re more cautious about what you eat or if you just want a taste of something familiar, you’re covered, too. There’re all the modern fast-food giants available, but having said that, I’d be a little more worried about them than some of the regular Chinese places. Anyway, there’s an American quarter in Shanghai where you can get bacon-and-egg breakfasts and milkshakes and burgers from any number of Western-style diners.

And for all the freak shows you may have heard about cats and dogs-well, this is not so readily visible, but the Chinese version of “street meat” puts a New York shish kebab to shame. In small steaming carts all through the city, u can buy a floating goat’s eyeball on a stick or a pickled fish head to gnaw on. If you wish to cook at home, visit one of the “wet” markets, where you can see eels and tortoises cooped up in buckets and baby chickens still in the egg, cured in duck droppings-a real delicacy, apparently.

Traffic And Driving

If the streets of Shanghai seem chaotic, well, that’s because they are. The most common form of transport is the bicycle, but they fight for lane space with trucks, motorbikes, semi-trailers, and taxis, as well as cars. Then there’re the hundreds of thousands of pedestrians pushing and shoving their way through each other. There’s a strange unwritten traffic rule in Shanghai, and it goes a little something like this: if I can’t see you, you better see me. So basically a person on a bike can ride into an intersection blindly-if they don’t look to the side to see what’s coming, then they have the right of way. But if they do turn to check and something is coming, then they lose the right and had better stop-the same goes for pedestrians, too. This makes for a highly volatile traffic situation with surprisingly few accidents, but some dangerously close calls. I guess that’s just life in the fast lane in Shanghai.

Another thing to be aware of is if you plan to drive, forget about it. Foreigners aren’t allowed to operate any kind of vehicle. There’s a solution, however. For a small fee you can hire a driver, which at first may seem like a good idea (in fact it’s the only option). But the calamity that arose when we tried to explain to a young driver who didn’t speak even a hint of English about things like U-turns and rapid exits from freeways to check potential skate spots was disastrous and yet hilarious at the same time. For the most part it worked out fine, except for two disturbing incidents.

Number one: When a certain team manager’s digital camera got left overnight in the van, we discovered the next day that our young driver had taken pictures of his wedding tackle, probably without realizing it, and probably not knowing that we’d scroll through the camera the next day. Needless to say, it left everyone feeling a bit funny. Number two: On the very last day, after a week of being heckled into illegal U-turns and cutting off other cars at our request, our driver started to get a bit cocky and whipped a U-turn straight into an oncoming car. We changed vans immediately, and unfortunately, I think he got the sack.

People And Shopping

Considering that it has the biggest population in the world, the people in the city of Shanghai get along remarkably well in relatively small spaces. The concept of personal space, however, is completely alien, and you can get mobbed, cut off, crowded-out, and generally rubbed up all over anywhere from the bus station to the bookstore. Even old ladies will cut you off in a line-not to be sneaky, that’s just how it goes over there. It’s every man for himself.

As I mentioned earlier, haggling is a big part of life, and while people might seem to be having a ferocious argument, they’re just trying to get the best deal and rarely is any offense taken. In fact, they get offended if you don’t haggle. People will argue over the price of a goldfish as well as the price of a gold watch. Speaking of gold watches, for the devoted consumption-driven Westerner, Shanghai and Hong Kong are a materialist’s dream. You can buy anything from designer label shoes and handbags to leather jackets, sunglasses, and jewelry-all knockoffs, of course, and all at a fraction of the cost of the real deal. This particular posse spent a good chunk of the trip buckled down at the bootleg DVD store, stocking up on all the latest release movies as well as classics and hard-to-find versions unavailable in the States-again, at a fraction of the cost.

Skate Spots

China has the world’s fastest growing population, and so it makes sense that Shanghai is currently the world’s largest construction site. Everywhere you look, including far into the suburbs, new buildings are going up every day. Many of them make up whole industrial cities that’re filled with marble ledges, stairs, gaps, rails, and any number of weird configurations that are skateable. While many of them have security guards, many of them don’t, and there’re literally miles of undiscovered buildings waiting to be skated. It’ll be interesting to see in the next few years how the Chinese deal with a rapidly growing skate-thirsty youth. There aren’t hundreds of skaters in Shanghai, in fact we probably only came across a handful at most, but give it a few years and some more visits from Americans and other foreigners, and those numbers are sure to rise. China is a fascinating place to visit and will definitely be popping up on the international skate scene often in the next few years.

EXTRAS—–

On every street corner, hundreds of people are going in every direction, and it’s a miracle there aren’t more accidents. Bikes, taxis, rickshaws, and trucks zip through intersections, narrowly missing each other, loosely obeying the unwritten traffic codes of Shanghai. Wearing a grin that’s equal parts nerve and thrill, Van Wastell catches a freebie from an obliging cyclist.

In the outer suburbs at Shanghai Stadium, there were handrails for days, all kinds of strange stair configurations, and cement blocks. On a crisp Sunday afternoon, Johnny Layton blasted this backside grab out and down the chute, without any interruption from any kind of security or police.

A boy gets paraded around the marketplace near the Yuyuan Gardens in Old Town Shanghai. His mother was trying to raise money for a surgery that was apparently botched. A video was playing on the small TV next to him, and a few people gave donations, but most ignored them. The police soon came and moved them along.

July in Hong Kong is like being locked in an oven with the shower on blast. Scott Kane punches through a backside Smith right on the waterfront, about five minutes before a heavy thunderstorm soaked the city.

Rowdy school kids get some military-style discipline for a day out on the town.

This ledge is just a taste of the type of spot Shanghai has to offer. With no hassle from anyone, Van Wastell harnessed his chi and glided through this five-0 revert uninterrupted.

Built out of massive slabs of polished marble, the ledges and stairs around People’s Square in Shanghai are a skater’s dream. One of the few places where we got the boot, Dustin rushed this frontside noseslide and let it go fakie just as the guards were coming up in their little buggies.

Most of the stuff you can buy at the Dongtai Lu market is remade for the tourist dollar, but you can definitely find some cool stuff. Antiques and propaganda such as Mao watches and cigarette lighters, as well as swords made from jade and ivory, to name a few. Shopping in China is a lot of fun, but make sure you haggle and don’t get played for a fool.

Birds and goldfish are considered symbols of good luck and prosperity, but venture out to the markets where they’re sold and you’d think it’s the animals that need the luck. Stacked on top of each other in tiny cages, the birds are bought and traded daily by the hundreds in Hong Kong. Goldfish are also sold in dozens of rare varieties and sealed up in tiny plastic bags waiting for new homes. Apparently if you choose the wrong kind, you’ll get laughed at.

Andrew Allen sails a backside flip over a tall marble ledge underneath the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

Along Shanghai’s Huangpu River lies the Bund walkway, which is about a mile long and covered in marble. There’re a few ledges and stairs along it, but probably the most fun can be had cutting and weaving in and out of the thousands of pedestrians and tourists that fill it up, literally 24 hours a day. While Van and the others were sessioning this ledge off stairs, a crowd of at lerywhere you look, including far into the suburbs, new buildings are going up every day. Many of them make up whole industrial cities that’re filled with marble ledges, stairs, gaps, rails, and any number of weird configurations that are skateable. While many of them have security guards, many of them don’t, and there’re literally miles of undiscovered buildings waiting to be skated. It’ll be interesting to see in the next few years how the Chinese deal with a rapidly growing skate-thirsty youth. There aren’t hundreds of skaters in Shanghai, in fact we probably only came across a handful at most, but give it a few years and some more visits from Americans and other foreigners, and those numbers are sure to rise. China is a fascinating place to visit and will definitely be popping up on the international skate scene often in the next few years.

EXTRAS—–

On every street corner, hundreds of people are going in every direction, and it’s a miracle there aren’t more accidents. Bikes, taxis, rickshaws, and trucks zip through intersections, narrowly missing each other, loosely obeying the unwritten traffic codes of Shanghai. Wearing a grin that’s equal parts nerve and thrill, Van Wastell catches a freebie from an obliging cyclist.

In the outer suburbs at Shanghai Stadium, there were handrails for days, all kinds of strange stair configurations, and cement blocks. On a crisp Sunday afternoon, Johnny Layton blasted this backside grab out and down the chute, without any interruption from any kind of security or police.

A boy gets paraded around the marketplace near the Yuyuan Gardens in Old Town Shanghai. His mother was trying to raise money for a surgery that was apparently botched. A video was playing on the small TV next to him, and a few people gave donations, but most ignored them. The police soon came and moved them along.

July in Hong Kong is like being locked in an oven with the shower on blast. Scott Kane punches through a backside Smith right on the waterfront, about five minutes before a heavy thunderstorm soaked the city.

Rowdy school kids get some military-style discipline for a day out on the town.

This ledge is just a taste of the type of spot Shanghai has to offer. With no hassle from anyone, Van Wastell harnessed his chi and glided through this five-0 revert uninterrupted.

Built out of massive slabs of polished marble, the ledges and stairs around People’s Square in Shanghai are a skater’s dream. One of the few places where we got the boot, Dustin rushed this frontside noseslide and let it go fakie just as the guards were coming up in their little buggies.

Most of the stuff you can buy at the Dongtai Lu market is remade for the tourist dollar, but you can definitely find some cool stuff. Antiques and propaganda such as Mao watches and cigarette lighters, as well as swords made from jade and ivory, to name a few. Shopping in China is a lot of fun, but make sure you haggle and don’t get played for a fool.

Birds and goldfish are considered symbols of good luck and prosperity, but venture out to the markets where they’re sold and you’d think it’s the animals that need the luck. Stacked on top of each other in tiny cages, the birds are bought and traded daily by the hundreds in Hong Kong. Goldfish are also sold in dozens of rare varieties and sealed up in tiny plastic bags waiting for new homes. Apparently if you choose the wrong kind, you’ll get laughed at.

Andrew Allen sails a backside flip over a tall marble ledge underneath the skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

Along Shanghai’s Huangpu River lies the Bund walkway, which is about a mile long and covered in marble. There’re a few ledges and stairs along it, but probably the most fun can be had cutting and weaving in and out of the thousands of pedestrians and tourists that fill it up, literally 24 hours a day. While Van and the others were sessioning this ledge off stairs, a crowd of at least 400 curious onlookers circled around the landing spot. Occasionally, others would cut through the crowd, unaware of the skating, and the most interested ones in the front row would hold them off so they wouldn’t get in the way-as though we had our own crowd control working the scene. It was definitely one of those weird moments when people were tripping out on skateboarding for the first time. Van handled this fakie five-0, half-Cab out and got huge applause from the smiling masses.

People’s Square Shanghai: Once again, a rush job was needed to beat the guards. Van hopped up to this tall 50-50 through the kink as the guards were shooing him away. The whole square is layered in marble and filled with different fountains and sculptures. You can usually get a few hits in before getting the boot, but you have to be quick. Skating in most public places is generally easy as people are still curious enough to watch. If there’s some kind of monument or museum around, chances are slimmer.

You can’t front on that smile. Locals at the Bund get a genuine kick out of seeing skating for the first time.

t least 400 curious onlookers circled around the landing spot. Occasionally, others would cut through the crowd, unaware of the skating, and the most interested ones in the front row would hold them off so they wouldn’t get in the way-as though we had our own crowd control working the scene. It was definitely one of those weird moments when people were tripping out on skateboarding for the first time. Van handled this fakie five-0, half-Cab out and got huge applause from the smiling masses.

People’s Square Shanghai: Once again, a rush job was needed to beat the guards. Van hopped up to this tall 50-50 through the kink as the guards were shooing him away. The whole square is layered in marble and filled with different fountains and sculptures. You can usually get a few hits in before getting the boot, but you have to be quick. Skating in most public places is generally easy as people are still curious enough to watch. If there’s some kind of monument or museum around, chances are slimmer.

You can’t front on that smile. Locals at the Bund get a genuine kick out of seeing skating for the first time.