Bitesize Episode 76 - Lost in Translation: Cultural Crossroads & Shanghai Reflections

Discover the joys and challenges of a layover in Shanghai as Charlie grapples with luggage mishaps, language barriers, and the excitement of exploring a new city.
Apr 3 / Charlie Baxter

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What's this episode about?

Discover the joys and challenges of a layover in Shanghai as Charlie grapples with luggage mishaps, language barriers, and the excitement of exploring a new city.
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Transcript of Bitesize Ep 76 - Transcript

Charlie:
Hello and welcome to the British English Podcast hosted by me, Charlie Baxter. And in this show, my aim is to enhance your understanding of British English while engaging you in conversations centred around culture. And these episodes often delve into the similarities and differences between British culture and others, hopefully providing you with a deeper insight into the societal influences that have shaped the perspective of British people. And today we are finishing the epic adventure I began back in January of this year, when I had just experienced my first 12 or so hours in China whilst I was transiting on towards Australia. So I'm now back from the trip back in bloody cold Blighty, um, having just spent a whopping 22 hours on our layover in Shanghai, China on my return flight. So I'd like to take this opportunity whilst it is fresh in my mind, to reflect on it and hopefully pick up some interesting language along the way. So imagine, if you will, a version of myself significantly more tanned, striding confidently toward the China Eastern check in desks at Sydney Airport in Australia. Because, you know, I'm now familiar with their operations. But after a brief wait in line, we reached a seemingly friendly attendant. However, I was soon to experience an uncomfortable public ordeal, causing me to blush as I held up the queue, inadvertently showcasing my private belongings. And this type of situation really does embarrass me, and I replay it in my mind relentlessly because, believe it or not, in public I'm always hyper aware of not inconveniencing others.

Charlie:
And to my horror, my luggage exceeded the weight limit by two kilograms, and the attendant, unlike others who might leniently dismiss such a minor excess in my opinion, was, dare I say, rather stubborn, and her stern gaze suggested she was keen to make an example of me. So very embarrassed, I went aside to let the queue pass and opened my suitcase up, shifting heavy items into my carry on, feeling every eye in the line on me and kind of looking at my stuff. But yes, I returned to the attendant, handed my passport over. She inspected it with a bit of a tut, left for about ten minutes with it and um, after, you know, starting to contemplate. Oh, I suppose it wouldn't be too bad if we were stranded in Sydney for a bit longer. She returned and directed us to our departure gate, and that was that. We lingered in the Sydney airport lounge, surrounded by an assortment of coffee stands, cafes, restaurants and shops. So we sat there, savouring our final flat white and slice of banana bread before boarding an impressively modern Airbus A350. So nice work, China Eastern. That's two of my three flights with them, with a modern plane and not one that was built in the 90s. Um, I can't actually remember a single thing from that flight. Why is that?

Charlie:
Oh yeah, oh yeah. So, anticipating a scarcity of Western entertainment options, I armed my iPad with a plethora of downloads and immersed myself in a show called Griselda or 'Griselda' maybe. The 2024 Netflix series starring Sofia Vergara as Griselda Blanco. This this, um, person is a real person in the past who was nicknamed the Cocaine Godmother. So she was a notorious figure in the drug cartel. And for fans of gripping drug cartel dramas like, um, Narcos or Ozark, um Griselda is a captivating journey. The creators really crafted an amazing hook, um, which is a concept increasingly, um, popular in today's short form media, referring to that initial, captivating element of content designed to halt the relentless scroll on one's phone.

Charlie:
So they nailed it right from the start, with a single spine tingling sentence overlaid on the opening scene, which read: The only man I was ever afraid of was a woman named Griselda Blanco. And this was signed by Pablo Escobar. Oh, I was hooked right from that moment. Um, I appreciate that the show as a fictional dramatisation was not a history lesson, but it was engrossingly effective in, um, in making time really fly past.

Pilot:
Please prepare the cabin for descent.

Charlie:
So we touched down and were welcomed to a heavily overcast Shanghai this time. But I wasn't going to be taken prisoner by a smooth talking saleswoman and a masseuse with a bucket full of burning milk.

Charlie:
Oh no, because I had got my Chinese yuan, the currency before boarding, activated my data roaming package, installed and toggled my VPN to be on. And I had even downloaded a China friendly Shanghai Metro map app that wasn't made by Google. So bring it on, Shanghai, what you got. So I felt unstoppable. Unfortunately, my wife did stop me in my tracks by reminding me that we had been informed that we must retrieve our luggage in Shanghai and re-check it in for our onward flight to London, given our transfer exceeded 20 hours. Um, so faced with the burden of two too many bags to lug around on the train that I had watched a video of how to get onto, we opted to try the taxi rank, which to my relief, functioned seamlessly. Our only challenge was to disregard the persistent taxi drivers that welcome you prior to the official taxi rank. But with our bags in the boot, we clambered in the vehicle and instantly my attention was captured by the taxi driver's dashboard where not one, not two, but three phones were mounted on an industrial looking phone rig. And I also observed with intrigue that the traditional rear view mirror had been replaced by a digital screen. The journey to the hotel lasted around 40 minutes, and it was a drive somewhat overshadowed by the disheartening levels of smog we passed through. I couldn't really see much. It was just a grey highway with greyness around us.

Charlie:
But finally we arrived at a contemporary looking hotel where we were welcomed by three young staff members, each displaying a unique blend of sweetness, stoicism, confidence and shyness. Yeah, strange blend, I know, but I would say all four of those. Now I appreciate that it is naughty of us to try to communicate in English in a mandarin speaking region of the world, but as we had only practised the phrases 'hello, please, thank you and where is the toilet?' Um we were a good few hundred phrases away from being able to check in to a hotel successfully. So I approached the desk in English and said in a very clear, slow tone that I hoped came across as respectful, um that we had a reservation under my wife's name. And as they seemed to understand this, I tried to make small talk and asked what time the breakfast bar is opening in the morning, and this was clearly a step too far. But before I could apologise, they whipped out a speech to text translation app and held the phone in front of me, prompting me to speak into it. Now, this isn't the first time this has happened for me, but throughout our stay, I noticed how confident everyone was in equipping it and using it whenever necessary. So it made me think about the language learning world, about the reason why we learn other languages, and whether technology is going to take over, what with AI being so popular now.

Charlie:
A certain percentage of people will become totally comfortable utilising a phone to overcome language barriers, and many businesses will continue to provide technological solutions to basically make face to face communication redundant. You know, think of McDonald's. They've already done it. You don't need to speak to anyone, and you can choose what language the interface will be in. But still, I simply cannot see how technology is going to scratch that itch of learning a language and then being able to converse with a local in that said language. At least not for now. I'm not convinced that tech can replace the real magic of interacting in a language with somebody else any time soon. Considering the fact that, you know, one of the fundamental parts of socialising is to have a nice conversation, I don't think tech could ever replace that. Maybe in the work setting. Um, well, you know, we've got instant translation for zoom calls. That that will probably be a thing. But replacing real life conversations? I don't think so. Even with Elon Musk's brainy gadgets promising a world beyond words, it's hard to imagine. I mean, languages, they help us shape our thoughts, right? I mean, if I don't speak my ideas out loud or jot them down, they just fade away and get lost in the brain fog. That's obviously just me. But yeah, I personally think language will remain useful beyond technological advancements, and I think English will continue to be the lingua franca. So, what a surprise! The guy that's trying to teach you English thinks it's useful, but I do, and if I didn't, I wouldn't mention this bit. I'd edit this bit out.

Charlie:
But yeah, going back to the Chinese hotel receptionist who confidently conversed with me through their phone, I noticed that throughout the whole interaction, my facial expressions were a lot more animated than theirs. And despite the Brits having cousins across the pond that make us feel, um, stony faced and a bit glum, I think the uniform restraint of the hotel staff in Shanghai was a clear difference in culture, but instead of trying to ask them to interpret that on their phone, we went up to our room, dropped the bags, spotted a cute little tea station with an authentic looking teapot, and then headed out to see Shanghai in all its glory. We took the metro station, but after struggling with four ticket machines, we approached a manned kiosk and the attendant whipped out their phone upon seeing us to help understand our issue and assisted us in using coins since the machine wouldn't take our notes. And it was at this point that I noticed and appreciated that she used both hands whenever giving or receiving items. A gesture that conveyed, um, humility, respect, and and gratitude. Qualities that I would love to be embraced more widely in Western cultures.

Charlie:
And it reminds me of the the prayer hands gesture common in, um, in Bali, which I again admire, but um, but feel awkward adopting it myself. I feel like I can't really use it. I'm not allowed. Um, and I look like a bit of a tit trying to do it. Um while I was contemplating the respectful gesture I had just witnessed, I found myself queuing for the metro where I encountered an astonishing juxtaposition. Um. This considerate hand gesture was completely contradicted by the behaviour of an insistent crowd on the platform who, determined to board the train, aggressively disregarded the etiquette of allowing passengers to disembark first. And this really stuck with me, as it is not only kind, but also incredibly logical to do so. You know, let people out so you have room to step into the smaller place. And I'm confident in saying that this is a thing that British people would get really upset about if a person stepped onto the train in London or wherever in the UK, blocking someone who is trying to get off. I mean, in rush hour, it's hard to know if everyone is off yet and there is pressure from people behind you if you're near the door to, you know, get on the train quickly. But the context at which I had just witnessed it did not permit such, um, disrespectful behaviour. But after resisting the urge to join the crowd pushing onto the train before people coming off it, I was, um, welcomed by a rather Black Mirror-esque scene where not a single person was unplugged.

Charlie:
Everyone was on their phone, and while I can't pretend that Londoners aren't still addicted to their devices, I do tend to see I'd say one in every 3 or 4 people, um, not glued to a screen, um, on the underground. But in this moment, it felt like it felt like it was a prescribed behaviour that one had to adopt. Um, although maybe it's because the underground, the London Underground only has Wi-Fi at the stations. Maybe if they had it continuously, we would be more glued to our devices. I don't know, though, if, um, Shanghai's metro has this. I wonder, I wonder. But yes, a train ride later and out we popped on Nanjing Road before quickly escaping the wind and rain by diving into a food court, which again may seem mundane to report on, but it was fun to compare. Um, I can't be sure, but the energy I picked up on was that a food court is quite an acceptable place to dine. And apologies for, you know, generalising eastern cultures. But I remember when we came back via Singapore, there was a food court that was again thriving. Um, if I was to compare to the UK or Australia, my experience and America, my experience is that a food court is a bit of a last resort, and I certainly wouldn't want to meet anyone there. Like I wouldn't choose to be like, okay, yeah, let's meet at the food court.

Charlie:
I mean, when I was a teenager and we went shopping, we would embrace it, but as an adult, a food court is a bit depressing. Whereas this one, this one felt alive with an array of colours, smells and the sheer variety of food was overwhelming in the best possible way. Um not to mention how everything was astonishingly cheap. I think we spent about £3 on our dinner collectively. Madness. So after filling our bellies with some beef noodles and, uh, like a mochi like dessert, it may be called actually ciba. I'm not sure. I can't can't really remember the name of it, but it was like a ball of, um, soft pancakey substance, and inside it was stuffed with ice cream. Um, it was great. Really nice. I've never had that before. I think Stacy had, but, um, I'm not a big foodie, to be honest. I love food, and I find it very delightful, but I'm a bit of an idiot with food. Um, but yeah. So after getting brain freeze, we embraced Nanjing Road. Uh, despite not coming with coats. Because, you know, who wants to go to Australia in the summer with a huge parka in their suitcase? No thank you. But yes, we did regret it in that moment because it was raining and windy and night time, so we felt cold.

Charlie:
So we were uncomfortable. We were uncomfortable the whole time, but I was like, no, we're seeing Shanghai. That is what we're doing. And we're walking up and down. Um, maybe the main commercial strip. Um, yeah, I think Nanjing Road is the commercial strip of Shanghai, and I don't think that that's where you should probably go to get the true essence of a city. But if you've got one day, you should probably see that bit, right? Anyway, that's what we did. And, um, it was certainly pulsing with life and a skyline filled with neon lights and skyscrapers all around. While not unbelievably tall, um, they did create a futuristic canopy over the bustling crowds. There was a striking mix of international brands and traditional Chinese stores that offered everything from high fashion to, um, a tailor made bubble tea, which I have only had one in my life. Um, I wanted to like it more, I don't know. Yeah, I did like it, but I didn't love it. I really, really hoped that I would like it. Maybe I'll get another different one one day. But I appreciate how this part of their culture has taken off a bit like how coffee has in Australia. I don't know if people outside of Australia are aware of this, but um, a lot of Italians came to Australia, I think around the 60s, 70s, and then, um, they ran with it there and it's, it's become what it is now. And I appreciate that um, while coffee might not be everyone's cup of tea, um, it's clear to see that something like bubble tea is like this reinvention of a culture's obsession with tea and brought it into the 21st century. It's really cool to see that kind of thing.

Charlie:
I just had a little Google actually, just to check where it's from. Apparently it's from Taiwan in the 80s, but yeah, has spread far and wide, particularly in the Asian continent and yeah, globally now. But bubble tea aside, photography seemed to practically be a sport there. Um, it's actually a stereotype when Asian people are abroad that they are with a camera like a big SLR, and they're taking their photography very seriously. That is a stereotype in itself. And while it wasn't so much like huge professional photography that I was witnessing, everyone was really, really keen to take photos and be in a photo. And everyone from toddlers to grandparents, they all knew how to strike a pose. Yeah, there was this confidence and, um, a public uninhibitedness that was quite charming because if I compare to the Brits, we're all quite stiff in front of a camera. Certainly if it's shoved in our face. I mean, the younger generations are certainly becoming more and more comfortable with this, but yeah, far from, um, choosing to stand in front of a building and proudly saying to your friend or family member, take a picture of me. And striking a pose, often with the peace sign I saw.

Charlie:
Um, and actually, yeah, my wife Stacey, she became an impromptu celebrity at a viewpoint along the Huangpu River. Is that right, Huangpu? Um, when a couple of young girls came over and made Stacey go bright red by saying how beautiful they thought she was, and then one of them asked if they could have their picture taken with her. And, um, the next moment was a perfect summary of what I've just said about the two different, um, cultures, because that girl's confidence on camera was so apparent. She was quite shy in asking Stacey, and when she was next to her, she was like, hahaha, ah, I'm sorry this is so embarrassing. And then as soon as they got into position, I saw how she went from embarrassed to zoned in and and confident to strike a pose and she owned it like she really knew what to do in that moment. Whereas Stacey, bless her, um, she looked like a deer in headlights, a beautiful deer, but a deer in headlights.

Charlie:
Now, earlier I mentioned how I think English will be the lingua franca in years to come, and this moment is a part of the reason why I think this is. So let me explain. So in my opinion, if an attractive Asian person was walking around in London, it would be incredibly unlikely for them to be stopped by a local for a photo for multiple reasons but I think one of them was highlighted to me on this trip with how some of the the billboards in Shanghai had Western models on them, and I doubt that was due to diversity requirements. If you didn't know, by the way, um, to my knowledge, in the corporate world, in North America, the UK and Australia, they now have a lot of diversity requirements and marketing needs to reflect that. So a typical photo of a group of people that suggests they represent, um, locals in London, for example, would need to show representation for all demographics and that would be race, age, gender, um, disability and even sexuality, which is a political minefield. So I won't go beyond that right now. But to compare that to a singular white Western model on a huge billboard in Shanghai promoting a high end fashion brand speaks volumes to me. Now again, I'm not wanting this, I'm not encouraging it, and I'd be happy to be proven wrong. But I think this means that East, generally speaking in mainstream media, idolise the West a little bit. And currently I don't think the West reciprocate that in the same way. And that is a big reason why I think English will continue to be the global language, because really the main competitors for that are Mandarin and Spanish. And as much as I love Spanish, I don't think it has as much economic clout as English or Mandarin.

Charlie:
But um, anyway, less about my future predictions and more about finishing up this 22 hours in Shanghai. So, um, after Stacey calmed down from being fangirled, we decided to kill two birds with one stone by experiencing a spectacle. That was definitely an idiom. We didn't kill two birds with a stone in Shanghai. Um, so this spectacle was surprisingly high up on our friend's to do list who had lived here for four years, and as we needed to get to the other side of the river to get back to our hotel, it made sense to commit to this said spectacle. So we went on this thing called the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and it really was quite unique. Let's see. It's, um, it was it was as if, uh, a cinema lobby, ski lift and a train station filled with 1000 lasers had had a baby. Yes, a cinema lobby, a ski lift and a train station all had a baby with thousands of lasers. Um, a Trip Advisor review actually sums the experience up nicely. It says, is it a form of public transport with the added flair of a funfair ride or vice versa? Overpriced for the former, somewhat underwhelming for the latter. Three stars. Now I'd personally give it one star, but for the convenience of getting to the other side of the river, I can see why it may have been bumped up to three.

Charlie:
So you go down to the lobby like you would a metro station, and in place of a metro ticket barrier was something kind of like a cinema lobby where you buy your snacks like a big bucket of popcorn. It stank of popcorn the whole place. And you get your your ticket one way or return. Um, you then queue up like you do when holding skis for a gondola. Um, you clamber in and instead of that whoosh up the mountain, the cable cars in the Alps provide you with, uh, the cable car continues at a snail's pace into a very uneventful long, straight tunnel, and then different sections start to light up with different shapes and patterns on the wall and ceiling using lasers. So I suppose I shouldn't say uneventful. There were lasers, but, um, yeah, it was, it was good, but it was definitely something that two adults felt out of place experiencing together. We felt like we needed a child under the age of five with us to sort of pretend that we're there for them, a bit like when we went to Disney, I felt a bit awkward the whole time. And yes, that's right, we went as adults. But yeah, we both got off at the end of the tunnel thinking we'd just been completely mugged off with that ride, and then laughed at the prospect of getting a return ticket.

Charlie:
That would have been horrendous, seeing that twice and ending up where you started. Meaning you'd do it just for the experience. Yeah. So I highly recommend that you skip that one unless you want to go across the river. But after all that excitement, we headed back to the hotel. Slept like a baby. Uh, which actually means that we slept well, despite the fact that babies often scream bloody murder every couple of hours throughout the night. So I've heard. And then in the morning, I decided to get myself in a right tizz because I asked the receptionist if we could get a taxi to the airport before I ensured that we had the cash to pay for it. Now, I don't know if you know, but in China they only really accept Alipay, WeChat or cash. So it's very hard to pay with your card, with your normal debit or credit card. And as we only had access to cash, I realised I needed to pop to an ATM. So after agreeing to get the taxi to arrive in 15 minutes, I went on the hunt for an ATM and um, I was standing outside a bank staring at it for ages and then I realised what I thought was a staff entrance side door was actually a hole in the wall, ATM, so I opened it up precariously and then walked in and it shut behind me and I saw a lock, which made me chuckle because, um, yeah, I locked it. And then I was quite literally trapped in a glass cage of emotion, which is a line from a famous film called Anchorman. So I was chuckling away, putting the card in, but alas, the machine was apparently out of order, so I had to jog to the next closest bank and I could feel the smog. I could genuinely feel the smog when I was jogging, so I didn't enjoy that. So I feel for people who have to, uh, deal with smog on a daily basis. When I was living in Santiago de Chile, um, there was quite a lot of smog a lot of the time. And when it rained, I remember we were very, very happy to have rain come because that would sort of help the smog clear out. And the next couple of days brought with it some really crisp and clean air. It was lovely. Um, but yeah, got to the next bank. Visa wasn't accepted, sprinted to the next bank and, uh, had to get a staff member to treat me like an old age pensioner who's never interacted with technology before. Uh, to help me achieve my goal. Success. Got the cash and pegged it back to the hotel. Nearly got ran over by a sneaky silent electric moped. Certainly didn't have time to marvel at this idea. Electric mopeds. Obvious, but genius. Genius. Brilliant. Um, we don't have that yet really. No. Um, maybe the odd one or two, but, yeah, most of them are still petrol, I think. Um, so I returned back within one minute to spare before jumping in the taxi that again had a billion phones on the dashboard, and off we went to the not so boring Pudong Airport.

Charlie:
Um, if you listen to my episode, which was reporting my outbound flight to Australia via Shanghai, I slated the airport for being so empty. But it turns out I was just in a lame side of the terminal because this time I found myself in a fairly normal looking airport lounge. Yeah, a usual amount of shops and and areas to relax in. So I take it back somewhat. I mean, that other terminal is really bad, but yeah, this one was okay. And um and then Stacey and I separated for a moment. I went to do my morning business and fell in love with the Japanese style toilets they had installed. Oh. Can't get enough of that. I mean, not in that way, but in that way as well. Oh it's great. I love that warm seat heated round the rim, not my rim. Um. Come on. That's naughty. Stop thinking of that. I mean, I'm encouraging it, aren't I? But I sorted myself out and returned to a slightly disgruntled wife who had been trying to spend the last of our Chinese yuan, the currency, and apparently she was bullied into buying items that she wasn't quite ready to purchase.

Charlie:
So let me explain. She goes into a newsagents style shop in the airport terminal and picked up one item, and then continued to browse as she was contemplating on getting another thing or replacing it for another item. Right? But the shopkeeper apparently came up to her and insisted on taking the item from her and getting her to come over to the till and buy it immediately. Apparently, she tried to use body language to suggest that she was still wanting to browse for another item. But yeah, if any of you listeners know of a cultural explanation, I'd be all ears. I was thinking it might be a lost in translation sort of serving you, helping you kind of thing, but at the same time it sounded quite like direct. And yeah, I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure what it meant, whether she was being arsey or whether she was being respectful, I couldn't tell. As I said, I wasn't there, but yeah, we got on our flight and I scared the hell out of the person next to me by saying, um, do you speak English? Um, I mean, I don't normally want to be that annoying person who tries to connect with the person next to them, but I just thought a little bit of small talk maybe. They're going to London. Maybe they're excited to, you know, practice their English. So I asked that question and he looked really scared.

Charlie:
I felt really bad. But, um, he was a bit unusual because he was getting up every 30 minutes of this 9/10 hour flight, and he would stand at the back of the section of this cabin for, no joke, half an hour or more at a time. And then he would, um, he would come back and he, he really wound the girl up next to him because she had to get up every time. So she was woken up every 30 minutes or so. But yes, that was my final encounter in my journey. Uh, to summarise, um, I enjoyed my experience. I don't think I can give my verdict on a city based on my teeny tiny stint, so I will say I'm open to seeing more of it and learning more about Chinese culture. But I found it fun to have a layover in a country that I'd previously never set foot in. So thank you for having me, Shanghai, and thank you for listening to the end of this episode. I threw a lot of advanced native language at you there, so maybe listen to it again. Feel free to use the resources I make available for premium and Academy members that keeps this show running. You can find links to those memberships in the show notes of this episode, or head over to thebritishenglishpodcast.com to learn more. Right, bye bye you lovely listeners, much love and see you next week on the British English Podcast.

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Transcript of Bitesize Ep 76 - Transcript

Charlie:
Hello and welcome to the British English Podcast hosted by me, Charlie Baxter. And in this show, my aim is to enhance your understanding of British English while engaging you in conversations centred around culture. And these episodes often delve into the similarities and differences between British culture and others, hopefully providing you with a deeper insight into the societal influences that have shaped the perspective of British people. And today we are finishing the epic adventure I began back in January of this year, when I had just experienced my first 12 or so hours in China whilst I was transiting on towards Australia. So I'm now back from the trip back in bloody cold Blighty, um, having just spent a whopping 22 hours on our layover in Shanghai, China on my return flight. So I'd like to take this opportunity whilst it is fresh in my mind, to reflect on it and hopefully pick up some interesting language along the way. So imagine, if you will, a version of myself significantly more tanned, striding confidently toward the China Eastern check in desks at Sydney Airport in Australia. Because, you know, I'm now familiar with their operations. But after a brief wait in line, we reached a seemingly friendly attendant. However, I was soon to experience an uncomfortable public ordeal, causing me to blush as I held up the queue, inadvertently showcasing my private belongings. And this type of situation really does embarrass me, and I replay it in my mind relentlessly because, believe it or not, in public I'm always hyper aware of not inconveniencing others.

Charlie:
And to my horror, my luggage exceeded the weight limit by two kilograms, and the attendant, unlike others who might leniently dismiss such a minor excess in my opinion, was, dare I say, rather stubborn, and her stern gaze suggested she was keen to make an example of me. So very embarrassed, I went aside to let the queue pass and opened my suitcase up, shifting heavy items into my carry on, feeling every eye in the line on me and kind of looking at my stuff. But yes, I returned to the attendant, handed my passport over. She inspected it with a bit of a tut, left for about ten minutes with it and um, after, you know, starting to contemplate. Oh, I suppose it wouldn't be too bad if we were stranded in Sydney for a bit longer. She returned and directed us to our departure gate, and that was that. We lingered in the Sydney airport lounge, surrounded by an assortment of coffee stands, cafes, restaurants and shops. So we sat there, savouring our final flat white and slice of banana bread before boarding an impressively modern Airbus A350. So nice work, China Eastern. That's two of my three flights with them, with a modern plane and not one that was built in the 90s. Um, I can't actually remember a single thing from that flight. Why is that?

Charlie:
Oh yeah, oh yeah. So, anticipating a scarcity of Western entertainment options, I armed my iPad with a plethora of downloads and immersed myself in a show called Griselda or 'Griselda' maybe. The 2024 Netflix series starring Sofia Vergara as Griselda Blanco. This this, um, person is a real person in the past who was nicknamed the Cocaine Godmother. So she was a notorious figure in the drug cartel. And for fans of gripping drug cartel dramas like, um, Narcos or Ozark, um Griselda is a captivating journey. The creators really crafted an amazing hook, um, which is a concept increasingly, um, popular in today's short form media, referring to that initial, captivating element of content designed to halt the relentless scroll on one's phone.

Charlie:
So they nailed it right from the start, with a single spine tingling sentence overlaid on the opening scene, which read: The only man I was ever afraid of was a woman named Griselda Blanco. And this was signed by Pablo Escobar. Oh, I was hooked right from that moment. Um, I appreciate that the show as a fictional dramatisation was not a history lesson, but it was engrossingly effective in, um, in making time really fly past.

Pilot:
Please prepare the cabin for descent.

Charlie:
So we touched down and were welcomed to a heavily overcast Shanghai this time. But I wasn't going to be taken prisoner by a smooth talking saleswoman and a masseuse with a bucket full of burning milk.

Charlie:
Oh no, because I had got my Chinese yuan, the currency before boarding, activated my data roaming package, installed and toggled my VPN to be on. And I had even downloaded a China friendly Shanghai Metro map app that wasn't made by Google. So bring it on, Shanghai, what you got. So I felt unstoppable. Unfortunately, my wife did stop me in my tracks by reminding me that we had been informed that we must retrieve our luggage in Shanghai and re-check it in for our onward flight to London, given our transfer exceeded 20 hours. Um, so faced with the burden of two too many bags to lug around on the train that I had watched a video of how to get onto, we opted to try the taxi rank, which to my relief, functioned seamlessly. Our only challenge was to disregard the persistent taxi drivers that welcome you prior to the official taxi rank. But with our bags in the boot, we clambered in the vehicle and instantly my attention was captured by the taxi driver's dashboard where not one, not two, but three phones were mounted on an industrial looking phone rig. And I also observed with intrigue that the traditional rear view mirror had been replaced by a digital screen. The journey to the hotel lasted around 40 minutes, and it was a drive somewhat overshadowed by the disheartening levels of smog we passed through. I couldn't really see much. It was just a grey highway with greyness around us.

Charlie:
But finally we arrived at a contemporary looking hotel where we were welcomed by three young staff members, each displaying a unique blend of sweetness, stoicism, confidence and shyness. Yeah, strange blend, I know, but I would say all four of those. Now I appreciate that it is naughty of us to try to communicate in English in a mandarin speaking region of the world, but as we had only practised the phrases 'hello, please, thank you and where is the toilet?' Um we were a good few hundred phrases away from being able to check in to a hotel successfully. So I approached the desk in English and said in a very clear, slow tone that I hoped came across as respectful, um that we had a reservation under my wife's name. And as they seemed to understand this, I tried to make small talk and asked what time the breakfast bar is opening in the morning, and this was clearly a step too far. But before I could apologise, they whipped out a speech to text translation app and held the phone in front of me, prompting me to speak into it. Now, this isn't the first time this has happened for me, but throughout our stay, I noticed how confident everyone was in equipping it and using it whenever necessary. So it made me think about the language learning world, about the reason why we learn other languages, and whether technology is going to take over, what with AI being so popular now.

Charlie:
A certain percentage of people will become totally comfortable utilising a phone to overcome language barriers, and many businesses will continue to provide technological solutions to basically make face to face communication redundant. You know, think of McDonald's. They've already done it. You don't need to speak to anyone, and you can choose what language the interface will be in. But still, I simply cannot see how technology is going to scratch that itch of learning a language and then being able to converse with a local in that said language. At least not for now. I'm not convinced that tech can replace the real magic of interacting in a language with somebody else any time soon. Considering the fact that, you know, one of the fundamental parts of socialising is to have a nice conversation, I don't think tech could ever replace that. Maybe in the work setting. Um, well, you know, we've got instant translation for zoom calls. That that will probably be a thing. But replacing real life conversations? I don't think so. Even with Elon Musk's brainy gadgets promising a world beyond words, it's hard to imagine. I mean, languages, they help us shape our thoughts, right? I mean, if I don't speak my ideas out loud or jot them down, they just fade away and get lost in the brain fog. That's obviously just me. But yeah, I personally think language will remain useful beyond technological advancements, and I think English will continue to be the lingua franca. So, what a surprise! The guy that's trying to teach you English thinks it's useful, but I do, and if I didn't, I wouldn't mention this bit. I'd edit this bit out.

Charlie:
But yeah, going back to the Chinese hotel receptionist who confidently conversed with me through their phone, I noticed that throughout the whole interaction, my facial expressions were a lot more animated than theirs. And despite the Brits having cousins across the pond that make us feel, um, stony faced and a bit glum, I think the uniform restraint of the hotel staff in Shanghai was a clear difference in culture, but instead of trying to ask them to interpret that on their phone, we went up to our room, dropped the bags, spotted a cute little tea station with an authentic looking teapot, and then headed out to see Shanghai in all its glory. We took the metro station, but after struggling with four ticket machines, we approached a manned kiosk and the attendant whipped out their phone upon seeing us to help understand our issue and assisted us in using coins since the machine wouldn't take our notes. And it was at this point that I noticed and appreciated that she used both hands whenever giving or receiving items. A gesture that conveyed, um, humility, respect, and and gratitude. Qualities that I would love to be embraced more widely in Western cultures.

Charlie:
And it reminds me of the the prayer hands gesture common in, um, in Bali, which I again admire, but um, but feel awkward adopting it myself. I feel like I can't really use it. I'm not allowed. Um, and I look like a bit of a tit trying to do it. Um while I was contemplating the respectful gesture I had just witnessed, I found myself queuing for the metro where I encountered an astonishing juxtaposition. Um. This considerate hand gesture was completely contradicted by the behaviour of an insistent crowd on the platform who, determined to board the train, aggressively disregarded the etiquette of allowing passengers to disembark first. And this really stuck with me, as it is not only kind, but also incredibly logical to do so. You know, let people out so you have room to step into the smaller place. And I'm confident in saying that this is a thing that British people would get really upset about if a person stepped onto the train in London or wherever in the UK, blocking someone who is trying to get off. I mean, in rush hour, it's hard to know if everyone is off yet and there is pressure from people behind you if you're near the door to, you know, get on the train quickly. But the context at which I had just witnessed it did not permit such, um, disrespectful behaviour. But after resisting the urge to join the crowd pushing onto the train before people coming off it, I was, um, welcomed by a rather Black Mirror-esque scene where not a single person was unplugged.

Charlie:
Everyone was on their phone, and while I can't pretend that Londoners aren't still addicted to their devices, I do tend to see I'd say one in every 3 or 4 people, um, not glued to a screen, um, on the underground. But in this moment, it felt like it felt like it was a prescribed behaviour that one had to adopt. Um, although maybe it's because the underground, the London Underground only has Wi-Fi at the stations. Maybe if they had it continuously, we would be more glued to our devices. I don't know, though, if, um, Shanghai's metro has this. I wonder, I wonder. But yes, a train ride later and out we popped on Nanjing Road before quickly escaping the wind and rain by diving into a food court, which again may seem mundane to report on, but it was fun to compare. Um, I can't be sure, but the energy I picked up on was that a food court is quite an acceptable place to dine. And apologies for, you know, generalising eastern cultures. But I remember when we came back via Singapore, there was a food court that was again thriving. Um, if I was to compare to the UK or Australia, my experience and America, my experience is that a food court is a bit of a last resort, and I certainly wouldn't want to meet anyone there. Like I wouldn't choose to be like, okay, yeah, let's meet at the food court.

Charlie:
I mean, when I was a teenager and we went shopping, we would embrace it, but as an adult, a food court is a bit depressing. Whereas this one, this one felt alive with an array of colours, smells and the sheer variety of food was overwhelming in the best possible way. Um not to mention how everything was astonishingly cheap. I think we spent about £3 on our dinner collectively. Madness. So after filling our bellies with some beef noodles and, uh, like a mochi like dessert, it may be called actually ciba. I'm not sure. I can't can't really remember the name of it, but it was like a ball of, um, soft pancakey substance, and inside it was stuffed with ice cream. Um, it was great. Really nice. I've never had that before. I think Stacy had, but, um, I'm not a big foodie, to be honest. I love food, and I find it very delightful, but I'm a bit of an idiot with food. Um, but yeah. So after getting brain freeze, we embraced Nanjing Road. Uh, despite not coming with coats. Because, you know, who wants to go to Australia in the summer with a huge parka in their suitcase? No thank you. But yes, we did regret it in that moment because it was raining and windy and night time, so we felt cold.

Charlie:
So we were uncomfortable. We were uncomfortable the whole time, but I was like, no, we're seeing Shanghai. That is what we're doing. And we're walking up and down. Um, maybe the main commercial strip. Um, yeah, I think Nanjing Road is the commercial strip of Shanghai, and I don't think that that's where you should probably go to get the true essence of a city. But if you've got one day, you should probably see that bit, right? Anyway, that's what we did. And, um, it was certainly pulsing with life and a skyline filled with neon lights and skyscrapers all around. While not unbelievably tall, um, they did create a futuristic canopy over the bustling crowds. There was a striking mix of international brands and traditional Chinese stores that offered everything from high fashion to, um, a tailor made bubble tea, which I have only had one in my life. Um, I wanted to like it more, I don't know. Yeah, I did like it, but I didn't love it. I really, really hoped that I would like it. Maybe I'll get another different one one day. But I appreciate how this part of their culture has taken off a bit like how coffee has in Australia. I don't know if people outside of Australia are aware of this, but um, a lot of Italians came to Australia, I think around the 60s, 70s, and then, um, they ran with it there and it's, it's become what it is now. And I appreciate that um, while coffee might not be everyone's cup of tea, um, it's clear to see that something like bubble tea is like this reinvention of a culture's obsession with tea and brought it into the 21st century. It's really cool to see that kind of thing.

Charlie:
I just had a little Google actually, just to check where it's from. Apparently it's from Taiwan in the 80s, but yeah, has spread far and wide, particularly in the Asian continent and yeah, globally now. But bubble tea aside, photography seemed to practically be a sport there. Um, it's actually a stereotype when Asian people are abroad that they are with a camera like a big SLR, and they're taking their photography very seriously. That is a stereotype in itself. And while it wasn't so much like huge professional photography that I was witnessing, everyone was really, really keen to take photos and be in a photo. And everyone from toddlers to grandparents, they all knew how to strike a pose. Yeah, there was this confidence and, um, a public uninhibitedness that was quite charming because if I compare to the Brits, we're all quite stiff in front of a camera. Certainly if it's shoved in our face. I mean, the younger generations are certainly becoming more and more comfortable with this, but yeah, far from, um, choosing to stand in front of a building and proudly saying to your friend or family member, take a picture of me. And striking a pose, often with the peace sign I saw.

Charlie:
Um, and actually, yeah, my wife Stacey, she became an impromptu celebrity at a viewpoint along the Huangpu River. Is that right, Huangpu? Um, when a couple of young girls came over and made Stacey go bright red by saying how beautiful they thought she was, and then one of them asked if they could have their picture taken with her. And, um, the next moment was a perfect summary of what I've just said about the two different, um, cultures, because that girl's confidence on camera was so apparent. She was quite shy in asking Stacey, and when she was next to her, she was like, hahaha, ah, I'm sorry this is so embarrassing. And then as soon as they got into position, I saw how she went from embarrassed to zoned in and and confident to strike a pose and she owned it like she really knew what to do in that moment. Whereas Stacey, bless her, um, she looked like a deer in headlights, a beautiful deer, but a deer in headlights.

Charlie:
Now, earlier I mentioned how I think English will be the lingua franca in years to come, and this moment is a part of the reason why I think this is. So let me explain. So in my opinion, if an attractive Asian person was walking around in London, it would be incredibly unlikely for them to be stopped by a local for a photo for multiple reasons but I think one of them was highlighted to me on this trip with how some of the the billboards in Shanghai had Western models on them, and I doubt that was due to diversity requirements. If you didn't know, by the way, um, to my knowledge, in the corporate world, in North America, the UK and Australia, they now have a lot of diversity requirements and marketing needs to reflect that. So a typical photo of a group of people that suggests they represent, um, locals in London, for example, would need to show representation for all demographics and that would be race, age, gender, um, disability and even sexuality, which is a political minefield. So I won't go beyond that right now. But to compare that to a singular white Western model on a huge billboard in Shanghai promoting a high end fashion brand speaks volumes to me. Now again, I'm not wanting this, I'm not encouraging it, and I'd be happy to be proven wrong. But I think this means that East, generally speaking in mainstream media, idolise the West a little bit. And currently I don't think the West reciprocate that in the same way. And that is a big reason why I think English will continue to be the global language, because really the main competitors for that are Mandarin and Spanish. And as much as I love Spanish, I don't think it has as much economic clout as English or Mandarin.

Charlie:
But um, anyway, less about my future predictions and more about finishing up this 22 hours in Shanghai. So, um, after Stacey calmed down from being fangirled, we decided to kill two birds with one stone by experiencing a spectacle. That was definitely an idiom. We didn't kill two birds with a stone in Shanghai. Um, so this spectacle was surprisingly high up on our friend's to do list who had lived here for four years, and as we needed to get to the other side of the river to get back to our hotel, it made sense to commit to this said spectacle. So we went on this thing called the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and it really was quite unique. Let's see. It's, um, it was it was as if, uh, a cinema lobby, ski lift and a train station filled with 1000 lasers had had a baby. Yes, a cinema lobby, a ski lift and a train station all had a baby with thousands of lasers. Um, a Trip Advisor review actually sums the experience up nicely. It says, is it a form of public transport with the added flair of a funfair ride or vice versa? Overpriced for the former, somewhat underwhelming for the latter. Three stars. Now I'd personally give it one star, but for the convenience of getting to the other side of the river, I can see why it may have been bumped up to three.

Charlie:
So you go down to the lobby like you would a metro station, and in place of a metro ticket barrier was something kind of like a cinema lobby where you buy your snacks like a big bucket of popcorn. It stank of popcorn the whole place. And you get your your ticket one way or return. Um, you then queue up like you do when holding skis for a gondola. Um, you clamber in and instead of that whoosh up the mountain, the cable cars in the Alps provide you with, uh, the cable car continues at a snail's pace into a very uneventful long, straight tunnel, and then different sections start to light up with different shapes and patterns on the wall and ceiling using lasers. So I suppose I shouldn't say uneventful. There were lasers, but, um, yeah, it was, it was good, but it was definitely something that two adults felt out of place experiencing together. We felt like we needed a child under the age of five with us to sort of pretend that we're there for them, a bit like when we went to Disney, I felt a bit awkward the whole time. And yes, that's right, we went as adults. But yeah, we both got off at the end of the tunnel thinking we'd just been completely mugged off with that ride, and then laughed at the prospect of getting a return ticket.

Charlie:
That would have been horrendous, seeing that twice and ending up where you started. Meaning you'd do it just for the experience. Yeah. So I highly recommend that you skip that one unless you want to go across the river. But after all that excitement, we headed back to the hotel. Slept like a baby. Uh, which actually means that we slept well, despite the fact that babies often scream bloody murder every couple of hours throughout the night. So I've heard. And then in the morning, I decided to get myself in a right tizz because I asked the receptionist if we could get a taxi to the airport before I ensured that we had the cash to pay for it. Now, I don't know if you know, but in China they only really accept Alipay, WeChat or cash. So it's very hard to pay with your card, with your normal debit or credit card. And as we only had access to cash, I realised I needed to pop to an ATM. So after agreeing to get the taxi to arrive in 15 minutes, I went on the hunt for an ATM and um, I was standing outside a bank staring at it for ages and then I realised what I thought was a staff entrance side door was actually a hole in the wall, ATM, so I opened it up precariously and then walked in and it shut behind me and I saw a lock, which made me chuckle because, um, yeah, I locked it. And then I was quite literally trapped in a glass cage of emotion, which is a line from a famous film called Anchorman. So I was chuckling away, putting the card in, but alas, the machine was apparently out of order, so I had to jog to the next closest bank and I could feel the smog. I could genuinely feel the smog when I was jogging, so I didn't enjoy that. So I feel for people who have to, uh, deal with smog on a daily basis. When I was living in Santiago de Chile, um, there was quite a lot of smog a lot of the time. And when it rained, I remember we were very, very happy to have rain come because that would sort of help the smog clear out. And the next couple of days brought with it some really crisp and clean air. It was lovely. Um, but yeah, got to the next bank. Visa wasn't accepted, sprinted to the next bank and, uh, had to get a staff member to treat me like an old age pensioner who's never interacted with technology before. Uh, to help me achieve my goal. Success. Got the cash and pegged it back to the hotel. Nearly got ran over by a sneaky silent electric moped. Certainly didn't have time to marvel at this idea. Electric mopeds. Obvious, but genius. Genius. Brilliant. Um, we don't have that yet really. No. Um, maybe the odd one or two, but, yeah, most of them are still petrol, I think. Um, so I returned back within one minute to spare before jumping in the taxi that again had a billion phones on the dashboard, and off we went to the not so boring Pudong Airport.

Charlie:
Um, if you listen to my episode, which was reporting my outbound flight to Australia via Shanghai, I slated the airport for being so empty. But it turns out I was just in a lame side of the terminal because this time I found myself in a fairly normal looking airport lounge. Yeah, a usual amount of shops and and areas to relax in. So I take it back somewhat. I mean, that other terminal is really bad, but yeah, this one was okay. And um and then Stacey and I separated for a moment. I went to do my morning business and fell in love with the Japanese style toilets they had installed. Oh. Can't get enough of that. I mean, not in that way, but in that way as well. Oh it's great. I love that warm seat heated round the rim, not my rim. Um. Come on. That's naughty. Stop thinking of that. I mean, I'm encouraging it, aren't I? But I sorted myself out and returned to a slightly disgruntled wife who had been trying to spend the last of our Chinese yuan, the currency, and apparently she was bullied into buying items that she wasn't quite ready to purchase.

Charlie:
So let me explain. She goes into a newsagents style shop in the airport terminal and picked up one item, and then continued to browse as she was contemplating on getting another thing or replacing it for another item. Right? But the shopkeeper apparently came up to her and insisted on taking the item from her and getting her to come over to the till and buy it immediately. Apparently, she tried to use body language to suggest that she was still wanting to browse for another item. But yeah, if any of you listeners know of a cultural explanation, I'd be all ears. I was thinking it might be a lost in translation sort of serving you, helping you kind of thing, but at the same time it sounded quite like direct. And yeah, I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure what it meant, whether she was being arsey or whether she was being respectful, I couldn't tell. As I said, I wasn't there, but yeah, we got on our flight and I scared the hell out of the person next to me by saying, um, do you speak English? Um, I mean, I don't normally want to be that annoying person who tries to connect with the person next to them, but I just thought a little bit of small talk maybe. They're going to London. Maybe they're excited to, you know, practice their English. So I asked that question and he looked really scared.

Charlie:
I felt really bad. But, um, he was a bit unusual because he was getting up every 30 minutes of this 9/10 hour flight, and he would stand at the back of the section of this cabin for, no joke, half an hour or more at a time. And then he would, um, he would come back and he, he really wound the girl up next to him because she had to get up every time. So she was woken up every 30 minutes or so. But yes, that was my final encounter in my journey. Uh, to summarise, um, I enjoyed my experience. I don't think I can give my verdict on a city based on my teeny tiny stint, so I will say I'm open to seeing more of it and learning more about Chinese culture. But I found it fun to have a layover in a country that I'd previously never set foot in. So thank you for having me, Shanghai, and thank you for listening to the end of this episode. I threw a lot of advanced native language at you there, so maybe listen to it again. Feel free to use the resources I make available for premium and Academy members that keeps this show running. You can find links to those memberships in the show notes of this episode, or head over to thebritishenglishpodcast.com to learn more. Right, bye bye you lovely listeners, much love and see you next week on the British English Podcast.

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