December 7, 2010

Odd little Manhattan

Today I tackled the Chinese Postal service. And by tackled, I mean feebly managed to mail some really weird gifts back home. I had grand plans of mailing all of my best friends odd little trinkets from here only to realize that mailing something as small as a pair of earrings rendered an awkwardly huge box... sadly those gifts are sitting on my shelf in my room, where they will stay until May when I fly back home.

I couldn't sacrifice mailing goodies to my family though, it is after all my nephew's first Christmas and I had to send him some fantastic Chinese language-learning toys. I also had to keep up the tradition with my brother of giving super strange, unwanted gifts. Typically we "wrap" a gift for each other in something extra special -- like chewed gum or encased in a plaster mold. We've used everything from fish bait to dirt to used hockey tape and jello molds to share holiday cheer. This year, the wrapping for his gift is definitely unoriginal, but the gift is the weirdest it has ever been.

Without giving too much away, only one thing out of the huge variety of things got confiscated: mango pudding pops. I promise you, those mango candies were by far the most normal thing included in the gift. There will certainly be a strange breed of a Christmas feast at the Hagen household as long as the package arrives in time. There is a good chance of course that it won't, it's going half by sea and half by plane. After a quick review of my geography, that must mean that it will have a stop over in either Hawaii or Alaska, I don't think there is much between here and the US besides a lot of ocean.

Tonight, I got a nice little dose of America and went shopping at H&M with Jenn. Lately, Hangzhou has been feeling less like China and more like Manhattan. We flag cabs down with an aggression rarely seen outside of NYC and certain neighborhoods downtown are feeling familiar to me -- like I'm finally making it my territory in a metropolis. My secret desire to know my way around a sky-scraper filled city is finally coming true, I just never imagined it would be in a Chinese city.

Walking down the street in our knee-high boots and winter coats, we browsed Sephora and tried on all sorts of goodies at H&M. It was like a city in the US, minus the Christmas decorations -- with a Chinese twist of course. The US and China share so many of the same stores, brands, and even cultural idols (all hail the consumerism gods). The Chinese are just as obsessed, if not more, with labels as Americans are. Only here it's a lot easier to find believable knockoffs.

It feels like America only on the surface -- the store signs, the bright city lights, the smell of perfume in Sephora or coffee at Starbucks. But sometimes visiting the things that look the same on the outside only remind you how different they are on the inside. It's about impossible to find a basic t-shirt at H&M to fit my body. Starbucks offers odd little jello-ish desserts rather than coffee cake. And Sephora is stocked with only a handful of recognizable labels. It's both comforting and disheartening at the same time....

This blog is seriously lacking wit, so my apologies. I'm running way behind on sleep and have to wake up very early in the morning -- I'm shotgun planning a trip to Hong Kong and am also preparing for my first two final exams. Shopping tonight may not have been the brightest idea I've ever had... at any rate, I'm excited to finally visit Hong Kong, it's been a long time coming!

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