Pu Dong

16 Sep

Shanghai airport, like Amsterdam, Houston, Dubai or Singapore, is becoming a major international hub. The government allows passengers transiting through Shanghai airport to stay in the city for up to 48 hours without a visa (those from Western countries at least, and South Korea). A step towards Shanghai recovering the status it had in the early 20th century, as a place where laws and regulations where looser, and a more multicultural lifestyle could evolve – a step, also, towards its ambition of becoming ‘the new Hong Kong’.

I had more than four hours of transit, and was planning to go on a short trip outside. But then my flight was delayed, and I ended up staying inside Pu Dong airport. I sat down at one of the side cafes, and had a bowl of wonton soup – surprisingly cheaper than anything else on the menu, and relatively edible. A couple of Australian women started bargaining to get the one gin and tonic their last RMBs could pay for poured into two different glasses. I was getting back into my usual world. It was global transit trash.

Yet there’s one thing in PuDong airport which I think is uniquely Chinese: a little health video, starring a cartoon pig and his pink-dress wearing girlfriend, warning about the dangers of Avian Flu.

The video runs for about three to four minutes, and details the measures to take if you show the symptoms. Some of them seem like basic wisdom: stay at home, air the room, eat vegetables and fruit, sleep for eight hours at least.

Others have a slightly more sinister air of social control: stay away from others, don’t kiss, don’t go out.

The images are accompanied by little poem-like messages: two lines of seven syllables, stating the core information – ‘open the windows, decrease the possibility of catching the cold’ – followed by two syllables giving a moral judgement – ‘very good’, ‘comfortable’, ‘social morality’.

I saw the video on the way in – it was on a loop, and its distinctive rhythm could be heard all through the waiting area. On the way back – had there been complaints? – it only played in between sections of news. Still, it was very loud, and you couldn’t escape it. But I guess health messages have to be delivered somehow.

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