Shanghai street sounds

21 Aug

My headphones broke last week.

Since I walk to work, I use my headphones pretty much every day.  I listen to music, I listen to podcasts and I use that 20 minutes or so each way to either prep for the day or wind down.  Until I didn’t have my headphones any more I didn’t realize that I was also using them as a barrier between me and the Shanghai streets, an invisible cloud that pillowed me each day.

Without them, I could hear every guttural throat clearing and spitting, each motorbike horn, the woman saying “Hello, Hello” in English in the park, the almost silent electric bikes that threaten to cut me off, the calls of vendors selling breakfast or dinner to taxi drivers, other people’s cell phones, the laughter over dinner tables, the TV sets turned up to the news broadcasts…

The first day that I didn’t have my headphones it felt raw, like nails on a chalkboard – each sound intruding into my former “private” space.  The second day, a little less so, the third day – more normal.  The walk to work seemed both longer and shorter (not helped by the intense heat that is still enveloping us here in Shanghai).  Noticing these smaller things was different than normal, but that intense – in your face – lifestyle of the street was too much.

I bought new headphones before the week was up.  Even after almost 5 years in China, I still need a buffer between me and the Shanghai street sounds – and this time it was a conscious decision.

Do you have any buffers that you will admit to?  Please share.

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9 Responses to “Shanghai street sounds”

  1. abc in shanghai August 21, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    welcome to the club! i actually, don’t walk these streets with them, purposely, b/c of this very reason. all of what you described is what makes this city what it is. or, perhaps it’s a bit of self-preservation in needing to hear and respond to things like taxi’s, scooters, cars, let alone people …

    • gkm2011 August 21, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      I know – I have always been bad at crossing streets though – even in Chicago people pulled me back by the shoulders. I suppose I should be more worried, but the cushion of sound – at this point, is a necessity.

  2. roomaomao August 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    I had the exact same feelings after my headphones broke but I haven’t gotten a new pair. I found myself enjoying taking it all in , listening to people’s conversations , and well the added safety benefit. (We need all the advantages we can get to stay alive , haha.) I know once I get a new pair , I will be marveling in the music , and be very happy to lose myself in tunes once again.

    • gkm2011 August 21, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

      You are braver than I am – I didn’t even make it a week! Although the safety benefits are probably worth it. Thanks for the comment.

      • roomaomao August 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

        No problemo. Thanks for the good post that I completely 100% related to. Haha

  3. sarahinguangzhou August 21, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    I think the noise level in China is too much to deal with without some kind of buffer. Just the volume people speak at is deafening. Certainly the people shouting ‘hello’ all the time were annoying. It’s not like they could ever have a conversation anyway; generally hello was the only English word they knew. But still they shouted it.

    • gkm2011 August 22, 2012 at 6:35 am #

      That is true. I remember when I first moved to Shanghai I thought people on the street were furious all the time – this is complicated because Shanghainese sounds even harsher than Mandarin – maybe Cantonese does as well? I realized that I wasn’t capable of not having a buffer – at least it was conscious this time!

  4. eof737 August 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    I’ve taken to wearing headphones when I take a walk… something about choosing my own sound feels good… 🙂

    • gkm2011 August 22, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

      I like that too – your own soundtrack where you can choose which part you’d like to play.

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