Enjoy Doing or Being Able to Do

I focus on philosophy for life more than real/practical information on Shanghai. Don’t worry. I will be back to the topic people rely on to survive in this city soon.

I found many circumstances that people, sometimes including me, cannot distinguish enjoying doing something or enjoying being able to do something. What is the difference?

We spent a lot to buy an apartment in Xujiahui that is near Ever Bright Exhibition Center. There was very good sports facility there. In the two years, we never played badminton or swing there. We paid for “being able to exercise at anytime”. After that, we thought we have reached our goal.

I have a good friend who decided to buy expensive and nice sport shoes, so he can jog. I asked “Do you enjoy jogging or enjoy being able to jog?”

We live in Shanghai. People are pride to announce: “We are in Shanghai. We have the best fashion show, the best ballet, the best film, the best museum, the best bar…” in Shanghai. Whatever people claim, we seldom enter a museum or theatre. It seems people enjoy being able to go to a museum better than really going there.

How many purchase started with the desire of being able to do something instead of doing something. It is not rare to find out visitors to a city know the city better than local. Ask native resident about the Oriental Pearl, or Shanghai Museum – the majority of them never tried that. “They are all for visitors”. It is the same that people in New York may not experience the sky deck of the Empire State Tower, and people in Seattle may not visit the Space Needle.

I am not saying enjoying doing something is always more important than being able to do something. I just started to distinguish these two feeling so I won’t buy something because I enjoy being able to do something. I used a sentence like a tough-twister.

Shanghai Tour for Shanghainese

I was thinking about the idea of Shanghai tour for Shanghainese. We are in this city and we enjoy being able to going to any place in this city without worrying about time limitation. The result is, we never go there. There are great places in Shanghai, just like the Best Afternoon in Shanghai that only people in Shanghai can enjoy with grace pace. Start to tour the city as a visitor, plan one day or two days off (a weekend is perfect) and wake up with the excitement of a traveler, even spend a night at a local hotel. The same city will be different that day.

I have to quote Alain de Botton’s paragraph in the Art of Travel. It make a lot sense:

What, then, is a traveling mind-set? Receptivity might be said to be its chief characteristic. Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting. We irritate locals because we stand in traffic islands and narrow streets and admire what they take to be unremarkable small details. We risk getting run over because we are intrigued by the roof of a government building or an inscription on a wall. We find a supermarket or a hairdresser’s shop unusually fascinating. We dwell at length on the layout of a menu or the clothes of the presenters on the evening news. We are alive to the layers of history beneath the present and take notes and photographs

Home, by contrast, finds us more settled in our expectations. We fell assured that we have discovered everything interesting about our neighborhood, primarily by virtue of our having lived there a long time. It seems inconceivable that there could be anything new to find in a place where we have been living for a decade or more. We have become habituated and therefore blind to it.

How smart is Alain de Botton.

P.S Bonus Pack: What about the Living Cost in Shanghai

What is the living cost in Shanghai? It still remains the top questions I got from email. Let me give you an example of living cost. de Botton’s article reminded me of hairdresser. If you want your hair cut, I have the following three places for you to pick:

A) Hairdresser downstairs. We have someone like this. They charge for 5 RMB per time for man’s hair. But the appearance of the room and the equipment is simple enough to drive away all picky customers. Their customers are mainly those local residents.

B) Hairdresser chain store like “Wen Feng” – a famous brand you can find around the city. They charge 20 RMB for man’s haircut. They are pretty professional and have the largest customer base.

C) Professional hairdresser (with foreign or Hong Kong investment background). They are in big department stores and they charge 150 RMB to 300 RMB per hair cut. My friend Kevin had his first haircut in Shanghai at 240 RMB (17 pounds) at Three on the Bund.

Before you ask me about living cost in Shanghai, tell me the answer to the question: Which kind of lifestyle do you lead, A, B, or C?

8 Comments

  1. What an excellent discussion, Jian Shuo! I think what you describe is true almost everywhere, and I was thinking about this same thing just the other day. We live less than an hour away from San Francisco, but almost the only time we ever go there is when we have guests from out of town. We also live within a fairly easy drive from Yosemite National Park — but we have not visited there in many years. The same is true for the beautiful beaches and coastline just a short drive in the other direction.

    It could be that we love where we are (which is true :) so have no need to seek out the excitement, or “get away” to someplace different.

    It could be that we get so busy we just don’t feel we can take the time for such a small adventure.

    Or, it could be that since we know it’s there, we feel no imperative to make these trips since we can always do it “some other time”.

    What a good reason for you and Wendy to come see us so that we can use your visit as an excuse/reason to explore our own “neighborhoods” again :-)

  2. I lived in the historic Charleston, South Carolina, but it wasn’t until my mother visited with a friend of hers that I went to visit all the historic sites (mainly Civil War site) there. Oddly, even though I had never been to any of them, I knew them. I must have picked up what locals had said about them here and there. Never put it all together until I showed them to a visitor.

    After my mother and her friend left, it did strike me that I hadn’t explored the city myself until then. Thinking about it I can see why we don’t. When you move someplace, you have so many things you’ve got to get done to set yourself up there that after all of it is taken care of, you’re exhausted and have already run all over the city. Of course, the places you ran to were functional (Home Depot, supermarkets, etc.). Stuff tourists have no interest in seeing but you need. Yes, you’ve see the city by then, but not necessarily its full beauty. Anyway…

    After that experience over twenty years ago, I’ve taken a scavenger’s hunt approach to the cities I live in. And by doing so, I go beyond what even the tourists do. I visit the tourist locations, but then hunt out the unusual. Here in Madison, Wisconsin, I’ve found a video arcade that specializes in old video games, a funeral director that has a bizarre museum of stuffed roadkill, a tongue-in-cheek museum for toilet papers from around the world, and the list just keeps on growing. And by approaching it like a hunt, I get my local friends into the game as well and they end up taking us to still other such places. Last summer, we hunted for little-known city parks. Now that was eye-opening experience. It amazed me how many there were and where they were hidden away. Two were so amazing that when visitors came one time, I took them to see two of them and they were amazed as well. Hidden without any sign but merely a grassy path you walked and then they opening up to a beautifully kept but obviously rarely used park.

    Jian, what I would recommend you do for one of your installment is essentially write up a scavenger’s hunt list of places in Shanghai and the nearby area that both locals and visitors should go and see. Put well-known museums, ballet, and such on that list, but also put the unusual, bizarre, and unique. And make the list not just to see them, but to do something at them, such as see a ballet performance, eat an unusual dish at an odd restaurant, stand at such-n-such location then look straight up, and so forth. If you can, make it as a separate webpage and in a check-list format so people can print it off and then check them off as they go around seeing and doing them.

    Oh, and I did the above once but it did it in a cryptic fashion and made it a Saturday activity for friends. On the list was things like:

    “Go to ‘Big Mamma & Uncle Fat’s Barbeque’ and eat third item on list. Staple restaurant receipt to this paper.”

    “Go to ‘Memorial Union”. Third floor. Two doors to the left of the women’s restroom. Face south. Write what you see.”

    It was great fun. It took me a long time to make up the list, but it was enjoyed by all. :-)

  3. great comments, as Carroll already mentioned, it is true everywhere. Most new yorkers have never seen the statue of liberty. New yorkers dont find it is any special living in NYC unlike people who come to New york for vacation. Same goes for Shanghai, I just came back from a business trip to Shanghai and enjoyed it thoroughly. But not because of the tourist spots (which there arent too many) but because of the good food at very expensive restaurants and meeting old college friends. I wouldnt be doing all this in NY where I live. So Shanghai is just like any big city, people from other places go there, enjoy themselves for few days but for ppl who live in Shanghai, you do not do all those things as it is either too expensive/or gets boring after a while. The grass is always greener on the other side.

  4. Agreed with “Chinese”. My wife and I are always thinking to go back to China, because of the food, the entertainment and old friends there. But we are fully aware of this: life will be same in everywhere. You’d not be meeting up with friend all the time and eating up all the time. After few gathering and couple of month of going for restraunt, most likely you end up with the same life: watching TV at home and listening to the music with your Hi-Fi, spend your time with your family after work.

  5. Like many others have said, locals don’t do the same things as tourists. I’ve found over the past few years I have really gained a new appreciation for my 2 home cities (hehe, I claim both Beijing and Chicago as my home) by taking friends to many of the tourist places as well as those places only locals know. It helps one see the city through someone elses eyes and realize how great a place it is. I don’t think anyone chooses Shanghai for these things but because of the business opportunities, however they enjoy bragging about these things to others.

    Of course many things we desire so that we can have the ability to do something, whether or not we actually do it. But I don’t think its so much “being able to do” and more so the realities of life. Your friend who just bought expensive running shoes might desire to exercise and actually do it on a few occassions before getting busy or sidetracked and not be able to do it. I go to the bookstore (or online) and keep buying books, some I read and some I may not read for years, but I bought them because I thought I will surely read them sometime soon…hehe, its normal for people, because we have desires and things we want to achieve, but only so many hours in a day…

  6. Tough_Lefse’ hunt list is really a good idea. Jianshuo, maybe you can integrate it with your Shanghai Map project?

    When I was in Nanjing two years ago, I always went out with a city map in my bag, but I never used it unless it was late and I had to go back to school. I’d like to travel around the city without destination. I went out, took a bus if I happened to find a bus stop. If there were several lines, chose the most unfamiliar one. When I was on the bus, I watched out the window carefully and curiously. If I found something interesting by the roadside, I would get off at the next bus stop and go back to the interesting place. After visiting the place, I continued my travel by rambling around and finding another bus stop. When it was late, I took out the map and found out where I was, then searched for a way to go back.

    I always got great surprize and unexpected joy when I travelled like this.I think this is another good way for you to get familiar with the city you live in. You need to know your purpose when using a hunt list. It is just like using google — you should use a few keywords to express what you want, and then you get it. My method is like navigating the web, from one site to another site by hyper-links. You never know what you will get until you get it. It is more time consuming, but it is also more exciting to find something you don’t know before.

  7. BTW. Recently, I jog every night for 2 or 3 kilometers. But Hao has only used his sports shoes twice since we bought them. Tonight, before I go out for jogging, I’ll call him and remind him of your neat question:”Do you enjoy jogging or enjoy being able to jog?” :P

  8. Excellent post as many have praised. The same concept might apply to the bigger topic of LIFE. We live our life, and our life is all around us all the time, but we often fail to apprciate fully the precious pearls of our life, sometimes thinking “oh, that’s nothing” or “I will have plenty of opportunities the next time” or “I will do that when ……” or “a little bit of lapse won’t hurt in a long run.” A city is measured by 3-D space but life is measured by the 1-D time. Before long, the opportunity passes you by, the age leaves you behind, the beloved person drifts away, or your enthusiasm/energy/love is no longer there. So while we are here at this time this place and this age, enjoy life, treasure love, appreciate everyone near you or related to you, and live every day to the fullest.

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