Saturday, August 19, 2006

Urban Cacophony

Anyone who's ever been to any part of Asia will recognise this:

"They honked at other cars, and they honked at pedestrians. They honked whenever they passed somebody, or whenever they were being passed themselves. They honked when nobody was passing but somebody might be considering it, or when the road was empty and there was nobody to pass but the thought of passing or being passed had just passed through the driver's mind. Just like that, an unthinking reflex: the driver honked."

-'River Town- Two years on the Yangze', Peter Hessler.

When Chinese people ask me what I dislike about Shanghai, my answer is always the same- the constant cacophony of sounds at any one time of day or night. As I sit in my studio, typing this at 10.30am on a Saturday morning I can hear the beeps, backfires, and rumble of traffic; the ringing, clanging, grinding and hammering of the never-ending Shanghai construction (or re-construction); I can hear my neighbours shouting, playing the piano, radios blaring and telephones ringing; and in my own apartment there is the sound of the air-conditioner whirring constantly above my head, and the rascal rabbits digging and ripping the paper off their cardboard play tunnels. In spite of all this, we tell people how lucky we are to have found an apartment in a "quiet area".

I long for the relative solitude of my home in The Blue Mountains, to lie in my hammock on the balcony and listen to the birds... and the cicadas, and the crickets, and frogs, and lawnmowers, and cars being tuned, and chickens sqawking, and dogs barking, and barbeques sizzling....

Though Shanghai is undoubtedly noisier than the Blue Mountains, I guess silence is relative.




Philippe Roy said...

...what I wouldn't do to go back to my little Canadian cabin for a weekend. Silence.

...only problem is, of course, that now that I've lived in Asia for 5 years, my cabin's silence just provokes fear and paranoya into me!

Mignon said...

That's the best then and now I've ever seen. I do remember the honking from when I was in Japan. I think they use their horns as a kind of auditory eye-contact. Woe to the driver that takes his eyes of the road, ever.

We've been staying at a hotel in Portland for the last couple nights. A very nice, quiet hotel with no night noises at all. And it drives me crazy. Jim wrestled with the window in the middle of the night last night to see if we could at least get a little highway noise. Maybe I'll see if I can find a couple insects to bring in tonight to liven the place up a little.

Mia said...

People always complain that NYC is noisy yet when I was in Egypt I was unable to sleep. More than once I was awakened just before dawn by the call to prayer on several loud speakers. I thought I was going to die of a heart attack more than once. The plus side was late at night i'd fall asleep to the sounds of the waves of the sea. My apartment in Alexandria is a down the block from the beach.

Philippe said...

Oh Mia... thanks for reminding me! Ah yes, nothing like the call-to-prayer-wake-up-call special.

I was so inlove with it after 5 months of it that I bought the Deluxe Mosque Clock with the Friday call to prayer (the longest one).

Of course, the call to prayer doesn't have the same effect on everyone...

verniciousknids said...

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!

What did you think of that book? I can't decide whether or not to spend my hard-earned yen on it!

Louise said...

I've only half-finished the book so far but it's pretty good. Strangely there is a lot in it that I relate to from when I was living in a rural village in Nepal, rather than from Shanghai, as he is in a small (still huge- this is China) towm which has had very little exposure to foreigners.

Still, unless the ending crashes and burns, I think it is a good buy.