A Little Breathing Room in Pudong

This weekend Sumner went with his school soccer team to play at the American Shanghai International School, or “SAS.” SAS in the Shanghai district of Pudong, some three hours’ drive from Hangzhou. I went along as a fill-in coach, as the regular coach couldn’t go.

SAS headline
Headline from SAS school newspaper, 1948

Though the SAS school’s address is Shanghai, it is hard to realize we are there. “Shanghai,” to me, conjures the image of skyscrapers, or, more memorably, Indiana Jones wrestling assassins for a vial of antidote in the opening of The Temple of Doom.

temple of doom
Indiana Jones, about to be “shanghaied”

As our bus nears SAS we pass pleasant, though less gleaming scenes: mom-and-pop cafes cranking out piping hot breakfast pastries; families fishing in a muddy meandering stream; mini-bikers zipping past, carrying groceries, bags of concrete, or small children; farmers burning trash, and spreading their grain on the road to dry it.

drying grain
The road in Pudong

And, almost to the school, arggh: our driver gets lost, though it’s not his fault. The road to the school is closed. We have to backtrack, needing several k turns on the narrow road. Hopefully we won’t squish one of the stray dogs staring at us.

But we make it. Now we are at Shanghai Links, a gated community that surrounds the SAS. The guards perfunctorily wave us through the security gate.
The landscape changes as we travel slowly towards the school on “Augusta Drive” (it’s really called that). The two-story brick houses along side replicate an American suburb: manicured grass lawns, sturdy brick mailboxes, trampolines with those silly safety nets around the perimeter. It looks like St. Andrews. Maybe the San Fernando Valley. Or just Long Island.

shanghai links photo
Shanghai Links

We arrive about 30 minutes late to the soccer tournament, at 9 a.m. But no worries. The tournament director tells us the AQ (Air Quality) is too low, or in other words, too high. AQ is a measure of air pollution, or the density of particles in the air hazardous to breathe. By (Chinese) international school rules the tournament can’t happen if the AQ is above 250. When we get there it’s 259.

AQ reading
Tournament headquarters, fidgeting over Air Quality

Wikipedia says an AQ range of 201-300 is “heavily polluted,” so that “Healthy people will be noticeably affected.”

Hmm. But it LOOKs sunny outside today. The boys have come all this way, and are raring to go.
What’s a little particle dust?
At 11:00 some wind has come through, I suppose, and the reading drops to 233. We’re good! The tournament commences.

HIS soccer in Shanghai
The Hangzhou International School team, in blue, prepares to play

Our team wins 2, ties 3, and loses 1, which I’m told is an improvement on the last tournament in Nanjing, all losses. We have 2 new players since then, who, incidentally, scored all of our goals. One I’ll call Minjun. I now realize that Minjun speaks limited English. I tried to give him instructions on what to do on the field, but he probably was thinking, “다만 저에게 지독한 공을 제공합니다,” or, “Just give me the $%@!^ ball.”
The other is Vijay. Vijay is as big as me, and simply runs over smaller players. On the field he wears cool sun glasses and no socks.
As the tournament lasts longer than scheduled to make up the games lost because of the morning’s delay, we do not dilly dally after our last game and head straight for the bus. Our time in sunny, heavily polluted Pudong ends on a high note.
We leave Augusta and head back to China.
Later, as Sumner and I get off the bus near the West Lake to catch a taxi or bicycle home I find myself even more happy I live in Hangzhou this year. The AQ here today is only 201.

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