One of the constants of life abroad, of living well where you don't belong, is the ambiguity — the feeling that everything you see and experience doesn't quite make sense. Or, as I like to say (often), 'nothing is as it seem.'
A friend sent me a quote from a novel written by a foreigner in Shanghai in the 1920's.
Shanghai, and particularly being a foreigner in Shanghai, might have been purposely designed by Andre to illustrate and encourage the surrealist impulse. Every moment there possesses an air of peculiarity. Every corner there brings a moment of crystal clear absurdity. My landlord there, as it turns out, was a policeman with a side business of child prostitutes. One of his girls used to sit in the courtyard playing the guitar and telling me her dream of becoming a catholic nun—once she had finished putting her older brother through university. The head of the missionary school where I taught for a while spent his every lunch hour with an opium pipe. One discovered a purity in the gutters and filth in the glittering shop windows—every hour of every day. I found Shanghai to be the very essence of surrealist doctrine. If the world is mad, then the maddest man is the most sane. So I became sane by embracing madness. I became intoxicated by sobriety. (The Language of Bees, by Laurie King)
While the actual examples may be quite different, the underlying sentiment has a vague familiarity to it.