Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shanghai: Day Four

Today, Josh had the morning off, so he, Lynn, and I, after spending the morning writing, caught a cab and zipped off to meet their friend John, another Fulbrighter. After a minor argument with the driver in Chinese (we needed him to pull over, then make a u-turn, then pull over again while waiting for John, and he shouted that we were wasting his time), we reached our destination: Moganshanlu, a compound of galleries converted from old factory buildings. We had some tea at a world-themed coffeehouse (they had tea; I embraced my American nature and had “coffee milk,” since I’d only had some oranges that morning and lunch was nowhere in sight) and then began to wander the near-deserted structures. Many of the galleries were closed, or just filled with art my tour guides deemed unworthy. The spaces we did see were interesting, if not great. An artist at island6-ifa gallery had installed rudimentary figures onto LCD screens behind old Chinese scrolls and mirrors, so that the withered parchment or scratched furniture lit up with flashing Chinese characters and dancing bodies. At a smaller gallery, the room was strung up with curving rows of loudspeakers one had to duck between. There was also a great Bandi Panda video—a fashion show that assigned panda-based costumes to people on different walks of life (middle school student, nurse, sanitation worker), which was hysterically funny.

Josh went off to work, and after poking into a few more galleries and a great bookstore (where I immediately stumbled onto two different photographers who had photographed the exact same apartment building from the exact same angle), Lynn took John and I on a long march toward the famous YANG’ SPAN FRIED DUMPLINGS [sic]. This is a chain with four locations, each of which usually has an insurmountable line down the street; we went to the one right across the street from our soup dumpling shop a few days ago, as well as “Best Noodles in the World” (Lynn concurs that their noodles are pretty good). Because it was after two, though, the lunch crowd had dispersed, and we didn’t have to wait at all for three bowls of steaming, crispy dumplings scraped up out of a three-foot wide fry pan by a masked attendant. Eating here is a four-fold process; you wait in one line to order and pay, where you’re given receipts that serve as tickets. Then, you wait in the dumpling line (this is the long one) until you have your tin dish of deliciousness. Then, you go inside and give your soup ticket to another attendant in the back (there is a beef and curry soup filled with clear, thin noodles that go with the dumplings), then you fight for a table upstairs. Of course, we didn’t have to fight since it was empty; we immediately sat down, poured vinegar from the table’s teapot into our dumpling dishes, and dug in.

These dumplings are larger and more doughy than the steamed ones from across the street, but also filled with a meatball and boiling, oily broth. As usual, I made a mess, and as usual, there were no napkins. I ate all of my food and finished Lynn’s last dumpling (I will pay for all this soon enough). And on the topic of paying—all this cost 14 RMB each, which is about two dollars.

John said goodbye after lunch and Lynn and I went off to do some shopping. She took me to the street where expensive, fashionable, independent designers have set up boutiques. Everywhere we went, I saw things I wanted—mostly coats with unusual lines, or made from leather so silky it made me shiver—but the prices ran from 4500-15,000 RMB (a few hundred to a few thousand). We did finally find a less expensive shop, the closet-sized LIU2, where I tried on ten of their light wool coats before settling on a red plaid one with long, clean lines and a big, boat collar, for 1,250 RMB; it’s something that I could never get at home, especially not at that price (around $175).

We were getting tired and stopped for coffee at another expat joint (which, except for the air hung with stale cigarettes, could have easily been back in San Francisco or New York’s Chelsea), and then decided to go home to rest for awhile, since we were meeting Josh and John again for a late dinner. Back home I scribbled out my postcards and read a bit before we got ready to go out again, to yet another expat-styled restaurant, the Chinese-Italian Trattoria Isabelle. Lynn and Josh apparently eat there a few times a week, so the wait staff was attentive for once, bringing a bottle of wine before we ordered it. My dinner companions all ordered pasta, but I thought that if I ate another starchy item I might go into shock, so I ordered steamed cod, wrapped it paper, garnished with tiny clams (no fat lip this time!), shrimp, and broccoli. It was the first Western meal that held up to my Western standards.

After dinner, Lynn wanted to show me some Chinese clubs, so we popped into Richy (!), a huge, smoky place filled with flashing colored lights and louche Asians with big hair. Typically, whites are not let into Richy (no expats here), but Lynn was our passport. I had been expecting more bubble-gum pop, but the beats were recognizable: Snoop Dogg. We snaked through the packed bodies, moving all the way to the back, where Lynn tried to sit down before informing that in order to do so, we would need to start ordering: bottle service. The security guard from the front door had followed us all the way to the back, and then followed us all the way out. Then, Lynn took us to Muse 97, an expat-friendly club (where the music wasn’t as good), but it was more of the same. We tried to sit down in one spot, and were escorted to another, in an empty room in the back with a wall-length fish tank. This of course meant that we were expected to order bottles, and so we left. Lynn wanted to stop at another Muse location, one closer to her apartment, but John didn’t want to dance, and I didn’t feel much like it either, so we just went home and stayed up late, splitting another bottle of wine and tooling around on the internet (LOLCats, it seems, have not made their way to the Shanghainese audience yet).

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