Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Shanghai: Day Three

Lynn was second-guessing her plan to take me to “the spicy restaurant” (the Hunan Gu Yi) after our little chili pepper debacle, but I insisted that I was up for it, so after another morning of writing at home, and breakfasting on two steamed pork buns that she brought me, we set out for another gustatory adventure. Again, she did the ordering, and announced that I would be eating bullfrog, kidney (“whose kidney?” I asked, but she wasn’t sure, suggesting, perhaps, pig), tofu, and a vegetable. All was delicious, and even though each dish came heavily mixed with chilies (after we finished eating, it looked like we hadn’t eaten a thing, because the dishes were still full of peppers), the heat was bearable. Lynn broke into a sweat and had to strip off all her layers, but I was a champ, spitting tiny frog bones onto my plate, and demanding a second bowl of rice when the tingling on my inner lips wouldn’t quiet. As usual, we ate too much.

Then we snagged a taxi to go to the Slaughterhouse, a 1933 British-built structure that the Chinese are rehabilitating from a cattle-killing station into a mall (as if there were a shortage of malls in Shanghai). The building is circular, concrete, dark, with a cattle-running ramp around the circumference, and curious staircases and corridors in the middle. The shops are only beginning to open, and much of the space is empty, littered with a few art photographers taking advantage of the strange angles and light.

The view from the roof was fantastic: a look into the neighborhood's secret corridors.

We then progressed to 696 Weihai, a pseudo-abandoned warehouse filled with artists’ open studios—except that, perhaps because of the time of day, or the day of the week, or Spring Festival, they were all closed. We did wander the wide hallways, though, admiring the peeling paint, the old, wide windows, and the ways the artists had decorated their doors. Lynn thought it too dark and damp a place to work, but I thought it was gorgeous.

By then I was in desperate need of coffee, so we took the subway to another neighborhood, stopping at a bakery to procure giant wedges of sweet, spongy bread encrusted with sugar. We sat down for espresso at Paul, a French pastry chain that seems to cater to the expat community with surprising success; Lynn explained that it’s the only place to get really good bread, which one starts to miss after being here for awhile. As usual, the service was dreadful, and every time I wanted my water glass refilled, we had to ask (and it would only be filled half-way). How I miss the land of tipping!

Then Lynn took me to another gallery, Plum, so that I could meet her friend Little Punk. Plum is in one of Shanghai’s charming enclaves of brick row houses, a suite of white-walled, high-ceilinged rooms with a pretty little courtyard where we sat chatting with Little Punk and her Swedish friend Joey until it got too cold. Then we went inside, where she made hot water with lemon and we chatted some more. Joey, in a lumpy jacket and skinny jeans and red socks, with a Danish novel in his pocket, worried about his pot-smoking habit and insisted on his commitment to China. Little Punk, reading a book about Man, God, and Rock and Roll, in brazen, idiomatic English, blurted “Fuck!” rather often, while bemoaning the fact that she had cut her pubic hair.

Joey, Lynn, and I went to the store to get her some beer, then Lynn and I said goodbye and went to English First! to pick up Josh for dinner, since it was his early night off. On the way, I ate an oyster procured for 5 RMB from a street vendor. It took too long to cook, but it was delicious.

Because he prefers Western food, Lynn chose Casa 13, a tapas restaurant opened by a successful Argentinian (who has opened ten such restaurants in Shanghai alone in very short time). We ordered sangria, baked scallops, tuna carpaccio, mussels, asparagus, and, for Lynn’s longing palate, mashed potatoes. They were very happy with the meal. My verdict? In China, eat Chinese food.

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