Sunday, March 29, 2009
A woman on the street laughed at me, which was mean, but then when I looked at her pale face peeking out from under her shapeless snowcoat and glanced down at the tawny tops of my feet glowing from between my inappropriately warm-weather shoes and leggings, I realized I should pity, not hate, her.
David did not clear any closet space for me, so instead I unpacked my things all over the bed and desk until we have time to go to The Container Store. I have to say, I feel kind of homeless. And cold, since I don't know how to turn on the heat in this apt.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Arriving back to my apt in HK last night was even more of a shock to the finer senses, though, and now I'm a little ashamed to admit that I am so ready to get out of here and go back to Chicago. I only have about 15 hours to go before my flight, and I seriously could do with less.
For my last night in HK I landed at 9:30 and was out by 11:30 in LKF. The Rugby Sevens started yesterday so it was a MADHOUSE. Far worse than I've ever seen it: police barricades, paddy wagons, fat drunken Brits with incredibly unattractive costumes (think little girls' plastic swim skirts and mardi gras beads), and beer-mixed-with-drizzle-mixed-with-vomit all over the main streets. Luckily I left the proletariat on the streets and stayed indoors the entire evening, first at Finds in the LKF hotel, then Solas (starting to change my mind about that place - not fun), then Pi (my opinion is cemented, this place has the best music in LKF). Thought about going out after that, but luckily David made the intelligent call to go home and we left at a civilized 3am.
Now it's packing, retrieving my Shenzhen tailoring and David's bespoke suits, eating my final egg custard, and goodbye Hong Kong.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
After I moved tables and typed in peace for an hour or so a middle-aged Western man asked to sit in the armchair across from me. After reading his paper for a few minutes he pulled floss out of his cargo short pocket and began FLOSSING HIS TEETH at the table. “Click. Tick. Tick. Click.” I have never thought flossing was so dirty. By this time there were no more free tables with outlets and so I had to suffer through the entire dental hygiene session. Luckily it only lasted a few minutes, but it was followed by NAIL CLIPPING. Hands, not feet - thank goodness for small favors.
Am I unreasonably strict in my standards…?
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
So we went to Carnegie's in Wan Chai for St. Patty's Day - apparently it's a chain? What brought us there was the Tuesday night $10 HKD vodka drinks - genius. What kept us there was the terrible Top 40 mix, the So You Can't Dance bar-top patrons and the MALE STRIPPER some table had hired to come to their table. He didn't go further than thong, but that was freaking funny enough at a packed bar. I'm not ashamed to admit I want to go back - thank you Mark the English.
PS: Does it say something that Mark called me "the most Sex and the City/New York person he's ever met - no offense" and I took it as a glowing compliment?
Sunday, March 15, 2009
"J'espère qu'un jour viendra où la France, délivrée et nettoyée, renverra ce butin à la Chine spoliée", par Victor Hugo
a récente vente aux enchères de la collection Yves Saint Laurent a provoqué une polémique : les autorités chinoises ont réclamé, sans succès, la restitution de deux têtes d'animaux en bronze, provenant du Palais d'été mis à sac à Pékin, lors de l'expédition menée, en 1860, par la France et l'Angleterre. Interrogé sur cet épisode par un capitaine britannique, Victor Hugo lui répondait ainsi, en 1861.
Puisque vous voulez connaître mon avis, le voici. Il y avait, dans un coin du monde, une merveille du monde ; cette merveille s'appelait le Palais d'été. L'art a deux principes, l'Idée, qui produit l'art européen, et la Chimère, qui produit l'art oriental. Le Palais d'été était à l'art chimérique ce que le Parthénon est à l'art idéal. Tout ce que peut enfanter l'imagination d'un peuple presque extra-humain était là. Ce n'est pas, comme le Parthénon, une oeuvre rare et unique ; c'était une sorte d'énorme modèle de la chimère, si la chimère peut avoir un modèle. Imaginez on ne sait quelle construction inexprimable, quelque chose comme un édifice lunaire, et vous aurez le Palais d'été.
Bâtissez un songe avec du marbre, du jade, du bronze, de la porcelaine, charpentez-le en bois de cèdre, couvrez-le de pierreries, drapez-le de soie, faites-le ici sanctuaire, là harem, là citadelle, mettez-y des dieux, mettez-y des monstres, vernissez-le, émaillez-le, dorez-le, fardez-le, faites construire par des architectes qui soient des poètes les mille et un rêves des Mille et Une Nuits, ajoutez des jardins, des bassins, des jaillissements d'eau et d'écume, des cygnes, des ibis, des paons, supposez en un mot une sorte d'éblouissante caverne de la fantaisie humaine ayant une figure de temple et de palais, c'était là ce monument.
Il avait fallu, pour le créer, le long travail de deux générations. Cet édifice, qui avait l'énormité d'une ville, avait été bâti par les siècles, pour qui ? Pour les peuples. Car ce que fait le temps appartient à l'homme. Les artistes, les poètes, les philosophes connaissent le Palais d'été ; Voltaire en parle. On disait : le Parthénon en Grèce, les Pyramides en Egypte, le Colisée à Rome, Notre-Dame à Paris, le Palais d'été en Orient. Si on ne le voyait pas, on le rêvait. C'était une sorte d'effrayant chef-d'oeuvre inconnu, entrevu au loin dans on ne sait quel crépuscule comme une silhouette de la civilisation d'Asie sur horizon de la civilisation d'Europe.
Cette merveille a disparu.
Un jour, deux bandits sont entrés dans le Palais d'été. L'un a pillé, l'autre a incendié. La victoire peut être une voleuse, à ce qu'il paraît. Une dévastation en grand du Palais d'été s'est faite de compte à demi entre deux vainqueurs. On voit mêlé à tout cela le nom d'Elgin, qui a la propriété fatale de rappeler le Parthénon. Ce qu'on avait fait au Parthénon, on l'a fait au Palais d'été, plus complètement et mieux, de manière à ne rien laisser. Tous les trésors de toutes nos cathédrales réunies n'égaleraient pas ce formidable et splendide musée de l'Orient. Il n'y avait pas seulement là des chefs-d'oeuvre d'art, il y avait un entassement d'orfèvreries. Grand exploit, bonne aubaine. L'un des deux vainqueurs a empli ses poches, ce que voyant, l'autre a empli ses coffres ; et l'on est revenu en Europe, bras dessus, bras dessous, en riant. Telle est l'histoire des deux bandits.
Nous Européens, nous sommes les civilisés, et pour nous les Chinois sont les barbares. Voilà ce que la civilisation a fait à la barbarie. Devant l'histoire, l'un des deux bandits s'appellera la France, l'autre s'appellera l'Angleterre. Mais je proteste, et je vous remercie de m'en donner l'occasion ; les crimes de ceux qui mènent ne sont pas la faute de ceux qui sont menés ; les gouvernements sont quelquefois des bandits, les peuples jamais.
L'Empire français a empoché la moitié de cette victoire, et il étale aujourd'hui, avec une sorte de naïveté de propriétaire, le splendide bric-à-brac du Palais d'été.
J'espère qu'un jour viendra où la France, délivrée et nettoyée, renverra ce butin à la Chine spoliée. En attendant, il y a un vol et deux voleurs, je le constate. Telle est, monsieur, la quantité d'approbation que je donne à l'expédition de Chine."
I got in trouble for taking pics inside after taking the one of Jodee with the genius shopping cart, so I don't have any of the hanging duck or live frogs, but I wanted to show off my purchases... I wish I had taken video footage, for some reason Jodee pushing that cart around the store was freaking hysterical.
Teresa lent me this book for my trip - Point It - and it is genius. This was the meal we ordered at King Town No 1 restaurant in Xi'an where they had no English menu and no English speakers (although the name was in English... we think they were keeping it Chinese instead for authenticity's sake). We pointed at the hen, we pointed at the cow, we pointed at the page of green vegetables and we pointed at the bowl of rice, and ta dah!: the best restaurant meal we had in Xi'an.
Our last day in Shanghai we spent eating off our M1NT hangover - destination: Wujiang Lu, a short walking street filled with food stands and little restaus. We started out with Yang's dumplings, the best soupy dumplings I've ever had (they're fried), and the most popular place on the block. There were long lines at both storefronts and Chris said the lines go on all day long.
We followed our dumpling appetizer with cumin- and chili-marinated lamb on sticks, better even than at Ed's Potsticker's in Chicago, and that's my favorite dish, then finished off the meal with candied crab apples on sticks and a blizzard at DQ (not clear as to how that last one stuck in to the menu).
This temple was pretty much the only historic site we visited in the whole 6 days we were in Shanghai.
There was a mourning taking place, which is why the offering urn was set ablaze. Two ladies in black cloaks prayed in front of it while the monks chanted and banged metal drums.
Friday, March 13, 2009
The city walls date back about 300 years, I believe, and are in great condition (they go completely around, which is already astounding). They are thicker at the bottom than at the top, and the top, where we biked, slopes slightly towards the center, which was tricky for my beginner skills.
From that viewpoint I got to see the diversity of Xi’an and understand a little better how the Chinese live. We passed some apartment buildings that had small units but were nice enough (they reminded me of shorter versions of Co-op City in the Bronx), some buildings that were built with pagoda-style roofs and seemed fancy, some one- and two-storey hovels with corrugated tin roofs, some concrete buildings with prison-cell-looking apartments next to huge plots of building rubble with unfortunate people picking through the debris.
One building looked like a two-storey mini-storage facility. Along the side of the building were metal garage doors that were all open to reveal one-room apartments with tiny beds, make-shift kitchens with boiling pots, lines hanging laundry, and people milling about inside. The strange thing about this “apartment” building is that the people inside looked like they should be living somewhere else completely. One woman was wearing cool high-heeled black boots, a vivid purple sweater dress and her hair was done neatly and stylishly – if she washed those clothes and that hair in that dusty hole it did not look it. I wonder if these people even have running water in their storage units or if there are taps along the outside – the building just didn’t look like it was built for people to live in. Looking at these houses made me wonder what all the people we’ve come into contact with go home to – our guide at Hua Shan with the perfect English, the kids who work at our hostel and are clearly educated…
In general I’m wondering how housing works in communism (mixed with “capitalism with Chinese characteristics,” as the government says). Do people pay rent? If not then how does the government decide who gets what level of housing? I’m going to have to ask Prof Cheung on Monday.
We went back to the Muslim Quarter for street food lunch after our ride, which was as delicious as yesterday. We tried four new things:
• Spicy cube noodles (they look like pieces of clear white jello) with green onions and hot peppers that they cook in huge iron woks on the street.
• Dumplings that were round with a high bread-to-filling ratio (they were almost like Central European dumplings) and very gooey, slimy-tasting insides; we’ve decided we’re not huge fans of meat-filled things in the Muslim Quarter because they tend to taste uncooked.
• Deep fried orange-colored patty that all the Chinese people eat – I was hoping it would be filled with pork, but of course it’s the Muslim Quarter, so in fact it was some kind of semi-sweet bread with black bean filling… less exciting.
• Deep-fried chips of sorts that were in an old popcorn-style vending cart; they were the crispy noodles they serve in the US with hot and sour soup, which I knew, but I pretended I didn’t know what they were so I could justify buying a bag of them.
We ended up buying more dried kiwi and crab apples (I’m calling them that until I can find out the right name) to take home as well as more fried seasoned breads and mochi to eat while we walked. I’m going to be full for days.
We ended the trip by taking a cab to the tomb of emperor Jingdi, having our driver wait for us while we looked around, then drive us to the airport. (Shuyuan Hostel organized that for us for only 250 yuan, and our driver was very nice and listened to American pop music from the early 2000s - fantastic.)
Lonely Planet said this was the most under-rated attraction in Xi’an and I would agree that it was very worth the relatively expensive trip. It was so strange, though, because the tomb and museum are very modern and well-organized and the landscaping of the area is pristine, yet it was eerily empty and it is hard to get to the site by public transport. Jodee and I weren’t sure what the reason was behind the seeming privacy of this site.
Emperor Jingdi was from the Han dynasty (considered the ancestors of the modern Chinese people), and lived about 100 years after Emperor Qin of the terracotta warriors. He was Taoist, and apparently they believe in letting things happen as they happen (or something to that effect), so he was quite peaceful as far as Chinese emperors go. He did things like lower taxes and cut back on military expenditures, and is known for being a great and wise ruler.
His tomb was such an interesting contrast to the terracotta warriors for two reasons: first, he included figures (also clay) more related to daily life and government than the military, and second, the figures were not life-size. His figures included cows, pigs, dogs, horses, pots, urns, chariots, dancers and musicians in addition to some soldiers. They were also arranged in separate pits, similar to the terracotta warriors (only a fraction of the pits are open to the public/have been excavated), and these pits seem to be separated by function or government department. So one pit had lots of animals and a seal symbolizing the government’s minister of raw food materials. Another had many jars that were supposedly originally filled with grains and a seal symbolizing the government’s minister of fine processing of food (these terms are strange because they come from the bizarro English translation of signs in the museum). The figures were also small – the people are about 2-feet tall and the animals and vessels are about proportional to them. It seemed Jingdi wanted these to represent what he would have in the afterlife, whereas Qin seemingly thought the actual terracotta warriors were going to come alive when he died. I wonder if that had to do with the differences in their religious beliefs/the superstitions of the time, of which I know nothing about.
While these differences make Jingdi’s tomb worth visiting, an additional draw is the fact that it is in mid-excavation. The museum showcases certain pieces already unearthed while the underground museum shows the pits in their current state of continuing excavation. The underground is basically the pits covered in plexiglass walkways so you can see into the pits and even see archeologists dusting away at artifacts with their brushes. I tried desperately to take a picture for Spencer (my god-daughter’s 4-year-old brother) since he is obsessed with the dinosaur bone archeology kits from the Field Museum, but the pits are so dimly lit that almost nothing shows up on my camera. Hopefully he’s young enough to think my second-hand description of it is cool without the photo.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
• Deep-fried round bread with cumin- and paprika-dominated seasoning spread inside
• Deep-fried quesadilla-like flatbread with beef and green-onion filling (tasted like delicious greasy dumplings)
• Dried fruit – kiwi, pineapple, something like an orange plum, something like a yellow cherry
• Peanut toffee/fudge relative, sort of like a softer version of what’s in a Butterfinger
• Sugared walnuts
• Peanut brittle
• Sesame-covered mochi with blackbean paste and honey (I thought this was Korean, apparently it is also a Chinese Muslim favorite)
I did not buy a cow’s heart or liver, although they seemed quite popular with the locals (they are also ENORMOUS, I will post pics later). The Muslim Quarter is officially my favorite place in Xi’an and we are going back today to eat more.
There are, of course, other great things about the area besides the food. We visited the Great Mosque, which was really incredible. It pretty much looks like a Chinese temple except that in addition to the Chinese scripts there is also Islamic script in the stonework/woodwork. Also the roof tiles are turquoise where the color remains, which is incredibly refreshing and beautiful. What was sad, though, is how little care this site seems to be given. In one building there were a handful of artifacts that looked legitimately important and ancient just lying around, only a few of them with signage.
We ended the day with a visit to the Folk House, a restored Qing bureaucrat’s home at 144 Beiyuanmen St. The house and the pieces in it date to 400-300 years ago. This was really much better than it can ever sound in the retelling. The ‘house’ is really a collection of many little houses and hallways and gardens and courtyards, only a part of which are open. Some of the interesting things we saw:
• The unmarried daughter’s house, with the original bed (like a large ornate cabinet without doors) and replica shoes that were 3 inches long, the norm for bound feet. Interesting fact – women’s feet were bound not for visual reasons, but so they would not be able to go anywhere.
• The men’s reception room (its round columns signified the man’s domain, which is interesting since it also signifies the sky and heaven).
• The women’s reception room (its square columns signified the women’s domain, as well as the earth).
• Incredibly short second-storeys and incredibly skinny outdoor hallways connecting houses.
• Wooden pillows in the master bed house (these are actually small chests and housed jewels and money so they could guard them while they slept).
The pagoda is pretty standard, nothing too exciting, but it had a good view of the surrounding area and it is quite old (AD652) so the building is simple and different than the more modern pagodas that are all over the city/country. There is a fountain and light show at 8pm that we decided to pass on, but we saw just the fountain part at noon (they happen throughout the day) and it was quite impressive. Also, the surrounding Da Ci’en Temple is peaceful and beautiful. Strangely, there were all these birds in cages around the temple buildings. There were a few that were literally throwing themselves against their cages repeatedly in an attempt to get out – it seemed rather un-Buddhist, although I don’t know much about Buddhism. There was also one locked-up bird with a boyfriend/girlfriend bird on the outside hanging around – wistful.
From there we went to lunch at a place listed by Lonely Planet that supposedly has delicious yangrou paomo, a regional specialty. First the waitress brought over flat round breads that tasted like unsalted bagels and instructed us to tear them up into tiny pieces and drop the pieces into our bowls. Then she took our bowls and returned them after pouring beef broth with clear noodles and a bit of tender beef into them. Either their yp is not all it’s cracked up to be, or this dish is just not to my taste, but I ended up just picking the beef out of it and trying to salvage what I could of the broth that hadn’t been soaked up by the bland bread. (And I only put a third of the bread she wanted me to put in there! It’s like she was trying to fatten us up for the killing.) What was delicious was the marinated spinach I ordered as a side and the dish of marinated garlic they brought us, presumably for the yp. They marinate vegetables just like in Korea, similar to what we ate in Guilin, it’s such a pleasant surprise. The good thing about this disappointing lunch is that it left plenty of room for street eating in the Muslim Quarter, which was far more satisfying.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
It seemed to us, ignorant as we might be, that they had nailed the local tastes. There were whole roast ducks hanging from a rack, a bakery making dry Chinese cookies and breads (the smell wafted through the store!), live turtles and frogs in tanks (although they looked half-dead), an entire section of MSG near the other condiments, Pringles in flavors like Thai basil and pesto pasta, salted dried peach, dried flower tea in plastic bags, loose fresh noodles only partially wrapped in cellophane, and small rolling baskets instead of shopping carts (genius).
I bought strictly Chinese stuff (at least in my mind) – a tea bottle since we’ve been jealous this whole trip of these Chinese tourists with their loose tea bottles, sour crab apple fruit roll-ups of sorts, loose tea that looks like dried orange slices (the yummy little oranges that you eat rind-on), and wooden flip flops with pressure point bumps. I should have bought the MSG, people might like my cooking more.
To be honest, I thought I would be disappointed by the warriors but I wasn’t. At the same time, I wasn’t stunned the way everyone said I would be. Probably because they had been so hyped up for me and by me – no fault of the warriors.
Part of my disappointment, I think, is that I had a vision of the warriors being outside, at eye level, and stretching as far as I could see. But of course, that is ridiculous – they would never last in the elements uncovered. Also, the warriors were never above ground. What Jodee and I learned from our on-line research last night and today’s sign reading is that they were built and arranged in underground pits for the Qin dynasty’s first emperor (China’s first emperor). Qin Shi Huang was the first leader to conquer the 6 kingdoms and unify China. He also established a standard script (solving the dialect problem), monetary system, and measurement system; and built extensive road and canal systems. Unfortunately, he was also a tyrant, and worked hundreds of thousands of people to death to realize his visions.
The construction of the warriors began as soon as Qin ascended the throne and lasted until his death, 221-210BC. They were supposed to be his army in the afterlife, and they are arranged in battle formation, as if ready to charge at a moment’s notice. I read somewhere that legend has it the warriors are actually the incarnation of real warriors who were buried alive with the emperor to protect him. That’s probably untrue, but what is true is that the 700,000 laborers that worked on the warriors and Qin’s tomb either died during the project or were buried alive with Qin to protect the secret of the warriors.
Not all of them have been excavated, but they think there were 8,000 warriors in total of different ranks. The warriors are made of fired clay, and are hollow on solid legs (presumably to facilitate free-standing). It is believed they were made from the same handful of molds, and then features were added on to them – the end result is that each figure is unique, which is incredible when you consider the amount of detail they each include. You can see the folds of their sleeves, the pleats of their robes, the scales of their armor, the treads of their shoes (which are hysterical, like ancient loafers), the bows in their hair…
They initially all held weapons, but only very few were found because shortly after Qin’s death his dynasty was overthrown and the pit was looted. The heads were chopped of most of the warriors (many of them remain headless) and the weapons, which were valuable, were taken. The weapons apparently were extremely advanced – I don’t know anything about metallurgy, but the placard in Pit 2 (there are 3 pits that hold the warriors) said chromium was used to plate the Qin weapons, and chrome plating didn’t occur in the West until the 20th century.
What has yet to be uncovered, because archeologists aren’t completely sure where it is, is Qin’s actual tomb. There is a potential site 1.5km away, but burial mounds were often built in incorrect spots to trick looters. It is written in an ancient history (written 100 years after Qin’s death) that his tomb represented heaven and earth: the ceiling is inlaid with pearls as stars and the floor is engraved with a map of the 6 kingdoms Qin ruled over. Rivers of mercury were made to flow through it and it’s well booby-trapped against intruders. The only modern proof of this is high levels of mercury in the ground between the warriors and Li mountain (Lishan) and a mound of earth. THAT would be amazing to see.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
The trip itself was booked through our hostel, and although our guide was incredibly thoughtful and helpful and had quite good English, the tour itself started out very frustrating. Because of the millions of stops (gas, medicine store, bathroom) on the way to the mountain, we didn’t get near the base of the mountain until 11:30, after getting into the bus at ass-crack 8 in the morning. When we finally left the bus we found out that we were actually stopping for lunch and then another local bus would come get us to take us to the North Peak cable car. We had done nothing but sit in a bus since breakfast and now they wanted us to eat again. Jodee and I just sat and waited while the Chinese tourists ate.
When we finally did get up the cable car we were able to strike out on our own on the trail, and then things got better. It’s a collection of peaks that are connected a bit like a dragon’s back. The tough part is that there isn’t a trail. Instead you are walking up and down (mostly up very steeply) stairs the ENTIRE time. NO respite. VERY hard on poor, out-of-shape me. I felt like I was lugging all of last week’s over-eating and over-drinking in Shanghai around, and it was heavy. But it was very nice, and we made some Chinese friends along the way, mostly because they wanted to take pics of Jodee. We’re not sure if it’s because they don’t see many blond people where they’re from (although they have to have some money/be living in semi-urban places to be able to vacation like this); or whether it’s maybe just something to do on vacation. Like maybe the way people take pics near signs showing where they are – Chinese people take pics of Westerners they find? Apparently I am either too ugly or not exotic enough to be in their vaca photos - sob.
We decided to get minor revenge by taking pictures of them behind their backs – because there were women IN HEELS. One woman was in a full pleather suit and high-heeled boots. Her friend was in heeled sneakers (at least she was on the right track) and he friend’s man was in a suit and formal shoes. For serious? Jodee surmised there were only 3 possible reasons for their painful attire: 1) They have nothing else, 2) They didn’t know they were going to do this hike when they left their house/hotel at 8 in the morning 3) Fashion is everything. Unless pleather is in fashion somewhere, option 3 is moot, which only leaves improbable options 1 & 2. We’re still undecided.
We ended the day with dinner in a restaurant with a new type of squatter bathroom I have never seen before. There were two stalls with squatters and NO DOORS. I walked in on one of the waitresses with her pants down. I made Jodee stand outside the bathroom door to make sure no one came in, and even so I felt strangely exposed.
Monday, March 9, 2009
It has lots of character and lots of kids. Our room has old wood furniture in simple Chinese style, which is nice, and the bathroom is quite large by Chinese standards (western toilet, shower is not divided but is totally on the other side of the bathroom so ok). There is a twinge of a funny smell - I have identified the communal bathroom next door to our room as the source.
The kids at the desk are super nice and incredibly helpful, with relatively good English. The bar downstairs is a happening place with many Chinese kids that seem to be locals (they’re better dressed, hair done, etc.). It is so smoky, though, that even I had to leave after sucking down my vodka soda.
The reason I had to have a vodka soda in the first place is that while we were eating at the hostel restau (delicious thin-crust pepperoni pizza – I’m finally starting to weary of Chinese food, although I didn’t think it was possible) I saw something furry run by the table. It looked about 5 inches long and quite fat, and it was really lumbering more than running, and I didn’t notice a tail, but I also couldn’t observe it too closely because I immediately screetched and put my feet up and looked away. One Dutch guy at a table across the restau said it was probably one of the hostel’s pets (they have a fat old cat, a fat old golden retriever and a tiny white rabbit that keeps scaring me bc it’s the size of a medium rat), but I checked with the desk and they have no small brown pet. We specifically chose this hostel because it got 100% cleanliness ratings on hostelworld.com, but looking around at the clientele I’m starting to realize they might not have the same standards as I do.
To make matters worse, in our bathroom there is a thick clear plastic mat propped against the wall and a sign that says to use it to cover the shower drain when finished. I believe it is a roach shield.
This is going to be a long night.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I guess it's only fitting, in a city that so defines the gap between rich and poor, I go to the Shanghai Art Museum and see a currency exhibit.
This museum is in People's Park, which was created in 1949 in place of the racetracks the Brits had built. (The jockey club building is still on one side of the park, near Barbarrossa, and is quite beautiful, I wonder what the track looked like.) The architect built the museum to look like an ancient Chinese vessel.
The museum is not all that large, just 4 floors with about 3 small-ish exhibits per floor, but we spent the whole 2.5 hours we allotted to it on just the top floor. We tried to go back, but just never dragged ourselves out of bed during daylight hours after our second day.
What we did see was incredible, though. We definitely nerded out in the currency exhibit because we kept bringing things back to our Investment and Finance in China class (I know), but it really was interesting. China's post-Mao economic emergence has been so recent that it was crazy to see bonds from the 1800s and old Chinese money issued by all these foreign countries. And that was just the recent stuff - they also had very ancient coins from the silk road, which show the influence of all the trading civilizations (Greek, Arabic, etc.). They also had a video on how they used to mint the old coins using sand plates. They would make a mold with two rows of 5-6 coins, with a trough between them with a tiny trough connecting the middle trough to each coin. They would pour the copper into the trough from one end and the copper would fill into each coin through the little troughs. Then they would open the mold and shake the 'tree' of sorts and coins would fall off. Money growing on trees!!!
The other exhibit I liked was a furniture exhibit - takeaway: I need an antique Chinese day bed in my Arkansas apt.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
I definitely don't suggest getting there earlier than midnight - we got there around 11:30 and spent at least 45 minutes being annoyed at the ex-pat posers and crap music until everyone in the spot got drunk and started dancing and acting the fool and the dj got the good music underway. After 4 bottles of vodka and 1 of Champagne the HK crew had to call it a night at a respectable 4am, but Chris kept it going till who knows what hour - AFTER working all day.
Shanghai is definitely without inhibitions, at least the ex-pat part of it. I though HK was crazy with all the transient ex-pats not really caring how they act because they're only there for a year or two, but in Shanghai there is definitely an even more insane version of that attitude. In HK all the ex-pats mostly work in banking, so although you may not live in the same city as everyone you see out at night, you do run some risk of having to work with them/running in the same crowds. In Shanghai there is a much broader representation of multinational industries so these ex-pats seem to really just not care. Also, as Chris pointed out, here money is much more king than even HK because a smaller percentage of people have it. So regardless of what you do, what you make and what you look like, if you are willing to spend for an evening you can do whatever you want, however you want it. Just as an example, you could walk into a club looking like a bumpkin as long as you can afford the drinks (we did that - super embarrassing).
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Meet Chris - the nicest guy in Shanghai. Also the coolest/flyest/you get the idea. Not only is he letting me stay with him for a week, but he is also letting THREE of my friends stay with him and even pretending that he likes it.
This is a picture of us at Barbarrossa, my first favorite place in Shanghai. It is a little house in a little pond in People's Park and is a bar/lounge with GREAT hip hop. It was my favorite place in Shanghai until we went out last night and I found two even more fabulous places, although I didn't think it was possible.
We started out at Tairyo Teppanyaki, an incredible invention of a chain restaurant. For 150 RMB (around $20US) we had our own room with our own Benihana-like chef and unlimited food and sake and beer. Unbelievably, I know.
After getting wasted beyond consciousness (at least for me) we went to a grimy hip hop dance spot (Windows, near the Jing'an Temple)with 15 RMB drinks (unheard of), great music and a crowd that never stopped dancing. It was fabulous, from what I remember. I have vague memories of our group taking over the stage, of Akil wearing a chef's hat and of me falling down the stairs as we left. My knee really hurts.
So Shanghai has a long and important history of European involvement since it was the busiest port city in Asia in the 1800s (before it became the headquarters of the Gang of Four and its growth was stunted by Communism - that's right, I said that).
There was a French area, a British area, and a German area, remnants of which remain in the architecture, especially along the Bund, which is the river that cuts the city in half. (Well, now it cuts the city in half since they built the Pudong area to the east of the city into a concrete jungle - it was farmland not even 10 years ago.)
We strolled around the area for a while and crossed over to the Pudong side through the Bund Tourist Tunnel, which is a bizarro light show train ride that sounds retarded but is actually fun. (And fully worth it at 50 RMB return.) I admit, I might even have to ride it again before leaving!