We began our Thursday with a ride on the corporate shuttle out to the other site in town, located on the far, far edge of Shanghai. You get so used to being hemmed in my multi-story buildings here that one tends to forget that the city has some bounds and that the concrete will eventually give way to the countryside. Our ride out was not the traditional corporate, rather it was one of those comfy touring buses that you see out on the interstates when they are not jamming up parking lots at national parks. This one was pretty nice and very well-appointed, the only problem being the former taxi driver at the helm. He forgot he wasn’t in a Volkswagen Santana and chose to drive this thing as though he was. I’m not prone to car sickness, but this guy’s style challenged even my inner ear and the rolling from lee to starboard with every maneuver came close to making me green. Here’s a shot of the traffic out the front.
This location is in an R and D park reclaimed for the river delta and many of the familiar high tech names have a presence. The architecture was unique to say the least and somehow managed to look futuristic and worn out at the same time. I’ve put a couple here just to give an idea of how odd it was. The surroundings were pastoral, and the buildings looked somewhat Star Wars meets Fascism with a dose of video game thrown in for good measure.
We had our meetings and decided to stay for lunch, the canteen being an opportunity to experience some interesting lunchtime fare. You buy paper tickets with cash and then get in line where the servers take your order based on a sample dish placed on the counter. I had white rice with a potatoes and pork in a brown sauce plus a chicken and celery dish, all of which were outstanding especially when you consider that the whole deal set me back 75 cents. If you want something to drink there is a little convenience store at the back of the cafe where you can get a Coke or water or some snacks to embellish your meal. Like a dimwit, I left my change (in the form of lower denomination coupons) on my tray when I left, bringing the cost of the meal up to $1.50.
We caught a cab from there and went on to shop a bit, filling the orders sent with me from home. The knock-off markets never change “Hello sir, you want Mount Blanc pen?, how about t-shirt.” I like to go in, get my bartering done and get out. But when I am stuck with friends, I make it a game, telling the shop keepers that my wife has taken all my money. This is always good for a laugh.
I had planned to take the boys to The Face Bar because it is so cool and I figured it warranted another visit so I called them to make a reservation, a first for me. I got someone who spoke English but who was hesitant, so asked if there was a problem. Turns out my request of 7PM was close to the point where they were booked, so I offered to back it up to 6:30 which was acceptable. She took my name and repeated the request back to me, “Mr. Terry, 6:30PM, 4 people, you must be gone by 7:45, okay?” “Fine”, I said.
I got everyone together at 5:30 knowing full well the the traffic is a bear at that time but we caught a cab quickly and were on our way. He chose to take a route which I knew, but had not been on before when heading to this particular place. And there was a reason for that – it was a bad choice. The traffic on Hongqiao Road was atrocious and we sat for a good 20 minutes trying to get through one single light. I felt even worse when he pulled out his map and asked Peter in the front seat if the place he was pointing to was where we wanted to go. Peter just stared. I climbed a bit over the partition and told him “Dui”, “correct.” As the time ticked away, the phrase “You be gone by 7:45, okay” kept running in my mind.
Once through the bad intersection we flew though and arrived with about 5 minutes 15 minutes to spare. The table was ready so up we went to the enclosed veranda. I started with a Gin Gimlet, always the best choice to conjure the spirit of 1930s Shanghai which lives so visibly in this old house. Thai chicken soup for the starter followed by Duck Red Curry and capped with a Chocolate Rum Pot and a cup of Peruvian organic coffee. The latter two items put me in the proper mood to roll, so out we went into the neighborhoods, seeking the subway. Before leaving though, I checked my watch – 7:55 and no one had come to throw us out.
The area around the Ruijin Hotel, home to the Face Bar is part of the old French Concession and viewed by just about everyone as the nicest part of Shanghai. The streets are narrow and lined with tall Plane Trees, sporting the biggest leaves you’ve ever seen. Little shops selling very elegant women’s clothing mingle with tiny restaurants and the occasional custom jewelry store. The pace is slow, the goods are beautiful and when the weather is nice, you’re not sure if you’re here or Saigon or Paris. The night just envelopes you. I took a few pictures as we walked along, starting with the big lantern outside the bar and ending with some clothing in the shop windows. The jacket with the gold embroidered dragons was something to behold, and my meager photograph barely does it justice.
We caught the subway at Fuxing Road and headed off to Nanjing Lu for a pass bay the neon lights. I’ve posted them before, but a couple can bear a repeat. The Nike Store was featuring the uniforms of the Chinese Olympic basketball team.
Street vendors were selling lots of electric toys tonight. Tops about the size of a Red Delicious apple that lit up and cast colored lights on the ground when spun. Lighted flying disks, that launched to 20 or feet in the air. And my all time favorite, roller skates that clamp on the back of your shoe and light up when you glide. Every ten feet, you were accosted, but the stuff never changed.
One enterprising fellow came out the crowd and grabbed me by the arm. Wanted to know if I would like to go and meet some ladies. I laughed and told him not, offering that my lovely wife would kill me. He replied that she did not need to know and I said, she would know. He laughed out loud and pantomimed a pair of scissors in front of my pants saying, “Yes, she would take of you.” We parted friends.
From Nanjing Lu it was off to the Bund for a stroll along the Huangpu River. Not many of the famous lights were on, a bit of a disappointment. The vendors here though were thick as fleas and twice as insistent. Here it was kites and post cards and they weren’t taking no for an answer. Once there was blood in the water, the beggars showed up and they are even harder to get rid of. Even if you give them a few coins. The last straw for me was a man with no legs on a little wheeled cart moving towards me at a rapid pace using blocks to propel himself. For a minute I thought I was in 17th century London. I went looking for some stairs, figuring that was the safest way to lose him, and that barely worked because he had me in his sights. Back down at street level we debated the merits of cab vs. subway and concluded that subway was the way to go. So back up the stairs to the promenade. I helped a worker carry his handcart up the two flights and he was not only grateful but completely stunned that I would grab a hold of the heavy end and help him to the top.
Where, the legless man again caught sight of me and began to give chase. I chose a different strategy this time, weaving in and out of the crowd listening to his “clop, clop, clop” fading behind me.
I knew there was a subway station back somewhere on Nanjing Lu so just for grins I asked a policeman, in Chinese. where the station was. He understood me, point in the direction I knew we needed to head and sent me on my way. Clearly, I come across intelligibly.
We went through the tunnel, still lined with Van Gogh paintings (after all these years) and made our way down Nanjing towards where I thought the station might be. For grins, I asked another policeman the same question and got the same answer. He and the other two cops with him decided to walk behind us which made me wonder if he would eventually point the place out. Instead, he passed me and homed in on two men selling peanuts from platforms attached to the back of their bikes. They saw him coming though and took off running, pushing their bikes through the crowd. I don’t think the cop was all that interested in catching them though, he seemed satisfied to just run them off. Apparently there is some sort of licensing system for these people dealing on the street, but this is the only time I have ever seen anyone chased away.
It was all anti-climatic after that. We found the station and rode the tube back to the hotel, the only drama coming from my traditional problem deciding which way to turn when exiting the station on Loushanguan Road.
This morning we got out early, about 5:35 to take in the two parks down the road, just for a change of scenery. The sun was nearly occluded by the thick, wet air and presented a milky, tangerine vision over the street.
The parks were busy, and I took a few shots here and there of people doing their thing. People out strolling under the trees, a young couple chatting by the side of the pond, old men visiting on the bridge and finally, a tree-hugger to offer incontrovertible evidence that such people do exist. The cats at the end, mill around waiting to see what their people have brought them. I’m sure it’s more than coincidence, but in this park it is common to see the elderly open a bag and wait as a their special feral cat comes out of the bushes for a morning snack.
Lastly, today I found a modern version of the Rosetta Stone, the very first time I have seen characters and Pinyin on a sign together. And the basic translation is “Yangtze West Road and Center Mountain West Road” indicating that this particular bus stop is at the intersection of those two thoroughfares.