Shanghai / 上海

As an expat in China, you learn to adopt any and every Western tradition that falls in your calendar, for they become one of the easiest way to be guaranteed a feast that isn’t so saturated in oil and five spices.

Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving/Thanksgivvikuh (seriously America this many names are not necessary) is one such holiday that, speaking as a New Zealander, means another access point to reasonable food.* A co-worker and I decided that travelling to Shanghai to see some friends would be the best way to go about this delicious endeavor. What follows below is a chronologically skewed description of my trip, and my impression of China’s largest city.

*for the record I do quite enjoy Chinese food, but variety in one’s diet is always appreciated.

1. Since I am trying to save money, I booked a reasonably cheap seat on a D train aka the second fastest train in China’s fleet. It was an overnight trip totalling about 11 hours. Luckily I had no company next to me the whole time, and could afford to stretch out across two seats and fall into some pseudo sleep/trance. I think the charge point under my seat fried my phone though, as the train kept turning on and off again. Luckily I recovered a new battery for super cheap at an electronics market. I am still a huge fan of trains since living in China, the convenience and price of them assure you get quite a good deal, and I cannot wait to tick an even longer train ride off my list.

2. Though Shanghai is the most populated city in China, their subway system leaves a lot to be desired. The absurd notion that you have to pay per distance means I was out of pocket change rather quickly, and the hassle of getting a one way ticket overloads half the machines to the point where they are out of commission indefinitely. The subway map, naturally hidden on every obscure wall, was one of the most confusing things I have ever had a headache of reading. I’ll grant Shanghai subway one thing: I never saw it as busy as Beijing gets at rush-hour time, probably because the locals know how crap it is an avoid it at all costs.

3. Thanksgiving is a holiday that does require some planning. Us motley crew of foreigners were a little lacking in that department before and during the trip, and I was disappointed that we didn’t go out and observe the other wild foreigners in their natural bar environments. But we recovered well by ordering two chicken meals (chicken/stuffing/mashed potatoes/brussels sprouts/cranberry sauce/gravy) to feed a group of eight of us at less than $30 NZD pp that also came with TWO pumpkin and ginger crust pies the size of a generous dinner plate (pause here for appropriate drooling). I think I carried that food baby for a good two days after.

4. Senator Saloon is a bloody gem in Shanghai. For those among us who are whiskey enthusiasts consider this at the top of your list. A 1920’s themed bar filled with dark wood, dark smoke, and deliciously dark (and light) liquids. A four page menu filled to the brim with a generous range of whiskeys and other lower-class drinks (I jest) with the options of hard/rocks/water only a polite request away. The bi-lingual skills of all of the bartenders was definitely appreciated after my third Glenfiddich 15 as well. I sometimes reminisce of this place, and come very close to purchasing a ticket back for one more night there.

5. My friend wanted to see a band at Yuyintang, one of Shanghai’s oldest bars and famous for rock ‘n’ roll music. The logo affixed to a small lightbox near the roof displayed a polar bear rocking out with a vivid red electric guitar. This, and the fixtures inside reminding me of a Hamilton bar called Flow (such great memories there) are the only cool things worth noting.

The opening band were okay, not my type of music, but the drummer was from So So Modern so I got to chatting with him and his friend who came from Morrinsville, and effectively my entire country ended up in the back room of some Shanghai club. That felt great.

The main attraction, a dishevelled musician named Mac DeMarco came onto the stage a decent hour later than planned. This might have been due to his wanting to play a half hour docu-I mean mockumentary-about how much of a decent wank he is. I think after ten minutes (seconds rather) of C grade actor/musicians jerking off to some synthetic fame I grew infinitely bored and asking for time to hurry itself along. It also didn’t help he introduced himself as a rock and roll type, and then proceeded to make my ears bleed with some horrific 4/4 glittery stamped tune that blended the vomit of mediocrity and dullness. Listening to rock music is meant to make people cut their souls out and offer it as forgiveness, not cut their ears off and offer them as incentive for you to quit.

6. The Shanghai Museum is well stocked with Chinese culture and history, which should be your main focus when in a new country. I was delighted that most mainlanders were lining up to see some French painting exhibition, allowing me to roam the halls of minority clothing, jade, and furniture with enough room to moonwalk between each exhibit if I so desired. The minority clothing exhibit on the fourth floor blew me away, it felt as though I was traversing South America, not China of all places, and I highly recommend you start there then continue down the floors.

7. Porn is legal in China, and it is called The Bund. This is the famous Shanghai skyline where you can observe the crazy Pearl Tower (someone was having an off day when they designed that) and a host of other buildings. Under construction when I viewed the skyline is what will become the third tallest building in the world. A majestic spiralling swirl of steel and glass, this project will project the unprecedented swift development of China onto the global modern architectural stage.

8. Being white in China means I relate to juxtaposed oddities. Dongtai Market is filled to the brim with such potential purchases. Amongst the countless little red books, chess sets, and pornographic playing cards, are such items as typewriters, pewter jewellery, Mao figurines in every conceivable posture, facially challenged faux taxidermy tigers, phrenological human figures, and an indescribable continuance of other weird and wonderful items. It really is worth checking out, if only for the immense photographic opportunities showing a stunning amount of people and objects combined.

Shanghai was an absolute delight to visit, but I could never live there. It’s a city that describes the infamous nature of China, that is it is artificial. It is too calm, too clean, too desiring to join the white kid clubs that range between Los Angeles and London. Leave me in the grit and grime of Beijing so that on my future return trips I can sanitize myself in Shanghai.

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