Sunday, August 12, 2007

You’d like 250 RMB for that? How about 2?

For our first morning in Shanghai, after a lovely toast and coffee breakfast in the funky restaurant A Future Perfect in our inn, we did what any culture-seeking, history-loving visitors would do: we went shopping. Not just any shopping, but to the giant fabric market where you barter your brains out on fabric and then on having many MANY clothes made for you by a fleet of unseen tailors. We went a little overboard, darting from vendor to vendor, picking out fabric, flipping through style books, pitting tailor against tailor (I, EB, wanted a jacket that was only designed by one vendor but they only had bad fabric so I tried the jacket on and then Josh brought the other tailor over for some stealth viewing. We were, you’ll not be surprised, totally busted and the first tailor was furious and ripped the jacket off me. What excitement.) Three hours later, we emerged having bought fabric, buttons and placed an order for (among the 4 of us) 26 shirts, 2 jackets, 2 dresses, 2 skirts and 2 pocket squares. All told the bill was roughly 4400 RMB, for an average cost per item of $17.37. We should mention that we haven’t picked up the items yet and they may all look dodgy, but the selection was fun nevertheless.

Spent from spending, we wandered over to the Old City – what the colonists called the “Chinese City” – for a lunch break of Shanghai’s most famous treat, the xiaolongbao or pork soup dumpling. A quick description of the xialongbao might be helpful. Made with delicious pork meat, the xialongbao is super-heated and soaked in its own fat, which somehow creates a delicious broth at the bottom of the small package that wraps the pork meat. Yum. (We even saw one man drinking the broth out of his dumplings with a straw).

Appetites ready, we queued up and quickly discovered that the wait would be half-an-hour or more. Savvy line-waiters, we (ok, Josh) decided to use the oldest trick in the book: The Magnolia Bakery line-cut. He struck up conversation with a group of young women from Guangzhou near the front of the line. Would they mind buying our xiaolongao for us? We’d pay them double the price. Great. Only they didn’t understand the whole “we’ll give you double the price” part and instead of buying us eight dumplings they thought we wanted sixteen. Turns out we did.

Food street with good sesame bread and bad popsicles

Like all cities in China, the “Old City” had a population of at least 7 million, which had swelled to roughly 15 million as a result of it being Saturday afternoon, so after our delicious that-man-with-a-straw-was-a-genius xialongbao, we moved on. We wandered onto a street/alley with vendors a-plenty. From shirtless tailors (thank you for mending holes in our jeans) to bakers (yum, sesame fried bread), there were all sorts of things and services on offer. Unable to resist popsicles in the sweltering Shanghai heat, we made some questionable choices, ranging from lentil (terrible) to corn mint (better but not good). We continued strolling around, taking note of the widespread demolition of old architecture to make way for new high rise modernity. There were a few holdouts, which suggested that people had a bit more leeway with the government than we thought possible – but it’s just a matter of time. We could already imagine the bright-eyed China Daily headline when they finally demolish the home: “Woman Increasingly Excited About Shanghai Improvement District – Clearing the Way for Progress”

From there, we had a significant misreading of the weather, opting to walk across town despite the increasingly black sky and ominous rumblings. Sure enough, right as we got to the old town, we got monsooned. The local 7-11 sold us an umbrella, but it was not enough. We ducked into the Bird and Flower Market, figuring that 1. it’s a cool Shanghai to-do; and 2. it’s indoors. Once inside, however, it quickly became apparent that the bird and flower scene has largely given way to a bustling giant cricket scene (and we mean GIANT), so we rushed out of the insect cacophony and back into the rain. When the puddles got too big to jump across, the rain too hard to see and the lightening a little too close to our umbrellas, we found refuge in a fake goods store (turns out that the limit on feigning interest in knockoff Samsonite luggage is about 15 minutes) before hopping a cab back across town to our hotel.

The rain stopped and we wandered through the streets of the French Concession stopping, naturally, for a brief snack as we meandered. Eventually, we found our way to the famous Face Bar in the Ruijin Guesthouse, another hip Shanghai bar scene. We sat outside on the lawn and had four lovely cocktails (Shanghai can be soooo civilized) before we returned to our hotel for a quick clothes change. Off again, we walked to a highly recommended Hunanese restaurant, Guyi, which once again filled us with delicious and spicy food. We had a cold chicken dish, salt and pepper tofu, diced green beans with pork, double cooked pork with garlic shoots and, of course, and eggplant dish. Though we were well full by the end, Josh decided that no trip to China is complete without some seriously stinky tofu, so he ordered preserved tofu which came to the table black and smelling like death. It was clearly the worst thing that has come our way this trip (yak included).

Post dinner, we headed to People 7, a chic Shanghai bar with trick bathrooms, where we hobnobbed with the Shanghai trendy scene. The space was beautiful and the atmosphere fun, though the drinks were mostly awful. Josh’s tasted like cough syrup and was neon blue. Just one of the dangers of ordering drinks named “Shogun romance” and ‘Broken Hearts.”


Andrew said...

Are you guys drinking Asahi in China? What's up with that?

Ali said...

who are these unseen tailors? little children locked to sewing machines? I can't believe you're endorsing sweatshop labor! however, if you see one of those "I'm not a plastic bag" bags, or if you care to have one of the children make one, i'll reimburse you when you return.

Robert said...

Personally, I am all for sweatshops, how else would I get cheap non-durable goods! Elvis says woof.

Amanda said...

trick bathrooms? i am confused.