I woke up this morning, not to the sound of my alarm, but to what sounded like fireworks (or perhaps gunshots) at around 7 am. It sounded more like fireworks but who does that at 7 am in the morning? I later asked my Shanghai friend Gregory about it and he said it was most likely someone moving into a new home. It is apparently standard to go to such excess to make the neighbourhood aware of your arrival.
I really had no plans for Shanghai. I was going to take some recommendations from friends who had visited and refer to this Shanghai guide app that I downloaded on my phone. It didn’t fail me when I wanted XLBs so I trusted its recommendation of Tianzifang, a neighbourhood of alleyways that has recently been gentrified into a bohemian district of boutiques, cafes, and galleries (much like NLGX). It was 5 stops from my hotel but with two line transfers. When I exited the metro station, the neighbourhood didn’t look like too appealing to me but as I started walking and turned into an alley, the J-Hippiness started to appear. I probably chose the most J-Hippy area of Shanghai. For those of you who have not heard of the term J-Hippy, it represents a very unique and distinct bohemian, meets hippy, meets French countryside, meets nature, meets Japanese minimalist. J-Hippy often consists of a lot of natural wood tones, neutral colours, linen, plants, enamelware, etc. The hippies of Japan aren’t really hippies but rather neutrally and well-dressed folks that don’t go overboard with shabby chic. Anyway, back to Tianzifang. I got lost trying to find this Japanese café that I had read about online called Café Dan. It is Japanese owned and operated and specializes in whisky and coffee. They offer over a dozen different roasts and another dozen different ways to brew. I had the Cello blend, using the Matsuya extraction method which too over 10 minutes. The coffee was delicious while I wrote on the many postcards that I have accumulated over this trip.
After Café Dan, I got lost in the alleyways some more and bought a few unique gifts (maybe for myself or others). I stopped at a place called Kommune for lunch and couldn’t resist ordering a falafel wrap. The food was deliciously satisfying (and I realized that I took falafels for granted in Vancouver). I had a nice chat with two guys from China who wanted to practice their English. Kommune played some excellent songs while I was there – Drinking in L.A. (I almost choked on my watermelon-pear juice when I heard it and I also wanted to share this super weird and fun moment with someone but no one knew the song) and then Electricity by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.
I had planned to go right back to the hotel after lunch to drop off my new purchases but as I was walking to the metro station, I came across an interesting looking gallery. I poked my head in and found out that entry was free for students. I had no idea what kind of gallery it was but it turned out to be a very specific type of glass art museum – all the glass sculptures were of Buddha or Buddha-related things and apparently the method used to make them are 1000s of years old.
My hotel is situated right next to the soft fabrics market where tourists and expats flock to get custom made suits. I figured I should take this opportunity to get some custom trousers. Like the Silk Market, this market is also very overwhelming with tons of vendors all selling the same thing. Each vendor has a ton of different fabrics and you choose your style from a magazine (the styles are often imitated from big name designers) and then you get measured. For pants, it took less than 5 minutes for me to choose the style and get measured. They are very efficient. One pair of trousers cost 200 Yuan, which you can’t beat in North America. I’m picking them up on Friday so we’ll see how great a $30 (CAD) pair of custom pants can be.
I desperately wanted a manicure and low and behold, there was Mimi’s Manicures right across from my hotel. It was kind of a hole in the wall but their prices were very reasonable (50 Yuan for a basic manicure and O.P.I. colour). To add to the experience, the cutest little kitten was there to keep me company while my nails were being done.
Gregory and his girlfriend Roro picked me at at the hotel to take Philip and I out for a drink at a “unique” bar. All we were told was that it was “special”. As we drove through the city, Gregory pointed out a bunch of landmark buildings and told us that there isn’t really a French Concession because the area of European-style buildings spans such a large part of the city. We arrived and walked up to a non-descript and very dark stairwell. There was no name or sign to the entrance except for 9 lit up, in-set circles. Gregory said that the password changes everyday and that today it was the number 17. The 9 circles represented a number keypad and that to get in, you had to touch the circles like you would a phone. I hit the top left and bottom left circles and magically, a door slid open. The bar is called People’s Restaurant and Bar. It was designed by a Japanese architecture and is owned an operated by a Taiwanese group. The space was concrete, dark, and minimalist, with floor to ceiling windows facing a sparse grove of evenly spaced bamboo. We were sat almost immediately, which was apparently rare (reservations, weeks in advance were usually required). I ordered the Morning Dew, which was a Japanese cocktail with plum wine. Gregory ordered I don’t even know what. The waiter shows up at our table with a giant bowl filled with ice and at least 20 test tubes of a clear liquid. In the middle of the bowl, there was a little cup in which he poured liquid nitrogen. The contents in the test tubes tasted like vodka mixed with some sort of fruity concoction. I obediently drank from the test tubes, while shaking my head at Gregory for ordering such a ridiculous drink. I was told to “experience” the restrooms at People’s before I left, so I walked through the concrete corridors to the direction of the restrooms. A series of doors appeared and it seemed reasonable that they would be stalls but I tried to open one after another and they were locked. There were about 8 of them so I figured it was unlikely that they were all occupied. I finally came across a door that looked like it was ajar and opened it. I was startled to find a mirror on the other side and jumped at the site of myself, thinking it was someone else. I was pre-warned that the restrooms were “special” as well, so like a logic puzzle, I had to think of how I was going to get into one of the doors. So, the knobs are just for show and instead of turning the knobs and pulling the door outwards, all you had to do was push in on the door on the opposite side of the knobs. They probably have a video camera taping all the idiots like myself trying to figure out how to get into the stalls. As I was tinkling, I could hear some English-speaking customers doing the exact same thing I just did a few minutes ago.
After People’s, Philip and I were taken on a stroll of the Bund (not on the Pudong side). We stayed until most of the lights of the large buildings shut off at 11 pm. The skyline from this side is incredible. On the other side of the river, you have what looks like the future – with the Pearl Towler and large offices with screens all up one side. On the side we were on, the street was lined with restored European buildings.
It was such a treat to be taken around by two local Shanghai-ians. Thanks Gregory and Roro!