January 23, 2008

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Print More

After our shenanigans in Beijing, we were pretty sure that the more international and generally more western city of Shanghai could provide more fun or at least more familiar experiences. We found a little convenience store kitty-corner to our hotel, so Rebecca Shoval ’08, Sun Managing Editor, and I went over there to grab some drinks. Rebecca was the person on our trip arguably most interested in doing what the Chinese do, so she picked out a random liquor and some Diet Cokes (which are harder to come by in China for some reason.) We went back up to our room and she mixed some “ ________ and Cokes,” and we continued to getting ready. She tasted hers and made a sort of squelching noise that can’t have been good for her esophagus. I asked her if it was like gin, which I loathe, and she gravely said that it was like nothing she had ever tasted before. Optimistically, she mused that maybe it shouldn’t be mixed with Coke, so she tried drinking it straight. I didn’t hear the squelch that time, but she didn’t look any more pleased. I sniffed it and it reminded me of sophomore year high school chemistry when we did a hydrochloric acid lab, so I decided to wait until we were out to begin the evening.[img_assist|nid=26762|title=XinTianDi|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The four of us walked a couple blocks until we arrived at the Bund, which is the boardwalk of the river that splits Shanghai in two. There was a perfect view of all of the buildings in their brightly colored splendor, spoiled only by the hoards of beggars who didn’t hesitate to pull on our arms persistently until we left the premises. We took a few group pictures in front of the view, but now we regret that none of the beggars were in the photos since they were deeply ingrained in our memories anyway.
We crossed back to the street opposite the Bund and entered a red pleather elevator that would take us to Lounge 18. It was mostly empty, but it was a Tuesday night. There, we had a truly unspoiled view of the Bund and the cityscape from very comfortable couches. Our plan was to go bar-hopping and get one drink at each place, and Rebecca and I again chose to order the same drink (great minds think alike. Or maybe it’s because the Chinese people thought we were related with the same first name, and they were right … ). We got fresh raspberry cosmos. You could literally taste the “fresh,” as if it were an ingredient, like in some Japanese restaurants where “crunch” is an ingredient. The place was really classy: they brought us vegetables as bar food with some pesto-like dip. Having already paid, (in China you often pay before you get your drink or meal even at a sit-down establishment), we left upon finishing our drinks to check out the rest of the Tuesday night scene.
Further upstairs, we checked out Bar Rouge, which Jonny Lieberman ’08, Sun Editor-in-chief, had heard about through the grapevine, also known as the internet. Supposedly it was one of the world’s best bars, but when we got there, the drink minimum was wayyyy too expensive for an empty Tuesday night and plus, some alumni we had met earlier in the day told us that Bar Rouge was a great place to pick up hookers. We ventured elsewhere. [img_assist|nid=26763|title=Inside View|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
We walked down the street trying to find a place that an alum had recommended to us, when some construction cut up the sidewalk and things got somewhat sketchy. We all sort of felt it was a bad idea to keep going, but we didn’t think it was a real problem until a group of those persistent beggars saw us and smelled fresh foreigner meat. Before we had been in a crowded area, but now there were actually more of them than us and we literally got chased down the street by people singing, “Money Money Money Money … MONEY!”
That was pretty much when we decided to call it a night, and when we decided we kind of missed Beijing, where preparation for the Olympics had cleared the streets of beggars. (We liked to think they gave the beggars jobs selling Olympic paraphernalia, because many of the skills are the same.) We also later wondered if that one particular beggar with the nice singing voice learned that song on her iPod. We think yes.
Our next night in Shanghai, we were definitely not going to wander around aimlessly. We had a destination, and we knew that it would be less creepy. Xin Tian Di is a place not too dissimilar from Downtown Disney and other contrived adult play-time areas you might find in affluent suburban regions. Whatever. We’d rather be chased by cops than by citizens, so we pooled some yuan and took a cab.
Again we planned to bar-hop, so we stopped off first at Ark. This club made very little sense from start to finish. We took an elevator up only to go down a staircase. We sat down on friction-less stools that were the sitting equivalent of black ice. They put our jackets in plastic bags and hooked them to our table from underneath. We ordered a rum and Coke, a Singapore sling, and a Long Island, but when the drinks came, the Long Island seemed to have absorbed the alcohol from the other drinks because they were as virgin as a couple of Harvard graduates. There was a very inefficient six-piece band — I recall one guy’s job was to play the glockenspiel. They played everything from Hootie and the Blowfish to the Police to Minnie Riperton (“Lovin’ You”). When the exuberant five foot tall lead singer started hitting the high notes, we couldn’t take it anymore, so we were on to our next stop.
Not having quite learned our lesson in how to put our yuan to their most productive use, at our next stop we ordered two cosmos and, again, a Long Island. The Long Island was eight times the size with eight times as much liquor, so basically, it is always the best deal from Dunbar’s all the way to Shanghai. We did get our groove on to some Hawaiian band playing AC/DC and Santana-featuring-Rob-Thomas covers, and Jonny was certainly smitten with the band’s Filipino dancers, but we were kind of sick of the 45-years-plus American businessmen filling the club so we tried to find our way somewhere better.
On the outskirts of Xin Tian Di, we saw some Chinese 20-somethings and we were drunk enough to ask any and all of them if they spoke English. One earnest looking guy did and we asked him if there was somewhere cooler we could go. He said Pub 97 and consented to tell a cab driver where it was in Mandarin. After polling around seven cabs to see if the drivers knew where it was, he found one for us. We piled in, thanked him and were off. [img_assist|nid=26764|title=Cheers!|desc=|link=node|align=center|width=|height=0]
Inside the cab, we started to reevaluate that last, potentially poor, life decision. We had no idea where we were going and had heard rumors about possibly getting our kidneys sold in China. We decided he wouldn’t have gone through all the trouble of talking to so many cab drivers if he was just messing with us, but then the driver suddenly stopped at what looked like a homeless shelter and pointed to the meter. Ruh roh.
We calmly flipped out and tried to get across to the driver that we wanted to go back to where we had just come from. He sort of laughed at us and started driving, but about a block away, we saw what had to be a club with a giant glittery sign that said RICHY in cursive. We decided to just get out there. Lo and behold, there was a sign for Pub 97 that lead to where the driver had tried to drop us off, so we didn’t have to lose faith in humanity, or that one random, helpful kid, but we decided to stay with Richy nevertheless.
You can get a table at Richy with a one bottle minimum, which is pretty reasonable for both China and especially Shanghai specifically, but they get you by charging 35 yuan for each can of Coke, which is five dollars a pop. The music and ambiance were similar to all the other clubs we’d been to so far, and the ratio of Chinese people to foreigners was much more skewed to Chinese here than anywhere else, possibly because the Shanghais have more of a proclivity for western culture than the Beijing. The service was super intense here, though, because they would pour the liquor and the mixers into a pitcher for you, and they were not content to leave the pitcher at a level less than completely full at any time, which got quite annoying. Hey man, I might want to take the bottle of Jack home for, uh, recycling and stuff.
Regardless, on the way back from Richy that night, and pretty much every other moment in Shanghai those first three days after New Year’s, we lamented how we were this close to spending the holiday in Shanghai instead. In the end though, it was definitely a unique and cool experience to have welcomed the New Year where no one really cared but us, which was a recurring theme of the nightlife experience in China. Capitalism may have exploded in those cities, but China won’t be mature enough to drink with us for a couple more years.