Shanghai - January 13, 2008
12.01.2008 - 13.01.2008 35 °F
After his date, Eric came back, and we ended up doing a little bar hopping w/ some of the folks from the ship. We started with a few drinks in the staff lounge and then headed to the grand opening of an expat bar called When we arrived an 80s cover band was doing a slamming rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump.” The kicker was that the band was comprised of 4 Chinese men with blonde hair and a black woman with a blonde wig, all in risqué tiger suits. The bar itself was upstairs – small, intimate, and red. The expat community was out in full force. Though I’m sure they were from different countries, they all looked alike. They had the same hair cuts, the same style of dress, and all seemed excessively boozed up for 11pm. They were great!
One guy began harassing two of the women in our group from the get go, which was a real problem because the bar was so full and so small. We decided to finish our drinks and go, but before that could happen, I saw a guy headed our way. I stepped directly in his path, shaking my head “no” as I told him that the others in our party didn’t want to talk to him. He was quite taken aback, like he didn’t know what to make of my actions or words. He tried stepping to them again, but I moved into his path once more and then we began staring each other down. Meanwhile, Eric, who was about 10 feet away, turned and I nodded toward the problem guy. He came over and repeated my message – that we didn’t want him around. The guy got really really pissed and started slapping his fist into his hand with murder in his eyes. It was at that moment that Nancy leaned down from her perch on the pool table to whisper, “That’s not the guy who’s been bugging us.” Interesting moment. I had a split second to decide that it didn’t matter, so Eric and I hustled the guy off. Fortunately, Nancy pulled him aside as he was walking away and explained that some other guy had been harassing her, which diffused his anger. I say “fortunately” because about five minutes later, the bar blew a fuse, and we were thrust into darkness – a good time to stab someone with a shiv, right? Before panic ensued, we grabbed our coats and took the stairs down and out.
Next we went to a bar called Zapata’s, an expat bar with a “Latin” flavor. I had no desire to be in that scene, but several people from TSS had planned to meet there. We stayed for about 20 minutes and then Eric, a student, and I hopped a cab to a nightclub called Babyface. The patronage was 95 percent Chinese and the size of the club was massive. I’d say there were easily 1,000 people there – wall to wall people. The dj booth was enormous and the front and center of attention. I believe the house djs were spinning, though possibly it was a name event. The laser and fog effects were totally over the top and out of control cool. For those familiar with electronica, the music was quite solidly techno – not quite Euro, not quite rave - sometimes veering into electro techno. I wasn’t that into it though the djs were great mixers. We also discovered a side room, quite packed with about 300-400 old school hip hop heads. A Chinese guy struck up a convo with Eric that I didn’t catch. I never knew what they talked about but at the end of it, he bought shots for both of us. I was a little leary of it, especially because it had something that looked like an egg yolk floating on the bottom. In the spirit of things, I gulped it all down, and then set the glass down only to notice that neither Eric nor the guy had swallowed the yellow orb. That realization made me feel queasy. I asked Eric what I just swallowed, and he said, “I don’t know.” To be honest, I think it was probably a yellow grape or some other kind of fruit – not an egg yolk – because it felt firm against my esophagus on the way down. And the drink itself Eric said was probably rum and tea. He told me that tea is a common mixer with alcoholic drinks. So that was my adventure there.
We got “home” around 4:30a.m., which was particularly painful because I had booked us seats on a bus leaving for Hongzhou at 7:15 in the morning. Eric decided to stay in his hotel room since he’d already paid for it. He’d had much more to drink than I did, and as I observed him, I already knew that if he laid down, he wasn’t going to wake up on time, but I decided to let it go. I figured that the chips had fallen as they had fallen. We hadn’t been able to spend all the time together for which we had planned, but we’d had a mildly eventful evening and that was that. I didn’t say goodbye though I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t see him the next day, and I was right.
The next day there was no Eric when it was time to go. I wasn’t upset about it all, though I did spend the day wondering if perhaps I should have skipped the tour and stuck around Shanghai so that he and I could hang out more. As it turned out, the day provided a lot of lessons for me.
Issue number one – the weather. The fog had lifted, only to be replaced by a massive cold front. We’re talking sub-40 degree weather. The bus we rode wasn’t heated. I did not bring any winter clothing and the weather forecast predicted snow in Hongzhou, of which it is said, “In heaven there is paradise; on earth there is Hangzhou.” I suffered on the way to heaven, and I suffered in heaven. In fact, I suffered during our entire stay in China, but I’ll get to that in a moment….
The three-and-one-half hour trip gave me a good chunk of time to chat with Marcela, who I really like a lot. I would love to say we saw a lot of beautiful scenery on the way down, but the windows fogged up, and we saw very little. This kind of set the tone for the whole trip. Hangzhou is considered one of the most beautiful places in China and supposedly was enthusiastically praised by Marco Polo. Hangzhou was cold, though. So cold that I could not enjoy myself. I really could not, although at this juncture I was still willing to strive for a good time. Our first stop was at the Longjing Wencha (Dragon Well Tea Park), a tourist trap, where we were treated to a fun demonstration of a tea ceremony. Purists would likely have cringed, but I think most of the participants were thoroughly entertained. They were so entertained that more than a few were suckered into buying tea from there. It certainly wasn’t swill, but it wasn’t the greatest tea. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it.
Our guide at the plantation was a young woman – probably in her mid-20s to early 30s. She told us that 500 families live in the area, all of whose subsistence comes from the tea industry. It takes eight women to pick 4 kilos of fresh leaves a day. It takes eight hours for a tea master to dry the leaves. 4 kilos fresh = 1 kilo dried. Of her own family, she said that her mother picks tea, her father dries it, and she drinks it. We were initially poured glasses about one third full. She said that the small amount indicates that your guest is welcome and is also a gift in that the second pouring is usually sweeter, so a short pour the first time around means that a second pour is forthcoming. If you’re poured a full cup the first time around, it’s an indication that the host(ess) is busy and would like you to leave quickly. We were taught how to hold the cup or glass – women with a pinkie raised and men with the pinkie touching the bottom, unless one is “Brokeback Mountain.” We learned to thank the pourer by tapping the table three times in a row with one’s index and middle finger. We also learned a bit about the growing season – the best picking is in the spring, which is akin to the daughter. Summer-picked tea is regarded as the daughter-in-law. Autumn-picked tea constitutes the mother-in-law. The highest quality tea equates to the “empress” or the virgin, so called because long ago empress-quality tea was picked by virgin’s lips. She told us this tea is no longer produced that way because there are no virgins left. So you get the gist – we were given some great little factoids about tea and tea ceremony, delivered in a non-serious, sales pitch style, and that was fine. I enjoyed the show, but the day rapidly went downhill.
Next we were supposed to take a lift to the top of Chenghuangee’s famous panoramic views, but it was too cold and foggy. Instead we were taken to a pagoda – beautiful but cold. (This was also the first place where I discovered that many Chinese restrooms do not provide toilet paper or paper towel. There are also many public restrooms that either have troughs or holes – no actual toilet. The bathroom at fancy Club Babyface from the night before, was a hole, sans toilet paper.)
The next stop – which wasn’t on the itinerary – was a long row of outdoor souvenir shops. We lingered there for nearly two hours. I became so chilled at this point that I no longer cared about seeing or doing anything. I didn’t want to leave the bus even though the bus wasn’t heated. Having no choice, I stuck it out. Our last stop was supposed to be at a “Chinese Traditional Hospital.” This was the key factor in my decision to go on this excursion. I was really miffed then when the “hospital” turned out to be an herbal dispensary – the kind which I’ve seen in San Francisco. I was really bummed out but almost too cold to care.
Boarding the bus for the last time, Ashley and I had a quiet discussion between ourselves. We both prefer independent travel but that that because the shore excursions are organized through TSS, that they wouldn’t be the typical tourist trap vehicles that organized tours often are. We’re both ready to abandon ship at the next port. It was a good lesson learned. We could have made our own arrangements to Hangzhou, and it would have been less expensive, less time-consuming, and less “rigged.” Many of the students did just that, but I also thought that going along with an organized trip would provide more opportunities to connect with some of the other folks. That didn’t turn out to be the case, so now I know that it’s best to strike out on my own, and I will definitely do that in the other destinations. To console myself, I got another massage that evening. The next morning was the beginning of our Academic Field Programs.