Saturday, September 4, 2010

48 Hours of Shanghai

The north-facing view from my bedroom window in Shanghai. Although I'm staying in the same apartment I lived in three summers ago, I feel completely disoriented walking around the immediate vicinity. I think this is mostly due to the pace and scale of local gentrification. Most of the nearby storefronts have been "enhanced" with concretized facades and signage with backlit plastic typography. The convenience store right outside the gate of my complex has been replaced with some kind of antiques vendor-slash-gourmet tea shop. The space up the street that used to house an Ajisen Ramen has been absorbed into a massive Cartier outlet, a development which I have greeted with unadulterated scorn.

As it happens, immediately below my window is a narrow lane that is continuously occupied by high tax-bracket automobiles, mostly Lexi and Benzes. Adjacent to this is a coffee shop which is fully-staffed, but almost never patronized. The view into the interior from the front windows is 90% obscured by an extremely bizarre collection of porcelain vases and servingware. It's pretty clearly a den of evil of some kind or another, but nobody seems to have any insight on what actually goes on in there.

Example No. 327 of why life in China is a pain in the ass: as a foreign visitor to China who is not staying in a hotel, I have to register my housing information with the local police station within 24 hours of arrival. This is my third medium-term stint in China, and for whatever reason the housing registration process is still not a cut-and-dry operation for me. Instead it seems to offer a fresh and original Kafkan ordeal every time. It was probably the worst during my trip to Beijing in 2008, when I was taken to a side-counter and given the bureaucratic 3rd degree, e.g., what are you doing here, what is your job, whom else do you know in Beijing, write down your address in the US, etc. etc., and all this for about an hour or so until my interlocutor had gotten his ya-yas out. This time around I was merely subjected to a two-day fetch quest for documentation and photocopies, which photocopies, by the way, I'm pretty sure the girl at the police station could have made herself using the office equipment behind the counter.

I got into Shanghai on Thursday at around 11AM but didn't get around to eating anything until 6PM or so. Following the suggestion of my roommate, I had a meal delivered to my door courtesy of the streetside kitchen across the street. Most of these types of restaurants (I'm not quite sure if "restaurant" is the right word, since it is literally a stove next to a stack of to-go boxes) operate on a kind of Taco-Bell-of-Stir-Fry philosophy, whereby each dish is prepared in more or less the exact same fashion and with more or less the exact same ingredients. The fact that you're ordering eggplant or beef or fish reflects little more than a superficial variation on the same basic oily/salty/spicy theme.

This meal, by the way, made quick work of me, and I was apologizing for it by way of the toilet at 6:30AM the next morning. A classic welcome to the mainland.


  1. Oh no! I feel largely responsible for your first meal in Shanghai! Totally appreciate the time you spent reviewing my application essay though! Luvs u.

  2. What's there to feel responsible for? I'll continue to order from that place.