The Shanghai Collective: Affection

One thing about holidays is that they should be relaxing – you shouldn’t return feeling even more tired than when you went. Some people say “Hey, you’re on holiday, you shouldn’t be sleeping!” If it’s a weekend getaway then I’ll be on the side of “maybe” but if my trip’s longer than four days, then it’s a resounding “no!” Even though I turned in “early” last night, I allowed myself to just sleep until I woke up naturally. Sure, I woke up around 9 plus, 10am but this long night’s sleep IMHO, was needed. Just as well, since I didn’t plan much for today anyways.

The first stop after brunch at a Hong Kong-style cafe at a mall near my destination is Tianzifang in the French Concession. It’s a square block of French-style dwellings that has turned into an artsy-indie area, so says the guide published last year. When I arrived, it was clear that the only thing worth looking at was the architecture. Instead of a relatively quiet and unknown district, the place had become a tourist trap, selling everything from touristy goods such as jade dragons (which seem to be a favorite souvenir among the Caucasian tourists) to outrageously expensive modern Chinois apparel that nobody would wear, and even art galleries which allow bulk buying of the same “rare and expensive” work! There are just sooo many people in Shanghai that once an indie area is discovered by the mainstream, it just quickly degenerates into a themed park. It was a real culture shock, at least for me – the district wasn’t even mentioned in guide books five years ago, and up till early last year, it was still being reported as the place for the indie set. Here I was, experiencing the dark side of the beyond rapid development of Shanghai face-to-face.

I was disappointed. At this point, I dropped the idea of visiting a similar area which was established as being commercialized, the famous Xintiandi and focused on looking for Feiyue shoes for Inez and her boyfriend. Just as well, as she had just texted the address of the place to me. Despite the world from Hollywood to Singapore going bananas over Feiyue, it’d seem that nobody seemed to know what the brand is, much less what it sells! Having traveled to the suburbs in Changning district and not being able to locate the address, I resorted to asking strangers from the all-too-friendly baristas at Starbucks to just regular people on the street who were surprisingly deeply apologetic that they couldn’t be of much help. All in all, it wasn’t a good day and with a heavy heart, I texted Inez back to demand for better directions. Curiously, my stomach growled despite an incredibly huge portion of sandwich just less than two hours earlier. I was frustrated, the heat was killing me (it was the day the heat wave struck much of Northeast Asia… the blue skies and sunlight was tortuously merciless) – two bottles of mineral water and one bottle of Coca-Cola did nothing to quell the heat. With the humidity level low, it was hard to perspire – the heat radiation from the sun above was unbelievably intense. Since Starbucks was just too far away (Hey, it was a 10-lane by 4-lane junction, okay!), I sought refuge at a Chinese fast food restaurant, and had my lunch there too.

I can’t remember what it’s called, but it was more “KFC” than KFC, at least for China. I noticed this yesterday – unlike Singapore where the crispy and original recipe are the main stars of the fast food restaurant, in Shanghai, they are reduced in size to finger foods; relegated to being side dishes to chicken, duck, turkey, pork and beef burgers! Anyway, this Chinese fast food restaurant sold virtually every part of the chicken that you could possibly think of, from the meat to the wings, feet, neck and even curdled chicken blood. Just as I finished my lunch, Inez replied, this time with very clear directions and before long (actually, it was quite a long, long, long walk), I was there and got the shoes!

After that, I went back to the hostel to leave the shoes with the intention of leaving, but once I was there, I was like, “Nahhh… it’s too hot… and I’ve got my roomies to talk to, why should I go out?”

I think this generally bad day really inspired my itinerary the next day – to just get out of the city for a while.

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