Today, Peilin, Paul and myself visited Chrystal and her husband Steve in Pudong, the East side of Shanghai which has grown from nothing in 1990 to a city in it’s own right. Chrystal works at Yi-Fu Polytechnic who have had some sort of relationship to AUT for many years. She has visited Auckland several times including a trip to our house where she fell in love with the garden, Daisy and Sissy. Since then she has kept in touch with Ann and sent her a present, so I was there to take a return gift. She and Steve probably represent new China. A young couple in professional jobs but not particularly well off buying a new apartment and filling it with really cool Danish furniture, a 42 inch plasma screen, a top of the range cooker (for him). The apartment wouldn’t look out of place anywhere else in the world. Had a great visit and went out to (yet another) lunch. In the afternoon I went to the Shanghai Museum. Really good, it’s new, well laid out, well curated, with a particularly good ceramics collection and good jade, furniture, and minority artefacts – and a good shop. Then some shopping and another evening in the hotel. The three of us have spent a lot of time together and have got on well generally, but we have also spent a lot of time with other people being insufferably nice and so I guess we all need some time out. My treat is a club sandwich with chips in my room watching HBO.
Some bits and pieces:
the hotel I’m staying in – Le Royal Meridien – is brand new, French, really cool (and expensive). The designer is known as the Cultural Curator. It’s situated on floors 8-11 and 20-43 of the building as well as a bar on the 65th floor. It’s only problem is that it appears to be fairly full of very loud Americans. 10 years ago, there were modern hotels in China but they were not of the same quality as say Signapore, Hong Kong or Malaysia (particularly the service) but that’s no longer the case and all the international chains now have huge operations here. The service is fantastic.
I’m usually quite good with chopsticks, good enough that nobody notices that I’m not perfect. So, as the Lazy Susans pass by with their 20 dishes I can usually look OK. In Tianjin we went to China’s most famous dumpling restaurant which has been there since 1858. The host was the Chair of Boustead College and the son of Tianjin’s most famous (well infamous) Mayor. So it was a very plush afair. Even the chopsticks were upper class. Thet were bigger, fatter and glossier and I simply couldn’t use the them. Every time I tried to pick something up, the chopsticks seemed to collapse and soon people were ducking as food started flying all over. No one could avoid seeing it because they can’t eat until I do. The Chinese, as always not wanting to embarass their guests, kept a straight face but eventually brought me a knife and fork. The humiliation! As more and more dishes came out it got easier as I could pick the dishes I wanted to eat and could avoid the eels, fish heads, pigeons etc and stick to the chunkier stuff. It turned out that dumplings were easy so I stuck to them. Unfortunately, three days later they seem to have stuck to me.
I like Shanghai and the centre has really smartened up and it’s pleasant to walk along, except as a single white male I get constantly harrassed. Men are always coming up saying Rolex, Bags, DVDs and then when you say no, they say, Ladies Club (which don’t do sex), Ladies (who do), or Massage (which is). Even more difficult are the trail of young women, all rather studenty and preppie looking, who come up and say You’re tall; You speak English?; You Swedish? You want to go for coffee and help me with my English? You want to be my friend etc etc. Peilin tells me that some may be genuine, but the others are there to persuade you to go into cafes and restaurants and spend a lot of money for which they get commission. They’re very amiable and leave you alone when it’s clear you’re not interested, but it is quite difficult to just walk along and look at the shops.
All young Chinese, like Chrystal and Steve have an English name. Chrystal’s Chinese name means ‘clear’ so that’s why she chose Chrystal. Steve actually chose Stephen because he liked the sound, but then nobody would call him it. The other day we met a student who had chosen Beryl! I didn’t like to ask.
I will get round to talking about Tianjin eventually! Tomorrow is another of what we call Happy Happy days – meetings and meals, talking and toasting. After that however, it’s Penang anhd then no more banquets, speeches, toasts!.