Sunday, September 24, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Trip to the Malls

While I'm here this first week, two of my co-workers from the Southfield office are with me. They arrived a week before I got here and then leave this coming Saturday.

One of them is my direct boss, Jason, and the other is the CMO of the company, Laura. Laura wanted to do a little shopping today and I wanted to talk with them and get out a bit myself. After I met them at their hotel, we took a taxi to the "underground mall" at Century Park. Indeed, it was a mall of sorts that took up either side of the metro stop there.

We entered into a maze of stores (or booths, really), each seeming to stock a slight variation of the other so that it felt like we were in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, us walking in front with the same handful of stores rotating in the background. To abuse the metaphor, we were something of a Scooby Gang, fending off hordes of shopkeepers -- most of them in their twenties -- who would attach themselves to us and start throwing out brand names and products, "You want to buy some watches? We have Rolex, Tag Heuer..." or "We have bags for you, Prada, Gucci..." and a simple "no thank you" would not dissuade them. This gave me a good chance to try out my limited Mandarin with a "Wǒ bùxiǎng!"

There was only one store that finally seemed interesting to me where they sold the most tacky tchotchkes I could want. I made note to possibly come back for some in the future, though I'm not sure if I could handle the hustle of the sales pitch again. I actually had a good time of watching it happen when Laura and Jason went into one booth to buy some shoes. The haggling with the shopgirl, the way the girl kept insisting that her items were quality, the pushing of different products, the demuring about their authenticity until finally "admitting" that they were just as good quality as the name brands that were illegitimately marked on them, and back to the haggling. It was quite a dance.

I managed to get Andrea a little solar powered Maneki-neko ("Chinese" lucky cat) for her office area at home.

Afterwards we went to a more "legitimate" mall where little-to-know shopping happened but it was still interesting to see the layout of the stores. It reminded me a lot of the indoor/outdoor malls of Las Vegas. On a rainy day like today there wasn't much desire to walk around outside but we could see the stores we wanted to get to from one level to another or across the way.

This is where we had lunch. Though the hostess seemed to know her English, the wait staff did not. But, a picture menu on an iPad seemed at first to help. That is, until the questions about "what kind of meat is that?" started cropping up. Apparently, years of "The Iron Chef" have inured me to being squeamish about ingredients. I tried to use Google Translate as best I could but the white text on a white background confused the heck out of the app. After about 20 minutes of going back and forth, they had ordered a few dishes (including french fries, cokes, and fried rice). I went more for presentation and got some dumplings and a dish that looked interesting and spicy.

While they picked at their spread of plates, I chowed down on mine which seemed to be some deep fried squab, un-fried shrimp, peanuts, and hot peppers. I'm guessing squab because of the number and size of bones. I didn't really care. It just tasted good. The dumplings were great, too. And the balsamic vinegar dipping sauce was potent.

After some more walking around, we decided to head back to their hotel which was a very quick cab ride away. Their hotel is about a block from my apartment, though in the pissing rain it feels longer. Thank goodness Andrea dug out an umbrella for me.

They seem to have a lot of umbrella etiquette. They have dispensers at the hotels for plastic bags in which one is supposed to wrap their umbrellas before going inside. And outside of a restaurant I went to yesterday they had a caddy for umbrellas. If the rain has been this bad for the last two days, I can't imagine what it's like during monsoon season.

We ate a little dessert at the hotel in the lobby and I was supposed to head back to meet them for dinner but I begged off. I got incredibly sleepy around the time we would have probably met and the idea of going back out in the rain didn't appeal to me. My eating and sleeping have been thrown off significantly so far. I'm trying to maintain my meal program but I've found that I was incredibly hungry on the flight over and haven't been too hungry today since the one meal.

I crashed out for an hour and now I'm back up and waiting for 10PM when I try my first Skype call + recording for an episode of The Projection Booth on Polanski's The Tenant. It'll be a three time zone affair and my maximum speed of internet is about 2 Mbps so I hope that can sustain a good call.

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