Shanghai Sojourn

Trip Start Oct 31, 2009
Trip End Nov 11, 2009

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Where I stayed
The Longemont Hotel and Mike & Xenia's place

Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sunday, November 8

My flight from Hong Kong landed at 11:30 PM and I took a cab to the Longemont hotel, one of my all time favorite hotels ( I stayed here back in 2006).  Checked in by 1:00 AM.  Up early tomorrow to spend the entire Sunday with Mike and Xenia (my first day off in almost two weeks. woo hoo!)

Awake before the alarm by 7:00 AM...which turned out to be a good thing because Michael, who was very impressed with himself for calling the hotel to get my room number, called at 7:45 in the morning.  We hatched a plan whereby I would ask the conceirge for help writing Mike's apartment address in Chinese and then have him call Mike to confirm if it was correct to let Mike know I was on my way without having to actually pay the astronomical hotel fees for making the call from my room.  SUCCESS!!

A short cab ride later I found myself on the other side of Shanghai getting dropped off on a random street corner. Random, except for the fact that Mike was standing there- eerily staring in to each cab that passed by.  :-)

We walked up the five flights of stairs to get to Mike and Xenia's apartment and we were greeted by Xenia who was up and at um, despite the fact that she had just gotten home from a wild night out just a few short hours before.  It was great to see them both.  I'd say it had been ages but we had just rendezvoused in Washington DC and New York back in September during my last work trip back east.

While Xenia went to the market Mike gave me a tour of the ol' neighborhood.  I saw the building where they used to live, along with the view they used to have of the city (see photo). Mike also took me through the little alleyways so I could get a sense of "real" Shanghai.  Then we went to a vegetable market and the crazy sketchy pet store we had discovered years before.  Mike was dead set on showing me the pet squirrels but alas, they were no where to be found.  Crickets the size of my head? Plentiful.

After the pet store we stopped on the street to buy some soup dumplings. Mike doesn't like them, but I do. Not that you could tell after I managed to drop two out of three on the ground while actually trying to eat them.  We then walked by his office building and eventually found ourselves at Din Tai Fung which is a famous dumpling house. It's also a chain, and supposedly there is a location in Los Angeles. The dumplings were so delicate and delicious.  We only ordered a few because we had concocted a new plan on our walk-hairy crabs!

Hair crabs are a delicacy in China, and they also happen to be in season.  I had never tried them before.  Mike and I stopped at a market on the way back to pick up some live crabs to bring home so Xenia could cook them for us.  Bargaining with the vendors is a delicate process but thanks to Mike's skillful negotiating skills (and a call to Xenia) we left victorious.

Mike's quote of the afternoon: " I speak fluent food...and taxi".

Back at the apartment, Xenia prepared the crabs. I was very impressed.  She then taught me the proper way to eat the male and female crabs because, as it turns out, there is a difference. And, as she explained, if you do it wrong, it can completely ruin the taste.  Well, we clearly did it right because they were very tasty. But very, very messy.  Don't ever, ever order them out in public at a fine dining establishment. It would be quite embarassing. 

That afternoon we did something totally decadent. We sat on the couch and watched a movie-In The Loop, to be more precise. A fantastically funny film that you should all rent immediately.  Oh, and I almost forgot...they also made a mii of me on the Wii.  No, that's not Chinese, Xenia just got a Wii and apparently you can customize every player on the system so they have been busy creating little miis of all their friends and family members.  We weren't satisfied with my mii, but deemed it a work in progress.

After that we took a cab to the fabric market where I met Mrs. Chow (her booth is located on the third floor, not that it really helps you but that's about as specific as I can get).  Mrs. Chow is making me a suit. I got to pick out the fabric and jacket cut and fit and everything.  Mike and Xenia promise me that they will bring it to NY in February when we rendezvous for the third time in six months.

Next up was dinner at Lost Heaven. Mmmm....Lost Heaven.  We met a number of Mike's friends for a family style dinner of Yunnan cuisine.  Not only was the restaurant beautiful, the food was amazing. Of special note were the spring rolls and the eggplant and tofu appetizer.  Their drinks also had the most entertaining names. Unfortunately, the drink list did not actually include a description of each entertaining drink so Mike asked the waitress about a dozen questions and eventually just went to the bar to have the bartending recite the ingredients.
I chose the "imagination" which had something, something, coconut milk and tequila. They had me at tequila.  I also wound up inheriting a drink later in the evening. Some daring person at the other end of the table had ordered the "hot" margarita which was a regular margarita with a space of some kind of hot pepper. I didn't really understand it, but I kind of liked it.
Somewhere in the middle of dinner I saw Xenia staring at me. I asked what was up and she said that my eyebrows needed to be further apart.  There was a quiet pause at the table until we realized she was referring to the mii on the Wii :-)

After dinner a smaller group went over to Constellation, a small bar which, according to Mike, makes the best drinks in town.  I will say mine was quite tasty.  Kept it a pretty early night since I had to be up early the next day for 7 interviews followed by the MBA fair from 6-9.

Monday, November 9 9:00 PM
I'll spare you all the boring details but I worked all day and half the night.  After the MBA fair I took a taxi to Dingxi Road where I was met on the corner by Mike and his colleague Krista. We walked about half way down the block to a place called Deng Hua Dong restaurant.  Exhausted, I was perfectly content having them do all the ordering.  I know we had chicken, and I know we had some frog leg soup dish, and I know there was rice.  One of the dishes had celery and whatever that was-that was my favorite.  Sorry for the vagueness, it was a long day.  It turned out that the street was within walking distance to my hotel so after a gluttonous evening of Shanghainese cuisine, I walked back.

Tuesday, November 10
Ah, another day off!  After hitting the gym and loading up on the fruit at the breakfast buffet I grabbed a cab and headed back to Mike and Xenia's, this time with all my luggage.  I successfully used our conceirge trick to let him know I was on my way.  Now, two days prior it had taken a mere 15 minutes to get across town. But, two days ago, it wasn't raining.  Cut to one hour later and I am still in the cab and poor Michael is still standing on a street corner with a very broken umbrella.  My incompetent taxi driver was not only the least aggressive I've ever seen he actually chose to drive down a street which he knew would cause problems because apparently there is a hospital on it.  Ambulences were the least of our problems. I think the biggest problem had to be the big blue truck that was stalled across the two lanes of traffic, making it impossible for anyone to drive in either direction (see photo below). I dare say it was worse than India.

Many thoughts went through my head at this time. One, I wondered if I really could lug all my bags from wherever I was to whereever their apartment was, in the pouring rain.  My taxi driver said it was too far. Two, what would happen if I got out of the taxi and assaulted the driver of the blue truck? (decided it was likely that I would miss my flight the next day).  When I finally arrived on Mike's corner he was nowhere to be found. Thankfully, I recognized a few landmarks. Namely, a hair salon with an arch of pink flowers in front.  I decided that Mike was a bright enough guy that he might think to check in at the house if we couldn't spot each other. And oh how right I was. Just as I was going to knock on the door Xenia opened the door and I heard her say on the phone "she's right here!". 

After a bit of kvetching (we are New Yorkers afterall) we dried off and helped ourselves to heaping bowls of homemade Chinese chicken noodle soup, compliments of Xenia.  What makes it Chinese chicken noodle soup? You ask.  Well, according to Mike, it's made in China.  There's also some ginger.

We rested a bit and then it was off to find a taxi that would whisk us away to our wonderful and very hard earned buy 1 get 1 free massage special.  I had an hour long foot massage, followed by an hour long full body.  I'm pretty sure I have now experienced my first deep tissue massage. Parts of the experience were quite relaxing and the others were beyond painful. Still, when it was all said it done, I definitely felt more relaxed.

That is, of course, until we found ourselves trying to catch a taxi in the rain, at rush hour, in Shanghai.  Five minutes of that will completely counteract the effects of a two hour massage. FYI.

We finally got a cab that took us back to the fabric market so I could see Mrs. Chow again and try on my suit for a fitting. We got there at 6:00 PM and they were already starting to close up shop. Some of the doors even had padlocks on them. Thankfully, Mike had the good sense to bum rush one particular vendor and push us through his shop so we could get in and get upstairs.  I also must thank Xenia for calling Mrs. Chow to let her know we were on our way.  we made it and the jacket and skirt fit like a glove. She's going to make some minor adjustments to the pants but I am quite looking forward to seeing the final product soon.  She was delighted when I asked her to take a picture.

Eventually waved down another cab and it was off to my final dinner in Shanghai, Vale restaurant. Cantonese cuisine, I was told.  We had the wasabi mustard shrimp, which were divine. We also had the ribs, some other kind of meat that Xenia ordered and orders of eggplant, tofu and cabbage.  Vale is a beautiful restaurant, and the prices are incredibly reasonable.  It was the perfect way to end my trip.

Back to India next week!  Thanks for reading.  
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