Saturday, August 23, 2008

Let's get out of this joint before the vampires come out to feed


After an extraordinary meal last night at the Face Bar, today was dedicated to hitting the shopping sites. Everyone comes with a list for the pearl store and the knock-off market and everything in between.

The started out raining cats and dogs. We were on the outer fringes of Typhoon Nuri which came ashore in Guangzhou after plowing across Hong Kong. This turned out to be the second typhoon I’ve been glanced by in as many weeks. Just the price you pay for being in the middle of China during their tropical storm season.

After breakfast downstairs (first day of our lounge exile) we took a couple of cabs down to the pearl market to get Anna the pearl lady working on everyone’s orders. Mine was the only one completed today as it was pretty simple. While the others were busy, Matt and I spent some time with the pearl stringers doing some Chinese vocabulary lessons, trying once again to get down to the correct pronunciation of the word for “hot.” The girls thought we were a riot.

From there it was off to the fabric market where first quality cashmere scarves tip the scale at $5 dollars, making their cheaper quality cousins seem far less attractive. Back out onto the street and into the subway for a ride to the knock-off market where handbags and video games were the mission of the day.

I noticed a lot of foreigners in there today, dressed in their vacation best and accompanied by locals hired to do the middle-man work between them and the sellers. Funny little business arrangement, I guess people are intimidated by the hawkers and the pressure and the fear that they are not getting the best price, even when the best price might only be saving a few dollars. Something gets lost when you avail yourself of that buffer; it’s far too much fun to stumble through the negotiations in broken Chinese, making everyone laugh with enjoyment.

Having completed purchasing the intended items, we went back to the seller we call the Tommy Bahama Lady due to her specialty. We wanted some local advice on how to find the famous electronics mart in Pudong, as I had it in my head to try and find that GPS I spoke about a couple of blogs ago.

Matt was talking with her and going over the map and I was standing out in the hallway watching a little boy of about 3 years pouring water out of a plastic cup onto the slippery tile floor. Something only little boys can find entertaining. He was standing next to Erik, who is a pretty tall guy, and the contrast was striking since the tyke pretty much came up to Erik’s knee. I said “Hen gao he hen duan”, “Very tall and very short” and the little boy screwed his face up into a very ugly grimace. We all laughed and the little by said something in quiet Chinese to the Tommy Bahama Lady who, unbeknownst to us, was his mother. She laughed and translated, “This is my angry look” he had said, and as she spoke, he walked over and kicked Erik in the leg. I about fell on the floor laughing, as did everyone else, his mother being slightly mortified gave him a cursory paddle on the butt. I called him “xiao pengyou”, “little friend” and he turned around and came after me. His mom grabbed him before I got a good swift kick too.
Directions in hand we headed back to the subway and out into downtown Pudong where we found ourselves pretty much lost relative to our destination. A helpful gentleman asked us if he could help and then proceeded to admit he had no idea where we needed to go. But we had a nice chat and left with a “Thank you.”

Passing a Marriott we decided that it might be worthwhile to ask the concierge and so we went in. We told her we were guests at the Renaissance in Hongqiao and asked if she knew where the electronics mart was. She looked at us with dismay and inquired as to why we had come so far to shop. I guess our logic was not clear to her. She finally told us which way to go and so we headed back out into what was becoming a steamy afternoon as the rain had subsided and the sun was beginning to make an appearance.

We found the place but decided to grab lunch at that old bastion of Chinese cuisine, Pizza Hut before heading into the fray.

The electronics marts here are huge, 5-10 floors of laptops, games, cameras, monitors and just about anything else you can think of. I had a discussion at the first counter I found about the various GPS products and quickly discovered that they were coming up short either in the quality of the maps or the complete lack of English. This particular shopping mission was tricky – the vendors had little English and I have little Chinese so trying to have a discussion about the various technical merits of a given unit was a bit sketchy. I stopped at 4 or 5 counters, looking at multiple options, all coming up short in one way or another. I had a nice chat with a young woman who was very earnest but totally sidetracked by my question of whether or not the unit would locate my exact position outside where the satellite reception was better. She kept telling me that I could not take it outside unless I bought it; I kept telling her that was not my intention. I finally gave up and told her I’d be back to which she responded, “You have made me very sad.”

We went upstairs and tried a few more places including one in which everyone lit up cigarettes while waiting on me. I guess I was a stressful customer.

Having run out of floors we headed back down and just for grins decided to take one last spin around the floor that had the most options on the first upward pass. On a whim I headed to the left and came around the corner and there, in the midst of all this retail chaos was an exclusive Garmin dealer. And he was selling the China version of my all-time favorite device, the Nuvi. Now I already own one, and it has saved my butt on numerous occasions, particularly in Dublin where the streets have no names, so you can imagine my excitement. I spent some time trying to chit-chat with the counter guys and finally decided to just buy the thing. Unfortunately they didn’t take credit cards so I asked about an ATM and one of the guys gladly offered to show me to the nearest machine.

What a coup, exactly what I wanted in a product that I know and love and have never been able to find in the US.

We took a long ride back on the subway, stopped for an iced-coffee at Starbucks and made a plan for dinner at 1221, one of our favorite places, known as the “PF Chang's of China.”

This place is very popular with expatriates, as the food is good and it doesn’t generally contains bones, skin and the unidentifiable parts you find in genuine Chinese food. But because of this popularity, the place can be a bit of a freak show and tonight was no exception judging from the table of Slovak guys who spent all their time talking on their cell phones to the middle-aged Italian woman whose loose shirt and lack of under-armor raised the issue of a potential appearance of one of her ample bosoms in the middle of her meal to group of chain-smoking German women with a bunch of really unattractive teen-aged boys one of whom sat there in a Che Guevara t-shirt with his face on his plate.

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, a group of young women dressed to their notion of “the nines” made an appearance, walking across the place to a private room on the side. These were some scary looking girls - two really pale platinum blondes, one with braids pulled tight enough to offer a glimpse of a black under-layer, her friend with bowl cut and a Chinese girl decked out in a dress embellished with fur and chicken feathers. The latter spent a lot of time walking back and forth talking on her cell phone and doing two-cheeked air kisses with her friends who were spilling in dribs and drabs. The boys really had the Euro thing down with low-riser designer jeans, man-purses and skin tight short-sleeved shirts. Another young woman, tall, thin and brunette turned to show us a giant red flower overpowering the right side of her head. It was quite a show and in the end pretty much took the prize for “most unusual”, overcoming a late charge by another group of what were probably Germans commanded by a substantial woman who tucked her napkin into the collar of her shirt.

To say it was something is an incredible understatement, and for some reason the prevailing thought at our table was that these was some sort of vampire dinner party. Hence the title of today’s installment.

Finally here are a couple of shots from today’s walkabout. The Nanpu Bridge which I think has some interesting cabling and the Shanghai Financial Center, what would have been the world’s tallest building had it not taken so long to complete, allowing some other buildings to steal the title before it was even bestowed.



















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