SHANGHAI. August 5.
We repack our strewn suitcases and pass back through the towering pastel residential buildings and the megacity skyscrapers and the world’s busiest shipping port to the Hong Kong airport. I toss too much hot bean into our spicy ramen with green onion and kimchi and force us to sweat out all residual toxins before boarding China Eastern to Shanghai Pugdong.
Splitworks representative Jeremy steers us through the Expo blitz, pointing out the grand eyesores and delights designed by each attending country. China’s upturned blocky red pyramid is certainly the most obtrusive to behold and, thus, the most impressive.
After sun-warmed showers at our Garden Hanting hotel, we wait for Josh in a courtyard buzzing with the loudest collection of cicadas I have ever heard. Men in pajama-suits. Young Pioneers march and chant passed giant baby control bill boards. We arrive just in time for the Shanghai Propaganda Poster centre to close its doors the day. Icy chocolate espressos fuel Dan’s food-poisoned stomach into a pendulous dizziness that returns us to quieter streets. We tour through the French Concession stand-alone homes and the tree-lined avenues of the architecturally befuddling maze that is Shanghai. The Pearl tower glimmers rosily in the distance, the Russian convention centre is a scaled stoic representation of its Moscow Seven Sisters forebears, and the tremendously tall Jian Mao building basks gloriously, black and segmented but lined with neon blue.
Shanghai is known to be friendlier than Beijing but an old woman glowers down at us through her balcony farm, certain we are going to stain her drying laundry. I smile sheepishly, thinking, “She’s right: we are disturbingly dirty.” Our efforts to keep clean always take second (or third or last?) priority to sweaty traipsing through alleyways and city haunts.
Back in our hotel abode, Tour Conductor Extraordinaire Archie Hamilton arrives wearing the new “Handsome Furs are speaking my language” shirt that I designed. The perverse tongue heads peaking out of bathrobes engaged in a multi-language conversation that may only be funny if translated (and perhaps only funny to me) look fantastic. BUY YOURS HERE: link to online purchase
SHANGHAI. August 6.
Shanghai feels very much like a work in progress. Despite it being the PRC’s richest and cleanest and most modern destination it hasn’t entirely redrawn itself. The rough edges, its gritty and dilapidated corners, are festooned throughout the city in equal measure with the new motorways and boutique hotels. Beside a new McDonald’s, old men still pitch their wares: underwear and watches and cellphone trinkets. Dumpling trolleys still block traffic in the early hours. It is this juxtaposition that makes it most livable and on August 6, Dan and I set out to take it all in.
We taxi to 100 Fuxing lu and wander through the complex to the brown building in the back North East quarter and find the Sp_it Wor_s offices. Despite it’s unintentional laughable vandalism, Dan and I were both surprised and deeply impressed that Split Works even had a sign in the foyer. We congratulate Archie on the seeming success of his small and earnest company. He shrugs off our compliments and leads us through an old hutong alleyway to a yuppie babystroller-ridden coffee shop to a jiang bir spicy egg pancake peddler and back to the office. Old New Old New comes as easily as Left Right Left Right steps here.
We walk the entire promenade of the Bund, enjoying the sights of this living architectural museum trying to imagine the heyday of the former British Consulate, the former Jardine Matheson building, the Peace Hotel, the art deco behemoth of the Bank of China, the Sassoon family Palace Hotel, The North China Daily News building, The Shaghai Pudong Development bank, the Big Ching. Tourists from everywhere try to trace the pillaging and construction of China’s colonial past. We are told to take the “Sight-seeing Tunnel” under the Huang Po River but cannot understand it’s touristic merit. There is nothing historical or informative in the tunnel. In fact, we wish instead, we’d taken acid. The motorized train car leads us through a series of LED screens and pulsing lights with nightmarish narrative being voiced over loud speakers. It’s awesomely hilarious.
We intend to head up the Pearl tower but the wait for the busiest tourist panoramic-viewing is two hours too long for us. Greasy rain storms down and we avoid getting totally slick by jumping in a cab to the insect market. Old New Old New Left Right Left Right. The insect market is a warren of cages and baskets and fish tanks and nets housing squirrels and locusts and bunnies and fish and one yellow duck and weasels and kittens and birds all competing for air space and sonic room. Chirping and scratching and clawing about their cramped quarters. Loved well by their sellers. A shirtless old man thinks Dan is hilarious for playing with a young squirrel. A young woman manages to sell him a “cricket.” (Dan later decides to gift the little creature to Archie when we go over to his house for a BBQ with his family. His adorable little daughter Lola does not think the stick-legged insect is much of a pet. His wife Claire thinks it could perhaps have a home “outside.” And Cassie determines that it is in fact a locust or as she puts it “a very bad bad animal for eating rice.” Having received such poor welcome, Dan decides later to give it to punk rocker Xiao Punk because she is immediately smitten with the little devil.)
At a bootleg DVD shop, the back entrance curtain is opened for us and we buy the Collector’s Edition Hou Hsiao Hsien box set. We check out a few knock off clothing boutiques before going to a traditional tea house at China’s Famous Jasmine Place. Old New Left Right. It is a local operation with high standards and the gentleman running the place is swift and gentle. His son plays video games in the back ground while we sit around a burl table with tiny glasses while the master brews tea, cleans the cups in the tea water and serves us various Pu-erh and Oolong leaves. After many too many tiny mugs of tea, we purchase a tightly packed flat round of Pu-erh and next door, at a kitsch ceramics shop, we buy a Chairman Meow mug.
At Citizen Sichuan, we compare our favourite dishes (cucumber salad, dry-fried beans, ma la zi ji chicken) with the variations I make at home. Dan generously lies and says he likes my versions better. We cool the numbing spices with cold honey milk tea concoctions. At YuYintang the owners and sound techs remember us and it is a cozy feeling to be back where I know they will flood the PA as heavily as possible. Unintentionally however, my drum machine power supply gets plugged into a 220 voltage that its 110 power cannot withstand. I smell disaster – burning wires – until I realize that I have (thank god!) brought my European power supply. All is saved. Crisis averted.
Pairs and Duck Fight Goose open. Both formidable. We talk with Duck Fight Goose about the upcoming possibility of a compilation of favourite bands we’re making. And then we take stage: it is hard to imagine a sweatier event than our last Shanghai show but it happens. By the time we are playing our newest songs (that were written about our last experiences in China), the kids are stage diving. It feels like it really means something. It is truly one of the best shows of our lives and it is hard to catch our breaths afterwards. Hard to become still and normal. Hard to speak again. But easy to feel like we have the most fortunate life in the world. Surrounded by good people doing heroic good things. We are immediate friends with the other bands and photographer Kyle Fong and the artists who made the silk screened posters for the event (online purchase here) and all the sweaty moshing fans and friends.
On stage, while packing up, I accidentally punch Dan in the eyeball with the oversized ring he just gave me for our anniversary (note: I’d beat him to the punch of asking him to marry me and then I’d went ahead and designed our wedding rings so he’d never had the chance to bejewel my fingers until this recent gift) and so he forced me to make out with him for forgiveness. Win win. Except for Dan’s eyeball.