June 21st, 2002


The Things You See In Shanghai On A Friday Night

It’s been a week overdue, I know. But since returning I’ve been overly occupied with Catching Up. Catching up on my emails, voicemail, TiVo, work, friends, family, and alcohol-free sleep. Catching up on LiveJournal I saved for last, if not least.

So without further ado, here’s last weekend’s entry. It’s a bit long so I divided it into separate entries. Here’s the first half. I’ll try to post the second half later…

Before I left China, I had to do all my souvenir shopping. In Shanghai, you do it at Yu Yuan Garden. It's like they crammed all the souvenir shops of China into five blocks. The area itself looks like a gigantic souvenir, all fake and gaudy as if the buildings were made out of painted plastic.

The best part about souvenir shopping in China is the haggling. It's only fun because every single store sells exactly the same shit as the next one, so the only way they can stay in business is by out-cheaping their neighbor. This makes negotiating so easy that the rule of thumb is you should never pay more than 40% of the listed price.

If you give a shit, you can get away with 30% or even less. But this takes an additional five minutes of you threatening to leave, and the salesgirl begging you to help her hit her weekly quota or she'll get sent to the salt mines.

Then you tell her that you could probably get that same "Waving Mao" wristwatch next door for a 90% discount - to which she replies that she's already losing so much money on this deal that she'll have to sell her eight kids, you heartless rich American.

Of course in the end you win. But all that work just saved you an extra 85 cents.


For dinner, T and I met up with Mark, a Hong Kong i-banker, and Mark's friend Glen, who'd just moved to Shanghai from the sexless confines of the Bay Area. We were later joined by Benny, who like me was revisiting Shanghai after two years. This would be our Friday night crew.

Because Glen, Benny and I were the Shanghai nightlife novices of the group, T and Mark thought it'd be amusing if they first took us to the biggest, cheeziest bar I'd ever seen. I've selectively erased its name from my memory, but it was located next to Nanjing Lu.

Nanjing Lu used to be China's trendiest shopping district during the 90's before it got overtaken by Huaihai Lu. Big Cheezy Bar probably used to be the shit back then as well, but like its neon-infested neighborhood, its former extravagance and excess had morphed into something campy, ridiculous, and a bit sad.

We sat at a booth and watched a coed group of young performers in sparkly clothes sing and dance onstage to Prince’s "Kiss." Circling the stage, at the bottom, was a bar stationed with emotionless girls hired to play drinking games with emotionless old men.

Mark gave us a tour through the huge maze of KTV rooms located in the back of the place. Inside each room were businessmen singing old Chinese love songs on stained velour couches while hostesses poured them drinks. At one point Mark stopped and pointed to a door around the corner.

A while ago he had "accidentally" stumbled through that door and found himself in a cavernous chamber filled with hundreds of women of various levels of age, looks and weariness. This was where you were supposed to pick out the female to keep you company in your KTV room. There were managers standing next to the door now, so we couldn’t take a peek at the girl buffet.

When we got back to our booth, the sweaty dancers were gone. Now onstage was a tiny man in a white suit, who was belting out an Italian opera song in the strangest falsetto I’d ever heard. It was half Chipmunk, half Celine Dion. This scene was beyond Felliniesque, it was Fellini on crystal meth. We quickly downed our watered-down whiskey and left.

Once again we were at Park 97, which had a restaurant/bar on one side and a disco on the other. From what I’ve been told, it’s been the hottest club in Shanghai for a while. By LA, New York, or even Seoul standards, it wasn’t much. But what the overcrowded joint lacked in hipness, it compensated with friendliness.

When it comes to approaching LA club chicks, I’ve grown accustomed to the 3A’s: Attitude, Aloofness, and Attention-Whoring. Now this doesn’t apply to ALL LA women, but you know what I mean, guddammit. In order to break through the many defense mechanisms that your typical American hottie puts up to protect herself from your evil intentions, you actually have to put in work. Not so with Shanghainese girls.

Lord knows if the lovely ladies who frequent Park 97 went there to actively seek out guys who smelled like money, America, or spiritual fulfillment. But they’re extremely approachable. It’d gotten so easy for Shanghai guys that some of them didn’t even bother using words. One would simply walk up to a girl, pull out his cell phone and point to it. The girl would then grab the dude’s phone and punch in her number. Just like that.

And through this sea of effortless macking, swam Mark and Benny like a pair of barracudas (I picked them out because even T was more laid back in comparison, Glen was mild-mannered in a Palo Alto kind of way, and my ass wasn’t single.). Those two were simply voracious when it came to hitting on hunnies. Good Lord. Their eyes, mouths and feet never stopped moving for even a millisecond. As soon as they spotted even a hint of feminine appeal, they lunged upon it without a moment of hesitation.

Benny looked exactly like the pineapple-eating cop in "Chungking Express", Takeshi Kaneshiro. No joke. So even when he wasn’t working it, the chicks were practically flinging themselves at the guy like migrating salmon.

Mark wasn’t blessed with Benny’s looks, but he could always somehow bring up in his pick-up line that he was an i-banker. Plus the dude was cocky as hell, and I’ve been told that you ladies find this utterly charming. Years ago, when T first met him in Love Boat (Not the one with Isaac and Gopher, but the Taiwanese summer program for horny college kids), Mark was a quiet, hard-studying boy. Fast forward to the present, and the guy’s famous throughout the Chinese banking crowd for being a full-on freak. It’s amazing what a six-figure salary in Asia could do for your penis.

Around 2:30am, Mark and Benny ran into a group of six party chicks. You know what a lot of them like to wear? Those violet-tinted sunglasses. You see a woman wearing a pair after midnight, and you think to yourself: "I surmise that chick parties."

So the six party chicks demanded that we go with them to another popular club called Pegasus. Pegasus … there’s something very Eighties-sounding about that name. But once we’re inside, I heard no Duran Duran or New Order. Damn. We followed the party chicks into the VIP room and proceeded to do vodka shots.

By this point, mild Glen had instantly transformed into a player and was draped around one of the party chicks. One night of Shanghai had somehow flushed the Silicon Valley timidity right out of him.

The other party chicks amused themselves by trying to teach me Mandarin phrases. After I’d repeat the phrase, they’d tell me what it meant in English. Invariably, the sentences always had something to do with group sex. Now whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant, I can ask the waitress "Would your sister like to join us?" in proper Mandarin. Like I said, these were party chicks.

T and I took off around four. T actually left digit-less, but it turned out that the one party chick he was interested in was effectively cockblocked by Mark. Mark, Benny and the new Glen briefly waved good-bye before resuming dancing with the party chicks.

The club was just a few blocks away from our hotel, so we walked back. At first I thought I was seeing things, but then again you tend to see this type of shit at four in the morning, in China. Strolling in front of us down Huaihai Lu was an old man wearing only his shorts. And the whole time, he was walking backwards - like a character in a David Lynch movie.

From Fellini to Lynch in one evening. That’s Friday in Shanghai for you.