A Shanghai Summer’s Eve
I want to recount one of the “livelier” Shanghai evenings I’ve had this previous summer. This post is really more for my own personal pleasure and to recount one of my better memories here (no real deep personal insight). In Shanghai you always have strange, random evenings–and summer 2013 was no exception.
I was on the couch sporting the most unflattering sweatpants and baggy sweater I own, my hair unkempt and my body slouched on the sofa like a slug. My one hand was holding a cup of tea, the other hand stuffed into a giant plastic bag of dried fruits from China’s northwest province. I was having the first lazy Sunday I’ve had in weeks–and it felt so good. I was watching Hanzawa Naoki, cheering on my beloved protagonist with the world’s “hell yea!” and stuffing more Xinjiang raisins in my mouth, when my roommate emerged from her room, wondered what on god’s green Earth I was watching, then looked at me and said:
“Mary, do you want to go to the VIP opening of the new club on the bund, Cirque L’Soir?”
She hands me a golden ticket that sparkles.
“Yeah, I went to the pre-party last night and I’m too tired to go again today. Tonight is the big party, supposedly.”
She puts her hand on her hip, swishes back her long barley colored locks and waits for my response. (My roommate is a sassy British girl that is the editor of a local magazine in Shanghai. She’s classy, elegant, bold and beautiful. She also gets me free tickets to everywhere with her connections in the city).
Mary starts to weigh the options. It’s a Sunday night, which means Mary has to work tomorrow. Mary also told herself that she has been going out too much, and this Sunday would be reserved for her and Hanzawa only. Still, it’s not every day she gets a golden ticket to go to some fancy club on the bund—she was at a loss. Go, or not to go?
“There’s probably going to be free champagne there.”
I take the ticket from her hand.
I usually don’t’ frequent the clubs in Shanghai, but I thought—hey, life is short, I should take this golden ticket and see what this place is all about. I didn’t want to go alone, though, so I called my partners in crime, Andrew (half Italian half American, fluent in 4 languages, plays every instrument known to man, dances the flamenco) and J (an AMWF on the prowl for a Chinese man).
After uttering the words ‘golden ticket’ and ‘free booze’ my friends immediately said yes to my invitation. I transformed from couch-ridden sloth Mary into sexy-black-dress-with-red-lipstick Mary, got in a cab, and met my friends at Shanghai’s most luxurious area—“on the bund.”
Now people, when you live in Shanghai you have crazy nights. It’s just bound to happen. This was one of them.
The club was in one of the most luxurious buildings on the bund, an old colonial high-rise from old shanghai that was originally a part of the “British concession.” A red carpet was laid out, guests were lined up at the door, and journalists holding cameras and notebooks were clicking with their cameras and waiting in line to enter. With J and Andrew at my side, I strut past everyone in line, walk up to the intimidating Chinese woman manning the rope to enter the premises, and flash my golden VIP ticket. She nods accordingly, unlatches the rope and lets us in.
When we ride the elevator up to the 10th floor, walk past another red carpet and descend down into the entrance of the club, I hear J scream. Andrew follows suit.
In this long back hallway, a man with an oversized, deformed and bulging head (in tux) is sitting off to the side. He waves to us creepily.
“Oh, did I mention this club is a weird freak-circus themed one?” I remark.
J grabs my arm and latches on as we quickly scuttle past the unusual greeter, “I think you forgot that little detail.”
We walk into a black club that resembles a mix between a weird sex prison and a local American state fair. There’s a popcorn machine, a pinball machine and a make-up stall manned by a creepy clown all merged together near the bar. The rest of the club was standard fare: A black hole filled with strobe lights blaring some really bad Pitbull.
What differentiates Cirque D’soir from the usual Shanghai clubbing establishments, however, are the ‘main attractions’ scattered throughout:
“Is that a ghost lady dancing in a birdcage suspended from the ceiling?”
J asks in bewilderment as she smiles back to the woman, waving and dancing above.
“Are those really midgets?” Andrew points at a dozen or so dwarves rocking out with some hot Shanghai girls in the corner, Tywin Lannister style.
“I think that guy is stapling himself,” I point in another direction, as a man with a giant staple gun roars and, well, staples himself in the chest.
Andrew turns from the staple man, then to me, unsure of what to say.
“I need a drink to handle this.”
Although it was the grand opening, the club was empty and there were more midgets and people setting themselves aflame than actual customers. J and I tried to dance a bit, but the man drilling a hole in his nose and the pole dancing giant (she must have been 9 feet tall) were a bit distracting.
“This isn’t exactly what I was expecting from a VIP club on the bund,” I look away from the man drilling a hole in his face before the gag reflex kicks in. “This place… kinda freaks me out.”
“Amen sister,” Andrew claps me on the shoulder. “Let’s get away from this freak show.”
And with another scream from J as big-headed greeter wishes us a pleasant journey, we left Cirque l’soir to go to…
“Yeah, it’s the only place on the bund where you can buy a drink and still have some money left. But it’s on the roof of a flea infested, hole in the wall hostel—if you don’t mind.”
“Lead the way sister,” Andrew pushes me forward. “I trust you more than anyone. You’re better than Lonely Planet.”
After arriving at the humble rooftop bar called Cap’n Jacks, Andrew heads straight to the bar and changes our evening by ordering..
“Three long islands” Andrew shouts
“Make mine extra strong,” J remarks.
“In fact, just don’t add ice” Andrew adds, handing the bartender a big red Mao bill.
Oh god, I think, please let me wake up for work tomorrow.
Soon one long island turns into three, and we’re on the rooftop terrace starring out to the lights of the bund on a warm, summer’s evening—slowly becoming intoxicated. Andrew is puffing away at his cigarette, while J and I make bets on whether I should hit on the Chinese man sitting alone in the far corner.
“Maybe he’s one of those mysterious, lone travelers. He’s in Shanghai looking for adventure and spontaneity, but he feels vulnerable since he’s alone,” I take another sip as I take a glance at him from the corner of my eye, judging his character. “He’s secretly hoping we talk to him.”
“Or he’s a weirdo with a doll collection in his room,” Andrew replies, taking another puff from his cigarette.
“I don’t know Mary,” J asses him with her eyes. “He’s wearing a red shirt. There’s just something about that red shirt.”
“Should I do it guys?” I look back and forth from J to Andrew. “My first aggressive attack as a single woman in Shanghai?”
They both nod.
Just as I’m about to get up, the Chinese man in red starts to take multiple self-photo shots with his phone, making various poses and facial expressions in the process. He even winks for one.
I sit back down.
“Yeah don’t touch that,” Andrew pats me on the arm slightly. “Totally a doll collector.”
Andrew, J and I stumble out of the bar. We’re in that happy place where the world is great, time doesn’t exist, and all we can think about is where the next drink is coming from. When you’re in that complacent, joyous level of drunk—it’s hard to stop. With arms locked, Andrew asks me where the next destination is:
“To the family mart!”I cry. They echo my battle cry in response.
We walk about the bund, which is usually bustling with tourists and traffic but at 1AM is completely devoid of human life. There are no cars. No taxis. There is not a soul wandering the street…
….except for a peddle bike with a stereo attached blasting Gangnam style. The driver pulls right up in front of us and pitches us a sale.
“How about a ride?” he tries to sell us with the ‘hey sexy lady’ chorus echoing into the night, a smile on his face.
“… Sure beats walking,” Andrew shrugs, and we agree. We spill into the backseat of the peddle bike and, with Gangnam style blasting in the warm air of a summer Shanghai’s eve, we march onward to the Family Mart. J throws her arms up and cries out into the Shanghai night. I feel the wind rushing through my hair. Andrew chats up the driver in Chinese.
Everything feels so perfect.
We spill out of the car and haggle the price before waltzing into the Family Mart. With three beers and some salty lays in check, we head to the only reasonable place to drink.
“Let’s sit on the benches that face the pearl tower view,” I suggest. “Let’s look at the Shanghai skyline and drink in style.”
We clamber up the steps and find ourselves at the walkway facing the financial high-rises of Pudong on the opposite side of the Huangpu River. What is usually bustling with tourists, cameras, street vendors and security guards is now an empty, silent road with only lampposts serving as its nightly visitors. We find a front row seat of the Pearl Tower View spectacle, all three of us squeezing onto a tiny bench facing the bund, and crack open our beers to “ganbei” to the night.
Then we feel it. The trickle of rain.
“I brought an umbrella,” J says. Since I’m squished in between the two on the bench, I take the umbrella, pop it open, and hold it up above our heads. As soon as the umbrella spreads its plastic wings, the rain begins to downpour. Andrew and J huddle in closer, and as a tiny little umbrella serves as our shelter from a sudden summer storm, we can’t help but laugh at how random life is. We take our beer in hand, continue to drink, and Andrew begins to sing Jolene. J and I only know the chorus, and we join in when we can.
With Andrew singing and the rain pattering down around us, J takes my arm in hers and smiles.
“We’re going to hate ourselves tomorrow morning, but I’ll never forget this evening. Tonight is a memory that will stay with us forever.”
I smile and nod. There was nothing else to say.
The rain stopped. We left the bund. Each of us found a separate cab and we somehow managed to make it tour beds without collapsing in a gutter.
I came home at 3:30. I woke up at 7:30.
The next morning, with one of the finest hangover headaches to grace mankind, I interpreted a meeting between bankers at 9:30 AM and wasn’t exactly loving life.
But still, I had no regrets.
It was a wonderful Shanghai evening.