“As long as the cash comes in, I don’t care if you do it on all fours or not,” says Gerard, before adding: “Muahaha” – the typical punctuation to his continuously perverted banter (which is why Gerard isn’t his actual name).
He pours another glassful of red wine and offers the table a round. It’s Chateau-Lafite, or Margot, and one from a good year, or some other whose quality is most desolately lost on our mundane taste buds. He’s downing glass after glass, obviously used to this ritual – Happy Hour.
We flew in to Shanghai from Chengdu, from West to East, part of our (my) efforts to view as much of China in the short month allocated by our visas. The irony is not lost: we’re skipping to and fro and missing out on much of the pulp doing so.
Day by day I realize how a mere month flies by in this vast country, and how soon I will have to return in hopes to deepen any understanding of it. But I’m satisfied merely seeing its main urban areas and attractions this time around.
Coco’s family awaits us South in Canton in the next days, in Guangzhou. We’ll be flying again. Overall our Chinese itinerary is not unlike a calligraphic character.
Upon our arrival, we hop onto the magnetic bullet train, and whisk at close to 200 mph through the clean-cut suburbs, before realizing it stops after just a few minutes. So we take the subway into town.
We’ve contacted a friend at the very last minute, and are fortunate she can put us up for the first two of our three-night stay. P is a French expat, she’s been working here in wine imports for about a year, and is happy with her situation. Some of the perks include affordable housing, cartfuls of good wine, and a friendly workplace with other expats on the Bund, Shanghai’s posh riverside. She’s still getting used to some cultural differences, including peoples’ spitting bouts (though much more tame here than we’ve seen up till now), as well as the looming, ever-thick, air pollution.
P.’s given us a meeting point above her workplace at a fancy restaurant overlooking the Bund, to give us the key to her flat. So here we are, taking in Shanghai’s entrancing skyline. Her friend, F., the head chef, runs out from the kitchen wiping a sweaty brow. She’s swamped with work but kindly greets us, drinks are on her, P. will be up in a second.
And already she’s back to the kitchen.
“Come on, pussycat, you want me to take special care of you?” Gerard addresses all of his female subordinates in such terms. But he’s taken a special liking to P.
We’re all gathered for after-work drinks – P., Gerard, F., and a few others. Gerard orders heaps of delicacies: crab, lobster, roast lamb, duck, and a platter of French charcuterie and cheese, all from F.’s kitchen. And the quality wine keeps flowing.
Gerard’s sexual diatribe continues:
“I invite people over to my loft and fuck them in the ass on my terrace. I prefer it that way, facing straight South.”
It’s all in good humor though, and Gerard’s raw openness is more endearing than anything. The ever-flowing wine helps to loosen up. I drop a large chunk of cheese on the floor and feel guilty. Gerard picks it up, inspects it, and gulps it – he’s seriously inebriated at this point.
“I don’t like men – not in elevators anyway.”
It’s past midnight when the congregation begins to split. One of P’s friends, a Chinese girl, convinces us to go clubbing. I’ve heard some pretty wild stories about Shanghai clubs and wouldn’t mind checking it out. We haven’t been out in… well, since we’ve begun traveling.
Gerard alone lingers, nursing a good red.
We end up at the M2, one of the more conventional clubs in town. The music is loud and the Vodka-Redbulls expensive, nothing extraordinary but we have a good time.
There’s a Chinese woman sitting at one of the VIP tables who looks miserable. Several times she comes up to talk to us. Her husband, or boyfriend, is somewhere in the club gallivanting with other sprite, younger girls. The woman is drunk and sad.
We awake hammered. Some time in the afternoon.
P. bravely straddled out to work in the morning, albeit an hour or two late. Judging by her special relationship with Gerard, she’ll work it out.
Coco and I munch on some baked goods, from one of the many nearby bakeries. We wander around hazily, taking in the display of locals using twelve-foot poles to hook and unhook their laundry onto the clothes-lines adorning the streets.
Spend the day walking around the main attractions, visit the Urban Planning Center, the Old City, French Concession, and so on. The weather’s warm and we’re enjoying our respite from backpacking travels in these ultra-modern surroundings. We’re still early in the trip and already it’s taken its toll, as we’re still learning to organize and pace ourselves.
Shanghai undoubtedly deserves its reputation as a cutting-edge hub of the Orient, both culturally and economically. Although one can’t help notice the city’s taints of neo-colonialism: expats most often hold top office jobs and run the main businesses, alongside a handful of savvy Chinese businessmen. Most locals continue to live their lives modestly – precariously in many cases.
Who knows though, if there’s a place in China where I could see myself settling down in the future, it could very well be here. We’ll see. It’s time for us to leave.
But Gerard ought to have the last words:
“Other people jerk off at work. At least I’m honest: when I’m at work, I go online and watch porn.”
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