…and what a whirlwind they have been. From where I left off last time, which I think was a week last Tuesday evening, a lot has happened and happened fast. You eventually get to grips with the fact that your plans can and do change at any minute…the fact that you can be asked to do something or go somewhere straight away regardless of what you were doing at the time. It is definitely a “make things happen” place, but at the same time it seems incredibly disorganised.
So last Wednesday began with being asked last-minute to go and collect the academics and photographers from the RCA, Rut Blees Luxemburg and Olivier Richon from the Peace Hotel on The Bund, so they could come and see what AIVA has to offer and so we could take them for lunch. I went with AIVA‘s driver to go and get them…Rut and Olivier were a little delayed from the train station arriving from Hangzhou so I had time to go and look in the refurbished splendour of the Peace Hotel. It is a renowned hotel here in Shanghai. You are not allowed to take photographs inside the entrance or foyer areas so I can’t show you the grandeur of the place.
So at AIVA, we gave Rut and Olivier a short tour of our facilities and a presentation about what we do…followed by lunch at ‘Noble Seafood’, which is in the same building. I had to leave lunch a little early as I was teaching that afternoon…it was time to see where the students were at with their “appropriation” project.
Don’t you just love bad translation sometimes? “Sweet tips”. What does that actually mean? In the afternoon teaching session, I discovered one of my students was painting in blood…chickens blood…a chicken blood Marilyn Munroe artwork. It reminded me of fine art undergraduate university days when my good friend and now a painter Georgie Vinsun, painted in her own blood. I think here, the use of blood worked…as the blood dried it got darker, which the student documented through photography. The series of photographs showing this change in tone actually had quite an impact in relation to the unhappiness of Munroe’s life. Simple and clever.
It was a quiet night that evening…filled with a run, my second time treading concrete in Shanghai, a light dinner, and Skype with the one and only RJW. The next day of teaching was pretty normal too…I don’t think I’ve got anything exciting to report from that average Thursday apart from I signed a million versions of my Chinese work contract. It could have stated anything…so I could have signed my life away. I think I already have a little to China and its ways. Oh there was something that happened after work…Lisa and I went to view a couple of apartments. I was positive and excited, let’s start the hunt! That positivity didn’t last long. We got to where the apartments were, walked in through the door and my heart sank. Seriously, what this agent was offering for 3200 yuan was a joke. A filthy, dirty, unhygienic, damp, mold-ridden, parasitic joke. I think Lisa could tell by the look on my face I was a little shocked…so shocked I didn’t take photos…I wish I had! One apartment was a studio layout, all in one room. You got to the front door through a shared laundry area that was covered in mud, dirt, you name it, it grew and lived there…the shower was over a very brown moldy toilet that looked as though it deserved on a neglected UK caravan site from the 1960s. The second apartment wasn’t as bad but it still wasn’t great. I couldn’t get over the fact that people actually live like this. This experience silenced me and I was immediately disheartened. Lisa said it took her over 20 viewings to find the one she is in now…20?! I started to worry, which consumed my mind for the following day.
Anyway, after this harrowing experience, Lisa and I went out for dinner with the very lovely Rut and Olivier, meeting at the Peace Hotel at around 7pm. They said we could go and see their rooms, so we rang from reception to Rut’s room and the receptionist gave us access in the lift. They were out of this world…so plush…black and white art deco delights with an unbelievable bathroom..and all I ended up taking a photo of was the gas masks they provide in the event of a fire…random right? Why didn’t I take photos of the room?! We went for cocktails in the hotels bar, ‘Cin Cin’, then for food at a place called ‘Lost Heaven’ just off The Bund. I ordered water and for some reason the waiter gave us the most expensive kind…it is also my favourite, Norwegian VOSS. I felt terrible! I don’t think Rut and Olivier were worried, but I was…I hope I didn’t make a faux pas. I’ll be talking about Chinese cultural faux pas soon. I’ve started to compile a small and quite interesting list.
Friday was another average day of teaching, although the students presented their “appropriation” projects to the group. Again, I should have documented this as written explanation won’t make much sense without images. Anyway, here are an array of snacks I had that day…including bao zi and dates…the sesame seed pumpkin treat at the top is possibly one of my all time favourite things here…it is called nan gua bing (pumpkin pancake). I wish I could pack a suitcase full of them back to the UK so some of you can try them. I recently found out that bao zi are made with rice flour too…my system seems to be ok with rice, so I am ecstatic that I’ve found something else ok to eat.
This is Lisa‘s cat Frida, she likes to sleep on top of the fridge. I’m not sure why. She also likes to chase after a small necklace chain and bring it back to you like a dog. She will carry on doing this for hours…a dog secretly trapped in a Chinese cats body…she begs too, and has crazed moments of energy, it’s funny. On Friday evening, I entered the realm of being incredibly homesick…but we don’t need to talk about it…by Saturday evening it had moved on.
Saturday morning = Breakfast by Barry. I don’t really need to say much more other than I had an egg, cheese and mushroom omelette with Marmite (so glad I packed a squeezy pot), and a piece of Philadelphia cream cheese, mushroom and cheddar toast. Perfect. It reminded me of home and tasted great. Thank you Barry!
After breakfast and doing a little clothes washing, I stepped out into the glorious Saturday Shanghai sunshine to go and retrieve my bike from the basement of AIVA, give it a good clean as there was one years worth of Shanghai dirt on it, and get it serviced. Armed with a cloth and elbow grease, I was ready to take it on. Lisa drew me a small map on a post-it note of where to go to get it serviced so I couldn’t go wrong. The man was lovely and we managed language-wise…he pumped up the tyres, checked the breaks, refitted the spring for the stand, raised the saddle, then I was ready to go, let loose on the streets of Shanghai again all for the price of 6 yuan (60p). This bike is quite a different ride to my Raleigh Wisp back home…my legs don’t feel the same on it, they never quite extend, and I feel really close to the handle bars. I like it though, it has its certain charm.
Seriously, if someone could knit me a saddle cover like that one above for Winter I would be one happy girl. Isn’t it beautiful?? I think there would be a market for them back in the UK too, especially in the East London scene. The last photo is the bike park at Lisa‘s apartment block where my bike now lives until I get my own apartment. I think it is a lit happier here. So my bike was back…battle was back…and I couldn’t wait to get back out on the streets. The hour-long cycle I had just had made me realise how much I had missed cycling…and how much I missed my Raleigh Wisp back at home. Perhaps I should invest in a custom-built single speed whilst I’m here? (Writing a note down to email Tyler from People’s Bike here in Shanghai). It can’t harm to see how much one costs can it?
One of the most famous chefs out here is David Laris, an Australian, who owns a number of top-notch places in China, including one restaurant called ‘Downstairs’ at the URBN hotel where we decided to go for dinner on Saturday night. Laris was recently photographed for one of the Shanghai magazines alongside the chefs who manage his other restaurants…it was a last supper set up so he looked like Jesus Christ. A little cocky if you ask me and his website screams that too. We only went to ‘Downstairs’ because we had a 50% off voucher. It’s a tad pricey otherwise. When we got to the restaurant, we wanted to go for drinks at ‘Upstairs’, the rooftop bar above ‘Downstairs’ (makes sense right) but it was closed. We then got told that there was a 500 yuan cap on the voucher, but courtesy of an uninformed waiter who didn’t know this clause, we got the full 50% off. Happy days, happy eating. Barry actually knew one of the chefs who worked at ‘Downstairs’ called Siobhan Gough from Ireland. He noticed her in the last supper photograph in the magazine. So we went and said hi to her when we arrived, had a nice little chat (she’s was lovely!) and she kindly gave us some free olives, thank you Siobhan! It was a great dinner where I had and shared…salmon and trout pate with soda bread starter, pumpkin gnocchi main, and white chocolate panna cotta with raspberries dessert…actually we all shared desserts. The free style tiramisu was amazing. Simply amazing. I liked the way the restaurant was constructed…a suitcased wall and an array of objects set out like a museum cabinet…with of course, a typewriter.
After ‘Downstairs’ it was time for live music, live DJs and dancing until my feet hurt and my hears were ringing starting at ‘Logo’, which is apparently in new premises now…a well-known live music spot in Shanghai. It was experimental rock that evening with contributions from ‘Duck Fight Goose’ and ‘Boy Climb Rope’. Not that memorable to me, apart from their names, though interesting to hear what Chinese rock has to offer. At ‘Logo’, I met some of Lisa and Barry’s friends from Brazilian Jujitsu class and I also randomly bumped into Violeta, who I used to intern with at the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York. It was so great to see her! I knew she was still in Shanghai and I was going to meet up with her very soon, but it is always lovely to bump into someone like that randomly. Smiles. We arranged to have dinner sometime the following week. It was then time for ‘The Shelter’…drum and bass and DJ Die. I forgot what a sweat pit that place was…you somehow just forget about it and realise you’re there for the music…until 2.30am that night apparently. I really did dance my D’n’B heart out to DJ Die. Loved every minute of it. I think I needed it too. Work hard, play hard at the moment.
I went to ‘The Shelter’ with Barry and his friends James and Georg. A girl called Laura joined us too, however she didn’t last very long as she was tired from an international business trip…Georg didn’t stay long either, so it was Barry, James and I dancing until the early hours. There were a lot of young kids macking on the dance floor that got in my personal space. I don’t like this when I trying to move. Young kids, that really does make me sound old when I say that…I’m only 28! At one stage, James pushed us to the front by the DJ box so we feel the bass…here I am…feeling the bass shake my bones. Good food, good company, good music…a good end to my first week in Shanghai.
Needless to say, Sunday was a slow starter…a “sleep” starter with a foggy head and tired legs…dancing to D’n’B is like doing a hardcore workout. We started the day with a late brunch at 1pm at a Mexican restaurant called ‘Maya’ on Julu Lu. Beforehand, I thought I’d take a quick look at one of the property websites Georg had recommended to me the night before to see if there were any shared apartments going…and there was…and on a great location too…Julu Lu, just down the road from brunch. I phoned the guy, Todd, who said I could see it at 2.30pm. I could feel it was going to be a good day.
From my brunch of a potato and apple hash brown with two runny fried eggs…oh and literally a shot of yoghurt and granola, which you can only just make out on the photo (I asked for yoghurt and granola and that’s what they gave me randomly for 10 yuan, £1)…I went to see the apartment on Julu Lu then onto cafes to catch-up on what I call Rach admin. I’ll say more about the apartment later on…all I will say is that it was (nearly) all that I needed and wanted so I was a little excited, but other people were viewing it so I had to wait…wait for the other viewings to happen, wait for Todd’s decision. First stop was ‘Sunflour’ on Anfu Lu…a bakery that only uses imported French flours…a very popular place and they sold macaroons. I got myself a table, a wi-fi password, water and a banana smoothie, and settled into an afternoon of emails, typing, thinking and writing. Time to be productive.
After a few hours at ‘Sunflour’, I went to ‘Baker and Spice’, again on Anfu Lu, to buy dessert for three as Lisa was cooking dinner. I went for three different tarts – a small lemon meringue, a sour cherry, and a chocolate. Lisa had cooked a fish and vegetable coconut dish with couscous and stuffed mushrooms. The stuffed mushrooms were particularly good…and there was even enough left over that I could take it to work the next day.
Hello Monday, hello rain…and so much of it, it was like a monsoon. Lisa and I had to walk to work as it was so bad…we got soaked in the process no matter how hard we tried, which created super sneezes all day. It was like Chinese umbrella wars on the streets and there were no rules. I got a hot vanilla milk on the way into work…that seems to be my breakfast at the moment…different types of milks…brown rice, almond, vanilla, coconut…all good.
The receptionist came round the office in the morning handing out coconut treats that were actually pretty nice. The packaging in an ecological sense scares me…so much waste. Monday was a day of administration for the Visual Communication course…calendars and module outlines. Professor Michael Healey from the University of Lincoln joined us for lunch, again at ‘Noble Seafood’, then he gave an afternoon lecture to all the students. International visitors come and go very often through the doors of AIVA. I waited all day for a decision from Todd about the apartment, but I didn’t get one…I text him to ask if he had made a decision yet and he said he would let me know the next day…Tuesday…which turned out to be a very good day.
Tuesday morning and I wasn’t looking forward to it at all…it was International Medical Check day at a random hospital near Shanghai airport. Lisa very kindly came with me to give me moral support and I really appreciated it. I’m not very good in these situations. Below are a few photos from the hour-long process where you got passed from room to room like a piece of meat on a production line…first the doctor, then onto changing room to get into a gown where your height and weight were measured, then a series of bloods where they used a new needle but didn’t wear gloves, onto an eye test, kidney and liver ultrasound, ECG and chest X-ray…I think that’s everything. They paid hardly any attention to my past medical history…to be honest all I think they are worried about is whether you have HIV, AIDS or some other disease, though apparently they never bother to check you again one you are in the country! Funny that. I look like a newly convicted criminal on my medical photograph…like I’ve just been caught…who knows what doing?!
Lisa got me a small pastry as a surprise reward as I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink before the medical check. I devoured it in seconds during the journey back to AIVA and it made me feel immediately better. From then on, the afternoon just got better and better and Rachel got more and more ill…struck with a bad Shanghai cold. The Chinese germs had made their way in. In was inevitable right? So the good things that day were, I completed the health check (tick), I managed to open a bank account at the China Construction Bank (tick), I got the apartment (big happy tick) and I got a very lovely parcel from Ai Weiwei’s studio…a thank you gift for the articles I had written last year for the Ai Weiwei English translation website – Bird’s Nest. A nice gesture don’t you think, which I was only allowed to receive as I’m currently living in China. It made me feel better as I knew I had just purchased a one-way ticket to sneezeville. The next 48 hours were not good.