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27 October 2007 @ 11:08 am
October 24th, 25th, and 26th

So our trip finally comes to a close.

Wednesday was another day we got to just chill out and sleep in since our only activity was just getting on the boat back to Shanghai.

Marcus and I got up kind of early, and I was getting kind of antsy not wanting to just sit in until check-out time at 11:30, so we went outside and walked around and actually saw another temple that we didn't go to yesterday, plus this giant rock that had the character 心 "heart" carved in it, that was pretty neat. When Marcus and I stood there looking at it, this dude comes up to Marcus, holds his hand next to Marcus's and goes "Hey, we're almost the same!" indicating the the guy himself was kind of tan, and, of course, Marcus is black. Marcus was really taken aback and confused by this kind of outward display, and didn't like it at all, but I figured the guy didn't mean anything BAD by it, just that the Chinese have different ideas of what is impolite and what isn't, especially when dealing with foreigners. Marcus has had to deal with a lot of stares from people, even more so than I have, which I could imagine has made his Chinese experience uncomfortable in that aspect. Back at the Orchid Pavillion we were talking about how Chinese still find foreigners to be this weird bizarre spectacle, despite foreigners being in China for several centuries, but it's funny how despite that, they just don't integrate. You might expect non-Chinese people in places like Beijing or Shanghai, but barely any at all in Putuoshan. That's one thing that will always distinguish China and Japan from America in my mind is that to BE Chinese or Japanese, you have to LOOK the part, too, or else you get singled out and stared at.

So we got back to the hotel, and then moved all our stuff to the dock. We were originally gonna get lunch at the hotel, but they need reservations and they were too full to take us. So we got to the port and Fei laoshi went and bought us stuff to eat to keep us satisfied on the boat-ride until we got to Shanghai. He got us meat baozi, boiled eggs, and mantou, which are basically baozi without meat filling, just a pure puffy ball of bread. The thing about mantou though is that they really do fill you up very well, so if you need to satisfy yourself quickly, mantou are the way to go. It's like they expand in your stomach after you eat them.

The boat ride was somewhere between 2 and 3 hours long. It was like the boat ride To Putuoshan in that they had these videos playing the whole way. Some of them were some TV drama, and some of them were these songs with karaoke subtitles that I assume were Buddhist songs of some sort. Some of them were in Cantonese for some reason I don't know besides maybe a lot of Cantonese speakers visiting Putuoshan. The problem was that these videos had their audio playing on a PA speaker instead of accessible via earphones like on an airplane or something, so if you didn't bring something with earphones to drown it out, like everyone else except me did, you had to just deal with it. I managed to sleep most of the way, except sometimes the video of the TV show would have some loud noise like a baby crying or someone screaming, and it would seem almost like they turn the volume UP whenever that happened because it would be especially loud, and that would wake me up.

We got back to Shanghai and had to deal with another hour on the bus. We settled into our hotel, the Manhattan Business hotel, at around 6. We decided since it was our last night in Shanghai, we'd have dinner together, and since we skimped on lunch, we could splurge on dinner. We went back to the Ruijin hotel, where that rich magnate had that whole piece of land to himself, and ate at the restaurant there. It was kind of funny because it was a rather fancy hotel with waitresses dressed in colonial 19th-century dress, and some of us were in sweat pants and t-shirts. The dinner was very good, though, even though we got handed another dish of chou doufu, although it was fried instead of in a soup and tastier. It didn't get eaten very much, though. We had this other tofu dish that was kind of spicy, though and really nice. I've come to really enjoy tofu on this trip, unsurprisingly. I've had it prepared in a lot more varying ways here than in Japan, where it's served with less flavorings and more often just by itself or in soup. Japanese cuisine is just a lot more reserved in its flavorings, just like how a lot of Japanese art is simplistic and reserved compared to Chinese styles.

We all decided we should have one last sample of the night life in Shanghai on our last night there, so we checked out the clubs we missed out on last time. The first one was Zapata's, named after the Mexican revolutionary, which I found kind of funny. It was closer to our hotel the first time we were in Shanghai on Hengshan road. It was alright, but the average age of the people in the place was over 30 for sure, and beer was 40 kuai, so we didn't stay there very long. Sam and I got into another dance-off there, and I once again confronted the limits of my dance repertoire, this time with some other foreigners not in our group watching us.

We decided to bounce and check out this other place geared more towards younger people. It's called Bonbon, and it had an 88-kuai entrance charge, but free drinks, plus a more active dance floor with blaring techno music. Frankly, I find it much easier to dance to techno than hip-hop, which seems to be the preferred club music of most of the rest of the group, but I just love techno as a genre in general. Once again, I kind of danced myself to the point of really tiring my legs out, only I decided to stay out with everyone else later and actually didn't get back to the hotel until 2, but we were again check out late, so it was no matter.

For Thursday, our last day on the trip before returning to Beijing, we had the whole day to ourselves, only we were checking out at 11:30 and not leaving for the train until 6, so we were forced to actually go out and do stuff instead of just hang around in the hotel. I was originally gonna go just walk along the Bund with some other people, but it started raining and we had to go back to the hotel to get our umbrellas. We ran into Fei laoshi who recommended we go to this Shanghai Urban Planning museum. We had nothing better to do, so we figured why not.

The museum is pretty simple, not too huge, but the main attraction is this complete scale model of the entire city of Shanghai, it's really detailed, and really cool to look at. It covers almost the entire floor of the 4th floor of the building. We hung around there for a little bit, and then I actually managed to convince the people I was out with to join me for a little voyage in satisfying my curiousity.

The last time we were in Shanghai, shortly before we left I heard that there was a Cuban restaurant there. I was kind of taken aback. I had always known there were Cubans everywhere, but Shanghai? I guess it's a matter of probability given all the foreigners in Shanghai, though. But I knew once I got back in Shanghai I had to see what it was like.

The restaurant, Called "El Cubano," is on Hongmei road, kind of far from the Bund, actually, farther than I expected it to be, it was about a 30-kuai taxi ride from where we were. The outside isn't too spectacularly decorated, but when we went in, not only did we see marker all over the wall from people writing everywhere, but there was various Cuban-related tchotchkis hung on the wall, the familiar rhythm of Latin music playing throughout the place, and a Cuban flag proudly hung above the bar. We sat down and I saw that the menu went the small-but-a-good-selection route, which is usually good. They had most of the trademark dishes one would expect from Cuban food, like tostones, moros, churrasco, various yellow rice dishes, lots of meats sautted in garlic, olive oil, onions, peppers, garlic, etc. I kind of had a hard time picking what I wanted to try, but I saw that they had sandwiches, and I realized it had been a long time since I tried a good Cuban-style sandwich, so I decided to get a pan con bistec (literally a piece of steak on bread), one of my favorite kind of sandwiches to get. Carey, Alex Kell, and David were with me. Alex got the classic Cuban sandwich with ham and pork, Carey got another sandwich, and David got masas de puerco (pork chunks) in a tomato-ey kind of sauce with rice.

To tell you the truth, the food in the restaurant is kind of pricey. A lot of the dishes were upwards of 60 kuai, some even over 100, but I could understand some of the ingredients maybe being expensive to get in Shanghai, and frankly, for this occasion, I didn't really care how much money I spent because it was the last day in Shanghai and I was getting Cuban food for the only time I'd be able to for the next 5 weeks. They gave us garlic toast at the beginning before our food came which was great, and when the food finally came, it was really good, and all tasted pretty authentic. My only complaint was that they used baguette-type bread for the sandwiches, but it's probably hard to find a place to properly make Cuban bread anywhere in China, even Shanghai. You need palm leaves, and lard, and different things to make sure the texture is right. But otherwise it was definitely authentic and a refreshing reminder of what I was missing in Miami.

I actually got to talk to one of the owners of the restaurant who was there, this guy named Jesus. Man what a refreshing sight it was to have a roly-poly Cuban being friendly to me and talking to me in Spanish. We talked a little about why I was there, why he was there, and who comes to the restaurant. He said that apparently now Chinese people go to eat there, maybe at maximum 1 or 2 a week, save some tourists from elsewhere in China. The majority of people who go there are other foreigners.

I told him my dad was from Cuba, and he was like "Where in Cuba?" I saw "Havana," and then he smiles at me and is like "Yeah, but where in Havana?" I tell him this one neighborhood called El Vedado, and wouldn't you know it, he's from there, too. I told him my dad's name but he didn't seem to know him, although he remarked that usually everybody from El Vedado knows each other.

I was really happy that everybody who was eating with me seemed to like their food, too. I was kind of nervous that one restaurant might make or break their attitude towards my mother cuisine, but the result was pleasing.

I didn't realize how happy eating Cuban food would make me, but it did. I guess despite me liking Chinese food and not complaining about having it all the time, I did miss Cuban food a lot, and it was almost rejuvenating to taste it again, and to be in some kind of Cuban-like atmosphere. As I was leaving and saying goodbye to Jesus, he made a remark about how it's always nice to have "raza" come around. That kind of struck me as odd because I was being even more closely associated with being Cuban by someone else than other people back in Miami did. It was satisfying. I AM raza to him.

So yeah, that made my mood for the rest of the day pretty awesome. After that we only had a little bit of time to walk a while around Nanjing road, the big shopping district. We walked into this one mall that had a lot of expensive foreign brand shops, then headed back towards the hotel so we could get ourselves some food for on the train and make some other preparations.

Getting on the train was no big event. Unlike our trip up to Shanghai from Beijing, for the trip back we got to go in a soft-sleeper, where, yes, the beds are softer, but there are also separated rooms with only 4 beds instead of six, so there's more room to stretch out and chill, and you can lock the door to the room. It was a very relaxing trip, except at 5 in the morning when somebody two cars away rang the call alarm button for some reason I never ascertained, and that made an alarm in our room go off as well so we couldn't just ignore it. Eventually someone came to help them out and turned it off, and we got to sleep for two more hours.

After another long bus ride, we finally all got back to BNU, and were finally able to set all our shit down and settle back into home base. Luckily, I also had my girlfriend waiting for me back here, so I got to spend the whole first day back in Beijing with her. But now I have to worry about finishing a 12-page paper due on Thursday about a topic dealing with comparing the history of Shanghai and Beijing, so I can't relax TOO much.
RachELcamlina on October 27th, 2007 10:23 am (UTC)
Wait, isn't this your second year, not your first?
(Anonymous) on October 27th, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC)
Coral Gables, Saturday 27 October 2007

I had really missed having news of your activities while outside Beijing, so it was a huge pleasure to find and read all your new postings today. Glad to read that you had such interesting experiences -- and food. What you are experiencing and learning is unique and invaluable, and will stay with you throughout the rest of your life. I know that you are aware of and appreciate the special opportunities you are having. I felt a connection with Jesus at the Cuban restaurant -- did he tell you how he ended up there? You can get some real Cuban bread when you return to Miami. Good luck with your academic duties, I am sure you will do well. Much love.