Friday, January 20, 2012

Jazz in Shanghai

My first day alone in China was spent with an entire morning buried underneath the covers begging the heat to turn on so I could peek outside. I finally dared myself to tiptoe out of bed and to do something Chinese. I started by eating dumplings…again.

I decided to explore the famous Shanghai Pearl Market.

Four stories high, the pearl market was vast and glittering. I knew nothing about pearls. Had never even seen anyone in my family wearing them. So I started slow, asking each store for a bit more information about pearls so I could make an educated decision. I went around the entire store once, trying things on and feeling the pearls. I made several purchases for friends and family and picked out a 3 stranded pearl necklace with a Jade (the diamond of china) clasp for myself to wear at the wedding. It’s beautiful.

I was meeting a friend, Emma, for dinner. Emma and I met in college and she has since moved to Shanghai to teach English. We met at a bar and I got to order the first salad I have had in 6 months. And after two round of lychee martinis called it a night, said goodbye to Emma and head home.

The next day I was determined to make more of myself and time. I went to the Soft Fabric market to pick up my coat and dress fitted to me exactly. Took the metro to the famous Yuan Garden where I walked among gargoyles and paid too much money for a hand painted fan. I walked nearly across the city looking into fruit shops, laundry hanging above the streets out of windows and at men clinking beer bottles in steamy little restaurants. I went into a boutique alley lit from above with Christmas lights. There were lots of little photography shops and I went into a DIY teddy bear making gallery/restaurant.

I stopped at a restaurant called “Communism.” The walls were red and yellow and Mau was omnipresent. I chose from a wine from the Wine Democracy list and made friends with a few Australians that sat to my right. They were playing the Wind Cries Mary and I felt warm.

Warm enough to take a metro to the Peace Hotel I had been days earlier. Warm enough to pay the $20 for an entrance fee and sit at the bar and order a dirty martini (gin-with a splash of vermouth and tobasco). I sat like I didn’t have traveling clothes on and hiking shoes, but like I had a long red dress and Richard Gere across the room. The “Old Jazz Band” was so cute and old that I laughed out loud. They played strictly by the notes and charmed a room of Old Chinese with real money. No smiles allowed.

My red dress fantasy became more real with the more martinis I ordered. The next band came on and they were smooth. So smooth they lubricated the air. They were a young band from New York in Shanghai to live like Artists—but not the starving kind. I listened to them play and the Bangladeshi rice paddies seemed so far away. It was the kind of band that got the bartenders pouring in rhythm. I smiled when they started to rap Outkast. Wrinkles next to me didn’t get it.

During the break I met all the members. Listened to their short stories and large egos. When I listen to jazz, snapping fingers and nodding heads isn’t good enough for me. I asked the man next to me if he wanted to dance. And in Shanghai, at the peace hotel, I swang and swung and swooned.

The band closed up to a now empty room at midnight. The bartenders left their shifts and we all sat around a long table drinking free whiskey from the bar. I talked particularly closely to the saxophone player. He played like a young Charlie Parker and his kiss was almost as good as his playing.

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