Year Abroad: Shanghai Night Life

Shanghai Night Skyline Pudong PuXi The Bund

Ladies, forget pre-drinks,

WELCOME TO SHANGHAI.

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It’s not all about the studying out here in Fudan University, Shanghai. For the first week, us newbies have been  sampling some of the famous nightlife that the big city has to offer.

Apart from the fairly long metro journey from where we are in Yangpu District out in the evenings (where the last train is at 1030) and the dubious fare negotiation with taxis from the French Concession area back, there is actually very little money that leaves the pocket – especially if you’re a girl. Sorry boys, but Shanghai is infamous for ‘Ladies Nights’. In a very desperate attempt to lure women into bars and clubs there are deals such as free entry, free drinks all night, free mojitos all night, and even, free champagne. Mum and Dad, I swear I’m being sensible…

Boy, we have not been disappointed by Shanghai. Here’s a quick spin through the fab range of nightlife that Shanghai has to offer whether you’re on the hunt for something classy or downright dirty.

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Arkham Club Shanghai Bunker Nightlife

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In September, I set foot in the fluoro-splashed tunnel that leads to the Arkham bunker: a high-roofed chamber with raised platform stage and meshed off viewing gallery in which heavy beats from TICT Creative’s Nat Self pounded for the Zombie Disco Squad – unfortunately, rather literally interpreted by several glassy eyed clubbers with sweaty face-paint.

If you’ve been in Bristol, this is the Shanghai equivalent. It’s smoky, it’s grimy, and it’s most definitely sweaty at this lock-down venue, and the classic house/disco/hip-hop mix is heady and heart-pounding. There’s not much to say for the bunker itself: it does what it says on the tin. But stick a few hundred zonked out, limb-flailing, drunk uber-hipsters in one little space and things are bound to get messy. Although I’m surprisingly sad there are less Batman gimmicks, it’s all very cool down at Arkham.

Arkham
Phone: +86-13701972878
Address: No.1 South WuLuMuQi Road, Shanghai

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Last Saturday night at The Shelter was a heady mix of soul and beats as Soul Brothers ’72 took over the low-ceilinged basement on YongFu Road, and I barely noticed the bouncers as we paid out 40RMB cover, though word on the net of gives them some unconfirmed but unsavoury press. Still that may have something to do with my blood alcohol levels at that time. The bar/club is a tightly enclosed underground with a red-lit, neon, dystopian dance-floor playing havoc in the dark against a blue-lit, exposed brick set of seated alcoves towards the back of the club which have a deep-freeze meets French wine-cellar feel.

There’s an eclectic range of music on offer every day of the week at Shelter, so it’s worth taking the three minutes to prepare yourself for the evening’s flavour, be it hardcore electro, hip-hop, funk or house. But if you’re up for reasonably priced drinks, some body flailing, or a plushly hip sit-down booze, The Shelter’s a good night for a big group of friends to do a take-over of a fairly moderately filled club.

The Shelter
Address: 5 Yongfu Lu, Xuhui, Shanghai

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PHEBE Club Shanghai Nightlife

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Phebe, located in none other than the French Concession area of Shanghai is on a Wednesday night, overflowing with ladies of all dressed to the nines –  and some not too shabby-looking lads who are apparently willing to pay the 100RMB cover in (+ 1 free drink). Ladies get MONDAY and WEDNESDAY free cover before midnight in exchange for supplying a working mobile number  (they check) with an open bar 0900-0400. Worrying.

If you’ve the honour of being a lady, you’ve no excuse not to pop in. From the hundreds of glowing red lanterns suspended from the ceiling and dark lacquer wood seating giving a wonderful faux-Chinese cultural decor, to the white and sketchily tuned grand piano centrepiece in the bathroom the club really is swish. If you’re there to appreciate the interior design that is.

Packed out across the numerous enclosed table areas, walkways and raised catwalk-esque dance floor, there’s barely space to take a breath on a ladies night where the writhing bodies in a healthy ratio of foreign to locals are always vying for a cheeky dance, drink or a swift exit to the bathroom for a tactical vom.

PHEBE: 3D Club
Tel: 021 6555 9998
Address: No. 10 Hengshan Lu, Xuhui, Shanghai

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Helens Shanghai Nightlife

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This famous expat and student bar is a chain that runs throughout China. I’ve been to Helens Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin to date, and I can say with certainty, that there must exist a ‘Helens-in-a-Box’ starter kit, because the decor, from the international flags to the wooden beams and strange faux stone-work walls are Exactly The Same wherever you go.

At 10RMB for a big bottle of Tsingdao as a standard across the board, it’s a nice, quiet hubbub and raucousness bar for students to have a couple of pints at the end of the day. If you want a serving traditional American-style bar food, I suggest you go early to get a seat. Certainly on ladies night Wednesday (with free drinks all night for 50RMB) be prepared to fight for a space just to stand.

On a less crowded Monday afternoon, a friend in Tianjin taught me a great trick of ordering a Helens ice cream (3RMB) and taking advantage of their Free Coffee Mondays.

Bliss.

Helens
Address: 49 Wuchuan Rd, Yangpu, Shanghai, China
Opening Hours: 1600-0200

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SOHO Club French Concession Shanghai Nightlife

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Soho isn’t the club on everybody’s “Go To” list, but it’s one that we’ve been to perhaps a few too many times. It’s a pecularity of Chinese clubs that a) smoking is allowed and b) the effects of excessive drinking will be tolerated. As a result of this, I always return home smelling like I’ve been cheerfully capering about in an ashtray, and I spend most of the (later) early hours in a club practising the time-earned art of narrowly dodging the drunken lurching of overly inebriated, and inevitably expat, assholes who seem to think I’ll react to inappropriate groping like the unfortunate female staff.

But don’t let that put you off.

 The music is loud enough to rupture several internal organs, and by the end of the night the ringing in my ears lasts well into my sleep. Pleasurable. There are Chinese dice-and-cup games (which I still haven’t been able to hear the name of; I’ve asked several times) on each table, us foreigners have been negotiating free entry, and us ladies a free drink.

On top of that, the 90% local Chinese capacity of the club are fairly subdued, sitting on the provided couches, engaging in dice with us when we pass and offering small tumblers of whiskey and ice; pleasant interactions galore. And to top it all off, the inside of the club is filled with massive white umbrella and globe-like structures that make it look like you’re suspended in a large plastic cloud.

What’s not to like about that?

SOHO
Address: 4 Hengshan Rd, Xuhui, Shanghai, China
Phone:+86 21 5469 9898

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Royal Meridien 789 Nanjing Lu Shanghai Nightlife

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Hel-lo to one of the classiest ladies night on the town, free Champagne flows on FRIDAY nights 2130-2330PM at the high flying 67th floor bar of the Royal Meridien Hotel on the PuXi side of the Bund. The dim, warm glowed setting, the floor-to-ceiling reinforced glass windows overlooking Shanghai’s commercial quarter, the gold-lit bar, intensely polite waiters and high-top chairs all give this location a distinct air of class…

Well, that is until the hoards of girls, Western and Chinese alike, arrive to shoulder, at any cost, their fair share of the various flutes of bubbly on offer. Grenadine bubbly, orange bubbly, and even mint bubbly is doled out into the vying flutes at the bar – and God forbid you put your glass down anywhere, as the one glass you get per evening is your only ticket to intoxication.

Royal Meridien: 789 Nanjing Lu
Phone: +86 21 3318 9999
Address: 789 Nanjing Road Pedestrian St, Huangpu, Shanghai, China

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Park Hyatt 100 Century Bar Shanghai Nightlife

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This particular venue is not for the faint-hearted. The beautiful Park Hyatt hotel is not just a towering landmark on the Pudong riverside of the Chinese Bund, it’s grandiose, high-ceilinged building houses the luxurious 100 Century Avenue bar and restaurant on its 97th floor. With a plush, dim-lit interior, hushed jazz music, and waiters so freakin’ attentive there’s almost definitely some sore of homing beacon involved in their training, there’s no beating about the bush as to the type of clientèle expected.

Yet, for those of us still fairly fortunate, it’s not entirely unreasonable to pop in on the 97th floor for a pot of tea (40RMB) or a house cocktail (80RMB) for a glimpse of the spectacular view. With a bit of persuasion, and a little patient waiting, one can even nab a splendid table right by the thick glass windows for the evening and look out over the third tallest building in China – the Jin Mao Tower.

P.S I hear the toilets are particularly swish.

Park Hyatt: 100 Century Avenue
Tel: +86 21 6888 1234
Address: 100 Century Avenue, Pudong, Shanghai, China, 200120

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There are certainly more excellent venues to add to this list of Shanghai Night Life, and even as I type this, Wechat is pinging about a certain Ladies Night at GloLondon… Looks like you might be seeing Post #2 sometime soon!

Till then

Charlotte xx

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Taiwan: Hilltops and Uphill Cycling

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We’ve arrived in Yuanlin, at a great hotel, named with typical Taiwanese bizarreness ‘Kindness Hotel‘: brilliant. And apart from fabulous free ice-cream in the lobby (with which we foreigners are demonstrating our love of free things, let alone ice-cream), strange selection of ‘toast and spreads’ – read strange slabs of soft sponge and a selection of dessicated coconut in sweet butter, tasteless ‘chocolate’ spread and smooth peanut butter (a sin in itself) – there are amazing fold-up bikes for free hire outside the front door. The family are on that like it’s out of fashion; and boy is it. The only time I’ve ever seen these weird looking contraptions-with-wheels was held by a running man two years ago, while heading out from work experience on the horrible on the London tube.

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We take the 148 road out of the dusty, but bustling city of Yuanlin out onto the hilltop and park on the deserted roadside to ride up along the small mountain ridge. And up is the right word; in less than five minutes I’m drenched in sweat and puffing as I count eight pushes until I pause in exhaustion, long bypassed by avid cyclists in their lycra, my brothers and the occasional tootling, phut-phutting open truck/bicycles driven by old farmers and field workers in well-worn, ninja-style, anti-sun layers who peer curiously at my red face (for which I blame genetics. But, I could probably be fitter…). Still, however hot and sweaty the escapade is, the tropical plants cultivated in alien rows and styles just off the roadside and their accompanying houses in two stories with an open bottom floor and courtyard are perhaps just as foreign as the bustling cities for the wandering Brit. For all the pain it causes, a cycle in the farmland wilderness above Yuanlin is a wonderful reminder of Taiwan’s sub-tropical delights, rural lifestyle and a different type of lush greenness to Northern Ireland – a different kind of beautiful.

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We have two very brief exchanges on the uphill as we pause to drench our heads in water as part of our desperate rehydration ritual. A small farmer lady turns suddenly out of a field as my red-faced family flop off our bikes on the road side and drink water: she stares, we stare. Until my Dad says “Hello!” and “熱 (Rè)” – Hot! She breaks into a wrinkly smile and ambles over to our side, bending nearly double to pull out mysterious weeds and flashing a similarly small, curved reaping knife strapped to her back. We all look at each other, and I’m thinking little old lady could do some serious damage with it. I snap a quick shot as her back is turned, and we continue – up, of course.

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Old Farmer and his Pride Vegetable!
Old Farmer and his Pride Vegetable!

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It’s hard to find a good view spot when we finally reach a lovely, lovely plateau (THANK YOU, NATURE) but we try a couple of lanes to the left and right of the main road to catch a glimpse of the towns below us – cycling past bemused tour groups who happily call out “Hello”s and “Have a good days”s and are equally bemused, if not more so, when they see us not five minutes later returning up the same route after failing to find a suitable vista. But our next proper exchange is on the death-defying descent to the car, as we stop to admire a huge, and strange fruit at the side of the road. As four five foot nine + foreigners stare at the large vegetable on the roadside, a large straw hat rises slowly from the grasses in the field behind. A wary farmer locks stony eyes; we gawk back. Again, it’s Dad who’s that practised millisecond faster and shouts “Big!” making the traditional spread-arms gesture – eliciting a broad, toothy grin and a thumbs up.

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Oh, and before I forget, one of the lanes led windily down towards a little pig farm! I’ve never seen one before, and it was a strange moment as I swivelled about looking for the source of the snuffling, before looking down at the sunken, concrete pens by the lane.

They looked frightening together grunting, but maybe even more so when they looked cutely, and humanly, up at us.
I’m not a vegetarian, but I certainly thought about it for a second.

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Get your cycle on in Taiwan, it’s really a brilliant way to explore the island no matter where you are!
Anyone else had funny cycling meetings? Oh! – and if you know what any of the names for the weird fruit we saw, let me know!

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Charlotte

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Taiwan: Cultural Boo-Boos

A gift bag for a good friend!

Despite being half-Taiwanese, and having spent a fair amount of time here observing what are very foreign customs, I still struggle to express myself sometimes. Not only linguistically, although that also happens more often than I’d like, but rather importantly, in terms of gestures. This gift bag is something I fretted over for weeks; a very good girl friend of mine helped me out a lot in the past, and I wanted to find some way to repay her that she would appreciate, and wouldn’t be accidentally offended by. I settled on some beauty products and a top of Western labels (harder/more expensive here in Taipei) and making some passive Origami goldfish (six, with my mother’s suggestion, staying well away from the unlucky number four).

Pish, how can you possibly accidentally offend someone, you ask?
Believe me, it’s happened in the past.

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Two years ago I made a big boo boo offering to pay a Taiwanese friend petrol money for a three hour round trip out to the beach; there were five of us in the car, and he paid for petrol and toll booths along the way, so of course we should offer, right? As the strange look passed that his face quickly told, it was very wrong.

I later asked a girl friend what I did wrong, and she suggested that I should have taken him out to dinner instead. I didn’t see the difference between her suggestion and my action at the time, and it wasn’t until later till I realised that that in itself was was a subtle indicator that I had committed a cultural faux-pas; it wasn’t till later I thought that perhaps the custom I was used to, that of ‘Let’s go Dutch’ – each person being accountable for their own finances and it being expected of the recipients to split the costs – wasn’t something that was expectable a third of the way across the planet. In a conversation with another Chinese friend, she put it in a rather succinct analogy, where the cultural barrier could be transcended in one blunt description: what I did was the equivalent of treating him like a taxi driver.

Ah.

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I think half the the pain of being a foreigner is insulting people when you mean well.

I’m still not sure that there’s a set in stone guideline for how these things work, but I suspect that there are a whole set of cultural mistakes I make every day without noticing. Do share any similar experiences if you have them; I’m still carrying a long back-log of cultural misunderstandings, waiting to be deciphered…

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China: Journey to the Mountain

 

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Journey to the Mountain

#1 Gate to the clouds

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It’s a great, heaving breath I take as I step out of a tiny Chinese bus at our first stop on our upwards journey of 3,099m:
the Gate to Mount Emei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China.

It’s been a stomach-churning drive to this point, but the air is clear, crisp and fresh. It’s a rush of oxygen that comes as a huge relief, not only because of my all-too-familiar feeling of car-sickness, but after a month in China, I’m craving any kind of air that doesn’t feel like a dice with a slow, carbon-monoxide death.

With much reluctance, but greatly refreshed, that I step back on the bus to cross under the arch towards the Emei summit.

Our next stop is the Gondola at the base of the mountain, that departs from within a beautiful, deep-coloured wood building. Unfortunately, however, it’s under repair this time of year, and we’re herded towards the second back-up gondola leaves from behind this beautiful wooden building.

The aptly-named back-up gondola is a tiny, creaky plastic box – a relic from the 80s – which two foreigners can just about squeeze into. For the love of God, do not shake the box. We ascend through five minutes of cloud over tiny, paintbrush trees until we suddenly, with an artistic bust of sunshine, break the clouds…

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#2 Golden Elephant Peak

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The first section of the walk after the death-defying gondola ride takes us to base of Samantabhadra Statue Peak. It’s a stunning eruption that pierces into a swathe of blue sky – the likes of which I haven’t seen much of in China so far.

All along that steep incline towards the glimmering monument, people of all ages, and from all over the world climb the steps at times puffing almost shoulder to shoulder.

All different people, looking, in reverence and revery, and resting tired feet in the passing cloud.

Beautiful.

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Lack of Oxygen:
Peak of Emei Mountain, Chengdu, 3099m

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At the summit of Emei Mountain is this moment of real breathlessness.

The second, and unfortunately not final, terrifying rickety bus across the side of Emei mountain, took us to a  – then unreassuringly under-renovation – cable car, which took full running-jump into the tiny carriage, and proceeded to leak and rock us over proper Chinese mountains and sheer cliffs as the peak began rising up out of an endless sea of clouds.

At the summit rises three monolithic structures, atop an avenue of white-and-gold elephant lined steps: a goliathan gold buddha-elephant-spike, a golden temple, and a silver nunnery. They’re floating in and out of passing clouds, and there are these sudden bursts of gold reflections when the clouds break and the sunlight strikes the shining metal.
The Golden Summit.

All along the upward climb people were silently praying, periodically stopping to force their foreheads to the solid concrete steps, and to put smoking incense sticks and fat red candles on racks – the wax dripping everywhere, big sooty orange flames. People  were dirty, an end of pilgrimage dirt that suited their tired, reverent faces. A brilliant dirt, next to the gleaming temples in the sun and clear, thin air.

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We stayed for several hours, before beginning the quiet, slow decent to the base town.

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Mount Emei:
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China
Pǔxián Púsà (普賢菩薩)
First Buddhist Temple in China
Earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery

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Taiwan: The Nose

the nose

Two Oba-san sitting opposite me on the metro discuss my ethnicity in chinese. Do I interrupt and point out I can understand what their saying? Who knew my nose, which seems to be the conversation focus, was so interesting?

Well, I’m intrigued now, tell me more…

(…I feel I should add that my nose is normal as far as I can see.)

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