On my last full day in China, I tried to fit in as much as possible.
I got up early and headed to the Yuyuan Bazaar. When I got there, my main priority was finding a Starbucks. Both Eileen (one of our group members) and I were craving something that required no thought or guesswork. I ate one of their croissants and ordered a good ol' latte. We wandered around a bit and stopped in at several shops. I was intrigued by all of the candy and junk food stores, but didn’t think to buy anything to try. One of the cramped, smelly alleyways housed a to-go steam bun shop that had a line of people stretching for fifty feet. They seemed to be mostly locals, which meant that the steam buns must have been good. As we were pressed for time, we weren’t able to stand and wait for the delicious dumplings.
We parted ways and I headed to the Shanghai International Literary Festival. It’s hosted at Michelle Garnaut’s M on the Bund, a contemporary European-style restaurant that overlooks, well, The Bund. This literary festival is hosted there every year and then makes its way down to the restaurant’s sister restaurant, Capitol M. The restaurant was swanky and nice in that “hip 20 years ago” kind of way. When I arrived, there were three tables set up with authors that were speaking at different events throughout the weekend. I was a feeling timid, so I took a seat at the table in the back that was completely unoccupied. As luck would have it, that turned out to be the best seat in the house! Shortly after I sat down a woman approached the table and asked to sit with me. It was the Honourable Mary Delahunty, current Executive Director of Luminosity Australia Pty Ltd, former senior state Government Minister, award winning television journalist and presenter, published author, media consultant, and volunteer and executive manager in several non-profits! She also happened to have just finished writing a book about Australia’s first female Prime Minister. We talked about women in politics and the media as the table began to fill up with other festival attendees.
Two other women asked if they could sit with us. They turned out to be Karen Ma and Dominique Wilson, the authors speaking during the luncheon! It was truly incredible to be surrounded by so many successful and brilliant women.
The food was served and it was tasty, but I shouldn’t have showed up hungry. Bread and butter to start, followed by a caprese salad, grilled fish with pecans for the main course, and pineapple cake for dessert. Tiny portions, good flavor.
The two women spoke to the group about their most recent works, the process of writing them, and then answered audience questions. After the lunch was over, I stuck around to say my goodbyes and meet the other attendees. Several women who had recently moved to Shanghai from Australia were very excited about Render, and so we chatted for a while about the magazine.
From the restaurant, I went back to the hotel to change and meet some other members of my group. A few of us decided to head back to The Bund and walk around. We just strolled along, every now and then stopping to take in Shanghai’s skyline.
After a while, we left The Bund and headed to a tapas restaurant for a group dinner. The facade of the restaurant was modeled after a Spanish villa, and sat in the middle of a small lake in one Shanghai's public parks. We were meeting two expat businessmen there for a Q&A session. This was one of the worst experiences of my trip. Not only were these men completely entitled, arrogant, and moderately racist, but one of them thought it was appropriate to make a joke about sex trafficking in a professional setting. (Note: it is not okay to make a joke about sex trafficking in ANY SETTING). I had to remove myself from the situation, as I was extremely close to openly criticize this man's comment. Normally I would have said something without hesitation, but as these men were guests and affiliated with my advisor, I did not think it wise or appropriate.
I had one more business meeting that night, and was happy to leave the restaurant. The tapas that we ordered were mediocre, given the setting and prestige of the restaurant.
From the restaurant I went to Yuyintang, an amazing venue that hosts some of Shanghai's premiere underground acts, and met up with Andy Best. The bill for the night included Alpine Decline, a husband and wife duo, and math rock four piece Duck Fight Goose. Both bands put on mind blowing performances. What was great about this concert-- and according to most people I talked to, Shanghai's scene in general-- was the good amount of female representation in the bands. All three acts that night had at least one female musician. It was a good feeling to be in a space that allowed for this to happen. At the show, I met Nevin Domer, founder of the Beijing label, Genjing Records. He had a lot to say about the scene and the women involved in it.
To cap the night off, Andy and his girlfriend took me to a little restaurant for some post-gig feasting. We ate tory, broccoli, and fried rice while we talked about Shanghai and what feminism looks like in Eastern versus Western cultures. It was a perfect way to end my trip. We said our goodbyes and I expressed my deep gratitude to Andy for being such a fantastic host, then left for the last night in the hotel.
The next morning, the group took part in a city-wide Scavenger hunt, before hopping on a plane back to Beijing. One more night in Beijing and then we took off for our long journey back home. Just so we're clear-- I have experienced tasty airplane food before and can therefore confirm its existence, but I have also been served atrocious in flight meals. Below is a picture of the worst meal that I have ever had:
From left: the dinner roll that either had raisins or chocolate chips inside (could not decipher), mixed greens that I couldn't force myself to eat due to the repelling for, "fresh" fruit, and the piece de resistance, fried rice with cabbage and sausage. None of it was edible. This was my last experience with food in China, and I will not lie about the fact that I ate a Big Mac meal in the Tokyo-Narita airport once we made it to Japan.
I was restless during the entire flight home, and when we finally touched down in PDX, I ran to baggage claim, picked up my suitcase, and headed home for a nap and tasty food.
China was an experience. While I'm not sure that I would ever go back, I learned so many valuable lessons and was fortunate enough to meet some of the country's finest people. Gender equity and free speech have a long way to come, but rest assured that there are people poised to change the culture and society for the better.
Until next time, China!