Monday, January 9, 2012

Jan 9 2012 - a couple days in Shanghai

Vegetarian breakfast at the Oriental Riverside Hotel
On the first (2 hour) leg from San Francisco to Vancouver, I sat next to management consultant slash venture capitalist. It seemed he was very talkative, but it could've just been because I had stayed up most of the night and all I wanted to do was sleep. I slept through the entire flight from pushing back to wheels down. It's a shame because my neighbor seemed to be an interesting guy: French, living in Walnut Creek CA, residing in Shanghai most of the time. Later we met in passing in Vancouver, on the second leg plane, and at Shanghai passport control. I mentioned that I got a few hours sleep on the last flight and he called me a machine - I like that description - a sleeping machine!

My office has moved to a new neighborhood, not just new to us, but new in existence. I found a great photo (below) of what the neighborhood looked like in 1990 and 2010. The Pudong area around the Huangpu river is being built as a world financial center with massive bridges, tunnels, and 6 subway lines that all popped up during these 20 years (mostly in the past 5). The one thing that hasn't popped up is culture - waking and sleeping in this part of town these past couple of days has me longing for a material other than steel and glass - measured in more than height and RMB - some scrap of authenticity. I'm determined to find it!

Pudong Shanghai in 1990
and the same shot in 2010

I blog a lot about food when I'm on business trips because eating is often all I have time to do outside of work projects. For the past week or two, I have been experimenting with Pescetarianism, and if I can do it in China, the land of chicken feet and duck tongue, I can do it anywhere. In fact, it comes as a huge relief. In the US, where I can identify most meats and avoid the ones I am squeamish about, I find myself not particularly enjoying the ones I DO eat. When I travel, I find myself ordering very carefully and biting with hesitation. So far, eating pescetarian is the easiest thing I have done.

On Monday, the office was going out for sushi lunch and I wasn't able to refuse. I sort of felt like I was pulled in with a tractor beam. By my count, this is my 6th trip to Shanghai and I've been able to avoid sushi every time. In fact, I think I've been able to avoid sushi is most countries, I just don't feel comfortable having sushi while travelling internationally. It was actually a nice restaurant, there were a wide variety of dishes being passed around: all manner of stir fries, hot pots, sushi rolls, udon noodles, and fried rice dishes. The only meat that came up was in a soup - I stealthily ate the cabbage and noodles around some beef and pork. It's 24 hours later and I report no adverse reactions to the sushi!

One odd thing I noticed as we were winding our way through the luxury mall on the way to sushi is that the number of customers per store averaged out to zero. Is the Chinese consumer ready to pay full price for LV bags? Who is this mall even created for? Do these companies want to sell goods - or is it more like a model home? I walked through this mall once in October 2010, so I would think it would've gained traction by now.

South Pole seaweed salad and vanilla tea
For dinner, my coworkers found me a nearby vegetarian restaurant to try. Across the street from the luxury mall, there's the more middle class Super Brand Mall (actual name) with its "New Age Veggie" restaurant. I spent a really long time belaboring all 62 pages of the menu. There were such interesting-sounding things, I'd love to find out how they recreate salmon sashimi (the photo looks amazing), stir-fried spicy veggie kidneys, veggie pork steak with tomato sauce, fried veggie cod fish, veggie shark's fin dumpling. I'm a little disappointed in how boring my choices sound: Mixed seaweed from South Pole, Wild matsutake mushrooms, Rooibos vanilla tea, and chocolate rice pudding. The guy at the next table had the cold marinated veggie abalone, he said it was pretty good, but it looked a little too rubbery for my taste.

It doesn't say so in the menu, but the South Pole seaweed seems to be Szechuan style - at least that's what I'm hoping - it's the only reasonable explanation for why my lips went completely numb while eating it. The seaweed look like black olives that can been cut open by a corkscrew. They taste like rubber that has been marinating in the ocean for awhile. But don't let this dissuade you, they are actually quite tasty!


ivden said...

This is so cool. I recently read about China's "Manhattan Project" - a ghost town created during the construction boom in hopes of becoming the next Manhattan, even laid out between two rivers like Manhattan. Sounds like your company is a pioneer in actually moving in. I wonder whether they received a subsidy for doing it!

The other Olga said...

But seriously, I want this on (public) record: you're going to eat sushi in Japan, right?

Dave said...

Don't get my wrong, this part of town is crowded (the few pedestrian areas), there are lots of businesses and LOTS of people. I think it's less of a question of subsidies and more a question of prestige/face.
If all the other financial firms are moving here, what's wrong with us? And all the other financial firms say the same thing :) Like how all of the VCs end up on Sand Hill Road (SF Bay Area) or Winter Street (Boston area). My point though was that nobody is shopping in this huge luxury mall :) But I'm really glad you had a connection to my story :)

YES I will gladly eat sushi in Japan with no reservations! It's now on record!

The other Olga said...

The South Pole Seaweed salad looks amazing!! I like it on 2 counts, the South Pole and the seaweed.

ivden said...

My mistake. Tianjin is the city of the so-called Manhattan project:

ivden said...

Japan?! I thought having sushi in China was the "gutsy" thing to do!

Dave Grenetz said...

Making that pun was pretty gutsy!!