Monday, May 21, 2018

Miss Shanghai

Since this was our third time around in Shanghai with ample enough time to explore at leisure, I had the time to really stroll down the streets and alleyways and soak the atmosphere of this fabled city. Didn't take me long before I made my way down to the Old City of Shanghai, a place a tour guide once teased us about.

Guide : Yes, it's another temple in Shanghai. 
Paul : Good God. Not another temple. 
Guide : Not just any temple. 
Paul : Unless the monks are shirtless and sexy, I think I'll skip it. 
Guide : Trust me, you won't want to miss this temple. 

He was right back then.

Wouldn't surprise me if the traders dressed like this less than a century back. Heck, even I've worn the same. 

And I wouldn't argue with him this time either since I've returned repeatedly to Yuyuan Garden - and the City God Temple within - each time I'm there. Basically the more Chinese part of Shanghai city that wasn't carved away in the more fractious colonial times into international concessions so part of what was originally there remains.

Sort of. 

Monstrous tourist trap it may be with repetitive stores hawking all things Chinese from the traditional arts and crafts to the more kitschy Chairman Mao memorabilia - and on that particular holiday the old alleys were certainly bursting to the brim with haggling visitors - but it was a place that I still managed to enjoy.

Even more this time since I had little qualms over elbowing and shoving people out of my way.

Not that the lil miss Shanghais would even bother since they could be as brash and brusque as anyone else, even dressed in the most demure qipaos. Then again, the local proud Shanghainese would again decry any such association with those they would term country bumpkins.

There is a lack of finesse for sure. Even more obvious when it comes to the surly service received in the teahouses and restaurants around. Smiles are rare indeed, and personal recommendations even less so, something I found alarmingly common here. Just like some of our own reticent Malaysian Chinese back home, they tend to have a stark problem voicing out their own preferences.

It's like if they get the answer wrong I might order them executed on sight.

Paul : So what's the specialty in this restaurant? 
Waitress : Oh it's in the menu. 
Paul : Well I am new here so anything you would suggest? 
Waitress : There's a star at the side of the dish for the popular ones. 
Paul : There are so many so which one would you suggest? 

Usually an order that leaves them thunderstruck with their brain seemingly crashing as they try to process what I just said. Fortunately after a while I got the hang of their dour yet laconic demeanour - and quickly figured out what was good on my own. As usual though there would be those who whine over flavourful oily foods, I found the eating here as usual incomparable.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ye Shanghai

It came as quite a surprise to realize, during our efforts to procure a travel visa, that the last time we actually were in China had been almost a decade ago. Has it actually been that long?

However it did take a while before deciding on where to go next with our shortlist of requirements; wanted someplace not too far and easily navigable enough, somewhere not too cold nor too hot... etc. Since we had such fond memories of our last trip to Suzhou and Shanghai way, way back, a return was definitely in the cards to see how much had changed. After his long ago assignment there, Charming Calvin still had some small misgivings about whether the brash mainland Chinese had actually learned to cultivate some manners.

Me, I figured I could be quite as horribly rag-mannered as the rest of them. Perhaps the last time I might have been astonished by their unapologetic brusqueness but this time, I was a little more prepared. You shove me, this time I'll just shove you back, maybe with some peppery insults to boot. Not exactly the ringing endorsement our mild-mannered fellow needed which earned a censorious side eye from him.

Though much has certainly changed in the ever-growing metropolis of Shanghai from the awe-inspiring futuristic skyline to the way digital technology has taken over almost every aspect of their lives with newfangled apps for everything, that blundering brashness of the people with the severe lack of personal boundaries still remains. After an hour or two of being carelessly bumped around in teeming crowds ( Shanghai seriously gives a whole new meaning to crowds ) from the metro stations to the malls, it becomes almost a habit to do pretty much the same with little or no apology.

Perhaps it's with age and maturity that I look at it but I find their behaviour almost... charming though the more fastidious Calvin had far less complimentary words for it. While they do still speak in louder, harsher tones than we are used to, I did find them all extremely helpful. Just think of that grumpy old uncle in the neighbourhood with a heart of gold.

And I suspect most of the proud Shanghainese - no doubt gossiping in their singsong dialect - would vehemently insist that the rougher rabble in their midst were actually newly arrived country cousins.

Everything bright, brash and blinding in the city of Shanghai. 

Probably those were the unfortunate ones cramming together with us as we were all herded in boisterous groups down the main shopping thoroughfare Nanjing Road to the Bund. Only a handful could be clearly seen to be non local; the majority of the rambunctious horde seemed purely to be their very own Chinese countrymen coming to see the future of their prideful nation. After all, where else to get a better juxtaposition of the new and the old in the city with the more venerable grand old colonial ladies on one side of the Bund and the flashier, neon-coloured skyscrapers on the Pudong side; divided only by the Huangpu River.

And that's only if you can get above the mass of flashing camera bulbs as they all snap pictures simultaneously en masse.

Comes as no surprise that it's the Chinese who coined the phrase 人山人海! 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Market Girls

As we are rushing headlong towards our almost third market, it has been an amazingly fun ride. Not only because it was wonderful seeing so many artists and crafters creeping out of their hidey hole to come share their talents at the market, it was also all due to the other three of my market compatriots; Tenacious Tiny, Terrific Trish and Trusting Toni.

Wonderful ladies all though it's amazing we even came together in the first place.

Seriously though, all of us have pretty much nothing in common apart from the artsy crafting that basically brought us together - so that gives rise to the occasional difference of opinion since we all have intensely contrasting personalities and generally hail from dissimilar backgrounds. And yet since we are a fledgling non-profit group, there are no specific set tasks and roles for any of us so we generally cover for each other when the other is busy. With such overlapping duties and functions, you can bet it's not all hunky dory all the time.

For instance I'm always alright with a little bit of bending the rules here and there, as are Trish and Toni occasionally, but Tiny is an impossible stickler for her rules. Tiny Rules. Something I'm starting to believe is traditionally cross stitched in large capital-sized fonts on a wooden sampler framed in her living room.

Bet Tiny would so be the fierce black girl.

You know those dangerously tiny lil mean girls back in school that you just know will get their way no matter what? That's definitely her.

So yes, we do go on into the weekly dispute over the nitty gritty of running the market.

Number one on her exhaustive list of rules about the market would be the authenticity of the artisanal product - something which I'm fine with. Unfortunately that's followed closely by the fact that she wants the creator to be personally there since Tenacious Tiny has an undeniable grudge against intermediary vendors who bring in marketable items from the interior villages without crediting the makers individually.

Alright let's not argue over the impossible logistics of bringing every talented basket maker from their longhouse for a weekend leaving their family behind. Add that to the fact that if the sole basket maker opened a stall, she'd probably only have a meagre amount of items on sale since it takes quite a while to finish even one!

So those were my points. Took some convincing and several hundred messages to finally get Tiny to agree - while Trish looked on in growing amusement and Toni scampered off for fear of being dragged into the tiff. Right there you have a small illustration of how things work around here. Whatever personality type Tiny may be, I'm definitely the direct opposite which drives her quite insane at times. But I guess we do need conflicting points of views to make the market work as well as it does.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

All About Lube

Just when you think you've heard all you possibly could about Diffident David and his ever fascinating idiosyncrasies, he never fails to surprise us all over again by peeling away yet another thought-provoking layer of high neurosis. By now I should have enough scribbled notes for a little observational thesis on gay hysteria.

It should come as no surprise that he masturbates. Really, I think almost every grown adult male with a healthy sexual appetite breaks out the lube and plays with himself every once in a while. Yes, girls, that's all regardless of sexual leanings and committed affiliations. Think of it as a way of clearing the pipes on a bi-weekly basis, or even on a daily for the more virile amongst us.

And hey, sometimes you just ... got to when the urge suddenly strikes.
Seriously if you're a dedicated purveyor of hot male specimens such as the above, it's hard to resist!

So yes, David beats off as well. Though he obviously doesn't resort to the cheap tried-and-true methods of a hasty handjob since he has the fully functional Tenga ever available at home! Unfortunately for him, diddling with such complex gadgets and gizmos comes with its very own predicaments since silicone sheaths and such needs the occasional grease.

Which is where the lube comes in.

David : I've run out of lube. 
Paul : Just go buy some. 
David : I can't. 
Paul : Eh? 
David : I can't just head to the pharmacy to buy lube. 
Paul : Eh? 
David : I just can't. 

After such an unequivocal statement, how could any of us resist prying?

And there we get another fascinating amalgam of angst, anxiety and apprehension all rolled up into one flat categorical refusal. Interesting how internal homophobia crops up in such sticky situations since there's the inexplicable bone-shaking terror that some strange someone somewhere out there would catch him in the ignominious act of purchasing lube and somehow manage to shame him.

Yes, even that disinterested acne-ridden cashier at the convenience store.

Like wut.

Of course it gets worse as David starts hysterically spinning off into the inevitable What If situations from judgemental colleagues to heinous enemies conveniently dropping by the store just to point their fingers and laugh uproariously at his scandalous predicament. All over buying lube. And here I thought most boys get over their initial jitters from buying condoms and lube a long while ago in high school.

Waiting for the lube to arrive? 

For me, I'd have only one answer for them all. 'I'm using lube because I'm getting off. What about you?' Really, isn't that reason enough to be utterly envious?

If you ask me, to save him the aggravation it would be so much easier to use the spit on hand instead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Art Market & Me

Back during my schooldays though I was generally adequate when it came to my academics, few of my classmates would have come to me seeking pointers on mathematical sums or even physics conundrums. Simply put science & math simply wasn't something I was all that interested in and any questions posed to me, apart from those in my homework, would have earned a disinterested shrug from me.

Imagine my animosity towards a particular math tutor who insisted on handing out apparently 'fun' quizzes during our breaks.

It was towards the generally 'arts' subjects, as we would term it here, such as history, literature and art itself that I loved. Brief spells in between classes would have found me either carelessly doodling on the exercise book or sometimes pulling out my latest paperback for a quick read. And like in most any boys' school, there was always the incessant hushed request for the resident artist to draw female nudes.

I'm done with you. Get up and get dressed. 

Didn't take very much for horny teenage boys to get going at that impressionable age so anything slightly more voluptuous than their own childlike stick figure drawings would do. Turned out it wasn't all that difficult for me to sketch sexy sirens in all sorts of slutty situations. After all it was always the naked male figures that made me a tad more uneasy. Kept tweaking the nose of the handsome fellow, kept widening the broad shoulders, darkening the brows... just could never get them right.

And yes, they did make my heart go pitter patter a little. Yes, it made perfect sense in retrospect of course.

But that was all during my high school years. Though I still pulled out a sketchbook every once in a while after, I never did all that much till recently.

With the art market we organized, it was amazing to see so many creative minds under one roof! Don't think any of us walked out of the hall without feeling utterly energized by the crackling ingenuity and inventiveness shown by the many talented vendors who came to show their unique wares. That wasn't even counting the number of brainstorming sessions we had during our painting and crafting workshops which gave me so many budding ideas for creative collaboration from dollies to washi tapes.

Certainly sparked something in me which has me going through several pages of my sketchbook in a day, which is why I've been neglecting this blog for a little while!