Alok in Wonderland
It is Dragon Boat Festival in Shanghai, 2011. And as per usual, it is wet. Not torrential rain, though wet, all the same. The holiday actually falls on the Monday, and whilst it is nice to get the day off, (a) it would be nicer in better weather and (b) I am 'working' in the evening. I do, however, get a free meal out of it.
I'm three quarters into a 12-month contract in Minhang District, Shanghai. It's been a good gig so far. Whereas my official job title says something completely different, the role is essentially project management, plant commissioning, a little after-sales support. My boss, Dave, is a decent guy and I got the role through a mutual friend. I definitely don't begrudge the company utilising my time tonight.
I meet Alok in the foyer of the Ramada Hotel, on Tianyaoqiao Lu. It's only a fifteen minute walk from my apartment. There's a good Sichaun restaurant a few blocks west, so I suggest we eat there. Whereas not nuclear by any means, most Indians do like a bit of spice. Whether it is prejudice against the local cuisine, I do find all the regional styles either toned down, or sweetened slightly in the city. Nevertheless, we do have a pleasant meal, and I've managed to get the fapiou with the company's name printed on it.
Tuesday, I pick Alok up at the hotel, and we walk, then take two metros to our factory down on line 5, changing at Xinzhuang.
Alok is here to help with a business re-engineering initiative. For some business units, our European designs aren't competitive in Asia. So, the plan is that Singapore, China and India share ideas to try and cut costs, and win more projects. This is similar to the Audi A3 versus a VW Golf. Essentially the same car, but the Audi is 3000 Euros more expensive to purchase. So, we will offer only the VW in the region, hopefully winning more projects, and increasing our market share. As it happens, in planning the travel it seems the Singapore boy gets 'released'. So, in the end, it is just China and India peering at the drawings, and scoring lines out with red-pens.
Dave has recently celebrated the birth of his second child. That's why I was more than happy to oblige lat night. Tonight all the suits are out, and I am not invited. Well, I truly don't mind. On Wednesday, Dave gives me a debrief: They went to Hooters in Pudong, which, by all accounts, was a good laugh. Afterwards, Alok was dropping strong hints about female company. Dave explains that there is a zero tolerance for this in the China office, also that the other Dave, the 'big boss' has a habit of personally checking expense claims. Wednesday night comes, and Dave and Alok eat alone.
Thursday and having formed a bit of a rapport with Alok, I suggest to Dave that I entertain him that night. Dave agrees; also that taking him to an Indian restaurant is also a sensible idea. So, I pick Alok up at the Ramada, and we take a taxi down to Hongmei Entertainment Street, about 10 km away. This journey would pass through 5 villages back home, however, I have long been used to the sheer size of Shanghai.
Having worked with a few Indians, I am not surprised that Alok is keen to have a beer; and, after all, he is living in Gujirat state. His suggestion to share a chicken Tikka starter, having escorted him at lunch for vegetarian food all week, does throw me a little. However, he seems to give me a signal that 'no one will ever find out'. Too true, matey. Too true.
Having been warned by Dave that Alok is a durty bampot who wants to empty his sacs, I take him to Big Bamboo, at the western end of the strip. He does seem disappointed that we give several girly bars a body-swerve. Bamboo isn't my favourite bar at the best of times, and on a wet Thursday night, it is particularly uninspiring. During my second Guinness, I formulate a plan…..
Koala Bar is a decent bar that is on our way home. Also, I've got a mate, 'The Pope', who may be up for coming out. The Pope gets his nickname as he's an Anglo-Italian who is convinced that what has been explained in the Holy Bible is 100% accurate. Now, people of all faiths (and none) are welcome here, so let's just say that as a scientist who converted to engineering, I hold a diametrically opposite view. However, one night I coined the term, The Pope, and it seemed to stick.
The Pope is up for coming out, and he knows where Koala is. Alok and I are there already, and I have my name on the board to play pool. The Pope can be a bit of a wideboy, however, he is well travelled, and he does have a knack for languages. So, he settles in, practicing some Indian script whilst I batter into the pool. Some nights I find I am on a roll, and this is one. I've maybe won 6 in a row and hardly conversed with either of them for some hours.
At about 2.30 AM the owner signals that she wants to shut, which, for a school night, is a fair shout. We briefly discuss the merits of nearby Green Dragon which gets described as being shit. So, we opt for Inferno, which has recently opened and gets described as 'Shanghai's only metal pub'.
We don't spend much time in Inferno, and I suspect the reason is that one of our other mates, Bulldog Dan, has already left. We therefore decide to take a baxi to Manhattan.
For those who know Shanghai, Manhattan needs no introduction. Think of it as the United Nations. Actually, to be fair, there is seldom anything other than Asians on offer, so, think of it as the ASEAN trading bloc. By now, it must be 4.00 AM, but girls are still available, and staff willing to serve us beer. On a school night, I always explain to the girls that I live in the city, and it is my duty to entertain my guests. At the weekend, it is a different matter, and without the pressures of an early rise, I am much more willing to have company.
When Alok goes for a slash, we are met with a bombshell from a Cambodian girl, "I won't go with an Indian guy". Well, we do point out, it's now 4.30 am. "No, I will not". Anyway, it seems the Vietnamese aren't so fussy. Not only, has Alok pulled, he has managed to get the rate down from RMB 500 to 300. Well, 300 is more than zilch, so good on the pair of them. We ask Alok to wait a few moments before following us out, as then, his discretion can be preserved a little. He agrees.
Some of you may be of the impression that New Order was never issued in 7" form, only 12". You are mistaken. However, the version of my debrief to Dave the next day ended as the 7" version, as above. Here is the definitive 12" version now:
It's daylight when we step out, and a rather surreal feeling. That doesn't last for long, as The Pope has struck a deal with some Chinese freelancers- 200 each, and we can swap. It is my turn to agree. So, we head off to a short-term hotel on Beijing Lu. I am assigned to pick up the drinks and johnnies.
Both girls aren't bad looking and have already flashed their tits in the baxi. The Pope's one is prettier, my one has more character. By the time we arrive with the goods, I think The Pope is using pubic hair as dental floss, or receiving a BBBJ. Sorry, no sex reports here, so I stop!
I take mine in the shower, and she is good. The Pope has difficulty in getting it up, so I help him out. We duly pay the ladies, and get on our ways.
We are 500 m from my apartment, when my 'phone goes off. "Which cxxt is calling me at this time?", I demand. No-one, it's my regular alarm…..!
Next day, I had agreed with Dave that I needed to visit the bank first thing, to clear an issue with my account. The office had recently automated the expense system, and I had an incorrect code. But, it still meant only two hours sleep, else I was taking the piss out the company. Anyway, I managed a respectable 11.00 am appearance at the office.
When I debriefed Dave, Alok's versions and my own differed ever so slightly. His was a taxi straight to the Ramada from Koala Bar. Well, just like the chicken Tikka, no one will ever know, will they? Of course they won't matey……
Sounds like a fun night out! More errant expat adventures from China are welcome!