On Friday, I met my wife just before noon where she was working. The plan was to have a stroll and find some lunch. I’d been slightly misled. The ‘stroll’ my wife had so casually suggested was actually a walk down the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall. This road was actually an eight lane super shopping highway that went on for more than a mile, North to South and East to West. There were at least ten ‘trains’, theme park styled, that ran back and forth, ferrying foot weary shoppers, from end to end. These stores were of the posh variety, some with names I didn’t recognize, all with prices that couldn’t be misunderstood. It was global enterprise meeting insatiable demand. Fascinating and horrifying at the same time. There’s no real scale for comparison to a typical mall in America that occurs to me except, perhaps, if one were to picture a gecko meeting Godzilla…both lizards of sorts… one being cute and containable…the other simply eating you alive.
There’s no question that there are many facets to Shanghai that are not for public display. My wife and I caught a glimpse of a different aspect Wednesday night as we dined. This particular restaurant was only one of almost two dozen doing business in a nearby mall. We’d opted to try it randomly. It was fairly busy, brightly lit and we’d found some items on the menu that we recognized. As we were being seated, we noticed that not all of the staff were wearing similar uniforms. I presumed it had something to do with rank or specific responsibilities. I was mistaken. Within ten minutes of our being seated, live music began and nine of the servers formed in a line down a center isle. They were clapping in rhythm to the music as they converged and encouraging the diners to do the same. It was an up beat song which everyone seemed to know (save for us) and the staff sang with great animation and gusto while they performed their choreographed dance routine. The servers were pulling people up from their tables to join in. Some did so willingly, others with great reluctance. This went on for as many verses as a Baptist hymn, which is to say, longer than any one’s devotion lasted. It was flamboyant, camp and unapologetically way over the top. No remnant of suppression from the past was evident in the celebration presently before us.