Cat Cafe Bliss

I’d heard before of the Cat Cafe idea being popular in Tokyo, Japan. Space restraints of apartments  and anti-pet leases kept people from enjoying kitties. Also Japan loves cute things. Hence the idea of paying money to sit in a cafe loaded with cute fuzzy beasts.

I was surprised when a google search turned up a few different cat cafes in Shanghai.

I set out on a mission to the nearest one from my house.

Fortunately it’s located at #1 Taiyuan Lu , right in the heart of the former French Concession, and a short bike ride from my house.

Pulling up on bikes there is no immediate indication that there is a cafe here. Only upon a little closer inspection does one see the a small little buzzer, with a small piece of paper with little cat pictures and some Japanese words  surrounding it, around the buzzer.

It’s a like a secret little club for cat lovers. Or the lair of a crazy old cat woman.

“Can I come in and stroke your kitty?”

Ring the buzzer and then a minute later a Japanese lady opens the door , peaks out, says “Konichiwa!” , and hands you some slippers to wear. Whoa.

She leads you through a residential hallway  up a flight of stairs and voila there you are, in her house turned cat cafe paradise! It’s a low lit large living room with cushions on the floor , small tables resting on the floor , cat towers, a shelf of cat paraphernalia , loads of cat toys , three kittens , and three big fat lazy cats.

A menu is handed over and then sticker shock kicks in. The cheapest drink of the lot is 58 or 68 rmb ( a little under $10USD to a little over $10) , and that’s for the simplest coffee , the tea my girlfriend choose hit the wallet for 100 rmb ( like $15!). Although we did get two deliciously dense and moist brownies and a plate of cookies for free.  Imported Tokyo cat cafe concept at Tokyo imported prices. Yikes! But you know what? It’s totally worth it. The place isn’t really about the drinks and although they have wi-fi it’s not a good place to get work done , it’s all about kitties! Get a 58-68 rmb coffee and play with the cats for an hour and a half. Or should I say , play with the kittens and watch the fat lazy cats power nap for the entire time.

The owner is super nice and definitely not a lonely, crazy , old cat lady.  For about half the time we shared the room with a family and two other ladies who were all relaxing and laughing at the kittens antics.

I have my membership card now ( every 50rmb spent earns a sticker towards 20 stickers and then a gift is given) and when I feel like entering this secret cat haven tucked away, I will be back.

Cat Cafe Bliss – #1 Taiyuan Rd. 

MIDI FEST 2012!

Jumping in the center of a mass of people doing the same , head banging ,screaming, and jutting fists into the air. This could easily be the scene at most train stations/ coach stations in China but fortunately (surprisingly?) I was not in the middle of this commotion at a public transportation depot.

I was actually watching Michael Graves ( of former Misfits fame) sing Ramones and Misfits songs while Marky Ramone (The Ramones duh!) bashed out on the drums. There were two other guys doing the whole guitar and bass thing too. Sorry guys, I have no idea who you are but you do a damn spot on job of covering Ramones and Misfits songs! You also tour the world and play music. So yea , not too shabby.

Wait a sec. Blitzkrieg Bop? Dreadlocks? Weird costumes? Odd leafy smells in the air?  What would Mao do? Where am I?

Don’t think about the answer to that first question. It would involve some sort of cultural revolution , a purging of the fun seekers, and a foreign devil societal harmonization project.

As for the second question ,it’s been an awesome start to the spring and MIDI festival returned to Shanghai once again for a two-day weekend show at Century Park April 21st & 22nd.

With only one day to spend going crazy , running around , and listening to music , I choose Saturday (mainly to see Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg) to venture out to Century Park.

Being crazy ,like I am , I was probably the only person to ride a bicycle from Puxi to Pudong (including a ferry ride across the river) on that overcast grey day. Fortunately the weather held out and a few feeble rays of sun managed to break through the layer of clouds later that day.

Century Park is definitely an amazing venue for a festival. The park itself is huge but the revelers were kept in check in a small area (compared to the park itself but big enough for the crowd) nearby gate #5.

The security staff seemed to have taken a page from the TSA’s playbook. Noneffective nuisance. A long security line hassle with the agents confiscating my two water bottles and me teaching them how to open a book bag that has more than two zippered compartments. (You’re Welcome!)

Once inside there were two stages : Yuan for electronic music , and Tang for rock/metal. On the path that connected the two there were various food stands (BBQ ,Melrose Pizza) and of course the booze stands. Tiger (Malaysian Beer) and Jagermeister seemed to have things pretty wrapped up. Cans of tiger and shots of Jager for 10RMB.

I spent most of the time at the electronic music stage and chilling out by the river. We checked out the rock/metal stage for a bit and while it definitely had a bunch of people there the Death Metal style screams emanating from the singer had my girlfriend covering her hears and saying it hurt before she ran away.

We stayed at the rock stage just for the Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg show and awesome it was. They cycled through great covers chosen from among The Ramones greatest hits and tossed in a few of the Misfits under Michael Graves songs. It was great to hear “Pet Cemetery” , a song I had pretty much completely forgot about.

The foreigners were all festivaled out with garish costumes , funky dance moves simulating dying fish, and generally being crazy. What surprised me was the amount of hip concert going Chinese that made it out. There were a lot of the standing , staring, brainless zombie types at the edges of the crowd but there were a ton of Chinese dressed up and getting down with it. Props out to you, Green Suit Guy and Pink Suit Girl! (P.S. I can see your underwear!) I was seeing a lot of tattoos , dreadz, crazy clothes, and Chinese girls smoking cigarettes. ( A rarity out of the big cities and not all that common in them)

Another funny thing to note were the Chinese Party Girls dressed to impress in full party dresses , stiletto pumps, and insane amounts of makeup. Eh, sorry not the best choice of apparel for the outdoor (mud pit) festivals. Obviously newcomers. One girl precariously perched on her high heels would dance by carefully picking up one foot about a centimeter off the ground, put it back , and then daintily switched to the other foot while the first high heel sunk slowly back into the mud. Funny stuff. There were also a surprising amount of Chinese parents with young children and even a couple of fisherman who were hitting up the rivers in the park who decided to see what the deafening bass and booming techno sounds were all about.

All in all , an awesome time. Next weekend sees Strawberry Festival swinging into the former World Expo greens but alas, the cashola situation looks to be keeping me from it. There should be a few other music festivals swinging through later on the in the summer. They appear to be getting more and more popular with every passing year. After that , I’m counting down to Kunshan’s ( a nearby city to Shanghai) Oktoberfest! Wooo wooo.

Moment of the Day- Bicycles

The blossoming of spring’s great weather and the move closer to work has brought me into the world of commuting by bike. I used to zoom all over campus back at Kent State and now I do the same in Shanghai.

It’s about a 20 minute ride or so to get to work and now living in the French concession I have a ton of different bars/cafes/cool places to go within a 15/20 minute ride (many are much closer).

Riding a bike in a city like Shanghai takes a certain level of concentration , awareness, and an inner-Zen state to keep from going insane. Cars , motorbikes, pedestrians, and other bicycles zoom by at all points. People step out onto the curb without looking , riders come the wrong way right at you down a one way bike lane , motorbikes race by on the sidewalks , and the traffic rules are generally ignored. At all times the air is thick with the honking of horns indicating imminent death.

Everyday , it seems, I witness a minor clash , small collision , bump , tap , etc. In my two years of being a pedestrian here I have born witness to a few more severe crashes. I’m waiting for it to happen to me.

Rule #1 for staying alive in traffic is Assume everyone around you is a complete idiot and will not hesitate to cut across 4 lanes of bike traffic without even looking . Assume that everyone is capable of stopping right in front of you in the middle of the bike with no indication and will then sit there and block everyone for no reason at anytime.

If you expect the absolute insane to happen at any time you are on the road to survival.

Yesterday’s moment of the day occurred at an intersection of Sinan  Rd and JianGuo Xi Lu.

I was pedaling slowly along approaching the intersection. An older lady was riding in front of me. She had a cute little girl on the back of the bike and I was laughing at the little girl. She was looking all around in amazement and smiling. I was just thinking of how cute she was while they stopped at the crossing ahead. All of a sudden a guy on an electric china post bike accelerated down the sidewalk onto the road and ran right into the side of the lady’s bike. ( She was in the middle of the zebra lines). It wasn’t a hard crash and the look of shock on her face was priceless. In slow motion she lost her balance and gracefully tipped over. She managed to get a foot on the ground so the bike didn’t completely smash to the ground. The lady wasn’t hurt at all and the little girl stoically took it in silence. A few people rush over to grab the little girl and make sure the lady was ok. The guy on the electric bike said sorry the best he could and he was trying to keep the laughter off his face.  The people who rushed over to help were also trying very hard not to bust out laughing. The only person who didn’t find it amusing was the bike rider herself. The helpful pedestrians pointed out that she was indeed in the crossing for the traffic from the other direction.

Funny Times.

Moment of the Day : Turtles

Living in China can have a lot of “What the Heck?!?” moments . Today’s moment was especially hilarious. I was covering some classes for my friend at a teaching center this morning and on my bike ride to work at 8:30 while waiting for the traffic light to turn green I encountered this moment : One guy in a construction workers hat is holding a large live snapping turtle neatly tied up. He was swinging the turtle by the rope and another guy was trying to settle a price for the turtle. The conversation went something like this (although in Chinese) ”

Buyer :50 rmb for one turtle?!? Are you crazy ? Usually I pay 30 for a turtle this size.

Seller: No way , this is a great turtle. 50rmb or go.

Buyer: C’mon give it a little cheaper!

At this point the light turned green and I was swept away in the sea of bicycles.

Haha

The New Place

Dun-dun-dun-duh! Introducing the new place! I have moved from the “outskirts” of the border of Putuo/Jingan Districts right into Huangpu district and the heart of the former French Concession.

The move took me from the 28th (of28) floor (I will miss the sick view) of a new high-rise apartment building into the 5th (of6) floor of an old 70s style building with no elevator. The hallways are a sort of storage space for old junk from the apartments and the neighbors are always up to something.

The day we moved in I was greeted with a great big “HELLO!” from the elderly man one story below who was sitting outside his door fashioning some sort of hook with a hammer and pieces of metal. I responded with a “Ni hao” and this sent him into a sort of hysteria calling back to his wife in Shanghainese ( I can understand some) “Hey hey the foreigner can speak Chinese!!” This guy’s apartment has a self built wooden plank complete with an eye-test posted on it that he uses to slide over the main door when they retire for the evening.

Every time I make the climb up the stairs I can hear the sounds of a community. The sizzle of a wok comes out from the kitchen window and the smells of all sorts of food entice me. The third floor window often emits the noises of a Shanghainese family playing Mahjong. The tiles were clattering around for 3 houses yesterday. The morning often features the older residents out the hallways washing the days vegetables and every morning as I come out into my kitchen the lonely sound of a violin wafts through the air.

Now onto the layout. The community is accessed through brick alleyway that connects to the main tree-lined street. On the outside we have a little guard booth which lies next to a roofed bike parking area. The keycode for the building gate is punched in to gain access to the stairs of the building. My apartment opens into the kitchen. Turning to right has the door to the small windowless living room. To the right in the living is our bathroom and straight ahead is the bedroom. The bathroom is also quite small and the shower window opens out into the hallway. Due to this feature I tend to shower first , get dressed, and then air out the room. The bedroom is decently sized and has curtains which can be closed to isolate the bed from the windowed area that juts out facing the street. We have a little metal rack to hang clothes outside the window and a little rack to grow plants.

The furnishings are all pretty cheap and the apartment is  smaller than the last one but it’s my own (well as much my own as renting a place can get) and the location is hard to beat. Definitely the best feature.

The trendy art/shop/cafe/bar old style Shanghai shikumen-architecture is a two-minute bike ride from the place , the newly developed garden community/cafe area of JiaShan Market is a two-minute walk away ( I love Melange Oasis coffee shop!) , the bustling restaurant/bar street of YongkangLu is only a five-minute bike ride away. This street also has Shanghai’s first boutique beer store. I can grab some Rogue Dead Guy Ales, BeerLaos, and 30 others for pretty good prices. Bye Bye Tsingtao! Hengshan Lu bar street is only about 10 minutes bike ride away and my two favorite microbreweries (Shanghai Brewery and Boxing Cat Brewery) are also easy bike rides .Another great thing is that I can ride my bicycle everyday to work. No more I hate the world moments being pushed around into a packed to overcapacity metro rides. WOOHOOOO. Leaving my new house at the same time as the old house I now get to work half an hour early. Only about 20 minutes on bike! Being in the center of coolness does have a downside. Anybody got any spare change? 🙂

 

Finding a New Apartment in Shanghai

Finding a New Apartment In Shanghai

My first apartment in Shanghai was a lucky find. I had been traveling and staying in a hostel in Shanghai. I originally was going to stay a little bit and then it was off to Malaysia and back to a rural town in Shanxi province to teach in a University. Well I met some cool people in Shanghai and decided that I wanted to stay in the big city rather than in the middle of nowhere. My newfound friend had been doing some substitute teaching and met another American who was moving and wanted someone to take over his lease for the last  month. We took it over and ended up extending the lease two more times.

Originally this two bedroom pad on the 28th floor was 5000rmb a month. When we resigned the lease the rent rose to 5500 and the second time we extended the lease it jumped to 6200. With the new subway line under construction I wouldn’t be surprised if the landlord tried to jack the price up to 6500-7000.

I was looking for a new area , wanted to be closer to work so bike riding was more feasible, and my roommate and myself haven’t been getting along well for a while now. So it was time to move! And move I did.

While there are different internet options available it seems to me that websites in English are catered towards well to do people. I can not afford a 8000 rmb apartment. If you can read Chinese then a few sites I thought were pretty good are   http://www.anjia.com , http://www.soufu.com . However , many times the photos are not of the real apartment but you can get a feel for the area and general price.

The way I found a pad was by riding my bike around , scoping out the general areas, and then visiting many of the small real estate places scattered throughout the neighborhoods. You can tell the staff what can of place you want , price range , and neighborhood. They will show the options they have available , you can arrange to tour some apartments, and they can also inform you in the future if new options become available. We were told that right now (Early April) is not a good time to look , after Chinese New Year ( Early February this year) to the end of February is a better time to look due to students graduating and people returning to their hometowns and leaving behind apartments.  We weren’t very patient and managed to find one acceptable the first day. If we had held out perhaps a better option would have become available but I’m very pleased with the choice. The real estate guys will lead you to the houses on foot , or with their moto-scooters. We had bikes and one of the guys rode on the back of mine. Funny looking situation.

All in all we looked at 5 different places. Two were considerations , two were unacceptable , and one was totally amazing but a tad out of the price range right now. Damn.

Nanhui Peach Blossoms

With Monday , Tuesday , and Wednesday off due to the bizarre holiday schedule in China and beautiful weather = more time to enjoy outside before the blazing , humid summer rolls in. Yesterday called for a trip to the far , far , outreaches of Shanghai , where nay a Laowai is to be seen. We took the NanXin bus line from Shanghai Railway Station for 2 hours way out into Pudong New District , past the airport , and almost all the way to the sea. Sitting on the bus for two hours to reach the distance outskirts of Shanghai takes longer than hopping on the bullet train to Nanjing!An interesting thing about the burbs’ is even though there are farmers fields and open areas of rapeseed (yellow flower currently in bloom) the fields sit in between high rises and construction of new high rises. Does anyone live in these new apartment buildings? It seems like everywhere in China is constantly building huge buildings on the outskirts of cities. I know China has a ton of people but are is there really that much demand for new buildings in the middle of nowhere? If I have enough money to buy a pad , I’m certainly not going to buy one with no cool amenities around , no access to the subway lines , and a long commute into the city. There are even new communities of American style suburban multistory houses. The Chinese difference though is that they are all clustered together without any yard , kind of defeating the American idea of idyllic suburban living. If you have the cash to buy that nice place you’d be better off moving to America and buying a bigger house for less cash.

Ok on the festival. We finally arrived at 南汇桃花村 (Nanhui Peach Blossom Village) . Peach Blossom Village sounds like a quiet little hamlet with cozy stone houses , maybe set on the banks of a small river , with old ladies hanging laundry and playing Mahjong but well it’s not quite like that. First of all , it’s not a village at all. There are no homes or residents living there. It’s a peach farm with a small lake and some entertainment options. Like most Chinese “parks” there is a mini amusement park for children , paddle boat rental for the lake , and performances. This place had an amazing stilt-walking show with a really , really , freaky main old perverted guy role. He would walk around and have “fights” with his old lady on stilts wife and pretend to touch her chest and lift up her skirt. He would walk around and scare kids and try to give young girls kisses all while his wife chases him around and hits him with various objects. The two main leads were supported by a large group of younger guys and gals dancing around. A highlight of the show was the people on stilts holding others and spinning around all while precariously perched up on the air. Awesome stuff. Another weird activity of the “village” was the Pig Excercise Meet. There was an obstacle course set up with a jump section , a slide section , and a high dive into water and subsequent swimming section. A man would march around the track with a whistle and the little pigs would run through the obstacles. It was really cute and very ridiculous .

Besides the strange activities , it was great to wander around the park and take in the wonderful smelling white , pink , and red peach blossoms. The flowers weren’t quite in full bloom but it was still really nice. The area also has some little canals with boat rides and wonderful weeping willows lining the waterways. Also a must try in the area are the plum blossom sweet cakes. A sticky glutinous bun is filled with sweet red bean paste and a peach flower flavoring. If you like sweet its awesome.

While the festival was nice , I’d say it’s not quite worth the 55 rmb admission price plus the 2 hour bus ride. If I had a car and made in the drive in the supposed 50 minutes it takes then I’d be all for the festival. If you don’t make it out to Nanhui there are some other flower options in Shanghai.

Gucun PArk  – Cherry Blossom Festival

Shanghai Botanical Garden – Cherry Blossom Exhibit

Century Park – Spring Garden

Gongqing Forest Park – Flower Exhibit

It’s spring! Put away those winter heaters and get those lazy bones outta the apartment!