Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Tricky Chicken Tikka

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One of the many things I failed to accomplish while home was to buy a small refrigerator magnet for a friend of mine.  It was her birthday, and she has this bizarre hobby of collecting magnets.  It was her one request.  And measured against the 500 other requests I had– mainly, to buy every Chinese person I know a brand new iPod– it was modest.  Still, sad to say, I flopped.

I decided to make it up to her by taking her out to dinner.  She picked the place, and we set plans to meet there Friday around 7:30.  I spent the late afternoon browsing bookstores in the city, hoping to find some inspirational travel reading.  The weather was awful, cold and drizzly.  It was the type of innocuous drizzle resulting in more of a mist than a downpour, one carried by the wind at all angles, sinking beneath an umbrella and irrespectively clinging head to toe.

Finding a taxi on rainy days, let alone rainy and cold days, is no easy task.  After  having some prick steal one in front of me, meandering down a few more side streets, I waved one down.  It was 7:00, and, considering traffic, I was still a good 20 minutes from the restaurant.  Text Message: “Hey.  Waiting for an interview.  Guy still hasn’t arrived.  Meet you at 8.  So sorry.”  Damn.  More time to kill.

I exited the taxi in a semi-familiar neighborhood.  For some reason, as I recalled, this area consisted of one nice bar and a few nice restaurants surrounded by a bunch of seedy “talking girl” bars.  Rather than drop a pretty penny on beers waiting for her inside the restaurant, I decided to buck up and explore a bit.  It is, after all, my last few days in Shanghai.

8:00 came and went.  Still no word.  8:15.  Nothing.  I called her.  No answer.  Must still be in the interview, I thought.  So I sent her a text: “Looks like you aren’t gonna make it.  Good luck, let’s reschedule!”  Case closed.  Time to find another taxi and hightail out of there.  But by now, the rain had picked up.  There were more people standing in the street looking for cabs than actual cars on the road.  Not a good sign.

I have a strategy for times like this: Aim towards big roads/big buildings and stay moving, being sure to walk against traffic.  Even with such a genious approach, I still wasn’t having any luck.  Thoughts were racing around my head about my last few (miserably cold) days in Shanghai, what I still had to accomplish, how I was going to fare traveling all alone for a few weeks…  I was coming to terms with the fact that I would have to get used to eating alone in restaurants when…  Cue the heavenly spotlight!  I walk past an Indian restaurant.

I.  Love.  Indian.

I paused.  I was going to have to eat alone anyway.  It might as well be Indian food.  I found the entrance and popped in.  For a restaurant, there was a peculiar lack of seating.  A bar, six seats.  Two small tables, four seats.  I explained to the one hostess working there that I would like to eat dinner.  Figures, I was mistaken.  The restaurant was upstairs.  I found a  semi-circular stairwell towards the end of the bar and climbed right into a line of waiting patrons.  Damn.  Eating alone is one thing.  But waiting alone to eat alone?  No thanks.

On my way out, the hostess downstairs stopped me and explained I could sit in her bar and order food from upstairs.  Alternative plan… hmmm.  Ok, done deal.  I try to find a discreet location to hide my lowly one-person dinner party, but this place lacked any secluded corners.  I post up at a bar table against the window facing the street, ordered a beer and some chicken tikka masala.  As I am waiting, an older gentlemen walks in.  He orders a G&T and sits down at the end of the bar directly across from me.  The hostess approaches him and cordially asks if she can join him.  She starts idly chatting him up about his business in town.

Odd, I think to myself, pretty friendly.  A short time passes and in walks another girl, who saunters behind the bar and starts yelling about something in Shanghainese.  Shift change?  Five minutes later and in walks yet another couple of girls dressed to impress.  Wow, popular little place here, I tell myself.  Then, mysteriously, they sit down and it becomes apparent they also work at this fine establishment.

Hmmmm, ten chairs, five girls.  Uh oh.  I thought I had walked far enough to clear the district.  It was becoming clear, I had thought wrong.  Here I am, a young handsome lad sitting front and center in the window of a shady lady bar.  Dammit.  Worse, the girls never even approached me!  Now, come on, not that I am buying, but I am still a patron.  What was with the second-class service?  Why the discrimination?  Test message: “Just finished.  You still around?  I am starving!  Where are you?”  Reply: “At a shady lady bar with an Indian restaurant upstairs.  Come save me!”

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Written by Miles

January 14, 2008 at 9:14 am

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