I was heading over to Malone’s, a sports bar in Pudong, to see my boss, Rob Tagg, play in a pool tournament. Above, he shoots pool in last week’s tournament at The Max, his bar. He’s the Assistant Captain of their team. Since an English-speaking taxi driver is a rare phenomenon, Rob printed Malone’s address in Chinese for me. After work, I took the metro to The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and tried to find my way from there. I wanted to make sure I was starting off correctly, so I showed the address slip to a woman exiting the metro, asked “where” in Mandarin, and we proceeded to have a long conversation that I hardly understood a word of. She made motions for me to walk with her and seemed to be heading in what I had suspected was the right direction, so I followed and tried to make sense of the non-stop talking that I could only imagine meant, “I’m walking that way. I’ll show you where to go.” We exhausted the few Chinese words I know within the first minute. She kept repeating the word “bike” and pointing ahead of us. I guessed that she meant Malone’s was near a bike shop, but little did I know of the plans she was making. Then, after wriggling her right hand to indicate where I should walk, she briskly walked off the sidewalk to an apartment building without a goodbye. I felt a little lost at that point, not recognizing the area and seeing only desolate streets. After another two minutes of walking in relative uncertainty, I heard yells and the same woman was riding toward me in the bike lane. She dismounted with a big smile and patted her hand on the seat. Now I realized why I didn’t recognize where we were. She had brought me to her home, which was sort of on the way, to bike to Malone’s together. Not knowing when I’d get another opportunity to bike the streets of Shanghai, I got on the bike and we set off. It was small and rickety. With the woman seated on the back, I could only get moving safely if I kick-started with my foot for at least two meters. She was a good sport to be laughing and singing while we wobbled to cross the street, taxis speeding around right corners and passerby staring. I felt like a rickshaw driver and loved it. Not understanding her directions was problematic, as I had to turn around to see her hand motions while trying not to hit the carts and mopeds in the bike lane. After only about 10 minutes, we reached Thumb Plaza and she repeated a word that I couldn’t understand. She then made a rectangular symbol with her fingers and I thought she was demanding money until she said “paper,” surprising me with her English. I showed her the address slip again and she was happier than I was that we got to our destination. I wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed biking with her, but all I could manage to say was “I like” in Mandarin and point to the bike. We then went our separate ways.
Unfortunately, The Max had a team of 7 that was lined up against the home team of 15 and lost with many close matches. During the game, over the voluptuous sounds of Lady Gaga, I chatted with an Israeli from the other team who claimed he was a condom machine salesman. I told him about one of my favorite films, The Closet, a French comedy about a man who pretends to be homosexual to get his job back at a condom factory, and he seemed interested. I still didn’t believe him, so I questioned him and realized that he works for the AIDS department in Shanghai with a Chinese partner and four other Chinese guys. Supposedly, he is the sole condom machine salesman in Shanghai on a government contract needed for his line of business. He doesn’t exactly sell the machines but sets them up in locations like bars and takes in the majority of the profit. The bar gets a small piece of it too. The condom factory is in Fuzhou outside of Shanghai and his distribution project just started. When I asked if he liked Shanghai, he replied that he liked the culture and people, but that if they were smart, he wouldn’t be there. With the Shanghai Expo coming up, the city especially wants to emphasize contraception. Later, he pointed to a pregnant woman and commented in a thick Israeli accent, “see, she didn’t use a condom,” shaking his head and looking puffed up about his mission in Shanghai. Legally, condoms are supposed to be available in every public place, but that law has been ignored with the exception of a few outdoor units. There’s a rusty one outside of my building, pictured above.