It’s mission impossible getting an ice cream in Shanghai once the clock strikes 11 pm. Sixty minutes from Cinderella hour and the buzzing city virtually shuts shop. Shoppers stroll away with bags of coveted brands. Shop owners, both inside and outside the malls, pack up and head home.
An accident on the street is smoothly handled by cops who arrive in a flurry of flashing lights, load the injured pedestrian into an ambulance and drive away with the offending driver who has prudently used the time to make a few calls that will help him post bail. Sidewalks and steps are being hosed down by a diligent work force as my two companions and I step out into the street.
Stragglers are few and forlorn. A couple walks past, arms around each other’s waists. My fellow traveller suggests that the duo is a walking advertisement to China’s new ‘open door’ philosophy. It’s an amusing, tantalising thought.
Almost on cue, I notice a pretty boy lurking beneath a drooping elm. Incidentally, the trees lining the dappled street are almost the same height, even the branches are disciplined to follow directions with military precision. Guess it was the rebel in me that took me off-track just now.
Getting back to the shadowy figure of the night, the boy who couldn’t be more than 18, is white and western. Interesting!
A dessert joint down the road draws us in. The prospect of an ice cream is alluring. A couple at a table by the window catches our eye as we push through the swinging door. The man is white, the girl exotic and local. He’s putting out his best moves around her. She is taking her time.
We’re out in minutes after being told that the outlet doesn’t serve ice cream, only pastries and pies that we don’t relish. We turn to see how far the couple has progressed. He’s strained and conscious. She’s coolly professional. With a saucy thumbs-up we move on, in search of a Baskin Robbins outlet we had seen in the light of the day.
It’s there, at the top of a long flight of stairs that are beautifully lit. Makes for a pretty picture. My companions and I pause for a Kodak moment. Little do we know that it would cost us our much-longed-for ice cream cones.
It’s two minutes past 11 when we walk into BR. The sales lady behind the counter gives us a go-away-look and points to the ‘Closed’ sign hanging ominously over our heads. But it’s just two minutes past, we protest in unison. Good night!
I’m in Shanghai for the weekend for Lee jeans 120th anniversary celebrations. The city has been touted to me as the new fashion capital of the world. The previous Saturday, I had dined on uncooked crabs and snails, may be even puppy dog tails, at a waterfront restaurant. I had got toasted a special edition denim unveiled at the Lee FW09 fashion show with champagne and orange juice. I had watched DJs battle VJs with 3D mapping after an exhausting 10-hour flight. Pop queen Lenika’s country crooning had me drooping. I had done the unforgivable, skipped her press meet, and headed home to a welcoming king-size bed that was all my own.
The next morning I learnt that I’d missed hearing that the singer who has taken South-East Asia by storm
had confessed that she wasn’t dating anyone.
A good part of Sunday had been spent lunching on another unpalatable seven-course meal at Yu Garden. Then, shopping at Xintiandi, peering down 100 floors from atop the Shanghai World Finance Centre, strolling through over-priced malls and finally, having my first edible meal of trusted burgers.
And at the end of almost 40 hours, I had arrived at the conclusion that Shanghai wasn’t as happening as our former Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, had lead us Mumbaikars to believe. Hey, you couldn’t even get an ice cream here at 11 pm! The Natural ice cream parlour a hop, skip and jump away from my home was open way past midnight and the kulfiwallas cart jangled down Lokhandwala’s Main Street till even later.
Even our plush Swissotel’s 24-hour coffee shop had only cappuccino to offer. By now, I was ready to leave Shanghai the next morning without a sweet parting gift. But my companions who were bullish Bangalorians refused to call it a night without their ice cream delight.
It took some amount of persuasion and a generous tip to get bowls of vanilla cream and fresh fruit delivered to our rooms post midnight. Mmm, ice cream had never been so hard to get!