I’m in the chilly city of Shanghai this week, in a neighborhood called the Bund. I’m here with my colleague and good friend Tracy, at the Westin, which may very well be the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in.
As for my room, I honestly got lost in it for a second, trying to remember where I’d set down my bags. It’s full of mirrored surfaces and more like a suite really, with a small office and living room in addition to a spacious bedroom and bathroom.
We’ve encountered a serious language barrier here, which we didn’t expect. With a population of over 16 million, Shanghai is China’s largest city and its most densly populated. It’s a major world commerce centre, and the Bund is its business district, so we assumed we’d no problems getting by in English.
When we went out in search of dinner, however, we wandered into a series of restaurants offering nothing discernable to non-mandarin speakers. Even after watching other customers for a few minutes, we couldn’t even tell whether there was table service or whether we were supposed to order at the counter. Forget about trying to read the menu. The manager at one place was able to scrounge up a menu in English, but then when we tried to order, they didn’t have anything on it.
Eventually, we were shepherded away by a young guy representing a tea house on the third floor of a shopping complex. A big – but somehow still cozy – place. I had a steaming bowl of noodles, and Tracy had a plate of wine-sauce-pickled sliced fish. We ordered Tsing Tao beer and asked for water.
Our waitress didn’t understand the English word water, and we didn’t know the Chinese, and that’s the way it looks like it’s going to be in Shanghai.