We left Zengzhou on another bullet train (top speed 302kph) and 4 1/2 hours later we were pulling in to the Shanghai train station. Everyone remembered their tickets so we could get out, and we were off to our hotel for the night – A one-night stop kinda on the outskirts of town. The following morning, we went to the hotel where we would spend the bulk of our time in Shanghai, a nice, older place called the Pacific Hotel just across the street from People’s Square (and next door to the Radisson and Madame Tussaud’s).
We made a quick recon trip to the theatre to get the lay of the land (and directions for how to get there the next day for load in) then headed back to the hotel. Zack and I decided to take in some local culture (we went to the movies to see Tomb Raider) before meeting up with the rest of the gang for dinner and a bit of sightseeing. We thought about cabbing it, but I suggested taking the metro so I could figure out how it worked before our trip in a few days to Disneyland. Turns out, it wasn’t hard, but a) had to remember tickets so we could get out (thanks trains!) and b) there’s security checkpoints everywhere! Here it was bag scanners before you could actually get to the subway cars. Not a problem! We all passed through with flying colors and made it across the river to see one of the symbols of modern Shanghai – the Pearl Tower. Aga-Boom had been here back in 2015 (before my or Zack’s time) and Iryna said the view from the tower was amazing. She also said they were there at sunset on a clear day so could see the city, see the sun go down and then see the lights. Unfortunately for us, we were there on a rainy evening and so couldn’t justify the $35 or so US it would cost to go up and see fog-colored lights.
So instead, we walked around it and went to the gift shop (where Iryna made make-shift galoshes out of two shopping bags – which may have (it’s been a few weeks and I’m fuzzy
on details) led to the great line “How silly do I look? on a scale of 1 to American?” and yet, kept her feet remarkably dry and comfortable!), then to a nice Italian place for dinner and another walk to take pictures before heading back to the hotel. We had our Shanghai run to start.
The People’s Grand Theatre in Shanghai was, again, a beautiful place, but also again, we were unpacking and setting up before doing a show that night. This meant I was running around like a crazy man trying to get everything done. Our local help this time came from a group of volunteers who worked for our local promoter. It was great we had help, but not so great that they had pretty much no theatre background, didn’t speak English and, for the most part, didn’t really care about being there. What this means in practical, real life terms, is it becomes difficult to delegate tasks because no one has the same sense of pride in the show as we do. This leads to the local promoters saying things like “it’s good enough” or giving notes to the actors and wanting to change the order of the show.
The plus side, though, was a student named Zhang Chi. She was our light board operator and was just inexperienced enough to not know she wasn’t supposed to be able to do things. This meant she was wiling to re-write cues in the middle of the show, attempt to pull of manual effects without programming them into the board and make adjustments on the fly. Honestly, the complete opposite of what our professional helpers were doing. She was a joy to work with and I wish she could have gone on to the rest of the tour after I left.
As for the rest of the shows in Shanghai, there’s not much more to say (I had some personality difficulties with our local team but honestly, not worth mentioning beyond the fact they existed). The shows all went over really well, which is standard fare these days, but there was one new wrinkle (it didn’t affect me, but I’d never worked with it before) in the form of Mini-Boom. Boom is the character Iryna plays and sometimes they’ll have a local kid (aged 4-6) dress exactly the same and come out at a couple of key moments in the show. The effect is really funny but I’d never seen it before. And seeing little kids react to putting on make-up and walking out on stage is always a treat. It could be a once in a lifetime thing or it could be starting a whole new passion for something. So cool! One day, a few years from now, maybe Rasa and Monki will join me on the road and Monki can be Mini-Boom for a show or two.
On Friday, our last afternoon off in Shanghai, I went with the group to visit the Yuyuan Tourist Mart. This is a huge shopping district centered by the Huxingting Tea House. We had a lot of fun walking through the shops and bartering for goods (I got Monki a painting of her name). I was going to get mom a Mahjong set which started at ¥200 (about $32) and by the time I left, they were down to ¥80 (about $13). I didn’t get it and thankfully, when I asked mom, she didn’t need one so all was good.
Since I had to be back at the theatre before the rest of the gang, I left them early so I could walk along The Bund, as recommended by my cousin Mitch, who, though he lives in Bangkok, spends a good deal of time in Shanghai for work. So I walked the riverside, which is opposite where we were a few nights earlier and I could see the Pearl Tower and other landmarks of the Shanghai skyline. It was a nice walk and I was even able to make my way back to the theatre in time to get work done before the long weekend of two shows a day.
There were a couple of constants in our routine, too, Almost every night after the show we would all head over to the Irish Pub No 9 around the corner for dinner, live music (which consisted of two girls singing pop hits, karaoke-style) and a game or two of pool. The food was excellent and it was obviously the home of a bunch of ex-pats and western businessmen because we saw no Chinese patrons in the place. Of course, to get there we had to pass the massage parlor which kept getting more and more explicit as we walked past. What started as “you like a massage?” as we were approaching changed, doppler-like, to “sex massage, yes?” by the time we were walking by. I even got propositioned by a street walker who wanted to become “WeChat” friends. When I repeatedly turned her down, I was questioned with “You no like China girl?” to which I responded simply “no.”
Then, after our last show on Sunday, we did something amazing.
We had packed up all the cases and loaded them into a truck which was going overland to meet the clowns at their next destination (this was the end of my run as I was heading home the next day) and were getting ready to leave. There had been a bag backstage our entire run, something like a 50lbs sack you’d find dog food in, except this one was filled with rubber noses on an elastic band. And there were hundreds of them in there. Someone in our group grabbed them and then Zack, as we were walking down this huge shopping/walk street on the way back to the hotel, decided that the red Nose Bandits needed some new recruits. Naturally, I joined in and we started giving away noses to anyone who wanted one.
It was fabulous. At first, people were a little suspicious, wondering what we wanted, what we were selling. What was great is we weren’t selling anything. We were just handing them noses and moving on. We handed them to kids through the windows of the little tourist train which wound its way up and down the street, we gave them to people sitting on benches and were out on dates. Some people wanted nothing to do with us but others crowded and laughed and wore their noses with pride. There was a lot of video shot and if a short film ever surfaces, I’ll post it here, but it really was the best feeling in the world. I loved it, really made my whole trip (Disneyland is a separate thing).
After that, it was just a night of saying goodbye. All the guys took a river boat tour along the same stretch I had walked on The Bund (Iryna had a cold so opted to stay home) then, eventually, found an Italian place for a nice meal before getting a taxi back to the hotel.
Monday morning, I made my own way to the airport (let’s hear it for early morning flights) again taking a maglev, and getting there far faster than an above ground cab could have, even at 5am. Security was again a bit rambunctious, making me take out my umbrella and the battery pack I had borrowed, but allowing me to keep my shoes on. made it through no problem, spent the last of my ¥ getting some breakfast and a souvenir or two before boarding the 10 hour flight to Helsinki. As part of the “in-flight entertainment” these transcontinental flights have long had a Skymap, where you could track your progress. What I’d never seen before, though, were cameras mounted on the tail and under the fuselage so you could get an unrestricted view of what was around you. It was pretty cool to watch the landing from just behind the front wheel!
Helsinki to Vilnius was an easy leg, and I even got the immigration official to give me a stamp in my passport so I could show it off. From there, it was a no brainer to grab a citybee car and make the hourlong drive home as quickly as possible. Yes, I could have taken a train, but you know what? I was tired and missed my girls. It had been a long twelve days and I was ready to sleep in my own bed.