Friday, April 30, 2021

Phebe: mysteries unraveled..

On HuangShan>>

Pre -read reference: 

Shoo: make (a person or animal) go away by waving one's arms at them, saying “shoo,” or otherwise acting in a discouraging manner (source: Oxford dictionary)

Caveat: It's been a while that we've hit the club scene and maybe that’s why we may sound so excited here

We were so out of sync that we realized we were humming 'wheels on the bus' while starting off from the hotel. Phebe was chosen for the sole reason that it was near to the hotel and thought we'd be getting back quick. No there is no mis-spelling here, kindly refer to Sona's picture here.

Once we got to the place, I was a bit skeptical. The place was huge; even from the outside. The car park was envious: A Lamborghini Urus, funky Beijing BJ 40, Cadillacs, Porsches and even a couple of heavily modified Japanese humbled our VW cab.

We darted in and started posting our enquiries: was there an entry fee? Could we see the menu please? (fact of life - always be prepared on what your bill in going to be) and so on. The petite lady would have none of it and shoved us inside. The interior was a different world. A lot more than what a Saturday party place should be.

The smarty lady led us to a table near the DJ, where many ladies were already seated. With a couple of shouts, she shoo-ed them away with sharp words. In a manner that would make a shepherd and his sheep grimace. She installed us at the table and started talking to us.

However, I stood my ground. I would not yield without seeing the menu and being apprised of what a drink/ table would cost. I shouted, she shouted, and all of our words - regardless of the language, were drowned by the music. The smarty girl finally yielded and decided to hand us over to the master Shifu and the manager - Mr. Bin

A suave chap, he had us impressed with his stylish moves with his phone and with sign language - he managed adding us on text. Presto! Now we could type and communicate over translator! After some communication a short menu appeared out of nowhere.

The situation was summarized as follows: the table that had been allocated to us (after shoo-ing those ladies) was a good one and we ought to order from that specific menu - with a minimum order being for couple of grands.

I revolted vehemently. I explained my life's mission statement, my budgetary policy and expressed by willingness to exit and head to Liyang street pubs.

But our suave Shifu Bin would have none of it, he took us to another 'tavern' table which offered a different menu. Once we got here, he mouthed an earful to another group of youngsters seated - who hurriedly vacated the table, rushed to the stage and started dancing. This phenomenon of shoo-ing people was getting strikingly peculiar. Sona later solved this one, but more on that later.

So for now we are at a new table and a different menu was summoned magically from air by Bin. The menu had something that was in line with my retirement fund and I requested for two pints. Now, Bin was not convinced. He almost got cross at us at the prospect of two measly beers - they could only get one so much happiness and offered us a peculiar deal: for 20% more - we could get a 12 beer pack and a gigantic platter. This time, I got concerned about HIS financial model and bottom line; but took the bait.

We glanced around: The DJ had switched this time and people were gathering near the stage for another showman who was taking over. Guys and girls - all of them were having a good time, and we were also settling into the mood.

As I got my eyes back to our table, I found another slim debonair guy staring at me. Bin had disappeared. The new guy's eyes conveyed a mystical determination and never left mine. I tried to look around but I could still feel those new set of eyes drilling at me. When I realized I was not going to be able to shake it off, I found the courage to look back in his eyes. Our eyes met. Without leaving his gaze, he pulled out a pint, opened the bottle and poured out in two glasses. His job, and stare done, he glided away into the dark.


As our eyes were adjusting to the dark and quirky lights, and we were getting a better feel of the place. Everything was likeable. The debonair glided in again, emptied the bottle and opened another one with that stare.  

For a while at least things were fine. Next, a towering and well-built figure appeared. No mistaking that uniform - he could have been from security or from an official authority. 

He politely waved us to step out and we knew at once that this was not one of those situations to bargain or argue.
In my life's journey, I have been in trouble amply; and consider myself a decent judge of deciding on when to run and when to comply with the authorities. The voice inside today leaned to the latter

Once outside, we were explained that in the mayhem of (a) we trying to figure out about the place and (b) the manager's concern to settle us in, we had skipped the security and the COVID-19 code check protocol. So we held out our devices and tried to get our government codes. Tsch tsch.. The club acceptable one was the provincial health code. Now came the problem: this particular one was not designed well for foreigners and we struggled to fill the online Hanzi form.

After a while, we realized we were not getting anywhere. We then flashed our hotel key - requested the security Shifu to call our hotel to fetch get the codes (which they already had from our check-in). 

Well, as per his process document, this was acceptable as an exception, with the following conditions:

  1. That we fill up a physical form and declaration, giving the details of our passport, train details, train time, hotel details, Shanghai address and our genetic codes.
  2. Protocol also stated that we be given fresh masks lest our masks carry infections from elsewhere.

Lambo Urus & Beijing BJ40

For point #2, the macho fellow headed to his macho SUV - a modern day red Beijing BJ40 (not a fan but impressed by this barebones Humvee look-alike) and fetched two fresh masks. He made sure we disposed our old masks carefully in the designated bin in front of him. Now we could head back.

As we got back, the scene had changed again. The color theme was different and music had switched from English to local and club mix. Seeing us return, some youngsters meandering on our table were shoo-ed again by the debonair and we found our next glasses already readied. 

The dance floor in front of us was a bouncy one (no kidding - a springy one indeed) and the people were filled to the brim and dancing in sync. Behind us, there were people standing on the platform above our heads and dancing. (Think of the YMCA moves done by Hard Rock Café staff on higher platforms/ bar counters). Some were moving to the music, some with fancy Chinese fans : an amazing blend of tradition and modernity.

This time, a woman manager of a different kind came by and shouted scathingly at two ladies dressed in red at the platform dancing behind us. They immediately got down and drove off to mix with people.

Now Sona hypothesized - some of the crowd could be hired. By Jove! It all fit and as the point drove home - I started seeing around with new lenses: One particular category - I could place as students, being called in to drive up the cool factor. One group of ladies in red, were clearly there to spruce up the glam factor and possible companionship for patrons. 

As it struck to me, one of the red lady appeared next to me. A drink went by and I could still feel someone behind me. I hugged Sona tightly to make a point and stayed there until the threat passed.

We did not know the time, but our debonair guy made sure we were never without a drink and kept the other round ready - to avoid any blasphemous scenario of we being kept waiting for a drink.

Between us, we have seen some places and could list some common factors between Vegas & Amsterdam, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore & Brussels, etc. However, this was an experience phenomenally 'different' from what we had ever witnessed.

Maybe we have been away from the scene for a while, maybe we are getting old. But there is no point thinking about the reason of our excitement.  Phebe will remain an unforgettable place.

More on HuangShan:

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Exceeding expectations - HuangShan

Well we are used to this - where an institutional advertisement objective somewhat meets our emotional requirement. For instance, I am a big fan of the big yellow arches.

When I see a Mc Donald's advert, it instantly makes me happy, for I know I will be able to try it our soon. It is usually to my taste, comes at an incredible price.  However, there is an important expectation management for each one of us when it comes to advertisement vs. reality.
Over years, our minds have become tuned to accept this norm - of settling and being satisfied with something lesser than what is advertised.
The Economics curve intersection of expectations and supply perhaps?

With this mindset, when we saw the pictures of Huangshan (yellow mountains) - over the internet, the station, at the hotel & each time, we dismissed them. We were looking forward to be happily content with a pleasant impending future experience - a fraction of what was being picturized of course.

And the moment we boarded the cable car , it all went wrong. For once, life had thrown a surprise - no words, no pictures do justice, it is just the experience. 

This was way beyond expectations..

For the logistics description, bear in mind the order: 

  1. Reaching Tangkou village

2. Bus to cable car or elsewhere (multiple options-> Yungusi or Ciguangge)

3. Cable car to peak (two options)

For phase 1, we took the hotel car to reach the Tangkou village. 

The bus ride is again a scenic one and the driver was clearly under an oath to keep the vehicle in higher gear. Hence he did not stop building momentum on the straights (few) and when hair pin u-turns (plenty) came up ; like Goliath with his slingshot, he tried to hurl us around with all the centripetal and tangential force he could muster.

At the destination bus station, we were happy with the cloud cover, the mist, & the flora, and walked lazily to the cable car station. 

Ticket here again. Complex transaction, with two adults, 1 baby and 1 senior citizen ticket purchased at the right price ( I hope).

Once we boarded the cable car, it kept climbing and climbing. Lost in clouds, we actually lost sense of time! 

All that white - reminds me of: My fav drink! Shaken, not Stirred please..

Up there, there are plenty of hiking places. You could spend hours or even couple of days. As for the peaks to choose - I'd say not to bother if you are visiting for the first time. You cannot compare it to anything you would have seen; so experience whichever you like.. 

Summarizing the unique bit: 
Phase 1 (Tangkou): we had started at ground zero a couple of hours ago with clear view of mountains 
Phase 2: Post bus-ride had ascended to a misty place to meet the clouds 
Phase 3: Post cable car, we had finally ascended above the clouds!

For sure - Every minute will present something unique here.

On our way back, we did stop at the Hot Springs. This was a casual exploratory bit with the idea of visiting a natural hot spring. Our Mandarin illiteracy got the better of us. 'HuangShang Hot spring' turns out to have hot spring - yes; but this is actually a hotel that has developed this area and charges a separate fee for entry here. While views are spectacular, do plan visit here with the right mindset - time and dress for dip in your preferred spring (milk based, tea based baths, etc.) 

At edge of the world

We decided to stay at HuangShang downtown as against Tangkuo village for the following reasons:

- We had a baby traveler

- A vegetarian amongst us

- We are only at HSK 1.5  level (Mandarin beginners)

Based on Tangkou experience, we can now say Sona and I could have stayed here. Though do note that we struggled immensely to conclude:

Complex transactions such as:

- Communicating that we are tourists

- Buying water

And more so with highly complex transactions such as:

- Buying a ticket as a foreigner (fact alerts henceforth)

- Replying to the ticket vendor on her query on specifying our destination 

- Specifying that my mother 'bu chi rou/不 吃肉' (does not eat meat)

- Canceling our ticket to Hot spring and rebooking again

- Modeling the correlation between Credit Default Spread (CDS) of Belgian sovereign and that of a Congo based oil producer (gibberish alert)

Tip: If you do not read Mandarin and still want to stay at Tangkou, please buy a map at the airport/ station, befriend someone there and try to finalize your itinerary - mark the same in the map in clear big circles (in red/ pink/ fluorescent green, etc.) very well to show later around in Tangkou/ ticketing areas. Jokes apart, people are very helpful, and you will eventually get by. English and Tripadvisor will be of little help of course.

A big factor for us was the Crowne Plaza Huangshan. With a baby and a vegetarian amongst us, we had decided to stay near the city as against the Tongkuo village. Crowne Plaza rewarded us phenomenally:

A splendid property, grand swimming pool, lavish breakfast, IHG club benefits galore. Personal tit bit: This ranks 1st or 2nd in my experiential ranking (Nope not the Marriott, not the Ritz Carlton; the first place for me would be reserved again for the Crowne Plaza - the Bahrain financial district one with its squash court)

Oher things to do (near Downtown HS):

Tunxi ancient street: 

We went with an open mind and all of us were really very happy. We went expecting the same ol' China street as is with any town, but soon realized each one has its own character. The food, artifacts and everything else at Tunxi was way different from our earlier experiences..

Mark my words: Babies are a great way to bring nations together 

Liyang street: (Linyang Lao)

This was one of the most spectacular affair of our visit. This features in one of the bottom 'to-do' list at Trip Advisor and turned out to be a hidden gem. A mix of medieval Europe, Oriental mysticism and fun in the air - I personally guarantee happiness for you here..

Cafes here will surprise you with their antiques and quirkiness.

The clubs deserve a separate mention , and Phebe adventure is out here..

Sona & Shubham's adventures @ Phebe!!

By the way, did I not mention babies are social magnets?

Monday, April 12, 2021

Searching for the God of Thunder..

The condo we live in offers pretty good views; and the builder has been smart enough to install glass panes that are robust to withstand typhoons - something that nature has been hurling with ferocity at Shanghai over years. The typhoon withstanding ability of the glass is also complemented with a pretty good insulation which keeps out the horrific wind screams, occasional shipping air horns from the Huangpu river as well as the revving of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Mclarens (my personal favorites) by enthusiastic drivers around.

I like it this way - the peaceful way. The way life should be : A man/ woman ought to be at peace, ready to pursue his/ her area of interest. Of course, the household chaos may drive you nuts; but as an option - I love the idea of living in a home which insulates external cacophony. 

Li'l Soshu: Rain rain go away

The glass does a good job - I see big ships bleating their air horns; I have witnessed relentless winds outside. However none of that is allowed to seep in and peace within our home is upheld.

However, there was one thrum that managed to wiggle through the insulation and creep into the home every morning. The thrum was powerful enough to cause minor vibrations in the glass as well!

Could it be Thor? Nah.. Avengers always spar aliens in US or western countries (barring that one off Wakanda battle). For some reason, none of the bigger issues like alien invasion, lost nuclear arsenal, demigods attack, etc. seem to affect Asia . 

Day after day, I tried to track the source by applying the science of logical deduction. 

Here are my findings:

  • Ships: I see a 200k + tonnage ship bearing a Dutch flag - maybe it was bleating its air horn. Or its motor could have been too powerful. The next day there was no big ship or even li'l boats. The thrum was still there. So ships are not to blame.. 
  • Screeching winds? I have cycled back in screeching winds to enter our home with absolute peace. Windy day or not - that thrum comes in at 7:50 am. Nope, weather was even worse in the Fall & Winter evenings.
  • Ghosts: Nope - I have heard that the way HK & Shanghai's real estate prices have moved; most of ghosts have migrated west to more affordable places in New York and Paris (Numbers courtesy: Statistica)

The question plagued me for months - pushing me further towards insanity. More so because I somehow loved that modulated thrum and how it rose. The fact that I did not know what I loved sounded bizarre.

The answer struck me when I saw this green outrageous machine and loved the sound of it - The Mercedes Gullwing- AMG. If you are a motorhead - you would understand the art of correlation - about cornering with the same family of chassis, listening to the same family of engines revving, etc.. In my case, the latter was a sudden connect.

Sure enough, I darted the next morning - right at 7:50am. 

The thrum yes, an AMG engine - maybe, visuals - no.

Failure to identify.. However, I'll live for tomorrow.

The next day, clouds and winds played havoc. Though could not hear them inside. Then that thrum livened. I looked frantically.

Yes there it was!

Don’t see it?

Look again… Does that red square help?

Yet again.. Let me zoom it a bit for you..

And some more (the max my phone can zoom)

You see that pale golden dot - the one dwarfed by a Lexus van? That's the culprit: The Mercedes AMG G 63. a.k.a. the 'G-wagen'

Look at the pictures above again to get an idea of the distance. Bear in mind the insulation job of the apartment as well. And now think about it - how Mercedes and AMG manage to beat the ships, distance, winds and insulation to greet me!

So forget Thor. Yield to the thunder of that 4 L V8  spooling those Borg Warner twin-turbos.
The real God of Thunder is the AMG M-176 V8 engine on that 2 ton Mercedes beast.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Shanghai automobile museum

The number of museums this city houses is simply spectacular. Even a determined traveler could spend years to cover the breadth and depth. The more astonishing aspect is the variety of tastes the city can cater to. I was hence very surprised to find this hidden treasure - which I believe is the city's attempt to catchup with the Deutsch and Japanese titans.

Parking at Shimao Weifang rd..
Shanghai treats you with the best of automotive world in a very natural and seemingly organic way. I Initially thought: You don’t need a museum for cars here; if you want to meet the stars, we could stand at any intersection ( LuJiaZui, Jingan, Huaihai, or elsewhere), or:  take the elevator to the basement of any residential parking (Proof from our apartment inset). I was keen to find out what a museum could do - in a city where perhaps the streets had more to offer.

So off I went, like Alice - tumbling down the rabbithole. 

Getting here: (a) Cab - ~50 mins from Lujiazui or (b) Metro line 11- Anting road station (some 50 minutes from the business district) + 2 min cab/ 10 minute walk.

Cadillac M (1907

The beginning.. Respect your CTS - it has a rich heritage indeed.

Toyota Corolla - Nothing to say. Just thinking about the journey. From this to the becoming the largest selling automobile of the planet. Our family had one: Minus the boredom, it was one of the most dependable things that served us.

If you thought only the Rolls Royce of today's age looks classy; think again... You could walk around admiring this ancient but regal creature for hours.

The original Land Rover. Think of a modern day Discovery - Now we know why it is necessary to evolve, yet respect your heritage.

When Mr. Bond needs to quickly make a dash for Martinis.. The Aston Martin

Breathe… Say a silent prayer - the way you do before thinking of your God.. Good.. Now you may worship the two legends: 

The revolutionaries: The Ford Model T and the VW Beetle in the background 

American Muscle is a tricky area for me.. Not sure if I hate them or love them, but regardless of my religious beliefs, I have to bow to those three letters: GTO (Pontiac)

And then we have the flagbearer of American muscle - the Ford Mustang : in its original glory. Serving the American dream from 1964.... 

Now the God of three letters - BMW. This piece deserves more respect as it is one of the earlier one of that genre 'M'.  Proud to note that my friend Varun and his family have entered that relationship with an X4 - M recently.

Datsun 240 Z: This started the lineage of Z s - I maintain a personal bias here - The naturally aspirated Nissan 350 Z is one of the most exciting cars I have driven (from archives)

As I was wandering through this magical place, a thought occurred to me. I computed the probability of a friend and you- my dear reader - of trying to own these pieces. For all I know, you could (a) take the billionaire route or (b) the thievery route. Just in case you are planning a heist on this place, and would be kind enough to spare a car from your loot for your dear friend - I ought to submit my preference in advance.

Zhege (this one).. No no. Not the one on the left. The Lamborghini Countach - was indeed one of the most aerodynamic and aesthetically daring design in the history of automobile. While it has the naturally aspirated mid engine V12 mated to a perfect transmission, the Italian durability of those times scare me. Not the one on the extreme right either- the Honda NSX gets too much limelight and class. 

So if you do agree to purloin one for me - it'd be the one in the middle - the 8th generation Nissan Skyline please. Front engine, rear wheel drive - and the design discreet enough to bely the menacing intent of that 2.6 L twin turbo motor. This belongs to the right decade - where automotive engineering was still more about mechanics than electronics.

Other tips:
- The top floor houses a kids area. Kids of all ages could easily spend an hour here.
- Cafe serves decent stuff inside the museum, and a McDonalds at the entrance. For a wider variety, hit the Jiating Hui life mall near Anting road

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Swedish sophistication

Sweden for me meant Ikea, H&M, Volvo (pre-Geely days), Saab Gripen. All signifying  simple designs with supremacy at sophistication. If you want clarity, please check out a simple desk from Ikea - and compare it with an expensive regal furniture in a swanky showroom in your town. The latter: with its over the top design would be expensive as it promises heavy teak to last a lifetime. But you realize you want to dump it when you have it, as it has little to offer on the ergonomics front and at home - doesn't look like the way it did in the catalogue. To understand my point better- drive a Volvo S-60 or fly a Saab Gripen.

So in my mind, it has been etched long ago:  Swedish = clean, simple and classy. One of the reasons why I coaxed Sona into considering a visit. 

To start with, the Swedish simplicity went into an overkill mode. We were silly enough to fly Ryan air, which did get us from Charleroi to Skavsta in one piece each, and then the Skavsta airport welcomed us with its bare bones. Clean, but very skeletal. The bus took around 1.5 hours to get us to Stockholm city center. Moral of the story - (a) Do check with experienced people before planning your trip, your best friend ( cannot advise you on the 'experience' part (b) avoid being Scrooge.

Stockholm turned out to be the biggest surprise for us in Europe. While neither of us can pin point the touristy points (no highest peak, the ancient structures were not the ancient-est, no Paris/ Swiss hypes), the city has a character which triumphs and will always remain stamped in our minds. To make it more interesting, we stayed at the Mosebacke hostel - and that turned out to be an interesting experience as well. Right in the heart of the city, it helped us move around quickly.

The palace, the museums, you could pick anything. If we had the time, we would love do that for a couple of more days - landing in old town/ Gamla Stan in the evening, exploring the alleys, drifting into any of the shops/ buildings (museum or not, all of them have such a rich history - check out this simple pub; the basement was older than several countries) and finally bidding the evening  goodbye in the typical European way - in a pub.

One good spooky walking tour we suggest is:

Those words have a new meaning for us post Sweden: class and sophistication. Lets see if anything can dethrone Sweden's place there.

The Nobel prize venue