Shanghai, 3 AM

The great Cathay Cinema, at night. 

A city of 23 million people is curiously silent at 3 AM.

Several of us went to dinner to celebrate the new job of a fellow teacher who is moving to Hong Kong next year. We met in Puxi (literally, “West of Pu [River]”) at a fabulous little restaurant called Nepali Kitchen. Now, I can’t properly say I’ve had Nepalese food before, but this was a delicious introduction to it. I was told I had to try the cheese balls and tomato soup, which sounded suspiciously American, and I decided on the cheese balls, which were good in that excellent comfort food sense. Several talked about ordering them just for Super Bowl Sunday (Monday, really)…

The foods were spiced with a combination, I thought, of Turkish and Moroccan spices, a sort of baby of the two cuisines. Middle Eastern but Asian, maybe – perhaps? It all added up to great food, great atmosphere, and all that fellowship I’d been missing for a few weeks while playing at being a good, hibernating Chicagoan hermit.

It all culminated in an evening spent out with good friends. Catching a taxi in the entertainment district was a bit of a challenge, especially with everyone else trying to get back home. Whilst shamelessly waving about my hand to catch a taxi driver’s attention, I had to stop and admire, however, the old Cathay Cinema, its lights dimmed and its bricky-facade plunked like an old marvel on a very modern streetcorner, some sort of forgotten relic of a very fashionable time. It’s an example of the art deco architecture one sees here and there in Shanghai. It’s a symbol of the flourishing 1930’s atmosphere of the city, and it reminds me of Chicago and its art deco architecture as well. Both cities, at some point in their histories, were or are on the forefront of the art. Shanghai is putting architecture in its prime right now with its ever-expanding repertoire of skyscrapers and swanky apartments.

23 million people, and the lights in buildings were dark. The streets were fairly deserted, and the evening was chilly, so chilly you could see your breath on the early morning air. It’s the glow of dying neon light through the plumy haze that makes the city beautiful even when most of it is at peace.

And in that sleep, mind you, what dreams may come in this wonderland?

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