Saturday, January 17, 2009

Swiss Gala and Weekend Activities

The Swiss Gala on Friday night was delightful. The champagne flowed generously into outstretched flutes as the guests flirted and laughed with one another, temporarily leaving aside the stress associated with the economic downturn. With the exception of a few women who arrived in terribly inappropriate ensembles (e.g. white tights with sneakers, an acrylic outdated blouse and knee length corduroy skirt), most of the guests were elegantly dressed in black tie. For some reason, one often sees women disregarding dress codes (and no, not in an adventurous-funky-avant-garde manner). For example, how many times have I seen women dressing casually in social situations that require formal wear (e.g. frumpy sweaters with leggings to the theatre) and dressing formally in social situations that require casual wear (e.g. sequin tops, glittering shoes and satin pants at cafes during the day).

Regardless, since most expatriate women do not often have the occasion to play Cinderella, gaggles of women gathered at various points in the room to discuss-criticize-admire-and-devour the outfits wore by women outside of their respective circles. Perhaps we should start a reality television show called Expatriates Gone Wild?

The ballroom at the JW Marriott was impressive and we were twelve at our table. Under the patronage of the Consulate General of Switzerland to Shanghai and organized by Swisscham Shanghai, hundreds of guests were entertained by dance and martial art performances, the flow of wine enhancing our viewing pleasure. However, the casting for the Flamenco performance was a bit disappointing since an emaciated blond eunuch at the male lead and his heavy set Chinese partners did not succeed in inspiring any great appreciation for the arts. We left at midnight, Andy dreading his early morning departure to Europe. The doors were held open by Chinese women who were dressed in traditional Chinese cheongsams. The deviation from tradition is that the dresses were white with large black spots, in commemoration of the Swiss cow.

After Andy left for the airport the following morning, Erika and I went for Japanese lunch. Since the weather was lovely we strolled about our downtown neighborhood snapping photos of the food markets (covering our mouths as we passed since the unusual warm weather made us very aware of street butcher and his wares), bicycles (there are hundreds parked in just one road and I wonder how people can distinguish one dark-20-year-old-rusting-bike from another), children playing with firecrackers (note to self - learn how to say “ “Stop playing with that or you will blow off your fingers” in Chinese), and people gambling in dark corners (illegal yet the police turn a blind eye).

Of course, one cannot dismiss the older men who, dressed in colorfully printed pajamas, shuffle along the streets in their Hello Kitty slippers, a small dog tucked under their arm. Ironically, many of the dogs are dressed in sweaters and some even weak sneakers and hats. I suppose that what is and what is not appropriate to wear on the streets is very relative and I will not venture to judge. For example, I recall that when my father came to a class with me during University, he was appalled that many students wore baseball caps and sweatpants. I had to plead with him not to scold the other students.

Since so much of my day is spent observing Shanghai through the car window, I cherish such excursions. I thought of the film 'August Rush' - a film with fairy life elements in which the young orphan claims that music can be made from the all the sounds found on the streets, and that people should integrate these sounds into ones life. I close my eyes and smile at the cacophony of sounds.

I open my eyes to see a group of women pass. Female Caucasians constitute an insignificant percentage of the downtown local community and as a result, women are drawn to one another when passing on the road. Most often the only point of similarity is their foreign status. However, in the eyes of the Chinese masses, the point of similarity is that they are all Tai Tais. This term was originally used in Chinese circles for supreme wife (implying a situation in which a man was wealthy enough to have several women – concubines - in his life) but has now expanded to include all women who are privileged. While many women accept this title and its associated lifestyle, many women resent being subjected to an array of unflattering stereotypes. Whereas the former was probably a Tai Tai in her American suburb, the latter might even twinge at the thought of a mid-day massage of leaving the child rearing to the Ayi (maid-nanny).

Such a lifestyle can often be very appetizing, even to the most die-hard career oriented woman or man. A new category has recently emerged and it is composed of Guy Tais, or men who followed their wives to Shanghai, found that being hired locally is challenging, and happily succumbed to days filled with golf, 5 star lunches, and excursions to the clothing tailor. However, when men lunch it is assumed that they are in the process of closing an important business deal. Note - could these men please share their market knowledge with the skeptical husbands whose accompanying wives cannot find jobs?

I awoke on Sunday morning and went to a yoga class, continuing my theme of relaxation. After which I joined Amaia and her husband Kaspar for an Indian brunch. The restaurant is located in a run-down building and one must climb precarious stairs to arrive at its second floor location where the floors and halls were suddenly and miraculously cleansed of the outside smut and litter. I experienced a déjà vu but, unlike the restaurants back in NYC on Avenue A, this restaurant does not string Christmas lights throughout its interior for decoration.

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