28 January, 2014

Shanghai Sagas – Of Arts and Brands

It was one of my last lonely excursions in Shanghai. I was on an all-out expedition to the very edge of the city. A part which still hadn’t caught up to the lights and blazes of Shanghai. It felt like traveling in time. As I walked across the old signboards, my mind told me that this is what Shanghai must’ve looked 5 years ago. Given the wild constructions going at the place, it wouldn’t take too long for another Xintiandi to open up. Already they had constructed an awaiting subway station, an international expo and a couple of touristic sights. How long would it take to bring in visitors too.

But I had an itinerary to keep up with. After going through the expo I had loads of time to kill before the TED event I had to attend. The Shanghai Art museum was nearby so I decided to check it out. The guard said I’d need a ticket. I thought of checking out the ticket price. If it were anything close to 20¥, it would be a fair deal. This surely didn’t seem anything worth 50¥. But it were the last days and I’d saved enough, so why not indulge in a little Chinese art, I thought.


As I got to the counter, turned out the ticket was free! One just had to go to the counter to collect it. “What’s the point?” a voice rang in my head. But I’d long since taught these voices to be quiet. So I go in and at the security check the guards, painstakingly, try to tell me that my swill knife would not be allowed in the museum. I tried to ask if I’d get it back after my visit and they sent me to a half-English speaking orc. The orc spoke in spitting-English which sounded ‘Fifty Fifty PM for you.’ It took us 10 minutes, a writing pad and a handkerchief (to wipe the spit) to figure out that he meant I’d get the knife back at 15:50 PM. There was only an hour to that but it didn’t seem worth leaving my treasured knife with this ocean of enzymes.

So I said I won’t go and after the second repetition he understood. So I’m out on the road, but a part of me wanted to see the museum. I considered options such as putting the knife in a secluded corner of the road or hiding it in a tree or under my sock when it hit me! BAM. I’d crashed into a pillar. Who the hell puts a pillar in the middle of the footpath anyway? As I looked up to curse it, the pillar haughtily proclaimed the words “BMW” and an arrow near the words. I smiled.

I walked towards the nearby BMW showroom. I was a foreigner. My beard was long enough to say I’m not a whimsical boy and short enough to say that I could afford shaving cream. I had a simple muffler around my neck under a coincidentally matching coat which added to some persona. I held my chin up and walked into the BMW showroom. Two beautiful Chinese girls greeted me as I walked in to whom I waved in dismissal. I was not someone to care about smiles at the door, I thought. I headed straight for the reception where another beautiful Chinese girl greeted me to whom I told my situation at the museum. The girl was taken aback at first but held her own as she wrote down my name and time of entry on a piece of paper. The things they do for brand image! I love corporate culture!

I then made way for the art museum. What transpired there is a story for another day. As I went back to the BMW showroom the girl beamed while handing me back my prized knife. My precious. She asked me if I’d like to see “their museum’ now. Now I wasn’t one who knew Lxi from Sxi. Till now I’d pretended as if I owned the place. Now she was asking me to step out of my comfort zone. Knife in hand, I wasn’t willing to do that. I didn’t even glance at the cars and said, ‘Nah I’ve seen all this.’

I asked for her name. On her reply, I gave a momentary thoughtful look, said bye and turned around. If anything, a memorable event. The time when I waked into a Chinese BMW showroom for no good reason.