Giving a hoot.
What to do with an empty day in Shanghai? This is the problem that confronted me on Monday morning when I awoke. Go to the Bund and stroll through the beautiful, old turn-of-the-century--or is that fin de siecle?--buildings; make my way over to Pudong, Shanghai's high-tech wonderland, and take an elevator up 1,500 feet or so just to admire the view; wander around and soak up the atmosphere of the French Concession, with its broad, tree-lined avenues and funky little shops? No, no, and no, as it turns out. Instead, I did what any red-blooded American male would do and decided to attempt to make my way far across town--off the subway line, even--in search of that most famous of Shanghai institutions. Yes, my friends, I speak of Shanghai Hooters.
Why? A few reasons. One, because I could. And two, to satisfy the curiosity of my friends, who, when I told them of the existence of a Hooters in Shanghai, questioned whether or not what they deemed to be a proper Hooters server could be found in not only the greater Shanghai region, but possibly in China as well. More specifically, they wondered if girls in the area had the necessary secondary sexual characteristics to qualify as a true Hooters girl.
I know what you're thinking--none of my friends asked me that. And, in a sense, it's true. None of them specifically said to me, "But Jason, what about the secondary sexual characteristics of the women in the Shanghai area, or even in China as a whole?" No, they used a different term--a few different terms, actually--that pretty much mean the same thing. Being a classy individual, I won't go into the specifics of what words my bosom buddies used--I've suckled at the teat of that joke long enough, I think--but you get the idea. Although if you don't, maybe you could go ask your neighbor. Just go and pound on their door as loudly as possible, and if they don't have anything against big knockers they will probably answer and let you in on the joke.
Moving on …
Having decided to go to Hooters, I immediately grabbed my camera and left the hotel to find the light rail station, which I knew I would have to take in order to get over to Hongqiao (hong-chee-ow) in the west of Shanghai, which was where--as far as I could tell--Hooters was located. I found the station okay, but--just after entering--I was immediately presented with the first obstacle on my quest. Specifically, the light rail map by the ticket counter was in Chinese only. While I could figure out how much I had to pay based on the number of stops I knew I needed to go, the real problem was that, not being able to read the sign, I had no idea what direction to take the train.
Could my quest be derailed so quickly? No, of course not. For a moment I did falter--I could, after all, always go find what I believed to be the only Taco Bell in mainland China--but, after muttering several curse words to myself, I decided to press on. Based on a combination of the orientation of the train station and pure chance, I picked a direction, put my ticket in the turnstile, and walked up the stairs to the train platform, where I quickly determined that I had, like Indiana Jones on his last crusade, "chosen wisely." How did I know? For the simple reason that on the platform, which you absolutely could not see from without actually using your ticket, the light rail map was in Chinese AND English. Handy, that.
Having overcome that obstacle, I boarded the train, rode it for a few stops, and then proceeded on foot to my destination, which I knew to be somewhere near the Sheraton Hotel. So, having no other idea of what to do, I consulted my map and headed out in the direction of said hotel, which I stumbled upon after about 20 minutes of walking. Having reached my first destination, I walked up to the entrance, turned in circles to survey the area, and found the first clue that I was on the right track for destination number two.
The First Clue
From that sign, I was able determine name of the street, which I found and proceeded to follow in the only direction that was possible: straight ahead, since the street actually ended in the Sheraton driveway. A half-block later, I was rewarded with clue number two.
From there, you'd think it would be easy--there is, after all, an arrow--but it was harder than I suspected. After trustingly wandering in the direction of the arrow for a few blocks, I found myself moving past the many stores and restaurants and into an area that was looking increasingly residential. Obviously, I had taken a wrong turn, or not taken a right turn, or gone left when I should have gone right at Albuquerque, or something equally bad.
Turning around and retracing my steps, I moved slower, peering down every street and alley, into every entryway for some sign of my elusive quarry. Moments later, staring down a pleasant-looking walkway between a row of restaurants and a massive department store, I saw a flash of orange and white out of the corner of my eye and I knew that my search was drawing to a close. Moving quickly, I made my way to the south, past tea houses, noodle shops, a McDonald's, and the imposing facade of the Shanghai Center, not stopping to catch my breath until I reached my goal. And without a moment to lose, because I was starving.
Then, having arrived, I went inside. I know what your next question is going to be: what was it like? Well, it was like Hooters, right down to the crap hanging on the walls. I think the only difference I noticed was that, in addition to a US flag, there was also a Chinese flag hanging from the ceiling. Beyond that, it was the same as any Hooters you might go to in the States, even down to the terrible food, which, I am pretty sure, made me sick after the fact. (For those of you who think Hooters has good food, insert your finger far into your nose and go back to watching your Meg Ryan or Ben Affleck movies.)
Fostering Stronger US-Chinese Relations
Oh, you want to know about the girls too, I suppose. About what they looked like, about their, um, credentials? I will--surprisingly--sidestep that question entirely and allow you to judge for yourself.
The Hooters Girls with Nameless Tourist
As for my waitress, "Vicky," who, like all Chinese people, loves the movie Sleepless in Seattle (seriously); hopes to someday move to Beijing--possibly to work in Hooters, which is apparently opening there this spring; and thinks my pidgin Chinese is "very good," I will say that she was a very good server (even if I had to teach her the word "ketchup," which she referred to as tomato sauce) whatever her … qualifications.
Me and Vicky
Then, having finished the better part of my disgusting burger, my discussion with Vicky, and my picture taking, I made my way slowly back to the hotel, feeling a little bit wiser, a little bit fuller, and--thanks to the food--a whole lot crappier.