This is a gif of some security footage of a guy trying to nonchalantly rob a bank in Shanghai with a meat cleaver while on the phone. This is an apt summation of what Shanghai was like for me: a city teeming with haves and have-nots, where people are both incredibly busy and incredibly lazy and looking to expend the least amount of effort to get the greatest possible gain. Just look at this dude. He obviously wants money for nothing, but he can’t do that so he decides to rob a bank. But that takes so much planning and work, how about we get a weapon, flash it, and bob’s your uncle, free money. It looks like this guy was watching one too many American sitcoms when he came up with this hare-brained scheme. He’s Lucy calling his Ethel to tell her that the cleaver just ain’t cutting it.
“Yeah, there’s bulletproof glass everywhere. They’re laughing at me. I told you we should have gotten a gun. Yeah, I know the glass is bulletproof, but this knife is fucking heavy and she’s laughing. Ok, I think those are cops…. I should go...."
And there goes our failed, intrepid bank robber, going for his dream of the fast and easy life, the best way he knows how... the American Way.
I went over to Shanghai to work as an editor on a feature film. I was holed up in a hotel room for six weeks while the movie shot and everyday I had to assemble and sync all the dailies and then start cutting. It was a surreal experience having a suite in a mediocre hotel in a Shanghai suburb all to myself. Two weeks in, the mystique of being in China was over. By that point it felt like I was trapped in the biggest goddamn Chinatown I had ever been in in my life. Having grown up in America, I couldn't help but look around and on think to myself "holy shit, there is a shitload of Asians."
It was quite obvious that I wasn't a mainlander, but people couldn't quite wrap their heads around a guy with Korean parents who was born and raised in the U.S., so they mostly assumed I was a Taiwanese dude with too much testosterone, with my American swagger and non-funny clothes. Incidentally, there is a shitload of hookers everywhere, but not on the street like in the States. They hang out in shops that look like beauty parlors, but none of the women are getting made up. They just lie around wearing loose clothing.
Three weeks in, I was getting tired of the state-manufactured cigarettes that were cheaper than candy. It's a common gesture of politeness among Chinese dudes to offer you a cigarette and I didn't want to be rude, so I ended up chain-smoking. I started feeling gross and I then recalled that my friend had let me know of a place where I could score some hash.
Scoring hash in China where the penalty for drug possession was prison or potentially death? Fuck it, I'm in. This is why boredom is bad for me. In all fairness I did plenty of research, on the government-controlled Internet connection, of course, where porn and anti-government sentiments were also punishable by prison. But hey, webehigh.com said it was kosher, so I went all in.
I traveled to a Uighur restaurant in the city with a friend serving as translator. I met a kick-ass dude named Aniwar who was the host and resident musician at this restaurant. I will go on record and say that I was not impressed with any of the food in Shanghai except the Uighur food. My friend told me that because the Chinese population is so high, restaurants don't need to try that hard to make good food. They'll make their nut on the turnaround from rando customers alone. (It think it's this mentality that explains our bank robber friend's decision-making process above.)
Anyway, back to scoring hash. My friend asked Aniwar about the hash and he said to meet him in the stairwell. He asked how much and I said 20 bucks worth. He called a friend who delivered a block of hash that I'm sure was at least 10 grams. Yippee. I thanked everybody and took the train back out to the suburbs with a pocketful of contraband that could have ended up putting me in a bad place filled with dudes I could never understand. Instead, I smoked a shitload of doobs with my buddy in my hotel room and the mediocre catering I'd get every night never tasted so good. You had to mix the hash with tobacco and roll it up, Dutch style, since I didn't want the hassle of carrying around a pipe. A little later, I managed to find some weed from some Chinese rasta/hippie who owned a head shop in the city. The weed was shit, but it was something besides government tobacco.
I ended up going back to Aniwar a few more times and hung out with him for a bit. It was actually pretty sad, because the Chinese are by and large pretty racist toward the Uighur, so they can't really hang out anywhere besides their own restaurants. So that's what we ended up doing, going to another Uighur restaurant. We couldn't even blaze, even though I would do it openly at every other opportunity. Chinese people don't seem to recognize the smell of weed or hash, and people smoke everywhere. So I was walking around firing up joints all the time but Aniwar was paranoid that he would provoke suspicion, so we just drank at the other Uighur restaurant.
If anything, guys like Aniwar could be trying to rob banks, but they're a pretty chill bunch even though they are stereotyped as lazy criminals. The guy in the gif is not a Uighur, but he is a lazy criminal. I wouldn't ever trust that guy to help me score hash, he'd probably get us both executed.