The following morning Apple picks me up from my new digs at Les Suites Orient Bund Shanghai (be sure to request a room with views of the river and Pudong skyline) and we head to Caoyang Xin Cun, a state-supported housing district established in 1951. I had requested from my Audley expert an “authentic” Shanghai food experience, so in lieu of booking me at a five-star restaurant, we head to this modest residential neighborhood.
We walk through Tei Lu Market, a former railway station that’s been converted into a cacophony of vendors selling everything from fresh fish and vegetables to household supplies. From here we head to the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Wang (aka “Auntie”), who host our family-style lunch. The couple’s modest apartment is in one of the endless rows of utilitarian buildings. They’ve created a makeshift second bed- room by hanging a curtain; and though there’s running water and electricity, the living quarters (with the exception of a shiny, full-size stainless steel refrigerator) could use a loving makeover. What the space lacks in modern amenities is eclipsed by Auntie’s gracious hospitality. From her two-burner stove, she produces 12 dishes including meatballs with Chinese yam, bamboo shoots with carrot and chile, crispy spring rolls filled with gooey banana, and of course, Shanghai dumplings floating in a savory broth speckled with green vegetables.
While we eat together, the couple proudly tells me about their daughter attending college, and I wonder if she might be subject to a match made at the marriage market, or what they would think if they knew I was gay. But in this context we are simply people sharing a meal, chuckling at our own cultural differences, some translated by Apple and others as obvious as my fumbling chopsticks.
On the long plane ride home, I’m struck by Benjamin’s final thoughts on China as written in Gaysia: “This is what it was like to be a ghost in this country: a person who was entirely invisible, even to yourself.” As a Western tourist, I felt celebrated in China: my Jack’d profile eventually yielded a few friendly meetings with locals who were fascinated by my life. Even strangers stopped me along the Bund, wanting to snap a photo with the first Caucasian they’d ever seen, but my interactions barely scratched the surface of what life might be like in China.
According to Benjamin: “You can’t draw clean parallels between the fight for LGBTI rights in China, and the fight for LGBTI rights in the West. Homophobia, virulent hatred for gays, doesn’t exist in China like it does in Christian or Muslim-majority countries. However, not even acknowledging homosexuality exists creates a whole other suite of problems. It’s not all doom and gloom. As young Chinese increasingly travel and migrate, they find allies, education them- selves about LGBTI issues, and find a vocabulary they can adapt for use back home. But progress can be slow, especially when it’s difficult to establish or define your identity in the first place.”
Taking the subway home from the airport and walking my neighborhood’s familiar streets (fermented chile paste, chopsticks, and other souvenirs in tow), I am washed over by what I may have previously taken for granted. I see people of all races. Restaurants and retailers of every kind, owned and operated by those seeking their own version of the American Dream. A young couple passes me holding hands, tangled in each other’s arms without a care in the world. They burst into a bustling bar. A rainbow flag billows in the wind above. They are two men, happy and at home. And maybe this too is in China’s future.
HANGZHOU & SHANGHAI RESOURCES
When making calls in China, use country code +86
Delta Air Lines, International Reservations: 800- 241-4141. Save those SkyMiles for a DeltaOne upgrade and enjoy nonstop service from Los Angeles, Detroit or Seattle to Shanghai. Those traveling from New York City can now also redeem miles on China Eastern for an east coast direct flight. www.delta.com
www.gotohz.com, Has a comprehensive website from the Hangzhou Tourism Commission to help plan your trip.
Zhejiang Grand Hotel, 595 Yan’an Rd., Tel: 571-8505-6666. A well-appointed hotel directly across the street from major retail shopping and within a 15-minute walk of West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rooms from $70. www.zjghotel.com/en
Impression West Lake, 82 Beishan Rd. An out- door theatrical extravaganza directed by Zhang Yimou, the creator of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. www.hzyxxh.com/en
Hupanju Tea House, 1 Shengtang Scenic Area Xihu District, Tel: 571-8702-0701. The ultimate dining destination to experience traditional regional cuisine and enjoy picturesque views of West Lake.
CYTS Tours, Tel: 800-930-3677. One of China’s largest inbound travel companies can help facilitate an authentic experience in the historical Mei Jia Wu Tea Village, including plantation tour and private tea ceremony. www.cytstours.com
Xiling Seal Engraver’s Society, No.3 East Taiping Alley, Hefang St., Tel: 571- 8781-0693. A picturesque setting to witness and participate in some of China’s most celebrated art forms, including seal arts and calligraphy.
Wensli Silk Culture Museum and Flagship Store, WENSLI Technology Building, No. 68 Tiancheng Rd., Tel: 571-8504-7950. The first private silk culture museum certificated by West Lake Scenic Area and Hangzhou Civil Affairs Bureau features a vast collection as well as the opportunity to purchase exquisitely crafted silk garments and accessories. www.global.wensli.com
Audley Travel, Tel: 855-838-8600. This award-winning travel planner will create a customized China itinerary based on your budget and interests that includes well-informed guides and unusual, immersive experiences that more deeply connect you with the destination. www.audleytravel.com
Insiders Experience, Tel: 1381-7616-975. Experience Shanghai by vintage motorbike as your driver and guide takes you to some of the city’s most famous and unusual destinations. www.insidersexperience.com
Les Suites Orient Bund Shanghai, 1 East Jinling Rd., Tel: 21-6320-0088. This luxury boutique hotel is located on the Bund and features minimalist design, lots of in-room tech features, and stunning views of the Pudong skyline. Rooms from $193. www.lessuitesorient.com
Meet in Shanghai Is the official Shanghai travel website featuring travel tips, city highlights, hotels, and special events. www.meet-in-shanghai.net
The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong, Shanghai ifc, 8 Century Ave., Tel: 21-2020-1888. An international five-star property featuring luxurious accommodations, afternoon tea, on-site spa, and Flair—the highest alfresco dining venue in China. Rooms from $307. www.ritzcarlton.com/en/properties/shanghaipudong
Spencer Dodington, Tel: 1368-167-9980. Customizable architecture tours led by this notable historian and writer offer an insider’s look at Shanghai’s various styles of art deco design. www.spencerdodington.com