I’ll See Myself Out: Attempting Shanghai Nightlife (for Burnt Out Recluses)

So I’m leaving Shanghai.

Sometime in June, I’ll be handing in my Foreign Expert’s Certificate (actually a booklet, just to muddle matters) and sorting through my accumulated detritus to ship things home or to redistribute them amongst the neighbourhood rag-and-bone dudes.

[Random note: Modern day tricycle-riding rag-n-bone pickers in Shanghai mainly seem to deal in vast swathes of cardboard and things that start with diàn (电- pertaining to electricity) so that their early morning bellowings for donations feel like alliterative poetry: 电视 (diànshì- TV), 电脑 (diànnǎo- computer), 电饭煲 (diànfànbāo- rice cooker), 电灯 (diàndēng- electric lights).]

I have no cardboard for them but I do have too many old shoes and Tupperware containers. Maybe they’ll like some threadbare clothes.

I’m fresh out of rags and bones.


The dolls are either electric or cardboard.


I intend to exit this city with only the things that make me happy and sane, whilst still being super careful to not leave behind the things that will haunt me in the future. I royally screwed that up when I left Istanbul, where I left behind, among other things, my grandmother’s coat, my gorgeous Moroccan lamp, 6 years of treasured paper letters, photos, the address book containing the contact details of everyone I knew from 1997 onward, diaries, cobbler-made fake Doc Marten knee-high boots, a book case worth of amazing books, beautiful funky tailor-made clothes.

This time I’m determined to do it right.

Which probably won’t happen, given my tendency to panic and freeze and walk away with all the wrong stuff when it comes to sorting through things to send home.

In addition to trying to sort out possessions that are important to me, I’ve also decided I needed to get my act together when it came to sorting out what has been important to me in this city, the intangible things. I want to leave on good terms. I want to remember the good things, not just the bits that make my belly ache and my heart sink.


bunny ears

Making a mental list and checking it twice before panicking and ditching it all.

Hence this new series: I’ll see myself out.

A lot of this blog has focused on how much this city drives me crazy, how I’ve often felt frustrated and peripheral and frequently incompetent. I’ve often noted that while Turkey felt like a love-hate relationship that alternately hurt me but still inspired irrational devotion (I always went back, didn’t I?), Shanghai has felt more like an arranged marriage. A marriage of convenience and of economics. We don’t particularly love each other and we didn’t come together out of passion but, well, we’re slowly growing to like each other as we’ve gotten to know each other more.

I still have no desire to snog Shanghai.

I figured it was high time I at least gave it a shot though.

A few months ago, my life here was upended and everything was abruptly re-set, emotionally, geographically, practically. Landing back in Shanghai after the inner chaos of Bali, completely recontextualized, I realized that if I was going to leave (and leave properly), I needed to break out of my ridiculously hermitty comfort zone and give Shanghai a chance.

One area I hadn’t explored much was the nightlife.

Sad, I know.

I’d chalk it up to being an introvert in an introverted household, combined with an irrational compulsion to fill whole weekends with part time exam work in faraway cities, along with a strong lack of interest in the shininess of the more obvious nightlife in the city. I’d gone for occasional cocktails after work and on regular dinner dates with good company. There was always good food and quality wines and fancy beers. I was generally home by midnight.


Like that time Fiona dragged Sally and I out for champagne and foie gras lollipops. We were home by 7.


My last half decade of dancing in Istanbul’s African bars until 3am seemed far behind me.


My accomplices in funkily choreographed crime.


I hadn’t seen live music in ages, aside from bits I caught when home in Canada in summer. Music featured only in my head in Shanghai- aside from the gentle stuff that was played for the dancers and t’ai chi folks in parks and the very soft and forgettable pop that wafts about in the airspace of  restaurants and cafes, I hadn’t heard much music that didn’t emanate from my headphones. Shanghai had really pushed me deep back inside myself.


Enter my March experiment.


I have been going out. In the afternoons and evenings, sometimes stretching into night. A number of times. With great people. Like her and her and her and a number of other lovely folks who have entered or re-entered my life. I’m still waiting giddily for this one.  Food, drink, music, dancing, late night intense conversations. Goodness.

And it has been wonderful. I’m kicking myself for not trying harder before.

And do you know what? There is live music out there, beyond the jazz clubs, beyond the overpriced concerts featuring people I wasn’t interested in a decade ago when they were actually popular.

I had no idea. Seriously, d’oh.

Like these guys–



They were really good. Like the Beatles but run through a Sino-Youth transmogrifier.


Or this dude, who reminded me of the darker, moodier albums of Koos Kombuis like this and this and this.


Moody mullets can’t go wrong.


Or these guys, who reminded me of some of my old students at Tongji. Flashbacks to Christmas concerts of old.

Do your homework! Don’t forget to bring a pencil and notebook! Stop playing Angry Birds on your phone!


Or these ones, who did rather uninspiring pop versions of traditional Chinese music but with glowing neon-lit  lucite instruments and retro cocktail dresses and ankle tattoos.



I covet the dress of the erhu player on the left.


Once more, my lungs are filled with second hand smoke and my ear drums are pleasantly shattered.



The ever-reverent and attentive Shanghai audience


Anyone fancy joining me for further exploratory nights out before June? The sign up sheet is below.


If it’s happy hour, I’ll buy the first round…

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.