A Brew of Surprises

A couple weeks ago, Lincoln and I ventured into Pudong to attend the Kerry Beer Festival. We left Tonghe and took the hour-long subway trip across the river, arriving in another new part of the city for us to explore. The subway station at Huamu Road opens directly into a large, modern shopping mall. We followed the echoing music through the mall into a spacious courtyard in the center. Bright orange umbrellas and tents covered small bar tables and about 12 different stands from a large variety of locations. We made a quick lap browsing the different brews available and settled on a microbrewery cleverly called THE BREW which is located at the festival’s title sponsor’s first floor, the five star Kerry Hotel. I had a glass of the White Ant, a refreshing ale with a subtle, light citrusy after taste. Lincoln tried the Pilsner to which he gave favorable reviews. Unbeknownst to both of us at the time, both of these beers, as well as many others at this festival, had just won awards at the 2012 Beerfest Asia Awards in Singapore, a reflection of the high quality microbrews located right here in Shanghai. It didn’t take long for us to succumb to the delicious aroma surrounding the entire festival and grab a pulled pork sandwich from the grill. Though nowhere near BBQ experts after spending a year in North Carolina, we had low expectations for the pulled pork, Shanghai style. Much to our surprise, we found that there was an entire pig roast and we had arrived just in time to grab a couple sandwich’s worth. The sandwiches were great, but even better was the company with which we shared a table while eating.

We began talking with an old retired couple from suburban Philadelphia and her visiting granddaughter. We learned that they had both worked in education and after retiring and having never before lived abroad, decided to begin another phase of their lives in Pudong. This opened my eyes to a whole other demographic. The beauty of Shanghai, and even more so, Pudong, is the ability for expats to integrate into Chinese culture at their leisure. Surely there are hundreds of businessmen living here, speaking only very elementary Chinese, but for every one of them there is an expat fully immersed in Shanghai culture. In Pudong, perhaps a city almost too western and cookie-cutter designed, one only sees what they choose too. It’s likely that the folks we met don’t have to walk past the “pee corner” on Wudong Lu, but in turn, they also most likely don’t get to experience the 6 Yuan fried rice by north gate of 5 Yuan xiaolongbaos by the hospital. Each area of Shanghai seems to cater to a different type of person.

 

As I meet more and more people and their stories, Shanghai’s diversity becomes increasingly apparent. More shocking than our satisfaction with our barbequed pork was the whole expat community that has been completely “foreign” living in Pudong’s shadow all the way in Yangpu District. As two Americans, we felt almost as if we were outsiders in a place that should have felt more like home than anywhere in the city, old American punk and funk blaring throughout the festival. Everyone seemed to know each other and small groups came and congregated with other old friends they probably hung out with after work a few days before.

Removed from the location in eastern China, this small western bubble could have been mistaken for a beer festival from London to San Francisco. We thought we hopped off the train on another continent. Despite this sentiment however, it is almost naïve of us not to expect what we experienced that day given how international and multicultural Shanghai has become. As we continue to explore the endless limits of this amazing city, we can only hope to continue to be pleasantly surprised.

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