Thursday, February 24, 2011

To iphone or not iphone

An American Bartender in Shanghai
by Logan B.

My name is Logan and I am iPhone junkie. I'm that jerk that's surgically attached to his phone, eyes glazed over, charger always near, four squaring my location, twittering random and pithy one-liners to my 44 followers, updating facebook stats in the backs of dark bars about my random Keroac-ian escapades and generally hooked on the apps be it Angry Birds or the extremely useful Google Translate or the slightly less useful Fingerzilla.
Then the unthinkable happened.
I lost my god damn iphone, not once but twice. No longer could I be in my electronic security blanket, skyping with my friends back home in the states as I drank my way through the middle kingdom - I had to look up in the world again and pay attention.
To quote the wicked witch as she lay melting from Dorothy's pitched bucket of water, What a world! What a world!
See the second time I lost my iPhone was a few Sundays ago, it what can only be described by the musical styling of the Rick Derringer song, Real American. We had started out with some Sunday drinking at an American  bar that specialized in hard to find in China bourbons and whiskeys, usually in China when a liquor is hard to find and then it’s found it means either its been smuggled in (see our column about my exploits in Macau for more details) or it’s a fake. Whatever the case the booze was esoteric as it was intoxicating. Lots of the special edition Makers 46 served on the rocks, followed by round after round beer served by cute Chinese girls in country western outfits.
At this point no one was saying the word drunk, we were about 6 whiskeys and 6 beers into it per person,  my Shanghai drinking crew, the Mooncake Mafia and I when we decided, like the aforementioned Rick Derringer song that we wanted to be  Real Americans and fire some high powered automatic rifles while smoking cigars and sampling lots of different distilled spirits. This being Shanghai, China where everything is possible for a price, it took one quick glance on my iPhone App HiShanghai to find an excellent if not janky  shooting range that happened to also have a KTV in it. This means, Justin Bieber music blasting out the speakers, tons of beautiful and semi apparelled KTV girls and .357 smith and wesson hand cannons.
In about ten minutes we appeared, eyes glazed and booze reeking at the gun range, tucked off the main thoroughfare of Haui Hai Lu and Sinan Lu and up a sketchy looking elevator.
We walked in, pointed to a gun menu, picked girls out of a line up, fiddled with stereo and in no time were blasting more rounds then Jason Stratham in both Crank 1 & 2. It was an epic masterpiece of gun smoke, Jay Z, whiskey and green tea and cigarettes.  
30 minutes and near 3.600 RMB later we were back on the street, strangely sober, crazy haired and refreshingly more alive then ever before.
We walked down the street, energetically buzzing to our friend Wiki’s excellent cafe, where she was sitting with an Israeli drinking Chivas. That really made me reflect on the truly international aspect of Shanghai - sure, it Chinese here, that is a given but also, it’s a huge diverse group of French, Italians, Canadians, Africans, Arabs, Colombians, Americans, Belgians, Australians, just a whole hodge podge of different cultures and beliefs but its not a melting pot like back in the states, Shanghai is still more of a salad bar. The people are all here, just not tossed and seasoned yet.
After we finished her bottle we debated on ordering another bottle from Sherpa’s the Shanghai delviery service. Based on similar Western concepts like Waiters on Wheels they deliver food from a vast majority of restaurants all over Shanghai - the nice kick is that they also deliver liquor and cartons of cigarettes as well as mixers and ice. Instant party, natch China.
We decided against it and hopped into cabs after that back to my bar to meet up with my old friend John Jameson, in the cab I used an app to show the driver where we wanted to go - I didn’t have to say a word, just showed him the screen, easy as pie.
When we arrived we noticed that there was a private event going on - Chinese break dancers were busting sloppy windmills to mando-pop as a row of Chinese girls in playboy bunny outfits did some poorly choreographed dance moves partnered by local guys with bad haircuts and shiny silver suits.
I went to pull out my phone to take a video and post it to facebook - my incredulity at the situation maybe more of a mask to hide the strangeness I found at the whole scene- here I was a million miles from home, truly and completely at the mercy of my friends and luck, using this little hand held wonder to act as a shield between me and the amazing world going on in front of me and it wasn’t in my pocket.
It was gone, my precious. I freaked out - what would I do if I couldn’t upload something to youtube  or download a viral video and make it into a ring tone to play ironically? I was scared, I was frantic, of the two things I need in this physical world, coffee and my iphone  -I was out and I’m pretty sure I would have done without the coffee.
The world around me was so strange, I couldn't share - just absorb it. The food I ate the rest of the day, street meat vendor octopus on a stick - the double magnum bottle of Dom Perrignon Champagne I gulped down later that night at the nightclub, there was no barrier, nothing to let me record and live vicariously through digital means.
Later that night when I stumbled into a cab I actually had to speak to the driver, it was then that I realized I’ve been here almost a year and depended on my apps for everything. I could barely get by to my own house with the sorry amount of Chinese I could mumble. I had a moment of clarity, I realized life without my technology would be hard, it would be boring at times during long commutes and meetings, it would be frustrating in strange cities but always it would be real an adventure and mine. Not to be instantly shared and tossed head long into the data stream of updates and tweets but instead savored like a single malt whisky. I’d have to learn Chinese, I’d have to pay attention to reality and not the augmented version. I still love my internet, my tech, my social media but now I understand they have their place just as I have mine - or maybe Steve Jobs didn’t have a hard drinking, fast living,  American bartender  in Shanghai when the him and the boys in Cuppertino designed their shiny piece of trouble. Whatever the answer, I’m less connected digitally then I have ever been but more here in the now as well.