Soviet Nostalgia

Old Shanghai was the most developed Asian City of it’s time… and Shanghai is today’s economic capital of China… but the political capital city remains Beijing. I was
in Beijing again recently and the difference between those two cities is always striking. Now that most of the traditional habitat of Beijing (the famous Hutong) has been destroyed out of the core center, Beijing looks even more like the ideal communist city of the Markism inspired planners. Like a communist post-modern postcard, it has the great large avenues, large brand new buildings one the side, and apartment blocks of various styles around. Bikes have nearly disappeared… as they don’t look modern and rich enough anymore. I wish that there was just a few cars in the streets like on those postcards, not like the permanent traffic jam that this city is. The friends I visited live around the people stadium, in a nice area that
was all built in the 50’s. Small 4-5 floors buildings with a shop at the bottom, quite a number of restaurant around, this area looks like the suburb of Moscow, Warsaw or Bucharest. I have to admit that I still like the Eastern European feeling I get when I go there. Beijing has also a large Russian community, and as a result a Russian district and several
Russian restaurants.

Walking on the south side of Ritan Park, I was looking for a fancy bar and restaurant that I visited last year. Cruising the empty boulevard on Monday night, I finally reached the place I was looking for, just to find out that it was closed, being transformed into something else. I was just wandering around, following the dark street, looking for another place for diner when I started to see some lights through the fog. As I was walking further, the vision became clearer. The Kremlin skyline with “MOCKBA” written in neon lights was standing over a Soviet style building. Black Mercedes were parked in front of me, with two big guys falling in each others arms and speaking Russian. I stepped forward feeling like Neo facing Morpheus. Swallowing the red pill, I passed through the door. The room was very large with 2 floors,
many soviet style wooden tables… and about 10 customers. The restaurant’s menu was written in Russian and Chinese, with some parts being sub-titled in English. The waiter started naturally to talk to me in Russian. Despite Monday night emptiness, the show started when I arrived. Typical Russian dancers in traditional costumes were followed by acrobats straight out of  Russian navy seals performing a very blond, blue eyes and muscular version of hip hop dancing. Then came the Russian singers. I did not really understand the lyrics, but
the sound of the keyboard straight out of the 1980’s fitted perfectly the sad and nostalgic voice of the girl singing. I would not have been surprised to see Leonid Brejnev’s face showing up in the news I was watching in the massive Russian TV.

MOCKBA is not a Russian restaurant, it’s a portal back to USSR. The social-realist decor, passable food and terrible service contribute wonderfully to the time travel. I’m not sure I will come back ever, but this place is really worth a visit. Shanghai is become a world city and has no space for such a weird place anymore. I am glad I could find it in Beijing.

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