I have a new favorite place. Located just south of Nanjing West Road on a lopsided intersection of Tianshui Street, near Huating Street and some random lane, Nancy Coffee and Snacks looks as though it’s been frozen in time in pieces between the 1920s (with its dark wood lined, art deco windows and Depression Yellow glasses) and the 1970s (with its retro burnt auburn faux-leather chairs and equally worse-for-wear tables).
I love the view from those vintage windows. I love the funky mid-century light fixture that forms a starburst of light on the ceiling, and the hanging birdcage lamps in one corner. I love the horrible brown-rug creaky floor and the old wood post room divider that reminds me, for some reason, of the first house I lived in (even though it did not have such a divider). I love the old folks who look like they live in the corner, covered in cobwebs, and the wall-installed HDTV they watch. I love the hideous art on the walls.
I love how the counter is about two feet high, horrible brown Formica (I think – I missed Formica’s boom years) with two hairsprayed women who are clearly more comfortable with the dips and twangs of Taiwanese than dry, proper Mandarin.
I love how the Cheese, Ham and Egg sandwich is exactly what it says it is and the coffee comes in small cups but makes your heart race. I love that it’s bitter but it’s not that Starbucks burnt bitter that forces you to add sugar. I like how they don’t have wireless access (though I wish they did).
I love the neighborhood – whatever you need you can find it in the bylanes and backalleys of Nanjing West Road. I love the store that sells widgets and the other that sells dingbats. I love the rows and rows of chemical lab supply shops and apothecary jar stores (I love that the pharmacies in this neighborhood still use apothecary jars). I love the old scraggly dude who sells sausages, and the old scraggly lady who naps in a folding chair under the monolithic temple – really a glorified gate – across the street from the 2/28 marker (the 2/28 incident began near here). I love the shops that sell baubles and crystals, and how every kind of fabric and jewelry supply is available. All those hoo-hoos and whatchits you see in the USA and have no idea where they come from are sold here, except they’re not attached to any coats, briefcases or handbags. I love how next to those stores are other stores that sell pressed fish eggs and shark jaw. I love how some of the stores are so old that their signs are crumbling, and some of the proprietors are as crumbly as the signs.
So, I love Nancy Coffee and Snacks. I think it might be my new favorite place on Earth. Bad lighting, strong coffee, stained walls, wobbly tables and all. I hope it never changes.