Flying High to Shanghai 上海

Friday, April 15, 2011, New York –> Detroit, Michigan

This Spring Break was a special one. It was meant for family bonding time, particularly with my relatives on the other side of the spinning globe. 10 years ago when we last visited, I was a pudgy, awkward teenager and my sister was an adorable midget. Flash forward to 2011, we are certainly not the same. I’ve been looking forward to this moment because I miss them and I want to travel far and wide. When you do not see people for a long time, you long for them more and appreciate the cherished moments together. This upcoming series will detail my journey to China again, my travels, my dear family, and my cultural experiences.

To begin, I was super excited last Friday preparing for this crunched Spring Break. One week in China is not enough to catch up on life, but with the limited time, every moment becomes precious. We drove to JFK to catch our evening flight to Detroit, where we would stay overnight at the Westin Hotel. The next day’s afternoon, we would catch the 14+ hour flight to Shanghai. That means we would get to Shanghai Sunday night, Shanghai time. Originally, we would have gotten to our destination a day earlier, if we stuck with our trajectory to Tokyo. But my mom, anxious and fussy as she is, refused to even stay at the airport in Tokyo for a few hours, in fear of the radiation disaster there. Somehow, my sister managed to bring out her bitchy side to the Delta administrative assistants and get us an exchange for the Detroit layover. Otherwise, Dad would’ve had to shed out a few extra thousand dollars for the exchange. At the same time, we lost a full day in China.

So all of Saturday into Sunday was up in the air. It was a terrible flight aboard Delta. I was squished in the center aisle. I couldn’t fall asleep upright. My back and neck ached to the bone when I did fall asleep. I couldn’t see the TV from the back with two tall people sitting right in front of me. The food was OK; the portions were small and diverse. I had a chicken/pilaf for the dinner and then a pasta/shrimp over pepper pesto sauce for the pre-arrival meal. There was even a mid-flight snack, in the form of a juicy apple and deli sandwich. I swear, all that effort working out my body and brains went down the tube on that flight. All I did was eat, sit, and sleep for 14+ hours. This was the life of an average American, and I was grossed out myself. I tried making myself feel better by drinking some red wine and going to sleep. I got up and walked about, relieved myself in the cramped bathroom, and stretched my legs around in the little space I had. Meh, I felt like Babe the pig: a lazy bum eating all the time.

Sunday, April 17, 2011: SHANGHAI BABY!

Finally, we touched down Sunday night at Pudong International! Finally, some air and space! We went through the VISA checkpoint and proceeded to the arrival gate. Oh my, I could not I-spy my Auntie 阿姨 ‘Ah Yi” and cousin 表姊 ‘Biao Jie’ in an instant like my mother. She picked out her sister and niece in a finger snap, while my sister and I were expecting our other guy cousin 表哥. We saw familiar, stout-looking dude and thought he was our cousin here to pick us up, but he didn’t look right either. Then, we remembered he was our Auntie’s driver, 小王 ‘Xiao Wang’! He used to appear taller and thinner, but in relative terms, we used to be shorter and smaller too. Maybe he packed on some muscle in the past decade too.

I saw my Auntie 姨媽, my mother’s younger sister, and she still looks good for her age. She’s still petite, but her hair is chopped short and her face is a little aged like  my mother’s. But they still look beautiful. Honestly, my sister and I were not sure what to call her, because we always got used to calling her by her name, Leng Eh (with a Shanghainese dialect). Of course she’d toy with us and say, “You call me what? Call me Mommy!” So to simply matters, my sister and I called her Mommy for the time being.

Then, we met our cousin we never met, 清清 “Qing Qing,” who shares the same pet name as my sister! To simplify that matter, I could call her 表姊 “Biao Jie” as in older female cousin or 清清姊姊 “Qing Qing Jie Jie” as in an older sister figure. My sister and I met her for the first time because she’s always been going to school or working. Last time we came about a decade ago, she was studying in Australia for her masters. She’s also been abroad working as a software engineer in Japan, India, and around China. She’s got a packed resume under her belt, but has found time aside to spend with us for a full week.

Lastly, I met another man I didn’t recognize, Qing Qing’s husband. Last time, I did not recall her getting married, but within the last 4-5 years, she did. And we missed it, in addition to our other cousin’s marriage this past November. Darn. Anyway, she’s happily married now to 小陳 ‘Xiao Chen’ and he appeared to be a very nice gentleman. Except I also did not know what on earth to call him. Only later when we had the guts to ask, he jokingly told us, with a laugh, “Ah, no problem. You can call me 表姊夫 ‘Biao Jie Fu’ or simply Xiao Chen.” Ah, all these relationships, they only get more complicated!

Yi Ma and Qing Qing looked at us and said, “Well well, they have changed SO MUCH.” Qing Qing mentioned how she saw me when I was a baby and only now saw me all grown-up. I’ve only seen her in pictures, and she looked just as young and pretty. Yi Ma looked at my sister and said, “Oh, how much you’ve grown! You used to be so small and adorable, walking with me to go street shopping and calling me Mommy.”

On the drive from Pudong to Puxi, the adults were catching up in the back of the van and we were observing the huge changes Shanghai has undergone. The city has become so modernized it looks just like Manhattan. All the high skyscrapers, the bright city lights shining into the night, the specialized districts attracting businessmen and shop-a-holics alike, and much much more. On the streets, there were the hustle and bustle of buses, taxis, bicycles, and mopeds. There were also quite a number of white people on the streets amidst the native Asians. Street and store signs included more English translations and pinyin for the less literate. Wow, I was amazed at the beauty of Shanghai, all the nightlife, the urban culture, and the diversity!

We stopped by Yi Ma’s apartment and visited our 姨夫 “Yi Fu” (Uncle) and 外婆 “Wai Po” (Maternal grandmother). Even that street has changed a little, with still the old elementary school next door but with glammed up clothing stores and a pet shop on the other side. It was very heartwarming to see our dear uncle and grandmother again, who happens to be almost 90 years old! We also played with their little white fluffball, 小寶寶 “Xiao Bao Bao” or Little Baby, an 8-year-old cutie. Apparently, she was anti-social, because she kept making wheezing noises and turning away from us. Smart little dog, she knew who her mommy and daddy were. It’ll take some time for the little pooch to get used to us.

Last stop of the night, our uncle’s place. He is my 小舅舅 “Xiao Jiu Jiu,” or my mother’s older brother. He’s ‘Little Uncle’ because we have another “Older Uncle” in another town over. Living with him is 小舅媽 “Xiao Jiu Ma,” or my uncle’s wife. To complete the connection, Qing Qing is their daughter. We arrived with Qing Qing and Xiao Chen at their apartment. Jiu Ma surprised us with a wonderful homey dinner! It was another taste of Shanghai! It tasted just like Mom’s home-cooking! Let’s see what delicacies she made for us: Jiang en tang (Turtle soup-I took no part in consuming the poor critter), 涼拌黃瓜 Liang Ban Huang Gua (Pickled Cucumbers), Xun (crunch, pale yellow, long shooty vegetables in savory sauce), Nu Me Jing Se Niu (soft white dough balls stuffed with beef), another variation with stuffed shrimp, fresh broad beans, and silken tofu/seafood soup. It was such a hearty, home-coming meal on the first day- 太客氣 了!I felt like I was home =)

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