Monday, April 18, 2011: All About Shanghai
International Education Center of SHNU, Garden Restaurant
For lunch, I had a reunion with almost everyone from my maternal family. Missing was 大舅舅 ‘Da Jiu Jiu’ (Oldest Uncle) and his family (a wife and 2 older kids, who I’ve met previously) because they live in the next city over. The important thing was, most of us were together, particularly the Yu family from America. It has been a lifetime since I’ve partaken in a traditional Chinese family gathering at a fancy restaurant. We are not close at all anymore with my paternal family, so family parties and dinners are nonexistent nowadays. I felt a little strange sitting with my maternal family, the whole Pok gang at a round table awaiting the food to roll in through the doors. Seeing my other half of the family was blissful, fulfilling, and poignant. It has almost been an unbelievable 10 years since we last met. 10 YEARS, a near decade!… My sister and I felt their eyes on us, absorbing us and admiring in how much we have matured and changed. Last time, I was 12 and my sister was 8; I was a rolley-poley-oley and my sister was a twig with cute curls. I was an awkward teenager amidst puberty and my sister was going through the cutesy, innocent stage where everyone just wants to pinch her chubby cheeks. Now, smiling faces looked back at us, happy for this belated reunion and amazed at who we have become over the years.
And I was in a lighthearted state myself, seeing how much my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmother have changed. It was a heart-warming feeling to give everyone a hug and kiss on the cheek, to have them hold your hands again and show their deep love. Xiao Jiu Jiu and Jiu Ma – they’ve always been in Shenzhen and luckily, they moved to Shanghai to be closer with the rest of the family. Last time, I remember going to the zoo with Xiao Jiu Jiu; now, we have grown closer, spending a week under their hospitality. Yi Ma and Yi Fu – Oh, how much they love us! I’ve been told stories of when I was a baby, and Yi Ma loved carrying me everywhere, the daughter she never had. Then I was replaced with my cute sister, but that’s a whole different story. Last time we visited, we stayed at Yi Ma and Yi Fu’s apartment for 2 weeks and they took us everywhere as well. Now they have grown a little older, but still looking good for their age. They are going through a difficult time, the other reason we made a trip to Shanghai this year, and we wanted to pay an important visit. Seeing them was emotionally moving, because they have been so loving and caring to us. They are the model aunt and uncle with a happy, healthy family and close relationship with my parents. Next, my Wai Po; I am glad she is healthy and happy as well. She is nearing 90-something years old and still strong as ever. She was the only one from China to pay a visit to America when I was a wee toddler. Now she is gnarly and old, but looking as healthy as a horse. It was a delightful moment to give her a long awaited hug. Then there were my cousins. I’ve mentioned Qing Qing and her ‘new’ husband; this was the first time I really met and talked to her. To spend the upcoming week with them would be a chance to catch up on life – China and America time. And last, but not least, Sun Po. Since last time I saw him, he has graduated college, is working as a guidance counselor at Shanghai Normal University, and happily married. Yep, he was recently (and blissfully) married in November 2010. His wife, whom I was allowed to call Jie Jie as in elder sister, is stunningly beautiful, polite, and elegant. They are a perfect match and I am happy for them. Now I’ll just patiently wait to be an Aunt. Scratch that, I AM an Aunt, just I haven’t met my elder cousin’s kids yet, the ones in the other city over.
I was very much moved when I received a gift from my Yi Ma and Yi Fu. They got me a traditional red string bracelet with jade and an adorable golden dragon in light of my Chinese zodiac sign. It is meant to protect me from evil spirits. It is also a symbol of their everlasting love for me. I will always remember this eternal gift, for I am a treasure in their eyes and they are forever in my heart.
In such camaraderie, lunch was all the more enjoyable. Here’s a snap shot of that day’s feeding frenzy, a taste of Shanghai’s glory!
– 北京烤鴨 Peking Roasted Duck, or at least Shanghai’s rendition of Beijing’s classic specialty. The meat was rather tender and flavorful. The skin was crispy and greasy, done with perfection! It was wrapped with green onions & cucumber for additional vegetable crunch and brushed with light oyster sauce, all packed into a small thin Chinese-style tortilla called 薄餅 ‘Bo Bing.’ Yes, I had to work for this heavenly goodness; I wrapped it more like a mini-burrito (horrendous and pitiful), while my dad has been trying to teach me a simpler, less amateur method, where it’s more like a pocket. It does not really matter, because it will end up in my stomach nonetheless.
– 生煎包 Sheng Jian Bao (Shanghainese Fried Dumplings): God, I miss these babies. They are a hybrid of dumplings and soft, white 饅頭 man tou. It is pork-filled and pan-fried so beautifully, oozing with hot and savory meat soup in one bite. With one moment’s careless chow, the hot juice spills out and burns your taste buds and mouth. But you ignore the burn and continue your chow time. It’s worth the burn because it is so delectable! It’s like having a soup surprise and pork extravaganza in your cute, but large dumplings. You have to eat these babies in a small rice bowl and soup spoon, or else you cannot drink the entire goodness. The bottom is fried and hard; the top is sprinkled elegantly with green onions and sesame seeds. This is a must-have Shanghainese delicacy!
– 湯圓 Tang Yuan (Sweet Glutinous Rice Ball Soup): Gluttony indeed! This perfectly sweet soup with chewy rice balls is common in China. There are plenty of variations, such as red bean soup, black sesame soup, ginger + rock sugar, and 酒釀 Jiu Niang (fermented glutinous rice) + rock sugar. This one was a simple concoction of rock sugar and glutinous rice balls. It was so yummy! This is a fat, red X for the Atkins dieter =D