Good Morning, Shanghai

Thursday, April 21, 2011:  Good Morning Shanghai

I slept well on the Dongche. I was knocked out when the train started running at 9:30pm and did not wake up until 4am. Kelly and I sat by the window looking out at the passing scenery. Then we ate some fruits Mr. Kang left for us. Before arrival, we nibbled on fresh chestnuts from Wang Fu Jing. I had no sense of control; I just kept cracking and chucking the tasty nuts in my mouth. I found a new appreciation for chestnuts. Finally, we were back at Shanghai by 7:30am.

We were going to meet Qing Qing and Xiao Chen at the station gate. Kelly and I were anticipating our family’s reactions when they see Dad. He left Shanghai on two walking feet; now he was returning 2 feet shorter in a wheelchair. And the story behind that?  The accident happened on day 1 in Beijing, barely ON the Great Wall. Basically Dad broke his ankle climbing to the Great Wall, before he could have any more fun in Beijing. For the rest of the week, we would be his human canes when standing and his filial slaves when sitting. Who would expect such a misfortunate event to happen on a family vacation? The rest of our family were in for a surprise…

We couldn’t get upstairs from the platform on the escalator. Instead, we had to take the elevator. It was annoying with a bunch of people crowded in front of the elevator door with their stupid luggage. Not one person offered the elevator first to a handicapped man and his family who needed the elevator. I mean, elevators are typically reserved for the wheelchair-bound and handicapped. However, these selfish Chinese people were too lazy to take the normal route upstairs, and relied on a metal box to escort their asses up one floor. Even on an escalator, they did not need to move; the moving staircase does all the work in transporting lazy people. We waited at the back patiently for the lazy bums to get out of the way. One of the workers there with boxes got angry too, for a different reason. The elevator was not entirely full and one of the men inside refused to move over, instead letting his luggage take the spot. They butted heads before the elevator doors closed and ended a confrontation. And then we all expressed our frustration over the unnecessary elevator usage and how inconsiderate people are, until the moving metal box came back. The worker let us in first and we finally left the platform. Upstairs, we were looking for our family members at the gate, but to no avail. It was like those Asian dramas when the boy and girl just miss each other at the airport or train station; they spin around in circles amongst crowds of people, looking lost and frustrated. We wandered around the train station, until we luckily collided with Qing Qing and Xiao Chen and Xiao Wang. They could not find us at the entrance because we came after the initial onslaught of passengers coming from the escalators. They probably wandered off when we were on our way up the elevators.

Their reaction when they saw us was priceless. Surprised and confused, Qing Qing said to us, “I saw you three lovely ladies with new hairdos, but where was your Dad?” They got closer and looked a little down, and there he was, smiling in his wheelchair. “AIYA, what happened?!” they exclaimed. Kelly and I could not stop giggling over the encounter and Dad’s situation, though we were sympathetic to his plight, really… Qing Qing looked at us and laughed, “Look at you girls laughing at your Dad!” This would go down in history of all vacation mishaps for the most painful and entertaining… Even Dad found his plight slightly humorous, first breaking himself on the Great Wall, then shedding out 2000 renmingbi for a quality Japanese wheelchair, and of course troubling people to carry him like a helpless baby…

Laughs aside, we had a full day ahead, so we had to get going. Qing Qing and Xiao Chen were very kind and helpful with Dad, offering to push him from place to place. Everywhere we went later, they were always on top of caring for Dad. Again, more genuinely nice people in the world after all, and that’s coming from my family. Trust me, not all family members are so generous and loving… I have Dad’s side to prove it… Anyway, we walked around in big circles because we could not find an accessible elevator. Well, we found one, but it was not in usage and we had to call a number posted there. Eventually we got help at another elevator the other side of the train station. Finally we found the right exit to the parking lot and off we drove back to Shanghai on a gray and cloudy day.

Home sweet Xiao Jiu Ma’s (and Xiao Jiu Jiu) home! Again, the same surprised expressions upon finding Dad in a wheelchair and a bound foot. We were greeted with a grand, hearty breakfast. The mega-breakfast consisted of flavorful bread, 燒賣 shu mai, 油條 fried doughsticks, 豆漿 soy milk, and 八寶飯 8-treasured sticky rice. I relished in the 8-Treasured Sticky Rice because it was wrapped like a treasure trove of gems:  red bean in the middle, glutinous rice dotted with dried fruits and dates. How warming it was to come home to such a show of love and benevolence!

Let me comment on the traditional Shanghainese breakfast again. I would like to mention the 四大金剛 “Four Heavenly Kings” (NOT the 四大天王  ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ of Cantopop, namely Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, Aaron Kwok; I’m talking cuisine, not good-looking 40-somethings that still melt my heart away). The classic Shanghai breakfast comprises of 大餅 da bing (Chinese crispy pancake, usually with scallion), 油條 you tiao (fried doughsticks), 豆漿 dou jiang (soy milk), and 糍飯糰 ci fan tuan. I would like to take 2 minutes to rave about this Ci Fan. I did not know it was a Shanghai specialty until now, when I noted the particular likeness to the sweet 8-Treasured Sticky Rice.  Growing up, Mom made these things for breakfast, perfect for an on-the-go meal. I always thought it just another Chinese thing with rice and meat. What is this marvel? It’s akin to a Mexican burrito from the way it is made and the nutritional contents, minus the extra hard work and bowel side effects. Wrapped outside is sticky rice. Inside includes 油條 (fried doughstick), 肉鬆 rou song (light fluffy pork mix), and 榨菜 zha cai (pickled vegetables). You spread out a layer of sticky rice on a piece of cloth. Next you layer on the vegetables and pork fluff. The fried doughstick is placed in the middle over the bed.  The hard part comes next, where you roll the glutinous rice together with the cloth. It is difficult to keep the contents stuffed in, and it certainly takes skill to keep the rice together. I love these things. I can easily overload on carbohydrates and not regret any part of the experience.  My mom makes Ci fan with expertise and love in her hands. My exposure to the Shanghai lifestyle and hospitality reminded me of how much food can symbolize deep love and familial bonds. I’ll perfect the art of making Ci fan one day and make it for my dear children. I hope to incorporate my love for the ethnic culinary arts and unique Shanghainese background into my future family. How much love I have found with my entire family is what I wish to instill in my children one day.

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