Lasting Memories in China

May 2011

Last time I was around so many Chinese people, besides Flushing and NYU, was 2008 Jay Chou concert at Mohegan Sun. And there, it was packed to the limit with ballistic Jay Chou fans, me included. This time around, I was in a country of Chinese people, a much different community than in America. As evident in my endless posts for my China Travel series, I found every experience eye-opening and tasteful. I have compiled lasting impressions, feelings, and insights in this finale until the next expedition.

Flip Flop

During the entire week in China, particularly in the beginning, Kelly and I were getting confused with each other.  At the first restaurant outing, Wai Po and Yi Ma looked and smiled at me, but called me Qing Qing (Kelly). I stared back and responded awkwardly, “I’m not Kelly, I’m Connie…” pointing at my sister to my right. To make matters more amusing, even my own mother started getting us mixed up! I would also poke at Kelly and correct her, “I’m not Kelly! I’m CONNIE!” My own mother?!  Kelly and I would blink at each other, “Seriously, they are getting us mixed up??” This may be a bad and inappropriate reference, but I’m drawing up a parallel with… love-making. I’ve seen it on television soap operas and movies and heard it happen amongst gossip tables. Amidst the pleasure, the girl (or guy) gets a little carried away and screams the wrong name. Everything stops and all is awkward… o.O

Clearly, my flip-flop situation is nowhere near as inappropriate and compromising, but I would like to point out a few key things. First, Kelly and I are not twins; we are actually a wide 5 years apart. Second, confusing Connie and Kelly meant one of appears older or the other younger. That can be disappointing, or flattering, depending on who you’re looking at.  I guess 10 years time really makes a difference in people’s minds, especially after the initial excitement of meeting us again. I do not notice the changes because, well, I’m in my own body, but for an outsider, I have undergone a dramatic transformation. Even within that same week, I went through a makeover for myself.

Rocky Roads

Let me make a point about driving in China. IT IS FREAKING CRAZY!!! Not just in Beijing, but Shanghai as well. Driving into Beijing was like driving a NASCAR race, not like I’ve done that myself, but judging by how much my heart rate skyrocketed, it was fast and furious. Seriously, I thought New York driving was bad. People in China do not follow lines on the road, pedestrian right-of-way, rules and regulations such as signaling, and roadway etiquette. It does not help when the streets are crowded with miniature carts, bicycles, motorcycles, mopeds, and pedestrians, the elderly and young alike. A few times, in Beijing and Shanghai, we got stuck at intersections where we were blown away by all the honks and besieged by cars from all corners, interspersed with bicycles, mopeds, and pedestrians.

I swear, these Chinese drivers really know how to live in the fast lane. They can speed so fast down the highway and avoid bumps & bruises in the crowded streets. They are aggressive and nonchalant at the same time. No one pays attention to the white or yellow lines. No one signals. No one wears seatbelts. There are no second thoughts when it comes to honking. Everyday is like orchestra of honks and bleeps.  I really wonder if their road tests are modeled after Mario Kart.

I was both frightened and amazed at how people drive out there. Even when I was on the streets of Shanghai, I was never so uncomfortable with jaywalking. Drivers had no mercy; they will mow you down and beep at you. When I was crossing the streets with my uncle from Kang Jian Park, I had cars and bicycles flanking from both sides! Never before had I felt like a poor squirrel just trying to get to the other side! Another time, I was walking back from one of the University restaurants on the last family dinner, I had a moped come up behind me, lights blinding my eyes. The pissed-off lady on the moped, on the cell phone, yelled at me to get out of the way… I was arm-in-arm with my Xiao Jiu Ma, and she and I complained about how unsafe walking around is all the time, even on the school campus. Never before had I felt like a deer stuck in headlights, literally! And man, was my family’s personal driver Xiao Wang an Asian Speedy Gonzalez. He got us to places quickly, but on a wild van ride. He would zip down the highway, high speed, maybe as fast as the Dongche (D-train). He would change lanes as quickly and smoothly as a motorcyclist on the LIE.

Ooops, Epic Trip

Dad’s terrible fall on the Great Wall was an epic vacation fail.  It was still the beginning of our week-long family fun, and BAM!, one slip on the rocks ruined many parts of the week. That day, we had to deal with a fretful Dad, frowning and complaining. When he wanted to go to the bathroom, Kelly and I were supporting him on both ends to the bathroom at the base of the mountain. Instead of thanking us, he was complaining we were slowing him down and he would rather not go to the bathroom after all. Dad was being a big baby, and we had to bear the brunt of it that morning.

Aside from shelling out 2000 yuan for a wheelchair, pushing him everywhere, carrying him up endless stairs, and really, treating him like a big baby, he will be fine. He had to withstand the rest of the week immobile, in pain, in bandages, and in tethers to a wheelchair until we arrived back in the states.

Update:  Dad went to visit an orthopedic surgeon. He got surgery on his fractured ankle. For the next three months, he will rest and heal in a cast at home. That means, no work for three months and plenty of time in front of the television watching his Asian dramas and variety shows and cooking channels…

Culinary Delights

Speaking of food and cooking, I was in such a well-fed state all week. That one week, I cycled from eating to sleeping, eating to walking, sitting to eating, then back to sleeping… It was mad tiring though!

My pancreas was on over-drive producing insulin to temper my carbohydrate bonanza and meat frenzy. I believe I ate enough meat that week to make up for 3 years of vegetarianism. I was okay with eating oily duck skin, chicken stomach, gizzard, braised eel, and many other exotic animal dishes, when a few years ago, I would puke at the mere thought! I’ve come a long way since eating purely plants. When I think about it, I still do not eat that much meat, only during special occasions or when people cook for me. On my own, I prefer to cook simple vegetarian dishes with rice or noodles. I have not dared to play with fire and whip out extravagant meat or seafood dishes. Sadly, I do not know how to cook meats, plain and simple =/

I have a greater appreciation for Asian cuisine now. Traveling is all about trying new foods (or going back to old roots) and becoming a part of the culture. Let’s say I was still a vegetarian, I would be missing out on culinary specialties; I would be in the background, watching other people enjoy the array of delicacies. I would also come off as ‘weird’ because Chinese people especially do not understand the concept of vegetarianism. There would be some explaining on my part; I would get frustrated talking about my healthy lifestyles and people might get offended if I choose not to eat their foods. My family cooked for us, took us out to dinners, and liked seeing us eat merrily; if I was the lone girl who refused to touch meat and fish, of course they would look down upon me.

Good thing I’ve reconverted myself to omnivorism over a year ago. I still prefer to eat healthy, but occasional, portion-controlled drifts to the exotic side of the dinner table are OK. And now I have the desire to perfect the art of cooking and make food that smells like Shanghai. I want to have my mom’s culinary magic. The foods I ate at Shanghai stimulated my nose and brought me back to home. I vividly remember the first night we arrived in Shanghai, Xiao Jiu Ma cooked us a lavish dinner that breathed home.

Pickpocketing

You do not know how many times Mom cautioned me to watch my bag. I kept clutching it and making sure it was securely zippered. Pickpocketing is infamous on the streets of China. Mom has told me stories of Chinese people sharpening their fingers as sharp as chopsticks. They are quick and sneaky, stealing your precious jewels and cash from right under your nose, gone before you can even blink and cry. I had to be particularly careful at Wang Fu Jing, because the nightmarket scene is where you will find prowling jackrabbits. Everyone is bumping into each other and taking out their money to buy street foods. When I was walking through the narrow streets of the nightmarket, I noticed many women like myself, grasping their side-bags and holding them in the front.

I also believe we saw a lurking pickpocketer in Shanghai, the first night after the Golden Jaguar International Buffet. Bunched together on the night streets, we were all chatting and enjoying the evening breeze. A suspicious-looking man walked by and kept looking at our shopping bags, which contained mostly shoes and clothes. I kept my eye on him as he walked off, but he kept circling around and looking back at us. I gave him the death stare right back, not sure if it kept him away, and watched him drift off. What a creeper!

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