Tag Archive | Feng JIng Zhen

Feng Jing Zhen 楓涇鎮 – On the Streets

Friday, April 22, 2011:  Family Day

Feng Jing Zhen 楓涇鎮 – Walking the Streets

Mom, Lin-Ai, Qing Qing, Xiao Chen, Auntie, Kelly and I (whoa, what a jumble of people!) embarked on a promenade down the back streets of Feng Jing Zhen for a simple, small-town shopping experience. The ground was composed of rough, gray stones. The streets were narrow with occasional indentations housing little shops. Elderly people sat on wooden stools, just being simple people in a simple village. There was a painting above one of the stores, one of those Chinese landscape sketches of rivers, lakes, bridges, mountains, and Mother Nature. Xiao Chen told me a well-known phrase the villagers live by: 小橋流水人家 - Xiao Qiao, Liu Shui, Ren Jia (Small Bridge, Flowing Water, Family & Home). The painting exhibited a placid village amidst crossing bridges, towering mountains, and intersecting blue rivers. Feelings of familial love and sense of harmony exuded from the simple, but deep picture. The phrase Xiao Chen was elaborating on made the painting all the more special. Basically, everyone in the community is connected; no matter how small the bridge is, there is always that physical link between neighbors. Water symbolizes purity and continuous flow of fortune, always present in Chinese shops, restaurants, offices, and homes. Water will hopefully bring in the money, happiness, and luck. It will also wash and clear out any negative energy. Lastly, the essence of family is embedded in the Chinese character for home, or ‘jia.’  Embedded in the character is a sense of unity and togetherness. I thought that was a particularly powerful portrait of the village.

I like this sequence of pictures we took on our saunter. Mom and her sister Lin-Ai were arm-in-arm, heads together, gossiping and bonding over lost time. Kelly and I, representing the next generation, walked a distance behind, in perfect line with our corresponding roles. That is, big sisters were on the right side (Mom and Connie) and little sisters linked and off to the left (Lin-Ai and Kelly). It was an amusing Kodak moment. Qing Qing took the shots and here they are:

Why... Hello!

What did we spend on that afternoon? Mom stopped at a tiny shop and embarked on a spree for sandals, hand-woven baskets, and fire rocks.  The straw baskets were ideal for fruits and vegetables, or whatever else Mom wanted to toss in there. She ended up buying maybe 3 decent-sized baskets. There were also these fancy black lava rocks for rubbing the undersides of the foot to rid of dead skin and maintain overall foot health. Mom bought two-handfuls. I also saw a large wooden bucket. Xiao Chen explained to me the importance of foot health in Asia. Every night, before going to bed, it is of natural importance to clean and bathe the feet in warm water. It is tonic for the whole body, allowing for circulation and overall relaxation. I guess that’s why Mom always made me wash my feet before getting home, mainly for cleanliness reasons. And maybe it’s in my genes to absolutely hate walking barefoot anywhere, except where I know I’m in a clean area, like my home. I hate walking sans footwear on the sandy beach, in the shower, at people’s homes, etc… I’m used to following the Chinese way of living, where you wear sandals in the house. Or socks. But I do like my feet free, so I prefer flip-flops or flats. I’ll be sure to play around with those handy lava rocks! And try this evening feet-warming-and-bathing session.

We circled around the streets, over a bridge, and onto a bigger street. More shopping was pursued, obviously. Kelly bought sneakers. Lin-Ai bought a pink tennis shirt. I resisted the urge. Instead, I conversed with Qing Qing and Xiao Chen, while listening to the songs playing in the store. Again, my Asian side prevailed, since I started singing and dancing to Top Combine’s “Cotton Candy” and SHINee’s “Ring Ding Dong.” The latter song is absolutely contagious! I heard it, pointed to Kelly, who was trying on colorful sneakers, and said, “Hey Kelly, it’s Ring Ding Dong.” In her seat, right next to Shen Shen, she put down her shoes and started dancing to ~Ring Ding Dong~ My, my, it was hilarious!

We circled back to base. We met up with Ah-Gu, who looked a tad too red and tired ((O.O)). I bet he has the Asian gene… Anyway, we said our good-byes to Ah-Gu and Shen Shen, wishing them the best of luck and hoping to visit again in the near future. Then, we were on our merry way back to Shanghai city.


Feng Jing Zhen 楓涇鎮, Family and FOOD

Friday, April 22, 2011:  Family Day

Feng Jing Zhen 楓涇鎮 – Culinary Delights

As you would probably expect by now, I downed more authentic Shanghainese food! Ah-Gu and his wife, whom I was told to call Yi Fu and Shen Shen, owned the local restaurant called 萬福來 Wan Fu Lai, roughly meaning 10,000 Happiness Enters. My ‘uncles and aunts’ in the restaurant cooked us a whole table of food; steaming plates of meat and vegetables just kept rolling in.

Since day 1, I have formed a loving relationship with Coconut Milk Drink, or 椰子 Ye Zi. I drank it in a shot glass. I kept pouring, or at least my uncle and aunt kept insisting I replenish the shot glass. By the end of the meal, I believe I finished 2.5 cans of those babies. The coconut juice has a milky white color; it is not thick or creamy. Instead, it is quite watery and sweet, but not too sugary. And yet, I still felt like a sugar drunk. When it was time to do our family Cheers!, or 乾杯 Gan Bei, I was raising a glass of coconut milk to some alcohol and beer. Asian sweet drinks are THE BEST… Cavities not guaranteed.

A Shanghai specialty dish is Di Pang Niu (said in a Shanghainese accent), or Shanghai-style Braised Pork Belly. It is marinated and stewed in dark soy sauce, wine, sugar, garlic, ginger, and various spices for a viscous medley of sweet and salty flavors. !!Warning!!: it is very fatty with the skin and underlying adipose tissue attached. Even though the fat and skin complement the scrumptious pork, you do not have to eat the layers of fat and get a heart attack; simply pull it all off and at least eat the lean meat. At least the health-conscious Asians like me out there do this. It is a typical family-style dish. The aroma is intoxicating, emanating to every olfactory cell and orifice on the body. The meat is cooked so tender it falls right off the bones. It was one of the grandest dishes at the table. Uncle Ah-Gu served the whole table, scissors in hand and ready to cut the servings.

Other Shanghai-inspired dishes included:

1)   炸蝦球 Zha Xia Qiu (Fried Shrimp balls) – This has been a recurring dish, from America to Shanghai. Mom makes amazing shrimp balls, which taste as authentic as the many balls I ate this week. Shrimp are de-shelled, de-veined, and pounded together. Roll them into balls and fry away!

2)   水晶蝦仁 Shuǐ Jīng Xiā Rén (Sauteed Shelled Shrimp w/green onions) – nice and tender, just annoying to bite and chew off the shell.

3)   蘿蔔 Luo Bo (Daikon Radish, freshly marinated in light soy sauce) – Mouth-watering and crunchy appetizer.

4)   紅燒河鰻 Hóng Shāo Hé Mán (Braised Eel) – Made with soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, ginger spice, and green onions. I used to love this as a kid, until I saw swimming eels at the Chinese market and put two and two together. That day, I dared to try it again, because I was respecting my hosts. The conglomeration of savory flavors definitely overshadows the slimy fish, so I would say I enjoyed it.

5)   Plates of steaming, stir-fried Chinese vegetable greens.

6)   臭豆腐 Chou Dou Fu (Stinky Tofu) – This is truly a Taiwanese dish, and truly a smelly dish, if odors could kill… Mom always complained when my paternal grandfather and Dad’s family ate Stinky Tofu, because the name says it all. It’s fermented tofu that is then fried and dipped in hot chili sauce. The Taiwanese half of me was itching to eat these honeys, the real deal and not the bootleg take-out type NYU Asian clubs served. True, it was stinky, but anything spicy hot never failed to disappoint me.

7)   老上海熏魚 Lǎo Shàng Hǎi Xūn Yú (Shanghai-style Smoked Fish) – Not a big fan of these babies, but it is signature. Smoky, fried, salty, minimal bones, and fishy…

8)   Steamed Bass with ginger and green onions – Say hello!

9) Minced pink pork wrapped in delicate tofu skin

10) 韭菜炒蛋 Jiu Cai Chao Dan(Stir-fried Eggs and Chinese Chives) – Love the eggs, not the chives; just personal taste.

11) Clam soup – A taste of the East China Sea in a bowl.

12) 青蛙 Frog – Yes, I ate frog by accident. You may wonder how on earth I ate frog accidentally? Again, my Uncle Ah-Gu served his guests. I got a happy little portion. I thought it was chicken, like it was stretched out. The shape was a bit bizarre, but I believed it looked like a smaller-than-normal midget chicken. The ‘drumsticks’ were small and interconnected. It looked more like a meaty crab with ‘drumsticks’ and small bones. I bit down into the meat, which did not have the consistency of chicken. The mysterious meat was more stringy and rubbery, certainly not white-meat tender. Nevertheless, I still believed I was eating an exotic chicken.

Imitation Chicken

Only later did Kelly say something to me. She knew it was a funky looking animal, and knew it was NOT chicken. The entire time I was munching merrily on this ‘chicken’ she was staring at me incredulously. She thought to herself, “I guess Connie does not know what she’s really eating…” When she told me this, my jaws dropped to my knees and I just glared: “You did not think about STOPPING me?!” Kelly responded, “Nope, you looked like you were enjoying it and I didn’t want to bother you.”

It was a splendid family gathering. The small, dim restaurant setting created a tight-knit, backcountry feel. Cigarette smoke floated over the table like the London smog. Nearby men at tables were smoking and laughing over a hearty lunch. Camaraderie echoed from wall to wall, table to table. My ‘Aunt and Uncle’ showed their love for Kelly and me, even though this was our first encounter. I would like to thank them for the unique visit and open hospitality to their home village. I hope to meet everyone again.

Feng Jing Zhen, Far from the City

Friday, April 22, 2011:  Family Day

Feng Jing Zhen 楓涇鎮 – Life in the Villages

On the way out, we bumped into a man I did not know. A closer look changed that immediately. He looked oddly familiar. Then… I had an AHA moment! He was the spitting image of Yi Fu! And voila, he was a brother! I vaguely remember him referred to as Ah-Gu, but I never got confirmation on his name because I ended up calling him Yi Fu #2 the rest of the day to simplify the connections.

Girl Power

Row Row Row Your Boat...

Together, we traveled to a remote village – 農村 nong cun – outside of Shanghai and close to Zhejiang, 楓涇鎮 Feng Jing Zhen. This place was where Yi Fu and his siblings grew up. Feng Jing Zhen was a quaint, simple town. The old-style homes were built along the green, serene waters. People dwelled in the homes, where the backyard led to the river. Steps came down, and people could bend close, without falling in of course, and wash clothing and clean. Small shops nestled beneath short, black awnings sold indigenous food, the most notable being zhong-zi, hand-made crafts, and small merchandise. I got the feeling the small village was very family-oriented, people living, working, and staying together generation after generation. Red lanterns hung from the pointy black roofs. Wooden boat rides took visitors for a slow, leisurely trip through the old village. It was modeled like Venice, Italy, the famous water city, except on a smaller scale, homier, and more historic. The Chinese government purposely does not want to renovate such villages, because places like Feng Jing Zhen have become a symbol of ancestral China. If any renovations do occur, they will not demolish the town and build giant condominiums for profit. Instead, they would be to maintain the traditional architecture and the essence of the village life.

Screw the allergies, this is just too beautiful to pass up

Qing Qing, Xiao Chen, Mom, Kelly and I absorbed the natural beauty of Feng Jing Zhen. We boarded a wooden boat and embarked on a journey across people’s backyards. The kind rower took us on a relaxing, breezy ride past the row of shops and homes, under the stone bridges, and past many blooming trees. It was scenic and breathtaking to be away from the hectic urban rumble. Many small shops were busy with patter and chatter. We passed a home where a marriage took place recently, a red ribbon hanging outside over the balcony. We saw a wooden boat decorated with red ribbons and cloth. The dark green waters were so tranquil that I could see the reflection of trees and homes along the surface. What an enchanting place to experience!


Mom and Daughter