Tag Archive | Shanghai

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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So Long Shanghai

Saturday, April 23, 2011: Homeward Bound

I was sad my week had to end. After a fantastic week flying around China and eating with family, it was time to snap back to reality. Reality meant back to school, medical school, and studying my brains to Jupiter again. Not like I study that hard in medical school compared to college, but still, I have to read books again and return to my time zone. Let’s say it took more than a good couple of slaps in the face to snap me back out of vacation mode…

For our farewell breakfast, Xiao Jiu Ma made us wonton soup and 湯團 Tang Tuan. It is apparently a Chinese custom to eat wontons or tang tuan before a departing for home to ensure a safe trip:  路上平安 Lu Shang Ping An =) We did have something to worry about for the trip back home:  bags and bags of stuff.  Coming to Shanghai, we all packed lightly; for one, I had one backpack and a pocketbook. There were also two duffel bags, a medium Nike red one and a large blue camping bag. Originally, Mom wanted to chuck away the big blue bag because it was so heavy. Not happening! We actually ran out of room stuffing all our goods:  gifts, biscuits, pastries, SHOES, clothes, etc… Consolidation was difficult, so we ended up carrying gift bags in our hands anyway. I was concerned with our baggage check though, because I was not sure if the additional slew of bags counted as excess baggage… In the end, it did not matter; they were simply counted as gift bags and we were fine.

It was barely 8 am and we were ready for the airport. Xiao Wang came to drive us to Hong Qiao Airport. Qing Qing and Xiao Chen accompanied us on our last ride together. We waved goodbye to Jiu Jiu and Xiao Jiu Ma, not for the last time of course. It was a hazy, lazy morning as we drove to the airport. God I really was going to miss a place I’ve come to equate with home!

At the airport, Qing Qing and Xiao Chen continued to help us through and through, until the security check area, with our overweight bags and handicapped Pops. Without them, my arms were going to crack in half. Either way, without their enormous help from the security check in, my arms would still break apart and my back sore ={ It was a sad goodbye, because I have come to know Qing Qing so well over this week, whom I met for the first time since a long, long time ago, a time I barely remember in the deep cobwebs of my brain. From here on out, I will remember all the incredible expeditions with Qing Qing and Xiao Chen and what wonderful people they genuinely are. I learned a great deal about China with them, and I hope we have taught them just as much about America. Like I told everyone else during our family encounters and farewells, I hope to have them come to New York one day and show them the best America has to offer! I will be their personal tour guide, as I lived a culturally-thrilling four years in Manhattan. Funny thing though, we have always complained they don’t leave Shanghai enough to visit us in America, when in fact, Yi Fu told us he did come to New York for a business trip. We just missed his phone call because Mom tends to ignore incoming calls labeled “unavailable.” Our paths crossed but missed, just like in those sad Asian dramas… Anyway, we all hugged tightly and wished for the best! No matter how much we have come to love life’s bliss and treasures in Shanghai, we had to part ways and move on until next time. Next time will surely NOT be a decade!

In the airport, we were lucky, again, to have assistance. An airport staff member gave us priority in passing the VISA check line and catching the elevator. He escorted Dad with us, who happened to be a convenient shopping cart because he loaded some baggage and gift bags on his lap. He certainly made himself useful. At the departure gate, the Chinese man took us through another special security check usually for first-class. Ah, now I got a chance to walk through a special corridor with the first-class riders! On the plane we go, back to Detroit!!  Next post:  How I stayed sane and not somnolent on the long flight ahead…

Shanghai’s Last Supper

Friday, April 22, 2011:  The Last (Shanghai) Supper

Our last quality family time together around a fancy dinner table! Sun Po and his wife came to pick us up in his slick black car. Mom, Kelly, and I sat in the back seat, chatting up a thunderstorm. Let’s see, we heard about their honeymoon again, a romantic getaway to France and Italy. Of course there was a language gap there, but we mentioned how Kelly knows some Italian and I understand a little French. As a funny compromise with them, we’ll make a European trip one day, cheap through China, and have the ground covered with our versatile tongues! Besides, Kelly and I have been accustomed to translating in various settings. And after a whole week, we wanted to exchange contact information. We hit a bit of a bump with exchanging emails, because people in China do not use Google or Facebook; instead, they use some bootleg-Facebook, MSN, and QQ (how cute). We have already exchanged emails with Qing Qing, who uses email we are familiar with, like Hotmail! But the rest of our family members do not know English very well and email communication may present as an obstacle. However, I do not know why we didn’t think of this earlier, but there is such a thing as Skype! It came to me suddenly, and I asked Sun Po, “Heyy… Do you guys have Skype!” He responded, “Oh yes, we do have THAT!” Bingo, now we can video chat and not have to struggle with Chinese-English translations. I joked that Sun Po would have to practice reading English. His wife joked that he would have to write a line of Chinese and put that through a translator and type it out subsequently. It could take a whole day writing and translating and making sense of the mumble jumble… How bizarre it is to be able to communicate so easily face-to-face, even when it’s in their native Shanghainese which I understand to an extent, but fail so miserably by writing?!

We arrived at an elegant restaurant at Shanghai Normal University, this time on the Fengxian campus. We had to wait a little while for Dad to come by wheelchair because our cousin went to pick him up. Other members of our family were on their way as well. While waiting, a black car pulled up. Some Chinese guy came out and dropped a net with a moving four-legged creature down on the entrance steps. I looked down, and it looked like an upside-down turtle with claws. I thought it was nearly dead, until Auntie Lin-Ai nudged it with her foot to see if it was really alive. I knew perfectly well the fate of the prized fat turtle…

Everyone arrived and we were set to go. I looked at the entrance, and you guessed it, there was a long staircase. No handicapped ramp for easy transportation and mercy for the disabled. Yes, Dad had to hobble up one step at a time and one of us lifted his heavy wheelchair right on behind. Once inside, he could sit comfortably in his 2000 yuan wheelchair, snuggled up against the table.

Now, my last mouth-watering post until another global expedition in June. To start, we encircled around a fancy dinner table. The waitresses served us fine red wine and this addicting sour milk that tasted like vanilla yogurt. It was thick, creamy, and rich to the tongue. The entire dinner session, I alternated my dishes with milk and wine, milk and wine. Yum =P

There was a common theme of birds and seafood:  pigeon, chicken, lobster, codfish, fried cuttlefish, abalone, jellyfish, shrimp, etc… Then there was also the Jiang en, the poor turtle creature that got spiced and fried up. Spicy curry beef made another surprise appearance on the dinner table; this time it was more fatty and less dissolving. I compiled a medley of appetizers to emphasize the plethora of Chinese delicacies:  duck, abalone (bao yu), seasoned cucumbers (liang ban huang gua), salad, Asian fungus (hei mu er), jellyfish, potato slices and peppers, fish, pork ribs, and chicken. One of my favorite meals that day was something rather simple:  leftover King Lobster mixed with qing bai cai (bok choy) in soup. It meshed very well with white rice. Well, anything with white rice wins my heart.

Pigeon... see the head?!

Appetizing

King Lobster

Lonely Wonton

Fried Cuttlefish and Whole Shrimp (Dai Tou Xia)

Jiang En... the turtle now became dinner

Dad loves everything that once moved... =/

Cruncy rice cakes brushed with duck egg yolk

Fish

Ah, my favorite!

All good things must come to a conclusion. This was our last supper together as a family. I have cherished every waking moment this week, to experience China’s wonders and familial love.  Despite the distance, a span of an entire ocean, I have grown closer to my dear family. They love me, and I love them back. I will forever remember their exhibition of deep affection and hospitality. They have shown me what it means to have an extended family that will support you and love you unconditionally. Our extended reunion has reached a blissful end.

A Long-Awaited April Ancestral Visit

Friday, April 22, 2011:  Family Day

 April Ancestor Worship

Today was a day spent mostly outside of Shanghai. I woke up, ate breakfast, and hopped in a white van again. This time, I did not know where we were going or what we were doing for the day. If it weren’t for Xiao Wang and the windows, I could have been kidnapped lol. Luckily it was not raining that day, but the skies were cloudy and ominous. So off we went, Kelly and I, Mom, Lin-Ai (that’s a better spelling of her Chinese name), Qing Qing, and Xiao Chen, together to some place far away. It was more like Kelly and I did not know our destination; Mom and Lin Ai knew precisely where we were going.

We were driving very far on the highway. Buildings were shrinking and becoming more dispersed. We were definitely moving out of the core of Shanghai. The question was, to where? I couldn’t ask Mom because she was absorbed in a sisterly bonding session. Kelly and I were amidst a deep conversation with Qing Qing (and Xiao Chen at some points) about many things. For instance, we passed large stadiums, the Shanghai Stadium (how creatively named) and a nearby one, and I asked what happens there. She said, “Well, many popular Chinese artists come here to perform and sporting events are played. I’m sure you don’t listen to Chinese singers.” Oh how we were underestimated; Kelly and I responded, “Haha, yes we do!!! We LOVE Asian music.” We took her by surprise, and she started naming famous Asian singers, including Emil Chau, Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Faye Wong, Lee Hom, Jay Chou, etc… and we knew them all like the alphabet. Later in the day, we passed a giant billboard with Lee Hom’s face, I got super excited, “Hey look, it’s Lee Hom!”  Shanghai is such a popular urban city, I would totally live here and attend concerts. In the States, I would have to take a 2-3 hour bus ride to Mohegan Sun or Atlantic City, or catch a plane ride to Las Vegas. Plus, Asian artists do not perform very often in America; their fan base is still mainly in Asia, a whole galaxy away from me.

Our conversation also included life in America, because it’s a place my family in Shanghai has never experienced. It’s such a distant, mysterious place to them. So Kelly and I shared our lives in school, what we plan to study, life in New York, etc… They were interested in learning about our American lives, just as I was about life in China. For example, I learned that Chinese students tend to go into computer software, engineering, or business. In America, many Asian students in general enter medicine, law, engineering, or business, especially medicine and business. Medicine in America is one of the best in the world; it is a valuable, rewarding profession. In China, there is not an immense demand for doctors, as there is for software engineers and computer geeks. Lucky for Kelly, she will be going into the business field with accounting. She will likely have plenty of opportunities to intern in Shanghai and travel far and wide. Lucky duckling… That means for me, I’ll have less international opportunities in Asia; I’d be more needed in underprivileged places like Africa, India, or South America. Oh great, perhaps I will look harder and find some connections in an Asian country…

I knew the drive on the highway was long because I started feeling my motion sickness. By the time we DID stop, I was sleepy and slightly nauseous. Only then did I figure out where on earth we were heading. We were in a quiescent village area, sparsely populated and wide-open land. Mom, Lin-Ai, and Qing Qing got off and walked into a small stone house. They were picking out these special paper lanterns for burning purposes. They were like paper money folded into boats, which are burned as ‘gifts’ to honor ancestors. We were going to pay a visit to 外公 Wai Gong, my maternal grandfather.

I do not remember much about my grandfather. Last time I saw him, I was in miniature form, barely 2 years old. That day, Mom, Kelly, and I were back in China again, a chance to pay our long-awaited respects. It was also an opportune time to make that special visit, because the beginning of April of every year is 清明節 Qing Ming Jie. It is typically known as Ancestor Remembrance Day, where family members visit the departed and clean the gravesites. Paper gifts are burned, prayers are uttered, and flowers are laid. Nine years have passed for us, but we were finally back to visit our grandfather.

The cemetery was a medium-sized plot, definitely not as well-kept and green as Pinelawn on Long Island. The headstones were all large, engraved with Chinese characters, names and pictures of the deceased, and names of surviving family members in red. On my grandfather’s grave, I saw my family’s names, including myself. Kelly’s name was not there because she was not born at that time yet. We burned one lantern and prayed for good health, a fortunate future, and our Uncle.

Example: Qing Ming Jie @ Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetary

Two paper lanterns still remained. We walked further back to a shady region. It was creepier further back near the trees, especially in the wet, cloudy weather. Making our way through other stone plots, we found our next visit. We paid our respects to Yi Fu’s parents, who I’ve never met. They passed away at relatively young ages. We spent a long time at their graves, burning the last two paper lanterns and citing our prayers for Yi Fu. I was silently praying for his health, minimal suffering, a speedy recovery, and a good outcome. I wanted my Uncle to be healthy and strong again, like the last time I saw him nine years ago. Now I will entrust the higher heavens to take care of him step-by-step, day-by-day, Haru Haru

Tasty Travels

Thursday, April 21, 2011:  Banana Leaf, Super Brand Mall – Shanghai


正大廣場 Super Brand Mall - for the shop-o-holics out there!

After the 1 hour stroll by the river, we went to eat, again. Actually, I thought we were going shopping, because we stopped at one of the most grand malls in Shanghai, 正大廣場 Super Brand Mall, smack in front of the Oriental Pearl Tower. The entrance was too girly cute to resist:  fat, pink columns, accordion-style glass windows, and the squeaky-clean steps and façade!  From the outside, it just looked like any building. Once you step inside, it’s like a MEGA, modern fairy tale castle, better than Smith Haven Mall or Manhattan Mall. Asian malls tend to stretch upwards towards the sky, versus American malls are flat like pancakes, rarely beyond 3 floors. The other thing about Asian malls is they are NOT shy about cuteness, extravagance, diversity, or mile-high heights. Many malls in Asia are built in this manner, with multiple levels, a dizzying central atrium for a panoramic view, and ornate window displays. I was absolutely awed by the brand name merchandises, the colorful and elaborate decorations from ground level to the upper decks, and the overall comfort walking around in circles. There, it was like feeling the Christmas spirit every day. I had the indescribable urge to shop my heart out, but that was not the goal of the day. We passed a Korean salon with rather dashing looking Asian guys who could definitely pass off as the boys of Super Junior, U-Kiss, or 2pm. There were plenty of trendy clothing/shoe stores and adorable children’s shops. There was also a fitness center on one of the floors, where fit Asian guys and gals were running frantically on treadmills. Just think about going to the gym, in a gorgeous mall, and seeing passersby look at you exercise. It would certainly be awkward, but different than simply staring at yourself panting before a mirror or having macho men at the gym look at you lecherously.

Andy Lau

Distractions aside, we proceeded to eat our hearts out. Qing Qing took us to an exceptional Southeast Asian restaurant called 廣州蕉葉 Guangzhou Jiao Ye (Banana Leaf – Curry House). Blending the best flavors from Thailand, Malaysia, India, and just a dash of China, Banana Leaf was a spectacularly magical place to wind down a long day and treat your palate to a diamond class expedition. Now, I knew this place had celebrity status because upon walking in, Kelly and I recognized several of the most famous figures in Asia: 劉德華 Andy Lau (Hong Kong’s sexiest big shot in movies and Cantopop), 姚明 Yao Ming (China’s most prized export in sports, namely basketball; give it up for some Shanghai pride!), 曾志偉 Eric Tsang (another Hong Kong superstar actor, also known as my Dad’s long-lost twin), and 梁朝偉 Tony Leung (yet another Hong Kong brand name actor who performed rather well in Lust, Caution). God, after nearly a week, I realized how Asian I’ve become, after singing to several songs played in restaurants or shops and now getting excited to see my Cantonese idols! Aish~

Yao Ming = Frankaznstein?

Eric Tsang

Tony Leung

The restaurant was scantily populated during the lunch hours, but that would all change once the dinner bell rang. The interior design was exotic, exquisite, enlivening, and enlightening. The lights were dim and calming. The walls were a pleasant shade of pastel green or mahogany brown. Plants and flowers were situated throughout the place to accent the natural order. Artful, traditional vases with running water sat along a nearby counter. The atmosphere was hospitable and soothing, a perfect match for the palate.

Oh my God, I will get hungry detailing the slew of dishes we consumed that day. To start, we tried this unique appetizer, spicy minced pork with peas, carrots and peppers stuffed in either sesame, flaked pancake pockets or crunchy, watery lettuce. It was small-portioned, but the right size to kick the taste buds into high gear for what was to come!

Alongside came simple salads containing cucumbers, boiled eggs, papaya, tomatoes, and bread. Another plate of salad contained a creamy sauce with seafood bites.

By far one of the most delicious dish was an Indian-inspired beef curry with assorted potatoes and vegetables! The spicy beef literally MELTS in your mouth. The curry sauce loaded well over a plate of rice.

Then came a sampling of different meats and specialties:  mini zhong-zi with chicken, fried shrimp balls, spring rolls, fried tofu, and meat skewers.

Every meal MUST be supplemented with soup. That day, we relished in smooth, thick pumpkin soup, sweet and delectable.

Last but not least, we had pineapple-fried rice, packed with pineapple bits, sausage, cashews, and assorted vegetables. This smoky, savory cuisine complemented all too well with the curry bonanza!

As you would likely expect, I hit my food coma. It was already 5pm when we left to catch the taxi back to the apartment. I believe I was reaching my limits, since I have been traveling up and down Shanghai and Beijing from morning to evening. Atop the exploration, I was eating more than I’ve been accustomed to, because normally I practice portion control due to 1) health reasons and 2) money matters for a meager medical student. My family here has pampered me like a baby and showered me with culinary delights, of course I was going to pass out one of the days. Well, Thursday was the day I passed out from my food coma. I napped in the taxi. I got home and flopped to bed at 6pm and did not wake up until 9 hours later. Such an awkward sleep schedule, but I was super tired and super well fed. Amen~

Pu-Pu-PUDONG

Thursday, April 21, 2011:  Journey to 浦東 Pudong

Across the 黃浦江 Huang Pu Jiang, the major river separating East and West Shanghai, we entered 浦東 Pudong. a major commercial center and financial district. The whole area has changed a great deal since last time I visited. Last time, I came with my family to see the 東方明珠塔 Oriental Pearl Tower. The square where it is located used to be open and barren, with just the river and the tower. I was surprised to see the rising skyscrapers and intersecting highways. I still remember running with my younger sister around the base of the Oriental Pearl Tower and feeling free. Not anymore. Now we were stuck amidst honking cars and almighty commercial buildings and patches of green grass. In addition to the glamorous Oriental Pearl Tower, Pudong is a symbol of China’s economic prowess, home to the Lujiazui Finance and Trade District (陸家嘴 or “Lu’s Mouth”), Jin Mao building (金茂大廈 “Golden Prosperity Building”), Bank of China Shanghai (上海中銀大廈), Shanghai Stock Exchange, Shanghai World Financial Center, and the future Shanghai Tower.

I swear, this space used to be concrete, not grass!

On the drive over to Pudong, I was immediately glued to the Oriental Pearl Tower. It was one of the few sites I vividly remember from my childhood trips to China. In the car, I kept taking photographs of the tower. I was taking snapshots in the car, with the windows rolled down, with my head out the window, and with me cursing all the buildings getting in the way. I was totally obsessing over the perfect picture of this pretty-in-pink pearly tower. Xiao Chen did tell me I had plenty more opportunities to catch the perfect angle of the tower, if not more flattering and complete.

I can finally say I have been to the 黃浦江 Huang Pu Jiang. I always see it in dramas like Fated to Love You, thinking to myself, “Dang, I’ve never been to this famous river in Shanghai!” It was a pleasant walk, a light wind blowing against my face and a nice view of Shanghai. Xiao Chen gave me some history lessons on this area of Shanghai. Across the Huang Pu River was Puxi. He pointed out to me the old European architecture. The Big-Ben look-alike atop a beige, columnar building gave away the European influence. The buildings were a clear contrast to Chinese architecture, with their set, rectangular shapes, domes, and columns at the front façades. Back in the 1800s when Europeans colonized Shanghai, they stationed many banks, commercial centers, embassies, and companies along the river for economic convenience and development. A little further down was also a Jewish center. Nowadays, most of the buildings remain as financial centers or banks of China. However, they will remain a part of China’s history from the European Imperialism era.

 The Huang Pu River in Shanghai is the end tributary of the major Yangtze River before exiting into the East China Sea. The river is a major divider of Shanghai into East and West. It also contains numerous tunnels for the Shanghai Metro and bridges connecting the two areas. It is also a significant source of drinking water for Shanghai netizens. I am not too sure if the water is consumable, speaking the color was grey-green, akin to the infamously-polluted Hudson River of New York. Last time I went kayaking in the Hudson, I was anxious that I might flip into the water. At the Huang Pu River, perhaps because I was comparing it to the Hudson River, I was imagining the worst-case scenario of falling into the possibly dirty water. No worries, my imagination was jumping off walls needlessly. I still enjoyed looking at the waters.

Aside from becoming an essential port area and dividing line, the Huang Pu River is the perfect place for romancing. I’ve seen it in dramas and Mom dared to ask Xiao Chen about dating Qing Qing. Particularly at night, the river is a romantic hot spot for honeymooners. The evening lights, the quietude, the gentle wind, the darkness, and the isolation, how much more perfect can the world be for two lovebirds?

The walk was pleasant because for the first time, we were not suffocated with tourists. That was because the tourists were on the OTHER side at Puxi. Looking across the river, I could see the flashing camera and the black swarming dots. Puxi is the main site for tourists because they get to see the river AND the stunning skyscrapers, like the Oriental Pearl Tower. Hehehe… I still think we got the better end of the deal:  peace, space, time AND the tower.

Oriental Pearl Tower + Global Convention Center

Shop N’ Steam in Shanghai

Thursday, April 21, 2011:  Cheng Huang Miao 城隍庙

Yu Family @ the best Xiao Long Bao restaurant

We passed popular eateries, including classic Taiwanese food, pastry stores, and of course, dumpling shops. Qing Qing and Xiao Chen took us to eat Shanghai’s best: 小籠包 Xiao Long Bao.  The best steamed soup dumplings I’ve had in America are in Joe’s Shanghai (locations in Flushing and Chinatown, New York). However, nothing beats the real deal straight out of Shanghai. Thus, the highlight of our mega-lunch was Xiao Long Bao! It is not like any ordinary dumpling, you can be sure of that. The skin is relatively thin and tender, and the best elasticity comes from the hand-rolled dough. The filling is typically pork meat, but other variations include seafood, chicken, or vegetables. Aspic, or gelatin derived from meat stock, is stuffed with the meat filling. After steaming in bamboo baskets over a fluffy bed of Napa cabbage, Xiao long bao is ready to be served. The gelatin inside melts into the savory soup characteristic of these special little dumplings. How do you properly eat these cute gems? It can be topped with ginger slices and black rice vinegar (Chinkiang vinegar) for additional spice and flavor. You have to be prepared with a rice bowl and soup-spoon. And you also cannot get too ahead of yourself and over-excited, because a hasty bite will brutalize your tongue and taste buds for the rest of the week. Take it slow and easy, and you will be in Shangri-La just as quickly.

Asexually reproducing dumplings

It was so gratifying to eat such good food. First the baskets and baskets of Xiao Long Bao dumplings, multiplying like mitosis! There were also a plethora of delicious appetizers:  soybeans flavored in alcohol (not enough to get drunk), crunchy soy-sauce radish, mini Zhong-zi, crispy triangular spring roll with tofu, vegetable Bao-zi buns, and smooth egg soup. OH food coma never felt so auspicious!

Giving Xiao Long Bao a BIG hug and bite!

We continued our shopping spree after the hearty lunch. Mom bought a handmade ceramic teapot with Chinese words of wisdom printed across the front to bless the Green tea and have tonic effects on the human body.  I was rather fond of more miniature decoration charms and qi pao, but more the qi-pao dresses this time. They were so elegant and flattering I really yearned for one. Except, I don’t know what American living has done to my Asian body, and I can’t be sure to fit them =/ I probably could, I just never dared to try and possibly get stuck in one =//

Qi Pao

Kelly and I wandered around the shop while Mom and Xiao Chen were eyeing and bargaining over the precious teapot. There were some cute items, like matching clothing and cell phone charms for couples. We played with some silk robes and mused over the finely hand-crafted jade and stone artifacts. We liked the artwork and decorations and would have bought some, if Kelly and I had a full bank account. Speaking we do not have overstuffed pockets of Benjamins, I took pictures as our souvenirs and hope for the Benjamins some day.

Miniature Terracotta Army

Connie = Fire-breathing, mystical Dragon 龍

Kelly = Clucking, Cowardly, Yummy Chicken 雞

There was a puppet show happening nearby. Back in the old times, these puppet opera shows were popular in Northern China, the typical outdoor entertainment for the young and old alike. The paper puppets were made very thin and carefully cut/designed and attached to strings that the performer could control. Behind a thin screen, the entertainer sang opera songs while moving the paper puppets. It was a meticulous job to entertain, to sing and play with paper puppets.

We also bought pretty souvenirs from an art stand. We saw Chinese men decorating eggs, sketching faces with immense detail, and cutting paper. We stopped to watch the paper-cutter. I was amazed by the Chinese art of paper cutting this man (Jerry) was demonstrating with talent and expertise. On display were a selection of his finished products, including cartoon couples, animals of the Chinese zodiac, Mao Zedong, and Chinese symbols and characters of meaning. He asked Kelly and me for our names, our zodiacs, and what figures we liked.  Next, he took a small, sharp scissor and started snipping away at the little red paper. With skill, speed, and detail, he created our cartoon figures.  I was impressed. Chinese people really DO have the hands of God. Maybe this artistic Jerry could fare well in surgery!

Chinese Art of Paper-Cutting

The finished product

Starbucks has infiltrated Cheng Huang Miao yet again!

We were such shoppers. Once we entered a market, we were not bound to leave. Mom came out with a bundle of shoes. She went in and out at least three times. The first time, Mom and Kelly bought some sandals, while I chatted with Qing Qing along the side. Then she showed me the nice flip-flops, and I could not resisted, though I really did resist and Mom tempted me with nice shoes. So I went in with her that second time, from which I came out with woven flip-flops and white Croc flats. After we came out and Kelly saw my nice Crocs, she wanted a pair too. There was the third time. I bet that lady was rather amused and happy with the business she was earning from us.

Other things we bought collectively: I got a purple, checkered shirt perfect for leggings, Kelly got black-and-white checkered skinny jeans, and Mom got more leggings. And Dad? Most of the time he just could not get through the narrow markets, so he sat in his wheelchair on the side streets, accompanied by Xiao Chen or Qing Qing. Even when we were at the restaurant, he had a terribly slow time getting up the staircase. Yes, staircases! No elevators or ramps. He was stuck getting from floor 1 to 2 the old-fashioned, energy-burning way. It was not a short staircase either; it was a mighty long trip up AND down. Lucky he had manly restaurant waiters to lift him over three entrance steps, Xiao Chen to support him with each limping step, and us to carry his hefty wheelchair.

There was a Kodak moment I did not snap! We were walking on the streets, when light rain was beginning to sprinkle down on us. Upon reaching the end of a block, we hit a bump of course. Dad had to get across, off the bump, and to the next block. As Xiao Chen was pushing him along, Dad sitting in his wheelchair, a little girl in a stroller crossed our path. It was a hilarious image at the intersection point: Dad, a 50-something man, pushed in his wheelchair passes an Asian girl in pigtails, dangling her feet and sitting quietly in her baby stroller. Hilarious…

Getting professional help at the restaurant