Happy Monday

Thank you, Internet.

No pictures of China today because this morning I did something very American. I watched a “live” broadcast of the Academy Awards. Thank you, Internet and satellite cable. There was actually a two-minute delay (I skyped with my sister who was watching it in the U.S.), most likely for Chinese censors. I ain’t gonna lie. I felt quite American again… just me, the TV and James Franco.

Huzzah for Colin Firth! His Mr. Darcy and I go way back (like every other woman), to the 1995 BBC production of P&P.

It was a happy morning.

Soon, it’ll be time for bed. I’m fifteen hours ahead of most of my friends and family. So I wish you a Happy Monday!

Tired mom at 9pm. Grateful for modern technology.

P.S. Hideous window coverings and desk furnished by landlord.

On My Mind…

Families.

I’ve been writing a talk for Church, which I’m delivering tomorrow morning. That’s in eight short hours, to speak for fifteen long minutes. I was assigned the topic, “The Blessings of Holding Regular Family Home Evening.” Fun, eh? Speaking of the importance of families, I’m asked quite often if the girls are twins.

Twins? Just the coats.

I’m certain the matching coats confuse them, but Miss M is over a head taller and two years older than Pinky Stinky. I mentioned it previously, but the One-child policy has done a disservice to Chinese society. In this case, it’s distorted Chinese perception regarding families. The general populace is unaccustomed to seeing multiple siblings from the same family. Before you know it, they’ll be asking me if these two are twins.

The Kid and his UK bud.

Wet Market. Get Your Vege On.

Vendor stall.

Did I spell that correctly? Vege or veg, vegetable, veggies. [My brain is fried from writing a talk for Church.] Today, The Circus and I stopped by the local wet market. It’s a farmer’s market, with fruits and vegetables sold by vendors, selling the same produce, competing side by side.

Wet market

Fruit stall.

Mushrooms.

More 'shrooms.

Fresh bamboo.

Eggplants and bitter melon.

More vegetables.

Vegetables here are affordable. For about 15RMB ($2.30USD total. Take that, Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.) I purchased: 1 large piece of ginger root, 4 large potatoes, 2 large sweet potatoes, 2 bunches of leafy greens and a bowl of shitakes. Fruit, however, costs an arm and a leg. A white peach costs 28RMB per every 500 grams. [I know, sorry, you'll have to convert that one yourself.] Cherries, grapes, strawberries, plums and peaches are also extremely expensive. Instead, we eat a lot of oranges, bananas, apples and pineapples. Oh, how we miss Costco’s blueberries, cherries, grapes and strawberries!

I had the entire Circus with me, so we left right after paying. Next time, I’ll try to capture a shot of the eggs stall and butcher shop.

Breakfast Vendor

Breakfast.

A half-empty basket of fried bread. This morning there was a street vendor parked near Miss M’s school. I was in a hurry to take The Kid to his school so I couldn’t sample her wares. But if I see her again, I just might purchase a fried puff and risk Chinese Montezuma’s revenge. (Would that be Qinshihuangdi’s revenge?)

Street Vendor.

Carre Four Part 1

Are you wondering what my Chinese grocery store looks like? Carre Four is an Asian equivalent (sort of, it pales in comparison, in my book) to Super Target.

Dried shrimp.


A myriad of stalls with dried everything, from seafood like abalone, fish, shrimp, to Chinese herbs, to dried meats like pork sides and other animal parts.

Fish


Fresh seafood to go. Next time I’ll snap a shot of the snakes, turtles and frogs. If only I were joking…

Frozen shrimp.


Many of my Western friends avoid the butcher and seafood stalls, but I find them fascinating. The Circus has grown accustomed to the smells, or at least they cover their noses. (So do I.) More grocery store pictures to come in the following weeks. I’ll also be paying the “wet markets” a visit.

In My Courtyard

I’ve been heartsick without my karate classes. But yesterday, as I was walking The Circus to a friend’s building, I witnessed this awesomeness:

Pose 1. Grace and balance.

Tai chi right in my own courtyard. We admired this gentleman’s skills and he was kind enough to let me take his photo. I can’t wait for Spring. Hot dog! When the weather warms up, Pinky Stinky and I will be out there with cute Chinese grandmas and grandpas, learning Tai chi.

Pose 2. Bring it!

Happy Presidents’ Day from China

Fried rice and soup.

We’re becoming a bit Sinicized (“Chinese-ified”) around here.

Lunch lady.

Today for lunch, we went to an eatery where I ordered beef fried rice. It came with a soup and what initially looked like fish balls, but actually was stinky tofu. Ba-lech. Sorry Mom and Dad, I tasted it but I couldn’t get past the smell. I ate fried rice.

The Hubs' usual.

The Hubs’ had his usual. I think he eats dumplings (steamed, boiled or fried) at least once per week. This order had pork and green chard-like vegetable filling.

He hearts dumplings.

The best part of the day usually occurs at dinner, when we sit down as a family. Tonight I made spaghetti. Miss M asked for chopsticks. Who eats spaghetti with chopsticks? I reminded myself that the Chinese have been eating noodles for thousands of years, after all.

She’s becoming quite Chinese. Survival of the fittest. That’s my girl.

Good Eats, Friday Night

Steamed pork and cabbage dumplings

Mmmm…dumplings. Did I get your attention? One of our favorite cafes is hidden in an alleyway between Baiyang Road and Longhui Road in Jinqiao. We’ve been there several times and it’s always packed with locals, day and night. They make everything from scratch, including dumpling skins, thin flatbreads and noodles.

Making hand-pulled noodles.

Shredded pork buns.

The Circus calls these “Chinese hamburgers.” Thin flatbreads stuffed with roasted, shredded pork.

Fried beef noodles.

Hand-pulled noodles, stir-fried into deliciousness.

Slurp.

In Chinese culture, the louder the slurp, the bigger the compliment. Slurp! We practice good manners in China.

Tonight’s dinner: 86RMB of happiness. The best part? I didn’t have to cook. Thank you, Hubs.

Introducing the Driver

The song about number 24601 keeps running through my head. No, this is not a post about Les Misérables or Jean Valjean. And there’s no analogy, unless you create one. It’s the story of Mr. Smith. Our driver might be named Li, Wang, or Liu, names as common in China as Smith is in America. So why not, right?

Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith hails from Anhui province, my father’s ancestral land. Many of the domestic workers (ayis and drivers) are non-Shanghainese and come from the surrounding countryside, small towns and rural areas. They flood to the city, in hopes of making money to support their families. Some relocate their families with them. Others leave their families behind. Mr. Smith and his parents moved to Shanghai eight years ago. He married an Anhui schoolmate two years ago and they have a one-year-old son. All five of them live in a tiny, two-bedroom, one bath apartment in Puxi. During the final walk-through of our apartment, Mr. Smith quietly commented on the tremendous size of my Shanghai kitchen, which is one-fourth the size of my American kitchen. I felt completely humbled.

Every morning Mr. Smith arrives by seven-thirty a.m. He drives The Circus to their schools (I accompany them), The Hubs to the office and me to wherever I need to go. A friend asked why we use a driver and I’d like to explain life in Shanghai. A few of our church friends have their China driver’s licenses and own their own vehicles. (However, it’s costly and the driving here is dangerous.) Others use taxis to get around. Many friends use private drivers. It seems pretentious, but it really isn’t. Or at least, I’m not pretentious. I promise. Having a driver is a tremendous blessing. The weeks before we hired Mr. Smith, we hauled everyone around town in a taxi, at least twice a day, to drop off and pick up kids’ from school or to run errands. It became expensive.

Mr. Smith doesn’t speak a lick of English. Our daily chats transpire in Putonghua (Mandarin). So far, we’ve covered the gamut of topics, from his wife’s c-section birth, mandated by socialized medicine, to the one-child policy, to corporal punishment in local Chinese schools. He seems extremely patient and kind, explaining cultural differences to us. He also wears the same clothes every single day. (This is not judgment but reflection regarding his circumstance.)

I’ve often questioned our driver about the ugly side of Chinese culture and he has questioned it alongside with me. To me, Mr. Smith represents the moral virtues of a Chinese culture before Communism took over; someone who has a moral compass, who understands right from wrong, especially in how we treat one another. Frequently, he makes comparisons of Chinese culture now versus then, when families were allowed to have more than one child, and society was more Confucian-principled. Perhaps now you understand why I’ve given him an English name. He is not formally educated beyond middle school, but he is well-read. And he espouses opinions that are contrary to those which his country has attempted to indoctrinate in him. (He has a Japanese friend. Gasp.)

We speak of politics, history, films, families, American culture, food, travel and whatever comes to mind. When he asks about my religion, I tell him I am a Christian, but I steer the conversation in another direction. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we honor our promise to the Chinese government that we will not preach or proselytize Chinese people. However, he confides in me that his mother is a Christian, too. I smile and talk about something else.

Speaking of pretentiousness, there are expats who refer to drivers and ayis like sub-human servants. “Fire them, there are plenty out there.” “Just get another one.” “Just fire them until you find one you like.” Yes, there are dangerous or bad drivers out there, but they are still people, not dogs. Unfortunately, the communication gap creates insensitivity. The Circus and I are teaching Mr. Smith basic English so he will be marketable to foreigners when we leave China.

Mr. Smith is a gracious human being who hails from the poor countryside of Anhui province. He moved to Shanghai, hoping to improve his family’s circumstances. I am reminded that his life could have been mine. Every single day.

It’s still playing through my head, “24601.”