Friday, October 28, 2005

Shanghai Trip - Day 8 - Part 1

Day 8 was a really really long day. Our first stop was at another noodle shop. This place was really cool, and it was the Shanghainese version of a Japanese sushi bar, minus the sushi. Plus noodles. Basically you could sit at the bar, order a bowl of noodles, and then grab whatever plate of side dishes you wanted off this moving conveyer belt. Sort of like getting your luggage from the baggage claim carousel. Anyway, I'm the kind of girl who loves a gimmick, so this was one of my favorite places. Plus the food was good.

Here's a pic of the place.

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I know I've talked a lot about the Shanghainese, but I'm not sure if I've mentioned that they're rather ill-mannered. A generalization I know, and I'm sure there are plenty of Shanghainese who aren't but that's just what I noticed. People will run into you without saying excuse me, they'll cut you off, they won't hold the door for you, and it's still a common practice to spit loogies on the floor. Inside or outside. Generally there's a warning when a loogie is coming up. Aunt Marilyn and I called it the "haaaaaccccccccchhhh-TOO" (the "TOO" part being the actually launch of the loogie, and the "haaaaaccccccccchhhh" being the warning.) Every single time we heard a "haaaaaccccccccchhhh" I'd let out a whimper or a yelp, depending on the volume and length of the "haaaaaccccccccchhhh" and Aunt Marilyn would scurry around, looking left and right nervously, trying to dodge the "TOO" of the loogie bomb.

Anyway, back to the Shanghainese rudeness. I have to tell a pefect example of it. No one was sitting to the left of me at the noodle bar so the people who weren't sitting at the bar would come up and grab the food they wanted at that spot. The food was passing in front of me from right to left. You'd think that it wouldn't be that difficult to wait an extra five seconds for the plate to revolve in front of Rude Guy, but all of sudden, while I was happily eating my noodles, he reached over me with his Rude Guy Gigantic Arm, nearly hitting me on the head, and grabbed a plate of food off the conveyer...a plate of food that would have passed by me and been directly in front of him, in a matter of seconds. I mentally "haaaaaccccccccchhhh-TOO-ed" on him.

Anyway, after lunch we headed to the busiest shopping area in all of Shanghai, Nanjing Road. I guess it used to a bit like the Champs Elysee in Paris in the 1920's. Nearly 1.5 million walk through down street a day. They've closed it off to cars and bicycles and only pedestrians are allowed.

We had the driver let us out nearby, and we were actually right in front of a very famous hair salon. Grandpa said that when he was a teenager it was the premiere hair salon, and he longed to get his hair cut there, but it very very expensive, and he couldn't afford it, so he never did. He left Shanghai for Hong Kong in 1948, at the age of 21. A few years ago, when he finally returned (I'm not sure how often he went back from 1948 until recently) he did, decades later, go in and get his dream hair cut. I asked him what it was like and he said it was very good and that the second he walked in, they gave him a hot towel and nice cup of tea. This pic was not taken on Day 8, but I thought I'd include it anyway.

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We took some short cuts and came out of a subway entrance right onto Nanjing road. The view made me gasp. I had NEVER seen so many Chinese people in one given place before. Ever. It's not very clear from the pic, but there was seriously a sea of dark haired people all the way down the street, as far as the eye could see, and even farther. In the very distance, you'd only see tiny flecks of black. It was amazing. I, of course, immediately thought about bird flu.

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Anyway, we immediately made emergency if-you-get-lost-plans. As I had mentioned before, when I was little, the if-you-get-lost-plan was always just to stay in one place until my mom found me. We had to modify the plan somewhat here, and while talking about it, we passed a rather ridiculous looking woman standing on top of a sidewalk bench looking for someone, so we decided the new if-you-get-lost-plan was to climb up somewhere high and stand there until you were found.

After our plan was made, we went into a super packed store that sold all sorts of snacks. We had decided to meet each other in front of the store in 20 mins, but my mom and I lost track of time and were apparently in there for 45 mins. When we came outside, we saw this:

Aunt Marilyn and Aunt Christina executing if-you-get-lost plans Posted by Picasa

We continued to walk down the promenade, rather nervously, as there was a lot of haaaaaccccccccchhhh-TOO-ing going on. And we had been warned of purse snatchers. I can't say I was really fond of this street -it was just way too packed and crazy. With the people swarming around, I found myself just feeling rather wound up. And sometimes when I'm wound up, I make an ass of myself. Really. It just happens.

And now I will tell the short story of "Sareet Makes an Ass of Herself on Nanjing Road."

I was crossing a side street. It was, obviously, packed. Aunt Marilyn was about a half a foot ahead of me. She turned back and told me to check out the freak with the bad hair in front of us. And yes, there was a freak with REALLY bad hair about 4 feet away from me. When I finally dragged my eyes away from him, I noticed suddenly that there was a COLUMN, AS TALL AS ME, OF ABOUT 10 CAGED RATS no less than 5 inches away from me! I was seriously face to face with one of them.

And I screamed. Screamed Screamed Screamed. Like roller coaster ride screamed. Like being chased by a slasher screamed.

And then there was silence, as all 1.5 million people on Nanjing Road stopped to stare at me.

Turns out, they were not rats but bunnies. Or maybe chinchilas. I don't know. This man had two columns of cages dangling from opposite ends of long rod that he propped up on his shoulders. He had made the mistake of trying to squeeze between me and Aunt Marilyn.

Good lord, I almost died of fright that day. And Aunt Marilyn nearly died from laughing too hard, once she figured out what had happened.

Anyway, Nanjing Road ends at an areacalled The Bund. It was basically the Wallstreet of Shanghai in the 1920's, and is famous for the architecture of the builldings. 52 various buildings of different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance. (I cut and pasted that from a website, can you tell?? :) ) I guess there were a lot of consulates from different countries so the buildings all represent different styles.

The best part of being on the Bund is going up to the roof of one of the buildings and checking out the view. We stopped at "18 on the Bund" (the buildings are numbered) and headed straight to a restaurant on the rooftop. Here is a photo of Pudong, which is on the opposite side of the river that Shanghai is next to.

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Our plan was to enjoy the view, have afternoon tea, and recover from the screaming incident but then we realized that the coffee cost $6 US per cup!!! That's crazy. $6 US can buy about two days worth of meals in Shanghai for one person. So we decided to leave. Luckily, the service was so poor there that no one had noticed we sat down, so no one noticed us getting up.

We decided to try another building that looked like a much older, less fancy hotel. While it was not as pricey as 18 on the Bund, the prices were still jacked up. If there's one thing my family can't stand, it's a bad deal. It's not like we couldn't afford the drinks, it's just that they were so ridiculously overpriced. Anyway, while we rested, mom and Aunt Marilyn took out their cameras and decided to shoot away. Upon seeing the pics, I figured they must have secretly been competing to see who could take the most boring/inane/bad picture of us.

But first, a picture of the most over-priced meal we had in Shanghai:

We had originally ordered two iced coffees, but when we discovered they were $5 US a piece, we cancelled one of the orders. The total for these three drinks came out about $12 US. Mom was so irritated she insisted on taking a pic of it. One iced coffee, two Cokes.  Posted by Picasa

I call the following series "What Happens to Sareet's Family When They are Bored": The first 5 are taken by my mom, I think I took one, and the remaining ones are published courtesy of Aunt Marilyn.

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Afterwards we headed back to the hotel to change and freshen up for the banquet. Grandma and Grandpa were taking the relatives out for dinner, and any time a dinner requires more than one big round table, it's called a banquet. At least that's what I've noticed. I'm not sure what the official definition of a banquet is. Banquets are always described by the number of tables - "Suzy and Chan's wedding banquet was a 40 table ..." "Cousin So-and-So had a 5 table for his 70th birthday..." etc. This one was a 2 table.

When I first walked into the restaurant, I thought it was the most overly ornate and gilded and frankly, gaudy restaurant I've ever been to. The whole place was gold plated and had ridiculous chandeliers and furniture. We had a private room. Here are a few pics of our relatives at our two table banquet.

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During the meal, the non-Shanghai based relatives (me, mom, Aunt Christina, Aunt Marilyn, and Grandparents) kept swapping seats at the two tables, so that we could meet everyone and chat with everyone. The worst and most hilarious combo was when Aunt Marilyn and I sat together by ourselves at the table with our most extended relatives. Neither of us really speak Mandarin, and they didn't speak Cantonese or English, so it soon became a loud game of charades. But, we made it through the meal. Speaking of the meal, it was quite possibly the worst meal I had in Shanghai. The food was very strange, not authentic at all. Here are some pics:

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The above are hot and cold appetizers. I can't really remember the specifics of them. They were for the most part okay, except for the Raw Clams in Wine Sauce, which I smartly avoided. Aunt Marilyn, who did not realize what they were, tried one and said it was pretty nasty. What a surprise, huh?

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Weirdest dish of the night. Baked scallops with some butter/mayonaise/cheese topping, with a sprinkle of corn kernels. Posted by Picasa

Tempura fried corn kernels and lightly stir-fried shrimp Posted by Picasa

Chinese deep fried matzo ball thing in hoisin sauce Posted by Picasa

At this point, my photopublishing thing seems to have crashed so that's all I got for now. More of Day 8 to come as soon I figure out what I accidentally clicked shut...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Shanghai Trip - Day 7

I woke up a little before 5 a.m. on Day 7. Had to pee. On my way back to bed, I nearly died of a heart attack when I ran into Grandma, who must have heard me get up. She said, excitedly, "Come, look!" opened her bedroom door, and surprise, both Aunt Marilyn and Grandpa were awake and chatting. Aunt Marilyn, had managed to sleep the entire way on the plane and was ready to hit the streets of Shanghai. Since it was only 5 a.m. no one else was though, so it wasn't until a few hours later that we finally moseyed down to La Seine for breakfast and then out of the hotel for Day 7's activities.

I should mention that at this point, I was REALLY sick. Aunt Marilyn had brought some cold medicine and in my sickness-induced haze, I had uncharacterically taken some of it without reading the label. I normally read the label on everything. EVERYTHING. Even one-a-day vitamins. Anyway, had I read the Sudafed Cold/Flu label, I would have noticed the "May Cause Drowsiness" warning. Daaaaammmmnnnn. They are not kidding. The effect the meds had on me was immediate. I promptly fell asleep in the minivan, and when the driver pulled up to the street we were supposed to go shopping on, 10 minutes later, I actually had to turn down the shopping and ask to stay in the car. With the driver, whose name I learned was Mr. Chen.

Mr. Chen the Driver didn't seem to mind too much. He was paid for a 12 hour day to drive or not drive so it didn't matter to him that I was passed out in the back of the van like a frat boy. I think he pulled into a parking lot somewhere. Frankly, he could have driven me to Mongolia and sold me for all I cared. I just needed to sleep. He tried to chat with me a bit, and I tried to muster up all the Mandarin I'd ever learned and said something back to him...but I'm not quite sure what I said. I know he asked me if I wanted to listen to music, and I thought I told him I didn't care, but his somewhat strained glare made me think I might have said something else. Finally, I just stopped trying and made the universal charades gesture for "sleep" (palms together, placed up against my cheek, with my eyes closed and head slightly tilted to the side)...

Woke up later to find the rest of the family piled back into the minivan. We were on our way to the Old-Apartment-Turned-Party-Clubhouse for homemade wontons with Great Aunt, 14 lbs and a whole bunch of relatives I'd never met before. I've put up a pic of meal, but I was so drugged up that I can't even describe what these dishes were. But at the very least, now we have an answer to the question, "Why is my poop SO Green?" which, as I had mentioned, was often heard during the trip.

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Here's a picture of the "Sisters" and their great aunt. Incidentally, I could barely figure out where the camera was when this was taken. And, apparently my Aunt Christina and my mom had decided to dress like identical twins. Because my family is funny like that. Or they both wanted to match my Grandpa, who was also wearing baby pink.

From left to right: Aunt Christina, Great Aunt, Aunt Marilyn, Mom, Me Posted by Picasa

The wontons were really good and after some more requisite small talk, we said bye and piled back into our mini-van. We were on our way to the flea market again, since neither Aunt Christina or Aunt Marilyn had been there yet.

A few minutes later I thought, "Hmm...That's weird. I didn't eat any Hai Fun - why is my stomach feeling yucky like that??"

Another two minutes later, I realized, Hai Fun or not...something bad was happening in my intestines.

I'm just going to share that I CANNOT STAND pooping in public places. I will avoid it as much as possible. And certainly I would never entertain the thought of pooping at a portapotty in a Chinese FLEA MARKET. So....I leaned over, whispered to my mom that my stomach was hurting and I wanted to go back to the hotel and poop. Her eyes widened with concern and she nodded in agreement that absolutely no, one could not poop in a public place, particularly at a portapotty in a Chinese FLEA MARKET.

So then, she said to the driver, "Excuse me Mr. Chen, but my daughter is not feeling well. Can you take her back to the hotel after you drop us off at the flea market? She has to go back there to...."

(please god, don't let her say "poop" - PLEASE!!!)

"......take her medicine." Whew.

Not like I really minded anyone in my family hearing. But somehow the thought of Mr. Chen the Driver knowing that he was taking me back to the hotel to poop seemed really inappropriate. Blogging about it for the whole world to see, however, is not. ;) (seriously, will someone post in comments if the poop talk is getting to be too much?)

Anyway, the rest of Day 7 was really boring for me. There was little doubt that my cold/flu had turned into a 24 hour stomach flu. Nothing stayed in the system, and I got nauseous just eating crackers. The fact that they were seaweed flavored and deep fried did not help.

And that was Day 7.

Shanghai Trip - Day 6

The cast of characters changed on Day 6. Exit Aunt June, enter Aunt Christina and Aunt Marilyn.

Aunt June left mid morning, so just my mom, me and the Chinese Costanzas headed out for lunch. We had decided to try to find the noodle place Grandpa had recommended earlier - the one that was "across from a Watson's, down an alley." Since our driver was busy taking Aunt June to the airport, we had to take a cab, which made the whole process of finding the noodle shop even more difficult.

This is a picture of the back of Grandpa's head, in a taxi cab, when he's looking for a noodle shop THAT IS NOT ACTUALLY LOCATED ACROSS FROM A WATSON'S:

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However, it WAS located in an alley. It's right where the red sign is in the pic below:

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Like all really good restaurants, it was super small inside. We had to wait for a while to get a table, and even when we got one, we had to share it. Table sharing is very common in China. Not a practice I've ever seen in the U.S. There is one very basic rule to table sharing: Ignore Whoever Else is Sitting with You.

For the love of god, don't even make eye contact!! And saying "hi" would be as inappropriate as suddenly grabbing them, sweeping all the dishes on to the floor, and making out with them on the table!!

I just want everyone to take a second and imagine (no, i'm not asking you to imagine sweeping dishes on the floor - we're past that now) how strange it would be to if you found yourself sitting next to four strangers at a restaurant but, following Chinese Table Sharing Etiquette, you have to pretend they don't EXIST. And they have to pretend YOU don't exist. My own personal theory on this is that we must think that if we acknowledged each other's existence, we'd have to share our food with each other. That's the only explanation I got.

Anyway, my mom managed to get a pic of our table.

Going clockwise starting with Grandpa, Grandma, me, Seat for Mom who's taking the pic, and in the white shirt - The Woman We Have to Pretend is Not Sitting at Our Table Posted by Picasa

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to pick up my Aunt Christina, who had arrived from Hong Kong. After some resting (I was still sick) we headed out for some quick shopping and dinner.

I'm not going to give away Aunt Christina's age (cuz then I'd be in the WORST trouble of all) and I'm not going to remind anyone of my mom's age (although I did post about her last birthday much to her horror, "Sareet, how you could you do this, now EVERYONE knows my age!!!!" Relax Mom, 10 people read this blog regularly, 5 of whom are related to you) but their day was FRIGGIN MADE when a shopkeeper coyly asked, "Oh are the three of you (my mom, Aunt Christina, and ME) sisters????"

Me? Moi? Sisters with my mom???? Sisters with my Aunt Christina who is younger than my mom but definitely OLDER than me??? Anti-wrinkle cream is SO going back to the top of the Xmas wishlist this year. My grandma was also thrilled, figuring that the shopkeeper obviously thought she looked young enough to be MY MOM. I think they bought about $20 US of stuff from that shopkeeper, which is a lot of money there. I didn't spend a dime. Bitch.

This is a good time to mention that Shanghainese people are the loudest people I've ever met. By far. Along with heart disease and diabetes, I think the general population must have hearing problems from all the shouting and yelling. And sore throats. So of course, when the first shopkeeper got such great results from the simple question of, "ARE THE THREE OF YOU SISTERS???" the shopkeeper next to the first shopkeeper overheard this and tried it as well, as we walked in front of hershop.


My mom and Aunt Christina burst in a fit of giggles. "Oh, the two of us are, but she's (me) my daughter/niece! You can't tell, can you? How much is that blouse hanging on the wall? What about that one? What else you got? Let's go in, Sareet, and check this store out!" My Grandma added, "Yes, she's (me) my granddaughter! From the U.S. She doesn't understand Shanghainese. She has a brother and sister too. I have five daughters. This one (my mom) here is my oldest. She lives in the U.S. This one here is (Aunt Christina) is the third oldest. She lives in Hong Kong and has a son. My youngest daughter (Aunt Marilyn) is coming in tonight. From San Francisco, CA - United States. She has a dog named Boris."

And so on and so on.

I know I'm prone to exaggeration (always for humorous effect of course) but this seriously happened to us at least 3 to 4 shops in a row.

So we were all (except for me) in great moods when we found the restaurant we were headed to for dinner. Again, this was a very small restaurant, and also had the audacity to put up some sign basically explaining that it was for "members only" or on a "referred basis." Hmmm.

Being the rather conniving family that we are, we pretended that we referred by a Mrs. Lee from Hong Kong. I'm sure that didn't fool anyone, but the owner did give us a small table. A very small table. A very small table in the back of a totally empty restaurant (empty because all the tables were reserved according to her, even though, no one had shown up yet by the time we left) Granted there were large pictures of the owner posing with various celebrities on the wall, so maybe she was a big deal....I dunno. The food was very good though. We specifically asked for food that was less heavy and more like regular local homemade food.

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Here's my Aunt Christina, who was rather unhappy with my mom for taking this pic, and will be even unhappier with me for posting in on my blog. The dish closest to the white teapot is a sort of Salted/Cured Duck. Going clockwise, there is I think Deep Fried Tofu in Soy Sauce again, then Pumpkins Cooked with some Lily Bulb type thing (pumpkins yummy, lily bulbs very very nasty), and then some super green veggie that I did not particularly like.

Below you can see the rest of the meal. The dark pile of stuff on the plate with the white spoon set on it is actually Whole Fish Steamed with Soy Sauce and Dried Veggies. Very yummy. To the left of it is a bowl of Tomatos Cooked With Rice Noodles.

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You can't really see it, but in the pic below, the big pot is filled with Tofu Cooked with Hai Fun. Yes, Hai Fun. It was really really good, and I was convinced that my first bad experience with Hai Fun was merely a fluke so I ate a lot of it. And no, it was not a fluke.

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After dinner we headed back to the hotel, where there was all sorts of drama. First off, Grandpa was beginning to show symptoms of getting sick. We were all worried that he had caught whatever I had. However, he still wanted to accompany my Aunt Christina, who had volunteered to go to the airport to pick up my Aunt Marilyn, who was due in from San Francisco at around midnight. Grandpa, who is 77 years old and weighs about 140 lbs, didn't feel it was safe for Aunt Christina to go by herself with our highly reputable driver. After much arguing, we finally put our foot down and made him go to bed. Aunt Christina and Aunt Marilyn made it back safe and sound late at night, while the rest of us were sleeping.

And that was Day 6.