Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Living Like a Local

Hello All!

I have been counting the days...one week left in Minhang, then it's a worldwind tour with the hubby and kids through the country. This past week I have dutifully attended my language lessons with my tutor, Molly Zhu. Molly is a bubbly 20 year-old sophomore at East China Normal University and she is absolutely adorable! Molly, with her youth and knowledge of pop culture, has become an invaluable asset as I begin to grasp the meaning behind everyday colloquialisms. It helps that we catch the bus, buy food and drinks and I am forced to employ my skills consistently.

This week Alli and I have had some novel food experiences. First however, let me complain about the weather. You see in Baltimore, when we fuss about the weather someone always says, "Just wait five minutes, it'll change" In Shanghai, there is no such argument. If you complain about the weather, people just look at you as if you are stupid. I have never seen people accept rain with such quiet resignation. Alas, if you could see my hair, you'd know that I have reached the same stage of acceptance...

Anyway, back to food. As you may have gleaned from earlier posts, Alli and I have been overdosing on morning foods- stuffed buns, crepe-things and small fried dumplings (Allison calls these "pinch pots" because of their shape and because there is meat and some sort of soup inside them. They actually look like someone just pinched the tops to close the soup inside! Come on, it's a brilliant nickname- good job Alli!)

So what do we do for dinner? Well, we gorge again of course- c'mon we are Americans after all!
I have learned something interesting about dining in Chinese restaurants. I'll share it because it is both profound and oddly, not so obvious. Here it is...The FIRST thing in the menu is likely the ONLY thing the restaurant is good at making. No kidding! A fish place is only good at preparing fish (and only the way they like to do it!), a noodle place is only good for noodles, ect. That means, if you're like me and find something you like at a restaurant, do not go to another restaurant and ask for it! Order what the restaurant advertises and you will most likely be happy with what comes out of the kitchen. If all else fails, get beer- it's cheaper than bottled water at most places.

I have to share some of my favorite transliterated menu descriptions: #5- Daily Family Activity Fried Rice Noodle, #4- Chops the Pepper to Steam the Strong Smelling Fermented Bean Curd (Yes, your dinner will likely stink!), #3- Irritable Scalloped Kidney, #2- Fierce Appearance Green Pepper, #1- Private World Sub-Meat (it is the specialty of the restaurant). While I greatly appreciate the effort that these fancy restaurants have put into making their menu's Westerner-friendly, what the hell is Sub-Meat?

Next post, you get to hear about my sit-in at the Apple Authorized Repair shop. Yay, democracy!


Monday, August 3, 2009

Living in Min Hang- 1 Week Down, 2 to go

We've lived in the Min Hang District of Shanghai for one entire week. It has been an, um, experience. Though it has rained EVERY SINGLE DAY, we've been having a wonderful adventure. Our hosts, Peter and Linda are great, our apartment is comfortable and in an ideal location ( on the 1st floor AND beside the playground!). We truly lucked out.

My Chinese has improved dramatically- out of necessity. We are not living in a tourist friendly area, so there are few residents, merchants, or taxi drivers who speak any English at all. We go out 出去 chu qu (say, choo chewe) everyday...we do like to eat and we enjoy sightseeing! There is constant stretching of my language skills- I am very good at a Charades/Chinglish dialect! Really, you should have seen me trying to describe hair oil (something I forgot at home) to people who have NO IDEA what it is or why anyone would use it. The people at the shop kept pointing me toward the butter...suffice it to say, I still don't have any hair oil ( I wasn't about to improvise with butter!).

We're always out and about in our town, so we are becoming celebrities (or maybe just an urban myth, "You'll never believe what I saw this morning??) Now when we go to the main street, the guys on the motorcycles nod and say "Hullo, lady", and people rush to store windows trying to get a peek. We've perfected the old "smile and wave" and keep moving- quickly. At least the children have stopped screaming and running the other way!

We've had some great street food for breakfast. The red bean paste buns are still a big hit with Alli- now I know they're called dou sha bao, and she also loves chicken buns (ground chicken and spices steamed in a soft bun) called ji rou bao. She asks every morning if we can hurry and get her "bun buns" before they sell out. We usually get two of each and drink a bottle of orange drink (there is no real orange juice, only something that tastes like Tang...yes, Tang) on our way to the days activities. All of this, mind you, costs less than 1 USD- for both of us.

So far, our travels have taken us to the Hongqiao New City Pearl Market, a massive (flea market style) shopping extravaganza where you can have pearls custom strung for necklaces and bracelets and buy custom and prefabricated clothing (Allison got a qi pao- a traditional Chinese dress made of silk); the Bund, a major tourist and business center where we had a beautiful gourmet brunch at a restaurant called M (I got blueberry pancakes, eggs florentine and a Bloody Mary, yum!) , and to Fun Dazzle ( a bizarre Chuck E. Cheese-esque indoor climbing gym for kids). For Allison's birthday dinner Saturday night, we went to a restaurant called Charme- simply fabulous chinese architectural food. Imagine not wondering what the food is, but how to eat it...with chopsticks, to boot!! (Thank you Peter!) and came home to enjoy a beautiful cake that Peter and Linda bought Alli for her birthday.

I also appear to be going through cell phones like toilet paper- looking to get #3 in the morning (one and two have both bit the bullet and I've been unable to "jailbreak" my iPhone) If anyone knows how this can be done, please drop me a line!.

So much to tell- I've updated some pics on flickr, take a peek.


Shanghai Apartment

Shanghai Apartment
Living and Diningroom

Shanghai Apartment

Shanghai Apartment
Our Bedroom

Shanghai Apartment

Shanghai Apartment
We have a garden!