China, Uncategorized

Feeling at home (but maybe not really) in Shanghai

I’ve recently been feeling simultaneously more and less Chinese. Which means I’m feeling more and less at home. Confusing, right?

I’ve been drinking hot lemon water. I know it doesn’t sound that refreshing, but do yourself a favor and try it. It’s very Chinese. Your friends will think you are very Sino-chic. My Chinese friend says that while most people accept there’s no real scientific proof that drinking hot water is better for you, it’s just generally accepted that cold water will tear up your stomach worse than a pot of dark roasted coffee. “It’s better for you,” she says with absolute certainty.

And remember, like a year ago, I was going to try to become more adventurous with my eating? Well, I haven’t really, but I have discovered a street food that I might actually miss – it’s a spicy, savory, crepe-like pancake. There is guy around the corner from Hunter’s school who owns a flower shop but in the morning rolls out his pancake making cart and serves these to the hungry masses making their morning commute. I didn’t really get the whole story, but I did get that he has special permission from the government to run his side pancake business. I’m a little unclear as to why but it gives it an added sense of accreditation. There is always a line. He spreads out the batter, throws on some spices, spreads an egg very thinly over the top, puts something like a deep fried lasagna noodle on top of that, rolls it up, cuts it in half and serves the spicy, crunchy deliciousness in a plastic baggy. And as I walk home with my piping hot baggy of street food, I must say, I feel très Sino-chic.

I also went to a hot pot restaurant and enjoyed the meal. It’s kind of like fondue. Everyone sits around two boiling cauldrons of broth, you order what feels like way too many meats, fishes and vegetables, drop them into the broth and wait for them to cook. If you’re lucky enough to dine with one of those annoying vegetarian types, you can delight in having to tell all of the over-eager servers again and again that one of your pots is for veggies only. (And remind them that chicken is, in fact, meat.)

It was definitely helpful having a native there to help order and explain the proper way to eat, but I left feeling not so much like a foreigner. And then…

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here before but when the seasons start to change, the Chinese get nervous. If it gets too hot or too cold too fast, they flood the doctors’ offices thinking they are going to have a heart attack or contract some deadly virus. This, coupled with their desire to dress according to the date, not the actual weather outside…oh, how we used to laugh. We’ve had a couple of 70 degree days here and still, the natives are wrapped up in their heaviest woolens and scarfs.

Well, I’d had a sore throat for almost a week and it just didn’t seem to be going away. Dressed too warmly, I went to the doctors convinced not only did I have some horrible throat infection but also a high fever, surely the signs of an impending heart attack. He told me I was fine. Not very chic, but very Sino.

As I laughed at myself over a steaming cup of water, I heard a not so faint sound coming from between my couch cushions. It was loud, thumping techno music. And like that, it became clear that perhaps I’m not really all that Chinese.

The music was from a toy wand we got at the circus. There is a ball at the top that spins and lights up, blue, red, and green, all while playing the chorus of some techno song over and over. There is no volume button. Like all Chinese toys, it’s very loud. I know all kids toys make noise and are annoying but Chinese toys are in a different category. And why the obnoxious club beats? In addition to beeping and revving, all of the toy cars we’ve bought here (and there have been many) play dance music.  I can’t say I’ve been clubbing here but I don’t really feel the need, I can just pick up my kids’ toys and boom, instant home discotheque.

The circus was not in town but rather, is a permanent attraction here in Shanghai. You know the old saying about a three ring circus? Well, I’m not sure there is one about a one ring circus but if there was, it would be representative of something kind of cute but a little sad and just…different. This was a one ring circus and it’s probably just as you’d imagine a small, one ring, Chinese circus would be.

There was a rather thin looking bear doing tricks that I would’ve sworn was a guy dressed as a bear. But I’m told it was real. There was the usual monkey riding a bike and some acrobat/clown portions. And then there was the unusual, bird portion where parrots went down slides and peacocks walked around. At one point it was made to look like an underwater adventure where people dressed up as turtles and crabs crawled around before an actual seal came out and clapped and entertained.

There were two tigers and a lion, held back by a tall but weak looking rope curtain that made me sure of two things. 1. If one of those animals wanted, we could all have been lunch. 2. They clearly don’t look for lunch in the audience because as a permanent Shanghai fixture, the measly rope has not had to hold back lions and tigers before.  So I felt safe. Kind of.

The boys had fun so it was a success. I can’t tell you the last time I went to a circus but this wasn’t like what I think I remember the circus being. And I was reminded again that I am a foreigner.

Like a foreigner, I ditched the wet market and ended up buying my vegetables online the other day. (Probably because I was busy being a hypochondriac and couldn’t go outside.) When the order arrived, my “scallion” arrived as this: IMG_2619

Looks more like a leek. Or small tree. Or religious symbol? If I were Chinese, I probably would have known the perfect way to prepare and the perfect recipe for such a spear but alas, I think it ended up rotting in my refrigerator.

And so friends, I am reminded of the adage, the more you know, the less you know. Only in this case it’s something more like, the more you live somewhere as a foreigner, the more familiar it becomes. And the more familiar it becomes, the more you find still more things unfamiliar. Wait, that’s still confusing.

How about this: I’m probably not as Sino-chic as I’d like to think. (I don’t even think it’s a real adjective.)

4 thoughts on “Feeling at home (but maybe not really) in Shanghai”

  1. Found your blog through Katrina Willis and am enjoying reading it. My acupuncturist told me to drink warm water.:)


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