Into the Darkness for Dinner…….Memories of Shanghai

Original post: Saturday, October 25th, 2008, on a blog that no longer exists.

Last night we ate at a restaurant called “The Black Cafe” with our friends Andrea and Patrick. It is a restaurant geared towards allowing its patrons to step into the shoes of someone who is blind.

The first level is a bar called “The Visual Zone.” It has dim lighting, and is a comfy area to have a few drinks. It is also where you look at the menu, make your dinner selections, and stow your belongings in a locker, in anticipation of the mess you’re going to make eating in the dark. Once you have prepared yourself, you are led up a narrow and winding staircase to “The Dark Zone.”

When you arrive at the top of the stairs, you are introduced to your blind waiter or waitress, who leads you and your party choo-choo train style, through a dark curtain to your table. Each person is directed to their chair, and once all parties are seated, the waitress will tell you where each and every item on the table sits. Silverware, cups, water bottles, napkin. The meal is served as in every other restaurant, bread and drinks, salad, soup, main course, then dessert. Bill and Andrea had chosen the beef filet, Patrick and I, “the mystery meal.” Each course would be a surprise, but we were assured it consisted of items we had seen on the menu.

The evening consisted of plenty of feeling around the table and your plate. There was a water bottle and bread basket for Patrick and Andrea, and one for Bill and I. ” Is this our breadbasket?” “Where’s my beer?” “Oops, there wasn’t actually anything on my fork that time.” ” I’m trying to figure out if there is anything left on my plate.” “What are you handing me, Bill? Oh, another tomato…..I see that you can even sniff them out. No fooling you.”

The food was extremely tasty, and for those of you who are wondering, the mystery meal was the same as the others for the salad and soup, and the main course was a very pleasant surprise. Chicken, smoked ham, shrimp, beef filet with a convenient bone handle, veggies, and a potato. The only thing I couldn’t identify was in my salad, and may have been a mild piece of fish…….but I don’t want to know, nor think about it.

We adjusted to being in the dark, and even stayed around to chat after we finished our meal. Nothing was spilled, and they kindly supplied napkins that were much bigger than your average China napkin, which is usually a cocktail glass size, or tissue (literally). It was a great night, and we would do it again in a heartbeat. All in all, a great life experience!

Author’s note: Unfortunately, this restaurant has since closed for business.

 

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Mama

I’m one lucky girl. My mom has always been there for me, through thick and thin, good times and bad. I don’t remember ever having to question whether I could count on her when I was in need. I just knew. Considering she didn’t have much of a role model (her alcoholic mother died when she was 13, and her dad, of a stroke, when she was 18), she has done a phenomenal job.

When I was a baby, I was allergic to almost every food, as well as mold, dust, pollen, and animal dander, and had severe asthma, as well. Although I eventually outgrew them, they were a daily obstacle throughout my infant, toddler, and young childhood years. My diet required that she co-ordinate my food not only at home, but also at school, friend’s houses, and even the occasional restaurant. She spent many weekends fishing with a family friend for blue gill, to add to my limited diet of lamb, rice and apples. She bought soy baby formula for me until I was 10, as regular soy milk was not on the market yet, and ordered special rice bread which was delivered to our local Sander’s freezer. She didn’t even have to ask for it, she went right into the “employees only” door and got it out herself. She has always been a friend to everyone, and they trusted her. That’s just the kind of person she is.

As the mother of a special needs child, she was ever vigilant of my food, and surroundings, and I was in a never-ending state of testing her skills. I was constantly finding ways to sneak the food I wasn’t suppose to have, and hiding under tables, or outside, to relish it. She was continuously in fear of me dropping dead of an allergic reaction or asthma attack. The poor woman could never let her guard down.

My mom and I had a rocky relationship in my latter childhood years. We fought frequently. We are very much alike, and we were constantly butting heads. We both felt we needed to win any given argument. When I was a teen, and young adult, our conversations were confrontational and loud. She worried about so many things, and I was constantly defensive. She had a difficult childhood, and between that and my stressful younger years, she spent her days in protection mode. She was always trying to help, and I  resisted. In my defense, if I had followed every bit of advise she’d given, there are many things I would have never done, a number of which helped me to become the outgoing, semi-adventurous, person that I am. I have always been headstrong, and prefer to do things my way. I have never really felt comfortable accepting others help, even when it was obvious I needed it.

In the worst of my Crohn’s years, when 105 degree fevers were a daily occurrence, and my husband had to travel often for work, I would tell her I was fine, and she didn’t need to come stay with me. She has had serious back problems since an injury when she was in her mid-thirties, and I knew it would be rough for her to take on my daily chores, and spend the night in a bed that was not adjusted for her back. I had a very active 1 year old, and a 4 year old, and thought that it would be better to do it on my own, than risk her further problems. I was feeding the kids wrapped in a blanket, shaking with fever-induced chills. I concentrated on tiny increments of time, just trying to make it from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner, to bedtime, but would not take her up on her offer for help.

My mama is not one to take “no” for an answer, so she came anyway.  She took over the household, and caring for the boys, so I could rest. She drove me to doctor’s appointments, did the grocery shopping, made meals, and doled out medication. She may have even tucked me into bed. Following my abdominal surgery, she came again, and even though Bill was no longer traveling as much, she stayed for several weeks to help him with the kids and me. We spent more time together during those years, than we had since I was very young, and I started to realize she was not only a loving and attentive mother, but fun, and I actually enjoyed being with her.

When Bill, the kids, and I packed up and moved to Shanghai, we only saw my parents when we returned in the summer, and not many times at that. We’ve all heard the old saying, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and it proved to be true. It was while in China, that my mom and I had some of our best telephone conversations. At least up until the line went staticky and we realized we had said something that the Chinese monitors didn’t like, and we had to end it for the day.

My mother was never comfortable with us moving to China, as I’ve said, she has always been a worrier. She would much rather have her children tucked safely under her wing . It was while living abroad, that I started trying to calm some of her fears and worries, instead of taking offense or fighting them. It was then, that I started being an adult on the phone with my mom, when I finally stopped arguing and started listening, and discussing, that my mom and I finally fell into step together.

In 2013, and again in 2014, I went down to my parents’ winter home to help care for my mom after back and neck surgery. It felt good to return the favor, and spend some time with my parents by myself.  We had the best time together, especially our 5 AM mother/daughter coffee talks….. and it takes something pretty special for me to enjoy anything at that time of morning. She shared stories from her childhood, and her young adult life, and we reminisced about our early family memories. Of course, one of my favorite things to talk about with her as an adult, has always been the things my siblings and I did that she never knew about. And, hey! We lived to talk about it! There was never any time of day better than those crack-of-dawn mornings, in the rocking recliner chairs, in their tiny TV room.  I will always cherish those moments.

My mama is a giving and compassionate woman. She will go out of her way to help a friend or family member. If you are good to her, you are a friend for life. She doesn’t take friends or family lightly, and she will not let you down. She is as good as it gets, and more than you could ever hope for in a friend or relative. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I am forever grateful for the gift from Heaven that is, my mom.

 

The People of Paris, and the World, Unite

The people of France woke up on Friday morning expecting a day like any other. They went to work, shopped for groceries, cared for children. Maybe there was a wedding, a birth, a milestone; an event that made it a little more special than the average. They could not have predicted the day would end with a vicious attack on their country. Monsters who abhor freedom, peace, Christianity, and the West as a whole, terrorizing Paris. Invaders, shaking it to its core.

We all know what happen, so I am not going to rehash it. The attackers are not worth my time, nor do they deserve attention. The people of Paris, and the compassionate world, are what this is about. People who came together in a time of need, a time of tragedy, as one big family.  Supporting France, and its citizens. Just as the world responded to the attacks of 9-11-2001, they have united.

As the events transpired in Paris, its citizens helped others in need, opening their doors to victims, offering safety and comforting one another.  Taxis turned their meters off and offered free rides home,  strangers drove stranded pedestrians home, sometimes all the way across town. Things we would not do in times of peace, change during events like this, times when the frailty of life is all too apparent. When everyone becomes a friend to another. When the world around us is, suddenly, a much smaller place.

Around the world, social media lit up with photographs, and drawings, condolences, and prayers. The lights on the Pearl Tower in Shanghai changed to the colors of the flag of France, as did Sydney’s iconic Opera House. One World Trade Center in New York lit its spire in support as well, the epitome of proof that we survived, and Paris will as well. They won’t beat us. The monsters say we are their enemys, but we are bigger and stronger, and we have united.

As tragic as times like this are, I am encouraged by the way the citizens of the world not only unite, but remember their manners, and spread a little more love. People take notice of the humanity around them. They step out of their own routines, out of their stresses or troubles, and help others. Courtesy and thoughtfulness, which often lack in peaceful times, suddenly return. People smile, and acknowledge one another when passing on the street. They hold doors for others, or wave a hand to thank the driver behind them for letting them in. They donate money or items, to help those in need. Things that still happen on a daily basis, but much less often than they used to.

As I have grown older, I have taken notice, and adjusted my behavior to make sure that I don’t disappear into the problems of my own little world. I have taught my children to be constantly vigilant of others. Always be kind, and never take it for granted. Nothing is guaranteed in this life. You never know when you are going to need the help of a stranger, and you should give as much as you would like to receive in return. If it is not returned, you have still given your all to the world around you. You’ve been the best version of you. These are the little things in life, that are really quite large. They unite us. If light can come out of the darkness of tragedy, I hope it comes in the form of human kindness and love in everyone’s everyday life.

Please pray for the people of Paris. For safety, comfort, and healing. For those who died, and their families. For the spirit and hope of a brighter future, free of monsters who seek to destroy it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until The Scars Fade

This post has been brewing in my heart, and soul, for a long time. I knew, however, that writing it was something  I could not do until the scars began to fade.

My daughter was bullied.  All three of my kids have been bullied at some point, just like many children have been, including myself. The difference with her, was that she was bullied to the brink, and it wasn’t at your average public school. It was at a very expensive Catholic school, with small class sizes, and a strict behavior policy. It consisted of children of wealthy families, mixed with a few from the middle class. We were part of the latter.

Affording this school was a huge stretch for us, but it reminded me of her school in Shanghai. A school that still included a second language, as well as art, gym, and music classes, that were scheduled more often and delved a little deeper than public school. It was also conveniently located very close to my boys’ school. We decided that the financial sacrifice was worth it. We would, however,  still need to apply for scholarships and financial aid.

In third grade, her first year at the school, our daughter had a small group of friends, and was relatively happy.  Most of her classmates were well-behaved and kind. By all appearances, we seemed to have her in the environment we were looking for. A safe place for her to thrive.

As her fourth grade year began, she seemed more irritated, and reserved. She was easily aggravated by questions about her day, or just general conversation. I assumed it was pre-teen hormones, and began preparing myself for the moodiness of the next few years. Unfortunately, we were still months away from learning  what was actually happening.

One afternoon right before Christmas, I  pushed her to tell me why she was upset.  She admitted that she had been slipped a threatening note by another student.  Instead of bringing it to someone’s attention, she had thrown it away. I called the school, and a very considerate receptionist dug it out of the garbage for us. The next day, we were told the incident was addressed and taken care of. This would be the first, and last, we heard of any bullying for quite some time.

Several months later, while we sat at the kitchen table arguing about whether she had to go to swim practice or not,  the flood gates broke open. She told me that the same child had struck her several times, and continued giving her threatening or demeaning notes, as well as verbally telling her.  “No one likes you.” “You don’t have any friends.” “You should just kill yourself.” It didn’t matter that she did have friends, and that they liked her very much. The more she was told these things, the more she believed them. She told no one, and if anyone observed it, they did not take action.

Our baby, our confident little spark plug, our kind, funny, smart, beautiful, daughter, was crumpling into a little ball. Her self-confidence shattered. She could not see her own self-worth. She thought that she was not deserving of love, or attention. One wintery afternoon, in February 2014, the stories started spilling out of her, and our world as we knew it fell apart.

There was no quick fix for this situation. We had to pull her out of school. She finished the year in a small tutoring center, while undergoing counseling several days a week. We intended to send her back to the same school for fifth grade, as we were assured that the bullying was being addressed. I didn’t want to teach my daughter to cut and run when things got difficult, and she really liked her group of friends there. I still had faith that they would take care of the situation. It was a Catholic school, so how could they not?!  It was run by women who had sworn their life to God. How could we not trust them to do the right thing?!

For the next six months, we had countless meetings with the head of the school (although she had a habit of cancelling and rescheduling them, often for weeks later), as well as the tutoring center, and therapist. There were dozens of phone calls and texts.  We were constantly reassured that our child had a spot at the school and would be welcomed back the next year, but it was a never-ending process, with many delays. We were 10 days from the school year starting, and she still wasn’t officially enrolled again. They still wanted more meetings. I have no idea about what. She had been cleared by her therapist to return. Worried about the quickly approaching school year, and in our daughter’s best interests, we decided we should leave the school. It was “our choice” to change, but it was obvious we were being pushed out.

I  forgave that little girl long ago. She knew what she had done, and I believe she learned a valuable lesson. However, I never would have imagined that a Christian school would bury this incident, even amongst the staff. During our meeting with the middle school, we found out that they had not been advised of the bullying; where class assignments and schedules would have had to be considered for both girls. The head of the school had lead everyone to believe that my daughter had  broken down for no reason at all. The one who was bullied, was struggling to get back into school, while the the bullier continued as if nothing had happened.

In the end, we learn. This is not my first scar in life, but it is my baby’s. At least the first she vividly remembers. I can only imagine how being adopted effects her psyche. These lessons in life shape us. They make us stronger and more resilient. They remind us of the feelings of others, and how to treat people properly. They teach us of the importance of honesty and integrity, and what happens when they are lacking. They remind us to be the best we can be, because that is the right thing to do.

Our  daughter is in her second year at her new school. It is also Catholic, but possesses the Christian values that you would expect. Fifth grade was tough for her, she was in protective mode at all times. She made friends, but had trouble trusting people. We have had many discussions, and she continues to see her therapist for “maintainence” visits every now and then, but she is a new girl. Or maybe her “old-self” with improvements.

She is wiser than most her age. She has learned lessons that many do not. Sixth grade has started out wonderfully. She is beginning to trust again. She has loosened the protecctive shell. She has put herself out there, to try new things, without fear, or at least facing her fears. I am one proud mama. Those scars have started to fade.

The Lazy Days of Summer

It has been almost three weeks since I last posted, and I have thought about why that may be. In the end, all I can come up with is my mind is at rest, and my heart is full of peace.

I have slept in, and enjoying the quiet of my bedroom until far too late in the morning. If I don’t sleep in, than I wake up and read or watch a show before taking a mid-morning nap. I bring my breakfast back up to bed. The boys are still sleeping, and Carleigh is watching TV or texting with friends downstairs.  Very few of our quiet morning have been interrupted. Twice we have had birds randomly flying around inside the house. They seem to have found their way down the furnace vent. Not quietly, nor gracefully, but they have lived to see another day. I wonder if it was the same bird twice. If it was, he seems to have learned his lesson now.

In the afternoons, I drive Brennan to work, or to a friend’s house. He is enjoying a new social life this summer. It makes me happy for him. He recently bought a jigsaw puzzle, and as soon as he gets home, he calls me down to work on it with him. Special memories I’ll never forget. Carleigh spends time doing errands with me. We have had a few fun shopping days. We have seen a few movies. She has a friend who sometimes spends days at a time with us. They remind me of my childhood weekends with my best friend.

Both Carleigh and Brennan have spent time camping with family “up north,” as we say in Michigan, and have spent a few nights on grandma’s farm. We have had several lunches and a barbecue with my side of the family as well. I had a very good friend and her son visit us for a day. They are Australian, and we met in Shanghai, but they have also lived in the U.S. They were passing through on their summer travels. It was a wonderful day. My childhood best friend, who lives in the south, was here with her family for two days in June. It was like we were never apart. I love her so much.

We soon leave for a week with our Chinese-Canadian friends on our yearly trip. Another blessing that came along with living in Shanghai. Although we are heading to a different site this year, it will include sun, water, fresh breezes, and plenty of fun catching up.

Loving the lazy days of summer.

Centipedes, Spiders, and Slugs…..Oh My!

Centipedes, Spiders, and Slugs….Oh My!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bill and I have been looking into moving to an apartment when our lease is up in February. We have been fairly happy with the house we have been in, but among a number of other minor reasons, we are trying to get away from some of the bugs. It is very humid in Shanghai,  which proves to be a marvelous breeding environment for mosquitos. Every time we open a door or window, a multitude fly in. If we move to an apartment above the 5th or 6th floor, we will reduce the number of mosquitos that get into our home. This last summer, we slept with mosquito nets on our beds, and Raid plug-ins in each room. Bill would actually use bug spray when he woke up in the morning, so that he wouldn’t get eaten alive in our STUDY. One night a mosquito, (or two, three, four..etc) got into Ethan’s net, and he was bitten 69 times (yes, he counted.)

We also frequently have REALLY LONG centipedes in the house. Although they seem really cool to look at in books, on TV, or in photos, I haven’t found them quite as intriguing when they are skittering across my kitchen floor. They actually, to put it mildly, complelely CREEP ME OUT! I’m generally the girl who sees a bug, grabs a tissue, paper towel, or shoe, and smashes them without blinking. With centipedes, I grab a paper towel AND make sure I have shoes on, before I drop the paper towel on top of them,  and SCREAM everytime I stomp down on it. This must be done very quickly though, as they are very speedy little creepers! I think the children, considering how quickly they jumped on my bed the other day, have the same opinion as me. There’s nothing quite as terrifying as thinking that there’s a dead centipede on your bedroom floor, and calling the kids in to see it, and then having it suddenly come back to life and scurry off. YIKES!

Then there are the slugs. I have seen a few almost “cute” slugs on the street, while waiting with the kids for the school bus in the morning. If you look closely, you can see their antenna, and I can picture them singing, like in the movie, “Flushed Away.” However, one evening, when our inside kitchen door was accidentally locked (we haven’t been able to find a key for it), Bill ran outside to go through the back door to unlock it. He didn’t take the time to put on shoes, and apparently, the slugs that visit our patio at night are of the extremely large, mutant, variety with an especially squishy, slide factor when stepped on. This makes for a very unhappy husband.

We also have a resident spider (not the spider pictured above). Her web is suspended between two bushes right outside our house, where the children wait for the bus. She hasn’t bothered us in any way, minding her own business and collecting all sorts of bugs in her giant web, but she is one of those large, white, spiders, much like the one who was in my car on my way home from my 20 week ultrasound wihile pregnant with Ethan. The one that I was pretty sure my very nasty ultrasound technician had morphed into, before she stationed herself above my head on the car’s window frame after I left the hospital (what else could it be? I had never seen a white spider before!) I noticed her, right after I turned onto the main road on my way home. I started frantically looking for a place to pull over, but before I did, I felt her drop onto my head. I made a quick turn into a condo complex, all but FELL out of the car, and proceeded to jump up and down, shaking my head and hair towards the ground, doing the ” There’s a spider in my hair dance” in front of a lawn maintenance crew. Good times. Good times.

Last week we did find an apartment we liked, and if everything goes well, we will be moving in February. We will be on the ninth floor, and are hoping to at least REDUCE the number of bugs and such in our living space here.

 

The Town That Time Forgot

……………And back to my beloved China.

The Time That Time Forgot

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Today, on the way home from the Chinese New Year performances at the children’s school, Brennan referred to the village we pass through as “the town that time forgot.” I have written about this town before, how poor it is, and the contrast between it, and the high-tech American school down the street. This statement made me start thinking about other things in Shanghai, and how they compare to what we see in the United States.

The cargo trucks which we see on the streets of this city look like they drove right out of the 1960s. Whether they are that old or not, I do not know, but the design does not seem to have changed since then, and they all look very weathered. The taxis seem to be 80s style VW Santana. Run down and stinky. Painted in crazy colors like “Aquafresh” green and “Monk garb” yellow.

Most of the time, the locals here do not wear helmets when riding bikes, scooters, or motorcycles. If they do don headgear, it seems to have popped right out of a Godzilla movie, or maybe Hogan’s Heroes, and is usually not secured to their head. Here it is very common to see an entire family (usually one man, one woman, and a child, but sometimes more) riding around town on the same bike. Baby or child sandwiched between mom and dad, or a woman or child riding side-saddle on a board attached over the back wheel.

Outside the gates of our compound, they are building new housing. The crane they are using appears to be a hand-me-down, passed on from generation to generation for the last 40 years. Some of the materials they are using look like they have also seen better days. Rusted metal re-enforcing bar, broken bricks. These will all be concealed in a thick layer of cement. In China, the bricks go on the inside of the structure, never seen unless the building is going up, or coming down.

In Shanghai, there are no drive-thru restaurants. Take out, actually requires getting out of the car (unless you order Sherpas, like we do, and have it delivered to your door), and your food cannot be paid for with a credit card. Regulations on food, such as milk, eggs, and meat are just recently starting to catch up with western countries. Fresh fruits and vegetables are sold off of the back of trucks and carts parked throughout the city. Many locals buy their food on a day-to-day basis, as not everyone has a refrigerator.

This “lost in time” feel can also be very charming, though. In China, you can walk around the corner from a five-star hotel, and feel like you have just travelled to a quaint 1940s Chinese village. A place where life is simplified. Far from the hustle and bustle of today’s world. Where neighbors sit and chat outside for hours at a time, while they shuck corn, or snap green beans. Above their heads, their laundry is hanging on a line to dry.

Shanghai is at the same time, very modern. The five-story science museum is like none I have ever seen before. There is a Maglev train. It is not uncommon to see Ferrari and Porsches. There are almost 100 Starbucks throughout the city. Five-star hotels, five-star restaurants, upscale malls, countless fancy, expat, housing compounds, international schools, and billion-dollar western companies. Disney is very close to a deal with the Chinese government to build its largest park in the world here (Shanghai Disney is now expected to open in 2016.)They have recently opened a cruise ship port. The soccer events for the 2008 Olympic games were held in Shanghai, and the World Expo will be held here in 2010.

I guess these things are what keep Shanghai so completely engaging to me. I never get tired of watching out the car window, as we travel the streets of the city. I will always see something I have never noticed before, or something I expect I will never see again.

 

Visions of China…….

This blog was written during our time in Shanghai, our second home, which I miss everyday.

Visions of China

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

As I look out the window of the tour-style bus that I ride with the children on Tuesdays, I think about how my views of China have changed in the last 8 months. When we first arrived I noticed the extreme poverty that is prevelant in so many areas, and how it is so close in relation to areas of extreme wealth.

Right outside of the gates of over-priced, over-sized, ostentatious compund, is a gentleman who sells Chinese pottery. He has just recently chosen this spot to set up “shop.” A mere ten feet from his products, stands his tent. This is his home, not just shade for the day. Just 50 feet from his location, the migrant worker’s housing starts. This is a “neighborhood” built of tin shacks, where the men, and sometimes their families, who are building the new part of our compound live.

When we first arrived, I was greatly bothered by these sights, but they are common to me now. I still find it very sad, but it is no longer a shock to see. It is everywhere. Tucked into the corners of downtown Shanghai, next to five-star hotels and expensive shopping, and on the road which leads to Shanghai American School.

I have stopped looking at these things as upsetting, and begun to enjoy watching the people within them. I find these areas are one of my favorite parts of life in China. Of course this is from the outside looking in. I could never imagine living this way, but they handle it gracefully. It is all they have ever known.

On the road to the school, there is a small, poor, town. It is not a tin shack town, but a few steps higher on the housing ladder. People sit outside their homes eating breakfast, doing laundry, taking care of grandchildren. The “shops” consist of open stalls, selling whatever the locals may need. Everything looks old and dirty. Items we would probably never touch. The local school looks like a warehouse, or even an abandoned buiding. It took me a long time to realize it was the town school. I see the students occasionally, lined up to go inside.

A few hundred yards away, the gates to another expensive housing compound, and an international American school. Millions of dollars of materials and technology, just a short walk from poverty. We know which provides the better education. We know which kids are sure to have a full tummy at night. We know which children have a better chance of physical health.  I wonder how the souls of those children compare with mine. I’m sure they’re full of family, friends, and love, with no expectation of anything else.

 

 

Time-Travel in Shanghai

Although it’s more appropriate for a Throwback Thursday, today, I’m returning to one of my most memorable moments in Shanghai.  Where old and new, Asian and Western, and poverty and wealth collide.

Thursday Time-Travelers

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bill and I have spent the last few Thursday nights on the town, while the kids stay home with Ayi.  This past week, we had an errand to run before we went to dinner.

Bill is traveling to India in July, so we needed to turn in the documents for his visa. Once we arrive at the necessary office, they directed us to a side street across the road, so Bill could get the correct passport size photos taken. Mr. Tao parked the car, and he and Bill went to the “cubby hole”  which was the “photo shop.”

As I waited in the car, I watched the local activity, smacking myself for not having my camera with me. We were on a street that looked like we had teleported back in time to the 60s or 70s in China. Much farther in the States. We sat by an ancient two-story building, lined with doorway after doorway, only 10 feet apart. Older Chinese men and women, sitting in front of their homes, on bamboo chairs, sharing each other’s company, in the late afternoon sun. Beside one of the doorways, was a cabinet holding what appeared to be a number of family’s wares.  Next door, a gentleman closes up his “shop” for the day, putting away the homemade sign with a handsaw drawn on it. Taking down the worn kettles and pots that had hung on the wall. Upstairs, someone sits close to the open window, resting their elbows on the sill, and leaning out into the fresh air.

Two school boys walk up to the car, one staring in at the console. The other slapping him on the back and telling him, “Too expensive,” in Mandarin. They then walk to the back of the car, where I notice they are now looking at it from the rear. They are so entranced by the car that they have no idea I am watching from behind the tinted, rear windows. Our car is one of thousands of silver, Buick minivans which travel the streets of Shanghai everyday, but it would seem that none have ever been so close.

Once BIll and Mr. Tao return, we head to dinner, a mere five-minute drive from the small side street. The restaurant is one of about six or eight expensive, modern, and chic locations on the Huangpu River which runs through the city. They serve gourmet international cuisine and fine wine, with panoramic views of the cityscape. They spare no expense in dinnerware, furniture, or staff. It is a well-known and frequently visited location in the life of the wealthiest Chinese, and the expat community, but not one of the people on that side street that has endeared me today, could ever imagine.

Bill and I are early for our reservation, so we enjoy a glass of wine in the bar one floor below the restaurant, where we meet and chat with the owner of both.  She is Australian, and was the first to open a restaurant overlooking the river. She is directing her staff in rearranging the furniture. It’s early, so no other customers are there. Later, it will be packed.

Once we are seated on the terrace for our meal, we order a few starters of lobster and salad. When it is time to order our main course, I order “Veal Faggot with Sweetbreads.” I am initially deterred by the word “Faggot,” because I don’t know what it means, then decide it is probably just the way it is served, and veal sounds good, besides, “Sweet Bread” sounds delicious…..I like “sweet” bread. Bill goes with steak.

Before the meal arrives, Bill gets a “swimmer” in his wine, and we let the waitress know. I think she will get him a new glass, Bill thinks she will “fish” it out. BIll wins. She brings over a spoon, cloth napkin, and a new, empty, wine glass. She fishes it out, puts it on the napkin, tells him “good wine,” and asks him if he wants the clean glass. Meeting the owner already, I know she would not approve of this, but we let it go, chalking it up as one of the quirks of living in China. The waitress leaves, and Bill decides he doesn’t want the tainted wine after all, so I chug it down for him. The wait staff chuckle behind us at his facial expressions.

Our meal arrives and it is tasty, but mine has a funny texture, and where is the sweet bread?! I learn later, online, that the “faggot” was the giant meatball that was on my plate, and is made up of all the “extra” parts of the animal.  The other half of my dinner, which had a strange texture, but was fabulous, was the “sweetbread.” Not at all “bread,” but instead a dish made of glands from around the heart and neck. Who in their right mind would call this “sweetbread?!” Towards the end of our meal, fireworks start going off across the river, and the skyline is lit with the lights that make Shanghai, Shanghai.

Two different worlds, only minutes apart. Both scenes are beautiful. Both scenes forever engrained in my memory.

 

A Rainy Day in Shanghai

This is a throwback blog from our time in Shanghai. With all the rainy spring days we have had lately, it seemed appropriate. It was a second home to us, and I always love to reminisce about our China days.

Rainy Day…..

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yesterday was a rainy day. I sat by the second story window of our local Starbucks, drinking a non-fat latte, and watching the people on the streets below. With my indoor seat and warm beverage, I think that regardless of the rain, it is a beautiful day.

I watch the lady who sells Mylar children’s balloons on the sidewalk. She has them tied to the back of the bike she transported them on, and I wish I could have seen her trip from home. That would have been a great picture. She sells one each, to two young Chinese women, and as they walk off with their purchases, a man walks behind them, smirking at their childish fun.

Locals pass on their bikes. Their children sit in wire seats behind them. On motorized scooters, children stand behind the handle bars and their parents legs. Others have sandwiched a child between two adult riders on the seat. Age is of no concern. No helmets are worn. Some wear ponchos, some do not. It is not raining very hard yet, so no one is in a hurry.

The armored car arrives to service what has to be one of the most used money machines in Shanghai. Two security guards get out dressed in bullet proof vests, helmets, and carrying what look to me like machine guns, followed by two money handlers. They move into the building with one guard in front, and one in back. The one in back must feel pretty cool, as he has a swagger to his walk. I have been at the ATM when this entourage arrives. It is unnerving, to say the least.

When they are done, they return to the truck. The swaggering man ditches the machine gun and helmet, but leaves on the vest, and returns to the building. The other guard takes off his vest and helmet,  leaves the gun in the truck, and returns to the building in black street clothes. They come back out minutes later, nothing in hand. Must have been a bathroom break. I can tell they are young. This must feel like a very powerful job.

By the time I am ready for Mr. Tao to pick me up, it is pouring outside. There are several silver Buick minivans parked by the road, but it is a 25 meter walk across the courtyard to the street, and I have forgotten my umbrella. I call him to try to figure out which van is ours, but it is lost in translation. His English is limited. I see a police car in the area and I bet on the fact that he has seen it, and parked around the corner. They don’t like drivers to sit on this part of the street to wait. Luckily, if Mr. Tao doesn’t understand you when you call, he usually assumes he is needed at the pickup location.

A minivan pulls up, and I decide to run for it. There are literally thousands of silver Buick minivans driving around Shanghai everyday. It is the telltale sign of an expat. The windows are tinted so I can’t see in, and the license plate can’t be seen from the side of the car. It is raining too hard to try to get to a better angle to see it. The automatic door opens and I jump inside. Generally, your driver will open the door as you walk up, so I am betting it is him.  One day, I will get into a car, and it won’t be, but the rightful owners will be right behind me. The door being opened for them.

I never tire of watching everyday life here. I love experiencing a different culture. Some of it is mind-boggling, but much of it endearing. There is rarely a boring moment, when you live in Shanghai.