When we decided to move to Shanghai we did so knowing that we wanted to get outside our comfort zone and explore all that life had to offer. We wanted to shake things up and get out of our easy-going and predictable routine. So when co-workers, Chinese Nationals, make the statement that you’re not really living in China, you’re living in Shanghai, I take offense. First because most have never been to Central Beaverton, so they have no idea how different living in Shanghai, China is from living within the same 5 mile radius your entire life. And second, because they have not experienced how competitive I am, especially with myself, and a statement like that just makes me want to do things to prove them wrong.
So, today, Greg and I went with Kenny to the ancient water town of Qibao (Chee Bow and that’s bow as in the verb, like take a bow.) Qibao was built during the Northern Song Dynasty from the years 960 – 1126. It is built along the Puhui River with beautiful bridges built to make your way back and forth throughout the 8 mile town. It is known now for tea houses located in some of the original yet restored buildings and for the street food.
As we parked the car, I looked around and made the statement “we’re not in Beaverton anymore.” Right away, outside the car was a fresh meat market. Hanging from wires were different types of raw meat, drying and ready for purchase. Kenny shared it was the meat of mutton or sheep if you’re from the UK, Australia or New Zealand.
Square Melons I thought to myself. This is much like walking through Whole Foods and seeing all the fresh meat at the butcher counter. Square Melons until I saw the caged chickens and people picking them out for purchase. I grew up with animals, including chickens. I’ve witnessed where the phrase “run around like a chicken with their head cut off” came from. I’m okay with this. I’m comfortable. Square Melons. It’s just like being back at home, at the house on Farmington Road where I grew up, out near the barn with my brothers and sisters watching as my dad “prepared” the chickens for dinner.
We continued on and as we crossed one of the bridges we came to the area I’m guessing was designated for entertainment. We saw people gathered around small tables participating in the Chinese version of the shell game. Placing bets and losing money. We saw palm readers, which Kenny pointed out as fakes. He said if we wanted to have our palms read we should go to one in the temples. Greg and I gave each other a glance as we both flashed back to the palm reader from the Grand View Garden temple who took one look at Greg’s palm and walked away.
We saw musicians and artist showing off their works. Just when I was feeling like I was under the Burnside Bridge in Portland walking through Saturday Market we happened upon a man and his trick monkeys. He had 3 monkeys leashed up and was speaking in a soft, “monkey whisperer” type voice as the monkeys acted out the commands. They jumped and did flips or sat as they waited for their turn. One monkey was masked up with some sort of wire, Silence of the Lambs, device. Greg commented that he must be a biter. I remembered when Meredith was at NIKE daycare and I would get a call that a classmate had bitten her. Perhaps they should invest in some of these masks.
Everything is going well. Fascinating sites and I’m feeling pretty comfortable. And then Kenny motions that we’re turning to go down this road. I could feel all my insecurities and phobias amplifying within me. A heightened sense of “there’s no place like home” rushing through me. I turn to look at Greg who just smiles and pushes me forward towards Kenny who is now a few steps ahead.
It’s the famous or infamous, however you choose to look at it – food street. Let’s see if I can set the stage for you while you review the picture. It’s packed. Packed. The smell, I find out later is Stinky Tofu, Kenny tells me the Chinese love it. It becomes all too clear how it got its name. People are shoving and pushing their way through. Eating, laughing and pointing out favorite foods and candy along the way. Greg and I, by the way, are the only “westerners” in site. Kenny is moving farther away from us and as who I can only hope is Greg, feel someone pushing me from behind to catch up.
Kenny steps off to the side and motions for us to join him. We head into one of the vendor’s spaces where he shares with us that this is where Shanghai wine is made. He walks through like he owns the place, taking us to the very back where we see large bamboo containers full of rice and where huge ceramic vats of wine are stored.
As we make our way back to the storefront, Kenny asks if we would like to sample some wine. He points to the shelves for us to pick a type or variety. I very politely decline as I experience yet another great phobia of mine, my first being germs, second being large crowds, third being touched, shoved and pushed by strangers, to see a jar of freshly produced snake wine. Kenny trys to defend and comfort me with a statement that it’s very good for your health. He points to his knees and tells us its good for when the weather is cold. I assume he’s talking about arthritis and Greg states with a big chuckle that maybe you should try some Rosemary. In reference to the palm reader who basically dismissed Greg, I hold up my palm, cross my eye-brows at him and walk away.
We head back out to the streets of hell and Kenny very proudly states we’re going to have the best dumplings in Shanghai. Greg is really enjoying this now as he knows another phobia of mine is street food. I’ve never eaten at any of the food carts in Portland that everyone brags about. I consider eating at Pepita’s in Beaverton an adventure. I can’t imagine eating at one of these places. Kenny pulls off the street again and seems to be known by the owner of the dumpling shop as they exchange some pleasentries in Chinese. I can only imagine what he is saying “check out these two greenhorns.” So here’s my chance – I very politely say to Kenny “I’m not sure I can eat here.”
He completely ignores me and asks if I would like sweet or salty pork dumplings. Greg steps in and says sweet and agrees that we all want the wonton soup. We head up a very narrow staircase to a small table. Kenny sets the table with napkins and chopsticks that he pulls out of a bin much like you would see silverware stored in a cafeteria. He pours the vinegar into the small bowl and gives us each a spoon for our soup. The soup and dumplings arrive and Greg and Kenny dive in. Now I’m conflicted. The voices of my blog come rushing through me “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and the thought that those damn co-workers challenging me that I’m living the comfortable life of Shanghai. And so I join in. I surrender all my anxieties and phobias and enjoy the best dumplings of Shanghai and some delicious wonton soup.