So, we obviously have not been doing a completely competent job of keeping the blog up to date. However, we have been a success at posting the pictures of Facebook. You win some you lose some. Anyway, this is going to be a crazy long post to get you all up to speed (somewhat)! I’m going to go back in time, so, let’s go!
Rewind four weeks, Tommy and I are set to begin our first weekend in China. Uncle Leon, the amazing man that he is, offers to pick us up and let us spend the weekend with him in Shanghai. We eagerly accept. It’s Friday afternoon, Uncle Leon and his driver pull up to our building, we load our one duffle bag (minus our contacts, contact solution, and glass which we will discover on our ride to Hongqiao). This is where we got our first taste of true China driving. I firmly believe that if you know how to drive, you couldn’t possibly drive in China. Every rule you know about driving has to be thrown completely out the window (which, coincidentally, all China drivers keep the windows cracked in the car to ‘get the fresh air in’ . . . who cares that it’s 40 degrees out).
We stop in Hongqiao for dinner. This is the first real China city that Tommy and I have been too. There are street vendors on the sidewalks selling meat on a stick or squid tentacles if you prefer, copies of dvds going for 10 yuan, panda hats (which I later bought in Suzhou), cooked sweet potatoes that people just peel and eat, and tomatoes / strawberries on a stick with some sort of caramel or honey glaze on them, and much much more.
Uncle Leon takes us down a street with an overwhelming amount of Western style restaurants. My heart is breaking from joy, I could weep at the sight of food I can actually eat! Tommy is equally excited but less dramatic about it. We end up eating at the Blue Frog which makes me incredibly happy because I love frogs and I love the color blue. The fact that it serves food I can eat with a menu I can read is only an added bonus =P. The wait staff speaks English to us (GASP!!!!! – no one in Suzhou speaks English except the kids at school). I ordered grilled chicken and Tommy got a hamburger. Yes, we still remember. It was that exciting.
After dinner, Uncle Leon takes us to IKEA. Again, my heart is soaring with joy. Again, people speak English and there are signs in English. We buy a cushion for our mattress (for the past 3 days we have been sleeping on our couch which is a sectional, we pushed the sections together to make a mattress sized area to sleep on. Why are we sleeping here? Because our bed is literally cement with metal springs. Later, Lemon will tell us the Chinese believe hard mattresses are good for your back . . . my back begs to differ). We buy pillows and sheets and plates and silverware, and I buy a candle. It’s a wonderful shopping trip made all the better because Uncle Leon’s driver will take us home so we don’t have to lug our stuff around on the train.
From IKEA we go to Uncle Leon’s home in Shanghai. He and Aunt Cindy live in Pudong which is blissfully Western. Beyond the submarine style entrance to their apartment complex, they live in a beautiful area and in a beautiful apartment. The whole place is decorated so nicely, they’ve lived here for four years and will be returning full time to the US in February. They have real showers!
The next morning, Uncle Leon takes us to CarreFour which is a big supermarket that is basically the Chinese equivalent of Meijer’s. So, Uncle Leon is touring us around, showing us how it is set up, because all CarreFours, like Meijers, are all set up the same and we could find one near us and know where stuff is. So the tour progresses from houseware to grocery store. This is where things get highly questionable.
Any of you who know me well know that I get freaked out by a lot of things . . . a lot of things. Certain shades of green remind me of germs so I won’t buy clothes or cups or what have in those shades of green. Weirdly displayed food weirds me out. Etc, etc. Thus, I was not prepared for the food section.
I love frogs. I think they are cute. Even toads, all very nice. I go to the Amphibian section of all zoos, ooing and ahhing at the cute little frogs. Not so in China!! As I casually look around the seafood section, I see something move in the water. I freeze, look closer. BULL FROGS! Five of them! Swimming around a tank! And not just frogs!!! Turtles too!!!!! And I’m freaking. Peeping over Tommy’s shoulder with a face of horror, asking Uncle Leon if they really eat frogs and turtles. He LAUGHS! And assures me that they do.
So as I’m trying to process that not only are the French killing my cute little frogs for the sake of a meal, I notice that the nice bundle of something grey is moving. It’s all tied up, but it’s moving. Why? Because it’s a bundle of crabs that are very clearly alive, or at the very least clinging on to life. And that’s when I realize, all of this stuff is fresh. Everywhere! The entire seafood section is full of wriggling, swimming, living creatures! It’s like Red Lobster on steroids.
Side story: Once upon a time, Michelle and her parents went to Universal Studios. Little Michelle was still in elementary school. One night, she and her parents go to an Italian Restaurant where her father orders pasta. Michelle spies over the menu and sees that the pasta includes baby squids! Horror upon horror, not only is her father killing a squid, no no, it is a baby squid! Multiple baby squids!! It’s unimaginable! It’s traumatic! It is still mentioned to this day as the act of questionable morals.
Connection story: China’s not just selling frogs, turtles, crabs, and fish. Oh no. They are selling squid too.
Moving on to the poultry section. China doesn’t do chicken breasts or thighs. No. Please, that is pathetic. China sells you the WHOLE chicken, plucked for your convenience. We’re talking head attached, eyes milky from recent death, legs and chicken feet. All there. To say this wigged me out would be a major understatement. (Mind you, Tommy is handling this all with his usual calm and humor because he is a boy and he is not bothered by such things as these.) At this point, Uncle Leon informs us not think of the grocery carts like the ones back home. He points to the woman next to us who has grabbed a full chicken (they aren’t in packages or anything, just on ice chips) and throws into her cart. Yep. Just dead chicken flesh rubbing all over your cart.
After the supermarket rendezvous, we head out on the town. Uncle Leon takes us to the Bund where the Pearl Tower is and where we took some fabulous photos. For lunch we ate at this amazing dumpling place. They serve the dumplings in these little wooden trays. The food was delicious and the experience was really fun even though I refused to try anything new (I ate the vegetable and chicken dumplings). Tommy is way more legit and tried the crab dumplings and the pork.
Then we head across to the other side of the Bund. He takes us to an old section of Shanghai called YuYuan market where the street vendors are out like crazy and people keep hustling us to buy watches. (Why watches, I ask you? If you have one, aren’t you pretty much set until it breaks?) Old town was way way cool. It was the first area we had been to that looked expressly oriental and Chinese. It’s the part of China that Tommy and I have been looking forward too. So we take lots of nice photos and feel all touristy.
Then Uncle Leon takes us to the garden there called YuYuan Garden. It is so beautiful and old. It’s a blend of nature and museum because the garden is where the rulers in old time lived so there are their living quarters and meeting places. It’s all out in the open, different little dwellings separated by great sections of nature. It was huge too! It went on and on, we didn’t have time to cover it all. Here, I feel the pictures really did a much better job than my words could ever do.
After YuYuan, we went to Nanjing Road which is this great street that reminds me of Times Square. For a section of it, there are no cars allowed, just people and shops. Uncle Leon took us to a Chinese pharmacy. The people wait to be called up to the front which is a bar with a wall of cubby holes behind it. The person explains their illness, then the pharmacist goes to the cubby holes, picks out a bunch of different herbs and gives them to the person to put in tea or crush or whatever. Very interesting.
We walked to the end of Nanjing which looks across to the Bund (again huge photo-op for us). Here, we also encountered something very different from US life. A man and his girlfriend came up and made hand gestures about his camera, him, and us. Uncle Leon smiled and said yes. Then the man handed his camera to the girlfriend and Uncle Leon told us that the man wanted to take a picture with us because we were white. So we all lined up and the girlfriend took a lovely family photo of us plus her boyfriend. So bizarre! Lol.
Then we headed back to Uncle Leon’s, ate one last amazing meal of Western food, called it a night, and the next morning we were on our way back to Suzhou with our wonderful new bedding. I don’t think I have ever been given a more excellent one day tour of a huge city in my life! Uncle Leon did an amazing job and we will never be able to thank him enough for taking the time to show us around! We love you, Uncle Leon!!