Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stuff Americans Say

I've had my share of weird things said to me over my life. Like the time in London when an obese construction worker told my friend B and I that he wished he was the razor that shaved our legs in the morning. Um, ok buddy.

But some of the more interesting comments made to me have been about the fact that I live in China. So I present to you...


"Oh, that must be....interesting." This comment is always accompanied by a dramatic pause, followed by a horrible look of disgust.

"Are you in the service?" Let's think about this for a moment. China is a communist country. Do you really think the US is allowed to have our military here?

"But you don't look Chinese." That's because I'm not.

"Oh, I've always wanted to visit Tokyo." Wrong country but thanks for your enthusiasm. 

"How come your English is so good?" Really?

But for all the odd comments I've gotten I also get my fair share of "Wow, that must be exciting!" and "I've always wanted to live abroad". So the next time someone mentions where they live, ask them about it. Or at least try not to wrinkle your nose. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

5 Things I Miss about America

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have noticed that my pictures haven't been of Shanghai lately. For the past three weeks, I've traded noodles and chopsticks for bagels and beer. That's right, I'm on summer vacation in the good ole U.S. of A.


And while it took me a few days to adjust back to life in the US, I was quickly reminded of why I am proud to call this country home. Sure, it could have been all the fireworks and Independence day fanfare, but I found myself feeling a little more patriotic than usual this visit. So with that feeling of pride still pulsing through my veins, here are five things I miss most about America (other than my family and friends of course).


1. Driving. In Shanghai, it's fairly easy to get around by jumping on the metro, hailing a cab, or calling our driver. (Have I mentioned we have a driver? Before you conjure up images of a white gloved chauffeur opening the door of a town car for me, please know that our driver wears soccer jerseys and drives a minivan.) But I forgot just how convenient it is to have a car. In the US, I can simply walk into the garage and hop in my car (or rather my parents' car since I sold mine) and drive the the short mile to the grocery store instead of walking it. It's an amazing feeling to be able to go where you want, when you want to.


2. The food. Especially the cheesy kind. I made a list of foods I wanted to eat while in the US and have been slowly gnawing away at it. I've also gained an average of .5 lbs per day while here. Whoops. With pizza like this from the legendary Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn, I doubt my diet will start anytime soon.


3. Magazines. I am well aware I can get digital subscriptions to almost everything I want to read these days. But there is something so satisfying about flipping through the pages of your favorite rag. Or ripping out a recipe to save for later (which I then shove into a drawer and never look at again until I declare the office is a mess and recycle said recipe from that magazine that I just had to have because I might want to make a goat cheese and leek tort the next time I host Easter brunch). And while there is a small selection of very expensive magazines at the international grocery store in Shanghai, I love being able to walk into even a small gas station and know my addiction to celebrity gossip can be instantly satisfied.

4. Restaurant Service. Tipping doesn't exist in China. At first, this seemed like the best thing ever. When my bill came for 20 rmb, I knew that was exactly what I would be spending. But what I failed to realize at the time is that with tipping comes better service. When a waiter gets paid the same amount even if they ignore you and forget to bring you a drink after asking eight times, tipping starts to seem like a better idea. I haven't even had to ask for my bill once, something I've come to expect at every meal in Shanghai.

5. Blue skies. Thanks to the abundance of pollution and Shanghai's proximity to the sea, I've spent the past 18 months with drab grey skies. But every day in the US, I've been greeted with this

and this

and this

I think it's rather clear that I've had a great few weeks in the US. And while I'll obviously miss all of the things I outlined above, I'm ready to return home to Shanghai. Because sometime over the last year and a half, that is what Shanghai has become. My home. So while I may not love the lack of cheese and table service, there are countless other things I do love about Shanghai. But that's a post for another day. For now, I'm happy to spend one last night with my family, breathing in the fresh air, and reading the latest on the royal baby (of all the names, George?!?!).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nasal Assault

The first time I inhaled it, I gagged. The stench resembled what I can only imagine a smoothie of stale urine, decaying roadkill, and raw sewage would resemble. So what item could produce such a vile scent? Only the obviously named stinky tofu or chòu dòufu.

Stinky tofu is a common street food all over Shanghai. Made from rotten soy milk, you can usually smell the cart long before you see any evidence of it. After a solid 17 months of living in Shanghai, I figured it was time to finally try it out.

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 3.04.48 PM

For my first encounter, I went to a local Shanghainese restaurant which shall remain nameless. The review online stated that the tofu there would have "chòu dòufu lovers in love, and could even win over people on the fence".  I figured I was in good hands.

The dish came out looking delicious. Small pieces of tofu were carefully wrapped in tofu skin packages and deep fried. The result was a crisp outer skin and creamy center.

I dipped my chòu dòufu into the accompaning chili sauce and popped it in my mouth. The tofu itself had a great consistency but as I continued to chew, the pungent scent crawled up my throat and into my nose. With each chew, the odor grew stronger and stronger. I managed to shallow the entire piece and quickly washed away the lingering after taste with a few gulps of tea.

Then it was Matthew's turn. Before I describe his reaction, you should know that he is the brave one in this partnership. He's eaten things I wouldn't even poke with a stick. So I figured chòu dòufu wouldn't phase him in the least.

As Matthew described it later, as the tofu entered his mouth, his body immediately recognized it as something rancid that should be expelled. That's right, my adventurous hubby who has eaten many a questionable thing in his life (such as my cooking) actually gagged while eating chòu dòufu.

Then I went in for a second piece, just in case the first one was a fluke. It wasn't.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lessons in Chinese Cooking

A few months ago (hence why everyone is wearing sweaters in these photos), I took a private cooking class with some of my friends at the Chinese Cooking Workshop in Shanghai. Since then, I've come back for a group class and really enjoyed myself. The classes are reasonably priced at 150 rmb (~$24) and include all the ingredients for your meal. Plus, I have yet to go to a class where I don't also bring home takeout containers stuffed full of food. Score.

The class included three dishes, two of which we cooked and one dish which was demonstrated by the chef (though we did get to eat it). For our class, we made mapo doufu (spicy tofu), yu xiang qie zi (fish fragrant eggplant), and gon bao ji (kung pao chicken).




You chop and prep your ingredients, then watch as the instructor goes over how to make each dish. Then it's your turn to give it a try.









Overall, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends. And I learned how to cook some of my favorite Chinese dishes. If only I could learn how to properly chop without getting my fingers in the way.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shanghai Eats: Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I'm a really shitty friend. Like the time I laughed so hard I practically hyperventilated when K was bitten by a monkey in rural China. Or the time I accidentally made him, a strict vegetarian, eat shrimp dumplings.

Ok, so maybe I'm only a bad friend when it comes to poor K.

Anyhow, while K was visiting us in March, we had a craving for dumplings and decided to check out Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King. I'd heard rave reviews from friends about the place and figured it was worth a shot.


Our first issue came about when ordering. You see, you order dumplings by the liang, a traditional Chinese measure of weight equivalent to about 50g. The problem is, I didn't know this. And liang sounds an awful lot like liăng, which is the word for two in Chinese. So instead of ordering 15 dumplings, I somehow ended up with 45. Whoops.


Going in, I knew that despite the name, the vegetarian three delicacies dumplings contained shrimp. We ordered some along with the vegetarian mushroom and bok choy and figured we should be fine. What I didn't expect was that everything would be thrown together on one plate, making for a guessing game of what you were about to put in your mouth.



K lost after about the third round of guessing and ingested a shrimp dumpling. At least he said it was good.

There are numerous branches of Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King around town. I visit the one closest to me in Xuhui.

Address: 1791 Huaihai Xi Lu, near Wanping Lu
淮海中路1791号, 近宛平路

Monday, July 8, 2013

Rub a dub dub

Whenever people visit, I like to take them for truly unique Chinese experiences. So their time here is usually filled with tasty noodles, Chinese gardens, and foot rubs.


A Chinese foot rub typically begins with you being seated on a foot stool while soaking your feet in hot water infused with tea and herbs. Sometimes they even give you pajama pants to wear. Especially if you happen to be wearing skinny jeans that cannot be rolled above your knee. While your feet are soaking, a petite masseuse kneads your shoulders and neck.


You then move to a comfy lounge chair where your feet are carefully dried and the masseuse rubs, kneads, pushes and massages pressure points on the bottom, top, and sides of the foot for the better part of an hour.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, each part of the foot is connected to a part of the body. If you feel soreness in a particular part of your foot, it is believed the corresponding part of the body has a problem. If this is true, my entire body is falling apart.


I know what you are wondering. Do I actually like foot massages? And the answer is kind of. I've had some that were soft and left me feeling relaxed. I've had some in which my knuckles are white from gripping the arm chair. But after each one, I pad home on soles that feel as if they are walking on clouds. 

To have your feet kneaded, head to one of my favorite spots about town. Just make sure to learn the Chinese phrase for 'softer please' before you go.

Club Oasis
Address: 30 Donghu Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu
东湖路30号, 近淮海中路

Congen Massage Healthcare Club
Address: 3F Huafu City, 500 Tianyaoqiao Lu, near Xietu Lu

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Shanghai Urban Planning Museum

The Urban Planning Museum, not surprisingly, displays Shanghai's urban planning and development. While there are a few exhibits of interest (I particularly liked the one on the Bund development over the past 100 years), the real reason to make this museum a spot to visit is for the large scale model of the entirety of urban Shanghai, showing existing buildings and approved future buildings.


The massive displays takes up the entire third floor. I had fun trying to spot our apartment in this replica of our neighborhood.


For those interested in urban planning, this museum is worth a quick stop, especially considering its convenient location just off People's Square. 

Admission: 30 rmb/person
Address: 100 Renmin Da Dao, near Xizang Lu
上海城市规划展示馆, 人民大道100号, 近西藏路

Monday, July 1, 2013

30 Day Birthday

My friend Annie and her husband W recently welcomed a beautiful baby boy to their family. As W is Chinese, his family hosted a traditional 30 day birthday celebration for the newest member of their family. Matthew and I were honored to be a part of this special event.

(and yes, I put a sticker on the baby's head. He isn't ready for internet fame just yet)

According to Chinese customs, new mothers are expected to enter 30 days of confinement following the birth of their child. They are not allowed to shower, drink cold beverages, or go outside during this time in order to allow their bodies to heal. It's basically 30 days in their pajamas. Or how I spent last summer (but without the whole giving birth part).

After the confinement period ends, both the mother and baby make their grand entrance back to society on the 30th day of the baby's life. Family and friends are invited to the celebration and the baby receives gifts of food, money, gold, and silver. For centuries, China struggled with high infant mortality rates and the 30 day birthday became a celebration that the baby made it 30 days and was therefore much more likely to survive.

According to tradition, relatives and friends receive gifts from the child's parents at the celebration. The types of gifts vary, but eggs are usually chosen since they symbolize change in life. Their round shape also symbolizes a harmonious and happy life. Annie and W hooked us up with plastic eggs filled with chocolate. I think this is how I will prefer my eggs from now on.


We had a wonderful time meeting Annie and W's beautiful baby and partaking in a traditional Chinese celebration. Now if only I could convince my family that I need presents to make up for them skipping my 30 day celebration as a child! 

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