Tag Archives: questions

Relearning Shanghai

9 Mar

I’m back.

Three weeks after my last post, I’m taking the plunge again to attempt to capture the joy and confusion and life that is living in China.  Thanks for staying tuned.

Looking at my stats during the time I was away – I have a remarkably loyal core readership – or by this point I’ve posted so much content that the search engines will guarantee a certain readership level even without posting anything new.  I’m not sure how to take it.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately – the entire month of February I was in my own bed for less than a week.  The posts at the beginning of the month were strategically scheduled to make you unaware of my whereabouts.  When I got back to China, my VPN was down, making scaling the Great Firewall impossible  – and I had all of those other “life” things I needed to take care of – food, clean clothes, making the apartment feel like mine again.

And Shanghai continues to change.  In my absence there felt like so many new elements layered on top of life – when in the day-to-day I may not notice, but coming back (especially after the US) they are front and center.

My walk to yoga is now past buildings that have been flattened (but were whole before Chinese New Year).  There is a new foreign supermarket in Times Square (two years after the old one closed) – that has a baking section with muffin cups and unbleached flour.  After reading a website, my husband has clued me in that within a ten minute walk are three of Shanghai’s most famous street food stands – not counting the one we discovered last year – Da Chang Mian.

The way to order a taxi has changed with a competition between two of the most powerful Chinese internet tycoons who are giving rides away for free, making hailing a cab much more challenging.  And my work schedule has shifted very nocturnally with lots and lots of conference calls after 9pm.  Re-entering Shanghai life has taken me a little time.

This past Friday, I met a vendor for lunch at a restaurant I have visited many times before – Din Tai Fung.  I’ve been to their flagship store in Taipei 101 and eaten at multiple locations across Shanghai.  This time, when I sat down, the waitress gave me this card.

This side has directions in Chinese, English and Korean - the reverse French and Japanese.  Eating soup dumplings can be tricky!

This side has directions in Chinese, English and Korean – the reverse French and Japanese. Eating soup dumplings can be tricky!

It details how to eat Xiao Long Bao (steamed soup dumplings) which is the dish the restaurant is the most famous for.  The two sides of the cards have multiple languages making sure whomever visits is clear.  It would have been very handy 7 years ago, but the effect now was it made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I had been in Shanghai a little too long.

My contact arrived and we ordered lunch and enjoyed the views of the Bund and I normalized, heading off to my next meeting and my massage that evening and a great dinner that my husband had prepared.  But I couldn’t get it out of my head – every single time I leave and come back I have to relearn this city.  Yes, my understanding grows deeper, but with that, I notice more changes.  I am no longer superficially connected to this place – it is in my psyche, my pace of living, my taste buds and internal soundtrack.

Shanghai.

Come visit.  I promise – it won’t be boring!

Really? I used to live there!

2 Feb

We got into a taxi, like we have many times before.

Please take us to the corner of Hefei Lu and the elevated highway.  There’s a church there.

The cab driver looked back at us and stared.  He confirmed the intersection and we started off.  It was obvious he knew where he was going – getting there takes less than 10 minutes but there are several one way streets so going the wrong way can be annoying.  We relaxed and watched street life in Shanghai whirl by.  I noticed that another block on the way there was being slowly flattened by the ever-present cranes.

He glanced back again and said – “I used to live by there.  There’s no church – I swear.”

We confirmed that there was a church there again, but the taxi driver had it in his head.  He kept thinking aloud – “Maybe it’s the old park?  No, I bet it’s the old Culture Palace (文化宫).”

We pulled up outside and he confirmed it.  “Yep, it’s the Culture Palace – you were right.  It is a church now.”

Then he asked “Do you believe in God?”

Taken aback – I said, “Yes.”

When we got out of the taxi – I asked Li what a Culture Palace was.  He said that in the big cities there were specific places for the party faithful to go have fun – there may be places to play cards or pool – gathering places for true blue collar communists.

Entering the church I looked at it closely.  I am convinced that it’s structure was that of a church originally.  My guess is that it was taken over during the revolution and converted into a place to play.  Then sometime in the last 10 or 15 years it was converted back to the church that it should have been.

I got a history lesson from a cab driver in Shanghai.  I think that I may have taught him something too – obviously he didn’t know there was a church there!

Shanghai continues to pull me in even six years later.  I wonder what else I’ll stumble on?

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