My Shanghainese Birthday
was my birthday and you’ll never believe what Blair got me! A trip to Shanghai! &x1F60A One of the best birthday gifts ever! And boy did we have big plans for the day of my birthday… Langley and his wife (Gong Jing) invited us to IKEA and dinner with 6 of their badminton friends!
Unfortunately my birthday had to start off with realizing that one of the sinks in the kitchen was broken. The drain was completely disconnected from the sink and water was pouring into the cupboard below! We tried to hillbilly prop it up with some empty boxes but that didn’t work, so we are getting by with one sink. Not a huge deal, but it only added to the stress of adjusting in such a foreign country! The maintenance man came and said they need to replace the entire drain, which will be done after the holiday.
On to more exciting things, I was ecstatic for my birthday plans! My love of IKEA evolved after my sister Missie introduced me to the enormous blue box in college. And there can’t be a more perfect place to pick up some fun, cheap décor for our apartment in Shanghai! You’re probably sensing a common theme here, but it was extremely busy (it’s still the Chinese holiday)! IKEA is busy in the United States, but just imagine every aisle filled with people shoulder to shoulder. Believe me; you don’t want to walk the opposite direction of the herds of people! We were also excited to see a lot more Westerners here; prior to this trip we had only seen 2 at the supermarket.
Most things at the Shanghai IKEA are pretty much the same; however I don’t remember seeing chopsticks in Chicago or Orlando! We bought some much-needed items to try and make our apartment feel more like home: fabric for a curtain in the kitchen so people can’t stare at the Western girl washing dishes at night, a bath mat for the shower and rugs for the grimy bathroom & kitchen floors which even bleach couldn’t scrub completely clean, covers for the couch (it’s a really nice couch but with a furnished apartment, you never know), frames for the “artwork” we brought from home, an apple-cinnamon candle to remind us of autumn in the Midwest (which we are sadly missing again!) and a few other minor things. It was overall a successful trip to IKEA!
As we were leaving, Langley & Gong Jing presented me with a birthday gift… a vase they bought at IKEA! Chinese people are always giving gifts! They are all sooo kind!
From there we hopped on the Subway to dinner. If I haven’t already described the Shanghai Metro, let me just tell you that it is awesome! In the last 3 years they have added 7 additional lines, currently totaling 12 lines which can get you almost anywhere in the city. According to Wikipedia, the average daily ridership in 2009 was 3.6 million people… wow! And it’s only about 50 cents for each ride! We haven’t really even needed to take a taxi yet.
The restaurant we went to was a short walk from the Metro stop, through ancient alleys called hutongs. Along the hutongs are small storefronts as well as building walls which open up into large courtyards. As we approached, red lanterns hanging from the roof line lit up the hutong and highlighted the traditional Chinese architecture of the restaurant. There was a large table with a big “lazy Susan” in the middle reserved for us. Rice tea was brought out in ceramic kettles which Langley poured into our glasses, swirled around and dumped out. Then he filled our glasses.
“Old Tiger” and his wife were the first to arrive. “Old Tiger” spoke English very well with a deep wisdom-filled voice. Every time he would flip open his zippo and light a cigarette, his pregnant wife would yell at him. They will have a baby at the end of October. Due to the desire of a couple’s only child to be a son (and therefore hostility toward daughters), it is actually illegal in China to tell the parents the sex of their baby. “Uncle Shi” arrived next. He is a lot older than the rest of us (hence the name uncle), but was the matchmaker of Langley and Gong Jing. We began ordering cold food (appetizers) and Chinese wine while everyone else arrived. We treaded lightly with the Chinese wine since it is as syrupy as a dessert wine and as strong as a bottle of liquor and we still had headaches the next day!
After awhile, we were lead to the back of the restaurant to see the beautiful view. The hostess opened the French-like doors and we walked out onto a balcony overlooking the neighboring courtyard. We were instantly immersed into ancient China (the China you see in the movies). It was absolutely beautiful! A square pond made up most of the courtyard and toward the center was a large rock-like sculpture with a fountain. “Old Tiger” informed us, in his wise voice, that this is the oldest school in Shanghai and a very prestigious one.
The next badminton friend who arrived was “Mr. Fan”. If you’ve never noticed, Chinese look extremely young for their age. “Mr. Fan” was a perfect example of this… he looked like he was about 18, but he has an 8 year old son. Apparently “Mr. Fan” usually drives everywhere, but tonight he took the Metro to dinner, so this was his friends’ chance to get him drunk. They ordered 3 very large (probably similar to 40 oz.) bottles of Tsing Tao (the most popular beer in China, which is very good!) and started filling his cup. Whenever someone would Cheers (Ganbei) him, it was a shot to his manliness if he didn’t finish his cup of beer. Needless to say, he got extremely drunk! Another couple also arrived, but I have since forgotten their names.
Throughout the meal we were served approximately 50 different platters family-style. The waitress would set each on the “lazy Susan” and Langley’s friends would turn it until the platters were directly in front of Blair and I. “You must try this one,” they would say as each and every platter was placed on the table. They waited for our facial expressions as we tasted the different types of food and then tried to translate them into English. We were daring and attempted most foods, even pig tongue, until I tried quite possibly one of the most horrible things I have ever tasted, goose liver. My taste buds became overwhelmed and I decided to pass on the octopus and pig legs & skin. There were some very good entrees as well! I especially liked the fried eggplant, yellow fish and barbeque pork. I feel like, in one night, we had a thorough taste of traditional Shanghai. Since Langley invited us to dinner, he paid for our portion and after a three-hour dinner, we all left the restaurant with still so much food on the table.
A little afternote on Chinese traditions… Contradictory to “going dutch”, when you invite someone to dinner (even if there are several people), you are typically expected to pay for their portion. Furthermore, if you are the guest, you should never finish all of the food on the table. This is an insult to the Chinese and indicates that they didn’t order enough food.