Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wet and Wild

You'd never guess it, but you can get some really beautiful, fresh fruit in China. A friend of mine lives near a wet market, one block north of Hongqiao Lu on Jianhe Lu, that she's been telling me about since we moved here. I finally got around to checking it out over Chinese New Year, and you know what? It actually made me wish I cooked more often.
Here's the entrance from Jianhe Lu. There's an aisle on the left, which actually goes down the middle, and has mostly vegetables, and the one on the right there has fruits, at least here at the front. To the far left is....
...less palatable things. I'm not entirely sure how the Chinese can eat stuff that looks like this, because these meats look totally inedible to me. These look inedible to me, as well, but other people might like fresh shrimp.
Or fish. I've been to a fish market or two in my time, and I have to say, there was less of a fish smell here than any I've ever visited before.
You can get real meat here, too, with the butcher on hand to cut it down to size for you, and I've gotta say, it looks pretty tasty.
There's also just about every kind of egg you could want, freshly laid (either that, or the chickens in the storefront behind me were for those looking for VERY fresh meat).
They've got tofu (which is - are you ready for this - "doufu" if you need to ask for it in Mandarin)...
And freshly made noodles, too.
Here are some of the vegetables:
Do you know the mushroom man?
And this is my fruit seller. Note the beautiful avocados. I probably overpaid her, at 8 kuai each, but $4 for three avocados wasn't half bad, especially since another one of the stalls sold me some cilantro - it was a fresh guacamole weekend for me!
On the fruit side there are also shops selling spices and beans and nuts. I haven't seen a selection like this since leaving the middle east.
There's even more to this market - along the outside edge, you can get everything from a health check to a haircut, kitchen utensils or wellies. But the best of all is outside. If, after all that shopping, you are too exhausted to cook, you can stop for dinner at Nino's, an authentic hole-in-the-wall pizzeria run by an Italian expat. The food is cheap, good, and best of all, Nino's Chinese wife speaks English with an Italian accent, bringing on one of those fabulously surreal moments when you're no longer sure WHAT country you're in.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Disappearing Act

Since moving into the Fortress of Solitude, I passed a certain house every day on my way to school. The front of this house had an electronic marquee in the window that flashed, "Defend the dignity of law! No illegal home removing!" Note all those past tenses in the first two sentences, because they're important. See, like all their neighbors gone before, the "Dignity of Law" house is no more. And it kind of pisses me off. See, it's not exactly an uncommon thing - an area up the street has been sealed off and knocked down. These areas might be kind of dingy, they might be a little seedy (the one up the street had hookers), but they were REAL China. Not the slick shiny knockoff of other large cities around the world, but a thriving mess that was truly, authentically Shanghainese. And they're disappearing under the forward march of progress. So let this week's blog stand as a tribute to those alleyways, as I take you down one of the few that are left in Hongqiao.
You can enter this alley from either Huaguang Lu or Chengjiaqiao Lu at Hongzhong Lu. I started on Huaguang Lu then looped back along Chengjiaqiao. Like I said, they're grimy, but alive, and have probably been standing as long as China's been communist. Maybe longer.
Madonna and Child, with piss stream.
Kenny Rogers ain't got nothing on these bad boys. I was a few seconds too quick; as I turned away to peddle off, the one on the right turned and hawked a big loogie. That's China for you.
The meat cart - no back alley is complete without it. This one doesn't have any paws on it, in case you're faint of heart.
Now, from my comments above, you may think I'm making fun. Don't get me wrong, the public urination and spitting everywhere gets old. I met a friend for dinner on Thursday and when she took off her ear muffs they had caught a gob of phlegm that some individual spat somewhere along the way (we were both disgusted until we realized it COULD have ended up on her face or in her hair). But places like this are honest - the people are what they are, unreservedly and without shame. They don't have a lot of money, but my gosh, what they lack they make up in character, and I kind of think that's beautiful. And I think it's a shame that their communities get torn down for new apartment blocks. I'd rather see smiling faces like these...or hell, even be reminded of my otherness by open-mouthed stares as I pedal down their streets.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Me and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Well. Not a whole lot has been going on around here. Got caught up in the winter doldrums, and have been axing deserving individuals from my life (Socrates has not been mentioned on here in a very long time, but it wasn't until January that I finally cut him out of my life, thanks to the fact that he came back to Shanghers this fall and I - like an idiot - felt sorry for him). I've also been busily job hunting - this recruiting season, I sent out 29 applications, but it wasn't until three weeks ago that I set up my first interview. I was excited for that one, since it would have sent me to Marrakesh and a K-12 art position, if I had succeeded. After the interview, I felt like it was okay, but decided that rather than sit around and hope they called, I started filling out other applications. One of them was for the American School of Ulaanbaatar, for a secondary art job, just in time for their deadline. Later that night, I got a reply, asking for an interview, and after talking to their personnel consultant, and their principal, I was offered the job. It's not Marrakesh (who I never heard back from), but I have a feeling God was guiding me in this, since there are several congregations of my church in Ulaanbaatar itself, whereas there's just the one in all of Morocco, and that in faraway Rabat. And I think I'm going to like working for the principal a lot, and I work a lot harder for people I like (sad but true), and there is a decent-sized Korean population in UB, and while the salary is a little less, the taxes are as well, and I won't have to pay for rent or utilities (other than phone), and all in all, I think it's going to be a good place for me.
That said, Mongolia is really, REALLY bloody far north. Right now it's 19F up there, although tomorrow the high's supposed to be 28 (almost above freezing - How about that!) So I celebrated being offered my contract with a trip to the fabric market. Ostensibly, this was to buy layers, but far be it from me to leave China (thank goodness!) without doing my part for it's (endless) economic growth spurt. So in addition to the two pairs of long underwear I had copied in silk jersey (silk wicks sweat away from your skin) and the two plain shirts I had copied to put under other shirts, I ordered a dress, and a copy of a wrap skirt I own (except out of wool knit instead of the light breezy cotton it was originally made of)...and while I was looking for colors of the wool knit that DIDN'T look like the 60's threw up all over it, I found the most awesome shiny gold and blue leopard print, and decided I needed a dress made out of that, too. I told myself no more leopard print after the pencil skirt I bought back home last summer...but one more can't hurt, right?? Especially one like this - I figure I can go out dancing in this over the summer when I visit the Evil One in Lima...
Anyways, after the Shanghai Literary Festival - where Shermeen and I listened to Steffi Schmidt tell us the preface of her book...err, talk about her book, Shanghai Promenade (mostly stories about German spies who used to live here - we weren't unduly impressed, although Meen went ahead and bought the book and has promised to share any gems that tumble forth from the very dense book) - and lunch at Charme on East Nanjing Rd, I headed down to the fabric market to pick up my new clothes. The shirts and underwear were fine, the leopard-print was stunning in a nice, loud way, once they lowered the neckline a little, and the skirt - well, they need to reverse it so the purple layer is on top and the black on bottom, but it fit fine and I think it will be nice and warm, I may even have to have another made. And the other dress? It was beyond amazing. It was the best thing I've bought at the fabric market. It fit perfectly and was really flattering. This is it...
I decided to start calling the girl in the shop the Little Chinese Seamstress. I met her last spring when JoAnn was next door ordering shirts...it took a long time and as I was wandering around the third floor, I ended up in her shop because I saw a dress that I thought was really cute. The Little Chinese Seamstress was very convincing - she had good English and she wheedled me into ordering the dress I stopped to admire, even though I was kind of over buying things that day. It's a good thing she did, because everything she's made has turned out well. This is the fourth dress she's made me, and by far the best. It goes a little past my knees, has a flat panel down the middle of the front with ruching down both sides. My only wish is that she had more patterns to choose from - it's a really small shop - and that fewer people had discovered her, because she's usually pretty busy. I promised her today that I'd be back every month til I left, and I fully intend to. Leaving behind the fabric market is going to be one of the hardest things about leaving Shanghai. Here's the original dress she made me...
Speaking of leaving Shanghai, I've decided to live it up tourist style until I go. I've told myself that I will write a blog every week til then. While I bitch about the fact that there's not much soul to this city, there are lots of things I haven't done yet. So stay tuned.