Can’t Get Enough Pocky..
Today, we took a few subway stops from our hotel down to “Old Town Shanghai.” The aroma of fried wontons, candied strawberries, and smoked yams filled the air as we first walked in. If you have been to a state fair and noticed the huge amount of people, take that and double it. The amount of people walking through little streets, selling food, and trying to sell you copy Rolex watches is almost enough to make you sick.
For lunch, we set off into separate groups to find the perfect choice of food. I chose to go to a little area that had a variety of different authentic Chinese foods. Comparing this place to previous restaurants we have gone to, this was much easier. Here, I grabbed a tray and walked down the line to pick up what food looked best to me. If I had any questions about what the particular dish was, I could ask the cute old lady sitting behind the table.
Shanghai is much different from my experience in Hong Kong. Here, I’m getting the real feeling of what I have always imagined China to be like. People are constantly spitting or blowing snot rockets, the subways are filled with people rushing to their next destination, and we can’t forget watching the children eat duck heads for dinner. I think one of my favorite parts of this trip is watching what people are eating. For example, tonight at dinner, us American’s filled our stomachs with fried rice, dumplings, and sticky buns. As we were eating dinner we noticed a family [seated next to us] scarfing down a plate filled with duck heads. That’s right, the head of the duck. Watching this child devour the duck head made me reflect on my own childhood when I was his age and my mom making me eat a manicotti hot dish. For some reason, both dishes seem to be on completely different spectrums of exotic foods, but at the same time the events parallel one another defined by the culture in which these experiences reside. I felt a connection with this child even without talking to him because I could tell he wasn’t enjoying the duck head just like I didn’t enjoy the manicotti. It’s these small human connections that makes the small world come together.
I've been exploited... and it feels good.
Imagine a world where you have to fight for your food. Not physically; cognitively. In Shanghai I have found myself doing this every day. Not being able to speak Chinese has made ordinary day-to-day tasks a game of charades. Until this trip, communication is something I have taken for granted. I frequently find myself feeling homesick when I hear another English speaker.
Today we met Jason Mott. Jason is a Luther alum who moved to Shanghai to teach music. After sharing casual conversation, I asked him about some of the things he misses from the states. His answer was surprising. He didn’t talk about craving Baconators, baseball, or apple pie. Well, it wasn’t the first thing that came to his mind. He misses something rather small. Something beautiful. Jason misses small conversations with people at bus stops.
Taking the taxi is a ritual Jason knows too well. Shanghai citizens use mass transit everyday to get around the city of 24 million. Occasionally Jason shares small talk with the cab drivers, but the conversation quickly comes to an end when the language barrier keeps each of them from being able to vocalize. I think Jason’s desire to communicate is incredibly grounding. Humans desire connection.
Shanghai’s metro system is crowded with people whose eyes are glued to tiny glowing screens. Teens are texting their friends. Young adults are video chatting their families. Grandmothers are cheesing with selfie sticks. Social media has exploited our intrinsic need to share stories, laughs, and smiles in the most comforting way. Human connection is wickedley powerful, and we can all take comfort in knowing how beautifully helpless we are.
Tomorrow is a travel day, we're headed back to a different part of Hong Kong. Updates will come soon, but for now so long Shanghai!