I don’t usually post two things so close together, but today the spirit moved me.
The newness of Shanghai is fading. And the pleasure of shopping and setting up house is wearing thin. Don’t get me wrong. There is still tons to see and do in the city and the apartment is far from what I would call homey, but I am just sick of it.
For the first few weeks it was like being on a really cool vacation. Hubby couldn’t work much because he didn’t have his official government issued work permit, so he got to hang out with us. There was lots of basic stuff to do and see. Like how to get to school – and home again! Where are the good grocery stores? How do I work the oven? Or the dishwasher?? Where can I get hand soap? Or meet potential new friends??? All of this consumed my time pretty completely. Any free time was taken up by fellow newcomers doing the same thing I was, but we all invite each other along for the “adventure” of figuring out whatever that days task was. It was a bonding experience. It gave us someone to laugh with when you couldn’t figure out how to get money from the ATM or recharge minutes onto your cell phone, or reclaim your laundry at the dry cleaners, or get your toilet fixed when it completely stops working. Yes, these are all real examples of daily challenges that I or my compatriots have had recently. One of my new friends has had more than her share of these – you know who you are :).
Anyway, once the whirlwind of the first few weeks wears off and you realize you are here for the long haul it comes as a little bit of a shock, even for me who really, really wanted to do this. One thing that may seem little but isn’t, is the food issue. Not the gross stuff I have shown you. Just the complete lack of familiarity with the food or what to do with it. It is a challenge. But by not having anything close to what you had at home it provides a kind of mental separation. As if by not having familiar foods it gives this place a complete new identity without my old life “interfering”.
But now I have been here long enough to know where to find the good American and European candy and other food. Which is exactly where I headed when Hubby left for his first business trip since we arrived. On my own, tired of shopping, kids safely tucked away at school, I headed for the licorice swedish fish. Hey, they’re german/swedish so they are lower in sugar and therefore healthier – right? I got the kind my Dad loves. Every winter he keeps a stash of candy in his living room and when I go hang out with my parents I usually sneak a few. Having these candies brought those memories right back – and made me wish I was curled up in their living room chatting and watching my Mom knit.
The next day my Mom sent me an email to tell me that one of her, and my Dad’s, best friends had passed away after a battle with throat cancer. Although I did not know him nearly as well as my parents, I can tell you that he was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. Kind, generous and loving doesn’t even begin to describe him. For a long time he and his wife lived across the street from my parents and they spent a lot of time together. My daughter can tell you how he taught her to fish and clean her catch. And how they spent long afternoons playing cards on the porch. This started when she was 9 or 10 (four or five years ago). It was like having a buy one get one free deal on grandparents. She had her “Gram and Peep” and their friends to hang out with. He was a world war II vet and had many stories to tell. I was looking forward to telling him about life in China now and comparing my notes to his time in Asia. He will be dearly missed by all of us.
Right after I got the email from my Mom my best friend popped up on Skype and we hadn’t talked in a while so I was really excited. We each made coffee and sat down to have a chat. It was just like being at her house and hanging out. I was doing fine until she asked if I was happy here. Mostly I have to say the answer is yes, but with the homesickness settling in I started to get teary. And of course that’s just when the stupid Skype decided to cut out. So I will send her a long email to tell her I really am not a complete basket case (only partially :).
But then I was left to my own devices. I had told my driver to take the day off as I had planned to just relax around the house. But after the mornings events I was just too squirrelly. I put on good walking shoes and headed out the door. Since there are no quiet woods to hike in here (they are SORELY missed) I made my way on the streets of Shanghai. I had a loose plan to figure out how to walk to a friends apartment complex. Not to see her, but just to prove I could do it. I was in no mood to actually be with people. I walked from 11 to about 1 and found myself at a Greek restaurant where I found solace. The inside was painted bright white with terra-cotta tiles and the soft pastels one would find on a Mediterranean hill side. They were playing Greek music and the sun came in cheerily through the windows. The windows looked like something from home with wooden frames and panes of glass. This seems like a little thing but you have to realize that almost, no not almost, truly every other building I have been in since i have been here – including my apartment – has the large modern glass panes that look frameless. The restaurant felt like an oasis. I ordered dolmades with tzatziki sauce. The lemony olive oil and wonderful fresh sauce made me feel miles away from China. There was a woman working there with wild curly blond hair and a heavy Greek accent. We were the only two non-Asian people in the place and we started to chat. She is so nice and I think may be more than a passing friend. But no matter what I will go back for more dolmades or spanikopita. The boys have plans for Gyros 🙂
Once refreshed I made a new attempt to find my way to my friends apartment complex. I reached my goal an hour later. There is a high end western grocery store in the front of the complex and I went in to wander the aisles and try to absorb some familiarness before heading out into China again. Temptation took ahold of me and I headed home with a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, a small packet of american cheese and six slices of bread. I took my precious cargo and what had taken me three hours to get to, took twenty minutes to return from. It’s amazing how fast you can get somewhere when you know where you are going! Although getting lost felt good at the time, I was happy to be heading home.
Tonight, as the coup de gras of my pity party, we had cream of tomato soup with grilled cheese. The only sliced bread I can find made is an extra thick brioche style. We used good salty Irish butter and put extra cheese on the sandwiches. My arteries probably hate me right now, but my stomach and my mind are much happier, thank you very much 🙂