I don’t even know where to begin except to tell you that this kind of day happens less often than I would like but more than you can imagine. And every time it does I think ‘oh I should write about this!’ but somehow the time slips away. So today I came in the door, put the necessary things away and got out my computer because you are not going to believe this!
This morning started with a pretty good workout at the gym which I totally needed. Ever since I have discovered there is actually a great French (really managed and chef) bakery my waist line has been in grave danger! They actually make phenomenal sour dough bread which I have not had in ages. All I can say is OMG!
Anyway, after a quick shower it was off to my monthly book club meeting. I was contemplating skipping the meeting since I had not finished the book and really wasn’t fond of it. But I like the people in the group and I figured what the heck, I can see them, have some coffee and maybe be convinced of why I should take the time to finish this book. My friend M and I shared a ride. We allowed 45 minutes for a trip that google maps said should take 25. We figured if we were early we could wander a new neighborhood and explore a little. I have to confess that one of the reasons I really love the book club is that we rotate meeting at various homes. This gives me a chance to be nosy and see other peoples apartments and also new areas of the city. We figured we had given ourselves plenty of time since rush hour should be well over by 9:45a.m.
Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…..It is cold and raining today which means that people who would normally walk or bike are now taking cars or any available taxi. The roads were absolutely packed. Like gridlock in many areas. As we got closer we realized we were already 15 minutes late and wondered again if we should just bag it. But moments later the car pulled up to the apartment building. It was not a remarkable building and definitely not in a glamorous neighborhood. We rode the elevator up to the apartment which was near the top floor of the 40ish story building. Once again, OMG.
Can you say palace?? Tastefully decorated but still…. The place was amazing. There were crystal chandeliers and glass cases with silver service pieces….I asked our hostess how long she had lived in Shanghai. She told me they had just arrived in August, the same as me, but had lived in Asia for over 25 years. We sat and had coffee and a great discussion about the book. I may even finish it 🙂 After book club was done our hostess was leaving for an exercise class and someone asked where it was held. She took us to another room to look out that window so we could see the building where the class was held. It was then that I realized we had been in the ‘public space’ of the apartment and now were in the private quarters. Each area being as big or bigger than my entire apartment, which at about 200 sq. meters is not small. Our hostess saw the look on my face and said “yeah I know it’s kind of over the top, but we have to do a lot of entertaining of dignitaries since my husband is the Consulate General.” OK, knock me over with a feather ! She is so sweet and kind. I think I would have imagined someone much stuffier to fill this job.
As we looked out the window toward the gym it started to snow. For my friends in the northeast USA this may not seem like a big deal, but it is the first – and maybe only- snow we will have this year. It lasted about 20 minutes with real white flakes that drifted and swirled in the air. And then melted into cold puddles on the ground 😦
Back in the car and traffic had settled down. I went to pick up a couple of pictures that I had framed. In an alley off of a small street, behind a noodle shop, is a man who can work magic with frames, glass, and matts. I never would have found him except a friend recommended him. Much of China’s domestic economy works by word of mouth and friendships. If they ever allow Facebook here it will take off like wild fire since it is based on the same kind of networking – called guanxi (said goo-an-shee) here. So I had one 5×7 and two small poster sized pieces framed with mats and glass and it cost all of $30 US. And he does a beautiful job.
Next stop was the restaurant supply building. I saw this building early in our days here in Shanghai and was confounded by the sign outside. It says in large red letters “HOTEL THING CONFLUENCE”. What?? I had no idea what it was and didn’t have the language skills to ask.
Only recently did I figure out how to get there and went exploring. They have everything! They make uniforms, chair slip covers. They have dishes, glassware, pots you could bathe in, mixers made to blend dough for a thousand buns……
I was in search of something to keep my teapot warm. You must understand that in China, as in much of Asia, they do not heat many areas at all, and then when they do use heat it is only in the rooms they are currently in. My apartment has heat that I use when I am home. And, by Chinese standards, it stays pretty warm. But even so the heat from things seems to get sucked out into the air pretty fast. At the store I found these round pieces of granite that are on a raise stand with a small cup like candle holder under them. The stone has a metal band around the edge with handles on the sides. In my limited Chinese I tried to ask the man if I was supposed to put the stone in the oven first to heat it up since it didn’t seem like a candle would heat the stone up and keep something on top warm. He said no, just put the thing in the little cup. I took a leap of faith and said ok, I would buy it and give it a try. I figured I could always stick it in the oven if I needed to. Then I asked him if he had the things (not knowing the word for candles) that go in the little cup. He said ‘sure’, ok he actually said ‘dui’ but he meant sure, and walked over to a cardboard box. I expected him to pull out a big bag of tea light candles. Much to my surprise the box was full of small paint cans, about two pint size, with solid black paper wrapped around the outside. Not over a label. The solid black paper was the label. The top was some kind of compressed cardboard. He told me to just put a little in the cup. Ohhhkayyy……
Back at home I opened the can and found what looked sort of like sterno in the can. I used a plastic spoon to scoop some out and put it in the little cup. I thought if the spoon melted by touching the goop it would be my first warning not to use it. The spoon stayed intact. The next test was how flammable the goop actually was. With a small amount safely in the cup I moved all flammable objects far away and placed the cup in the middle of the kitchen island. I lit the match and touched it to the goop, ready to jump back to the waiting fire extinguisher. A small blue flame appeared and it burned nicely, just like sterno. I put the stone over the top and let it sit there. It did actually heat up!
I made myself a pot of ginger tea and set it on my new hot stone.
I don’t know how many days I will move from the height of luxury to the alleys and warehouse store rooms of a city, but it sure does make life interesting 😀