Shanghailights: Part One

On October 7th, 2011, I officially boogied my two left feet into the realm of adulthood, earning my rights to both imbibe a half-glass of wine before ‘feelin’ it’ and tell children to do as I say, not as I do. My mother braved the wild world of Chinese air travel to mark the occasion, flying across the Pacific to spend a week with me. Unbeknownst to her, the reason that I happened to have time off on my birthday was not because the entire country was celebrating my milestone, but rather because it occurred within the timeframe of when the Communist Party likes to celebrate its own birth. Once a year, the Chinese are encouraged to take time out of snapping pictures of themselves wearing cowboy hats to do so in other areas of China during an event humorously titled National Day Holiday Week. The week long vacation is meant to encourage national tourism, thereby increasing both national pride and the profits of national businesses. More importantly for my mother and I, that meant that we would be fighting for foot space in Xiamen and Shanghai with the most ardent tourists China has to offer. Fanny packs packed and tourist maps at the ready, we accepted our challenge and embarked on a seven-day epic.
             We started simply; culture shock can hinder agreeable passing of vacation time. After waking up from my first full night’s sleep since coming to China, my mother and I left the hotel for a self-guided tour of my university. We survived our taxi ride (something you never, EVER take for granted), and began a walk that would end up being my mother’s introduction to my roommate and room (she brought us both vitamins), Chinese cafeterias (she made the wise decision to postpone {forever} eating there), and Chinese travel laws, or the lack thereof (I think she reprimanded herself internally for ever allowing me to cross the street by myself here, and made me promise never to walk into any street occupied by a bus- ambulating has become circuitous since). I ordered lunch for us in a family-run restaurant, which had the effect of turning my mother off of family-run restaurants. It should be noted that, while a menu’s language is translatable, its recipes and cooking styles might not be between cultures. After lunch, I attempted to redeem the laymen’s Chinese cuisine with a trip to see Zhongshanlu, or ‘Middle Mountain Road.’ Zhongshanlu is famous for it’s smorgasbord of live shellfish in tubs, dead shellfish in pans, and veritable harvest of exotic fruits. While we didn’t partake of street food (it’s not advisable to eat anything in China unless you’ve watched it be prepared), I did get a chance to exercise my Chinese abilities while shopping in the mall! We detoured at the hotel before trying out a famous Xiamen restaurant called Good Taste Restaurant, a locale we later learned traditionally caters to parties larger than your average football team. While full flocks of ducks were being devoured around us, we were having our purses awkwardly stowed underneath seat cushions and picking at our tamer Western portioned meals for our Western sized stomachs. We retired to our hotel with significantly more knowledge and, surprisingly, not significantly less cash—the exchange rate in China definitely suits the American pocketbook.

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