Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.
Now comes what I’ve been calling the Shanghai Shift. After a week on my own in Beijing, dealing with tummy troubles and all the usual ups and downs of solo travel, I had now arrived in a city where I’d be embraced by dear friends and the comforts of home.
And what better way to welcome a weary Italian woman!?!? Beth and Dan, my gracious hosts, picked me up at the Shanghai train station about 9 pm. They had just come from Da Marco, well known in Shanghai for its’ excellent pizza and Italian dishes. And they brought me a doggie bag! After snacking on apples and trail mix for ten hours on the train, this was heaven.
But had I sold out already? Only eight days in China and I’d reverted to familiar comfort food! So soon?!
On one hand, it felt a bit strange — like I’d given up on the challenges of independent budget travel too quickly. In Europe, I had gone it alone for months at a time – hostels as my constant home. But this time, after just one week of “roughing it”, I found myself comfy and cool in a spacious Pudong apartment, sipping California wine by candlelight while chatting with two of my best college pals.
I hadn’t given up anything, but my vantage point had certainly changed. I was now going to experience life in China through a completely different lens.
Beth, Dan and their young son Ryan moved to Shanghai in the fall of 2005, signing a contract with Dan’s US-based company to work in China for two years. I was fortunate enough to spend time with them near the end of their stay in Shanghai. By the time this Chinese Buffet series ends next week, they will have repatriated back to the US, where they will switch gears to focus on their next great adventure — baby number two!
Much of what we did the first few days seemed to revolve around finding the right food to eat. With Beth pregnant and my stomach still acting up, we steered clear of adventurous dishes and avoided Chinese food altogether. Unfortunately, Beth and her new bundle had developed quite an aversion to all things Asian. Thank goodness for Carrefour (the obscenely huge grocery store loaded with Western goodies) and Blue Frog, a neighborhood chain with yummy burgers and salads:
After a solid meal, next on the to-do list was a little bit of pampering. Beth suggested an hour foot massage and pedicure to reward my worn-out Great Wall feet. Beijing had given my body a beating, so how could I refuse?
And really, what do best girlfriends do when they get together after not seeing each other for a long time? Beth and I hadn’t done anything like this since I’d been a bridesmaid in her wedding — ten years ago! It was all quite lovely, and seemed such a novelty to me — since we were doing it in China!
Beth, Dan and Ryan live in the Jinqiao Biyun International District, home to a large foreign population. Several shops and restaurants are within walking distance of their apartment (like the funky Starbucks shown above), but unfortunately I visited Shanghai during an intense heat wave — strolls around the neighborhood were an unattractive option.
Thankfully, we could turn to Mr. Ding, the family’s driver, who transports Dan to work and is available to Beth and Ryan also. Have you seen the way folks drive in China? Mr. Ding is the man! He navigates insane intersections with ease, making sure the entire family gets where they need to be — the airport, school, shops. I surely appreciated his air-con car service during my visit too!
And then there is Helen, the ayi. It is very common for foreigners to hire a local Chinese woman to help around the house. It took Beth awhile to get comfortable with the idea, but she eventually connected with this sweet woman who comes to the apartment for a few hours each day. Helen cleans, irons and helps prep meals. She also watches Ryan when Beth and Dan go out.
Both Ding and Helen are wonderful with Ryan, and he is comfortable with both of them as well. He’s learned lots of Chinese words and phrases from them – both Mandarin and Shanghainese, which is the local dialect that Mr. Ding speaks. It was entertaining to watch Ryan interact with them — and vice versa. Tomorrow I’ll look more closely at what life is like for this cute American kid living in China.