Friday morning we were on our bus at 7:50AM for the 3-hour ride to Shanghai. It was, as advertised, approx. 3 hours to get there. The extra time past the 3 hours was spent fighting traffic in Shanghai. Cars, cars, everywhere there’s cars. It’s incredible. To think that just 10 years ago this was a bicycle-riding nation. Now they’re car crazy. I think if you own a car and use it in Shanghai that you’re crazy. The subway has 12 different lines so getting anywhere has to be quicker by subway. Even standing on a jam-packed subway has to be better.
Our driver had some sort of mental deficiency. This was confirmed this afternoon, as he was our driver on the return trip. He is having some sort of illicit love affair with his horn. He honks at everything. I had such a headache. I was in the front seat and I could see out the front window and I couldn’t figure out what he was honking at. If a car was in the next lane, he’d honk as if it was in his way. If a car were in front of him, he’d honk. If the road were clear he would honk (just to stay in practice I’m sure). What an idiot.
We took a taxi to my brother-in-law’s place and Shujie’s mother was outside waiting for us. I went across the road and gave her a big hug and she hugs back. I think she loves my hugs. I’m sure I’m the only one besides her husband who has ever hugged her. Chinese people aren’t known for the natural displays of affection. After Shujie paid the taxi driver she gave her mother a sort of hug. Different cultures but who can explain it, who can ever try?
Here’s the old bat. Actually I think she’s a very sweet and kind woman.
Her brother and sister-in-law were home and her nephew was still at school. It was nice to see everyone as they’re all wonderful people and it was great to see Shujie with her family. Her sister-in-law is such a soft-spoken woman. She is very un-Chinese in this way. She doesn’t talk quickly and her voice doesn’t assault your eardrums. I think most Chinese are loud. I guess when you’re competing with 1.3 billion people you have to be loud. Shujie is the loudest in her family but you’d never know it from the “Canadian” Shujie. It is an adjustment and it does get on my nerves at times. She loves to argue with taxi drivers, vendors, waitresses, everyone. Everything is a tough negotiation. I’m digging my nails (which are too short) into her leg when she carries on and she tells me that she doesn’t want anyone trying to cheat her. The rest of her family is quiet so she’s the one that doesn’t really go together. But, she is softer with her family.
There were tomatoes out for me to snack on. They know I like tomatoes so they were there. There was Coke Zero for me as I’m a diabetic. There were oranges in case I had a sugar low. We didn’t sleep in the spare room as her brother and sister-in-law insisted we take their room. It’s easier to give in even if it makes me feel very uncomfortable.
Since it was close to lunch time her brother insisted I have a cheeseburger for lunch. So he calls McDonalds (they deliver). I asked for a Big Mac and fries and he got me 3 Big Mac’s. After all, why stop at one. I did. Fortunately their son ate one later and had the 3rd for breakfast on Saturday morning.
It’s like I’m the child who has to be kept happy. Whatever Martin wants, that’s what we want to do. I hate that. I just want to be one of the crowd. If we go out for a Chinese dinner, I can find something to eat. We don’t have to go to a lousy Chinese “Western” restaurant that no one likes because they want me to have steak. It’s just too nice. I can’t pay for anything. Their bed had a mattress pad that made it quite comfortable so they wanted us to take in back to Jurong. I won that fight. I don’t complain. I don’t lie either. If I don’t like something I won’t pretend I do but I don’t complain and it’s no big deal. I want the group to be happy, not just me.
It’s just too much kindness. I can’t take it.
Their son came home after school. He’s 17 and goes to a high school that affiliated with a high school in British Columbia. Half his teachers are Canadians and he learns in English. His classes in Chinese are reviews of what they’ve learned in English to be sure they understand. He learns math, science and everything in English. The plan is for him to pass the examination that will allow him to go to a Canadian University and study there. He is a very pleasant boy and more mature than my students, I believe. He told me his grandmother wants him to be a doctor (like she was) but he’s not sure what he wants to be. I told him that in the West that’s quite normal and most people don’t decide until after their 1st year of University.
While his grandmother is visiting for these 2 months they share a room. In fact, I think they share a big bed. It’s quite normal I’m told and he’s not bothered by it. I think it’s kind of yucky but on the other hand, it is kind of nice. It shows a love and closeness between them.
For dinner they insisted we go out to a steak restaurant. Why? Because of me. Shujie, her mother, and her sister-in-law wouldn’t order steak. Her nephew (Steven) ordered chicken. Her brother (Frank) ordered steak but I know he doesn’t like steak. He told me that isn’t exactly true. When he travels outside China he can enjoy a steak because the beef is much better. And I ordered steak.
When you order steak here and they ask you how you’d like it done, you don’t say things like, “medium” or “rare” or “well-done”. You give a percentage. I gave 80% thinking that meant medium-well. Not quite. It means a little bit of the steak is cooked and the rest is talking to you. I looked at Frank’s and his looked cooked so I asked him what he asked for and he told me 100%. So 100% cooked means medium. Makes sense? Only in China.
Shujie got a chance to complain to the waitress about my steak since I wouldn’t eat it and the waitress told her it was 80% just like I asked. After further negotiations they took it back for further cooking and I got medium-rare. I kept my mouth shut and said it was fine. It was pretty bad. There is no way we should have been there. I would have been much happier at a place where 5 out of 6 people could have enjoyed their meal. But we have to keep Martin happy.
After dinner Steven and his mother went home because he had homework to do. Actually what he did was help his mother clean the apartment. That was nice. The four of us went to the Bund (an area of very nice lighted buildings wasting thousands of dollars of electricity). It’s busy down there with people walking around and during holidays I’m told it’s jam-packed. As we’re talking I take a look at the 3 others in our group and realize that for the first time in my life that in a group of 4 adults, I’m the tallest. What a shock. I’m looking down at everyone. It was the strangest feeling.
After walking around for a while on a beautiful evening we headed back. Shujie and I to the master bedroom and Frank and his wife (I forget her name) to the spare room to sleep on cushions on the floor. What was I to do? Fight with them?
On Saturday morning I went with Steven to a confectionary exhibition. He wanted to go because he has a fondness for sweets and I went along because he’s a nice kid and it’s something different to do. There really wasn’t that much but I bought a bit or rather I should say, he bought for me. My money was no good. We went into Starbuck’s first where I had my first coffee since arriving (2 double espresso’s) and he had a coffee. I got to pay so I guess he was sleeping for that part. I did get to see some of the famous Chinese Kosher candy.
From there we met the four others at a department store somewhere and after walking around a bit, we headed to another area of town Frank said was quite nice. First we stopped for a traditional Chinese lunch. You can see the picture of how busy these traditional Chinese places get at lunch.
After that we walked further to this alley full of shops and people offering to sell you a Rolex for about $30, which is quite a deal. Shujie, Steven, and I partook of that famous Chinese ice cream dessert as you can see in the picture below.
After that we paid (or rather Frank did) to enter this lovely garden. It was a beautiful day and quite nice to walk around the area and see the buildings and the rock displays and the ponds and the fish and so on. I got to see some ideal furniture that is a must for anyone who doesn’t want their guests to overstay their welcome.
We were there for more than 2 hours and before we left it was time for a final trip to the washroom. I try to avoid public washrooms in China due the fact that most of them are disgusting (except in places like McDonalds). But I risked it and I’m glad I did. The place was spotless. You could have eaten off the floor. It was an amazing experience. It was nicer than the 5 star washroom I once went into in Beijing. I’m serious. There was a sign outside the washroom for the tourist board that gave the washroom a 5 star rating. A most pleasant surprise.
Here’s Frank and I in the garden.
We headed for the subway to make our way to dinner. I was told (after insisting we eat where everyone wanted to eat) that we were going to a Chinese restaurant that would also have barbeque. I like when they grill some lamb and beef and potatoes. We went to this area with lots of restaurants that were of the Japanese and Taiwanese variety. The Japanese places were out since Shujie’s mother won’t eat Japanese food. I can understand and respect that. It’s like many Jews won’t but German products. Since her mother was alive during the Japanese invasion I can see here still harboring a strong dislike of them. Shujie was trying to get her mother to go into a Japanese place for me and I told her to not push her mother and that she should respect her mother’s wishes. How did I know what was going on? Steven was giving me the blow by blow.
We ended up in a Taiwanese place that had no barbeque. That was fine with me since I knew everyone would be quite happy. There was a picture of some fish that looked quite appetizing and Shujie told me that it was similar to a fish I’ve had here that I liked. She lied. I tried a couple of new things (and didn’t like them) and I tasted the fish and then learned it was eel. I ate eel. Was it gross? Yes. Did it make me feel ill? Yes. Did I complain? No. I’ve eaten eel and now my life can go on.
Frank did order a pepper beef dish that was fantastic so I was thrilled. If there’s one thing I can eat, I’m quite happy and figure I’ve won. The steak restaurant was horrible but the beef at this place was fantastic.
After dinner we walked back to the apartment. All in all I was out about 12 hours and it was a beautiful day. It was nice to spend the day at a beautiful place with some wonderful people.
We sat up and talked for a while or rather they talked and I just zoned out. Frank was worried it was boring for me but I told him that I enjoyed it because it meant I didn’t have to pay attention and be ready to speak but could just let my mind wander without being rude.
This morning I was told we would eat lunch at 11:30 and leave for the bus station at 12:30. Naturally they have to ask me what to eat for lunch. I had a craving for pizza and Frank had told me he liked Pizza Hut so I suggested pizza. I thought we were going there but they ordered take-out. The ordering process took about 15 minutes on the phone as they debated with the Pizza Hut people about ordering me a pizza with just tomatoes and onions on it. If it’s not on the menu the Chinese have a hard time with substitutions. Usually it requires a visit to the manager and the chef to get it approved. Finally the order was placed and 30 minutes later the pizza arrived. Guess what? Pizza Hut screwed up and I said I wouldn’t eat what they sent but that was okay. I don’t like corn and some of the other things they had on my pizza. So they called and had an argument about getting the right pizza sent over. Finally it arrived and everyone was happy because I was happy.
When it was time to leave everyone came downstairs including the sister-in-law who was still in her pajamas. I’m glad she feels so comfortable. For the first time she spoke English with me and I had always suspected she could speak some English. Frank speaks some English, as his job requires doing business in Europe. I gave everyone a hug including my sister-in-law along with a kiss on the cheek. I’m sure that’s the first time she’s been kissed by a non-family member who isn’t her mother or husband. I think she liked it. I’m lucky to have a family of in-laws who are all extremely nice to me and seem like extremely nice people.
It was nice to escape all that kindness. I’ve had enough kindness to last me a year. Hopefully the next time they won’t treat me as a V.I.P. but just another family member.
When we got back we went out for dinner at one of my favorite places, on the street. You can get a bunch of grilled things for next to nothing. We had lamb, chicken, and potatoes and were stuffed for about $5. I do love the street meat here.
Here’s a final look at me in the garden gazing out at y’all. Back to work tomorrow. Holidays start next Friday. Life is rough.