In 2005, my husband, ten year old son, and I traveled more than seven thousand miles from home for a fourteen day trip to Asia. At first, the logistics of finding someone to care for my other three children for two weeks caused me to drink more than my customaryevening single half glass of Sancerre. Once all the planning fell into place we were off. Twenty-three million bustling people speaking a language that my son said sounded like“stainless steel flatware clinking together” soon provided enough distraction for my heart to stop skipping beats. The colors, the language, the smoking, the smells, and the traffic all jolted the senses in an exhausting, yet exhilarating, way. Nothing better explains the contrasts we encountered on this journey than my son’s recollection “Worms, Trains, Squares and Duck Feet”. Wandering the streets, gardens, and temples melts away the hours. Shanghai is more of an “experience” city than a “sight-seeing” city. After all, it is not the modern architecture or the skyscrapers that you will remember; it is the contrast and color of life on the streets that will be captured in memory.
We set out on our first day in Shanghai without an itinerary. Agreeing that jet lag could get the best of us, our destination was a spur of the moment decision—the Dongtai Road Antique Market. This was the perfect place to get up close and personal with Chinese people by haggling over curiosities more vintage than antique, to encourage our son to ask a million questions, and to actively engage ourselves in something more than an attraction surrounded by thousands of other tourists. My son ended up buying a 2-inch bronze Buddha statue that a Chinese woman convinced him would bring good luck for the astounding price of $2.50 USD. I bought a pair of clearly new, handmade, red leather Chinese Lotus shoes that the dealer tried to convince me were hundreds of years old. Chinese foot binding was a Song Dynasty practice from the 10th century. I likely overpaid, but felt as if his earnest salesmanship was worth the small pointed treasure that sits on my library shelves.
With stomachs grumbling, we walked along the streets near our hotel and finally settled on a sidewalk café. Half the fun of this restaurant is ogling the plates of food on other tables. Like in most Chinese places, real estate space remains a premium and watching someone slurp noodles and crunch duck feet is an intimate and entertaining experience. With the menu in Chinese, we relied on pointing at the dishes of our nearby diners as our way to order. Our strategy did not disappoint. We ate a delicious lunch of egg custard tarts, barbecued pork steam buns, and shrimp dumplings.
THE PAINTED VEIL
EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN