Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shanghai, China March 1-June 19 Week 2

I’ve started to feel quite settled in my new neighborhood, the Old French Concession. Shanghai’s nickname as the “Paris of the East” evidently stems from the tree-lined avenues, Tudor mansions and French-influence architecture of this district. Exploring every alley of this graceful district would likely take a long time, and the constant renewal process that occurs in Shanghai insures that the urban landscape will likely be quite different in a few years than what it offers today. I have however, found a number of streets that have a dazzling array of boutique shops, bakeries, restaurants, antique shops, and art galleries. In particular I like the area just north of Huaihai Rd,  as Fenyang Rd. turns into Donghu Rd. On Tuesday, March 8th, after waiting all afternoon for my ADSL internet connection to be installed, Jing and I enjoyed dinner at Pho Real, a Vietnamese restaurant chain with branch located at 166 Fumin Rd. 

On Wednesday, March 9th I finally had an opportunity to meet up with my erhu teacher and host for my residency at Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Chen Chunyuan. I was a bit nervous because we hadn’t really solidified how I’d be spending my time here in Shanghai. My friend Charlotte D’Evelyn at UH Manoa had told me that plans don’t really move forward in China until you’re here. She was absolutely right. After a few minutes of entering her huge office on the 9th floor of the teaching building on campus, which commands an impressive view of Shanghai, she had arranged pipadizi, and erhu lessons for me. Since I had only previously met her in Japan, where she –and I – have limited linguistic abilities, I had not noticed or comprehended the full power of her presence. However, seeing her interact with her students was quite extraordinary. She seems quite young in spirit, but her students clearly admire and respect her – almost like a queen. I’m very lucky to have made this precious connection in Japan last summer.
Chen Chunyuan teaching the erhu
In the evening, I had my first private Chinese lesson with a friend of Chen Chunyuan’s cousin, “Dolly,” and afterwards enjoyed a mouthwatering dinner at the Anna Maya Vegetarian Cafe at No.3, Taojiang Rd. Their dinner set special consisted of delicious, thick pumpkin soup, four salads, and an entree. I chose the avocado and beet donburi, followed by coconut chocolate balls for dessert, one of the most tasty vegetarian meals I’ve had in a while. The interior of Anna Maya’s is simply stunning, with brick walls, tactile wooden floors, and antique furniture.

On Thursday, March 10th I had my first facial at Dragonfly with a beautician named “Daphne.” She convinced me to spend another 100 RMB (85 RBM with my member discount) to get the “moisturizing” facial, and I decided to accept her recommendation. She really seemed to be proud of her skills and employed a number of techniques that really made my face tingle. I wouldn’t hesitate to request her personally the next time I get a facial. In the evening, I enjoyed dinner with Chen Chunyuan and her family at her apartment near Changshou Rd (not Changshu Rd.!). Her 9-year old son is an absolute genius! He plays the violoncello like Yo-yo Ma. I’m really not exaggerating! The first thing he did after placing the instrument the instrument in his hands was to rip through a diatonic scale from the C-string to the top of the A-string. Then he serenaded us with memorized works of Bach and Haydn, among others, with passion and flawless technique. His mother and father said that they are interested in sending him the U.S.A when he turns 18. I say why wait!?!!? He could probably be accepted in to the Juiliard pre-college division right now.
I-Bai, Chen Chunyuan's genius 11-year old son
One thing I have failed to mention in these blogs since my arrival in Shanghai is that I haven’t been feeling so well. Please understand that I NEVER get sick, so for me to feel this way this early in my stay makes me extremely nervous. I can’t tell if I’ve caught a mild case of the “Chinese” flu like I caught back in December 2007, or if my lungs are reacting to the adverse air quality. Having enough of feeling horrible, I asked Jing to take me to a Chinese herbal pharmacy on Friday, March 11th. When she responded to my request via mobile text, she mentioned something about a hospital, which of course set my mind running. In the end, I decided to follow the advice of my host – who up to this point has never let me down – and meet her at Dongan Rd. Station for the trek to Longhua Hospital Shangai University of TCM. The lines at reception were long enough to send me running for the door. Jing insisted we’d be in the reception room within ten minutes and she was right. Now, imagine that you are a foreigner and you show up at a hospital in the U.S.A. to be seen without health insurance.... Can you imagine the fears and questions that would be running through your mind? My Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas card does provide service abroad if I do the research and find authorized providers. However, there was simply not enough time and I really wanted to take Chinese herbs rather than simply be prescribed antibiotics or something. Well, I must say that it was one of the most pleasant medical experiences of my life. First, the receptionist did not blink an eye when she started processing my registration application. The registration fee was the same as everyone else, just 1,550 RMB ($2.35). We went up to internal medicine on the fourth floor and waited less than ten minutes to be seen by a young woman who spoke decent English and two doctors in training. After explaining my symptoms and checking my temperature and tongue, she prescribed an herbal combination remedy. We waited on line again and paid 120 RMB ($18) for my medicine and then went down to the pharmacy. The reception area in the pharmacy was a madhouse, and we were told it would take about an hour to fulfill the prescription. The last thing I wanted was to wait in a room full of sick people for my medicine, so we enjoyed some sweets in a nearby bakery in the interim. Afterwards, we collected my medicine and I began taking it the evening. I opted for the more expensive powder version of the herbs for convenience, but a less expensive version of the medicine is available if you’re willing to make it from scratch by boiling and mixing the herbs yourself. I was warned that Chinese medicine is less potent but more effective long-term than Western medicine, and I am happy to report that after three days of drinking this concoction, that I am more or less back to normal. 
My Chinese herbal medicine
What was amazing about this entire experience is the biased image that I had of the Chinese health system has completely changed. If one of the benefits of the a single-party socialist republic is equal access to health care, than I’m all for it. I certainly don’t want to simplify this controversy. I haven’t lived in China long enough to ascertain both the benefits and downsides of China’s political system. However, living in the U.S.A., where health care has become a luxury in a large part of the population, I found it amazing that I, a foreigner, could receive equal access to health services. China seems to overlook many of the artificial national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries that some countries seem to be obsessed with maintaining. In the end, I was left with the sense that I was provided with basic health services simply based on my identity as a human being. 

In the evening, I enjoyed dinner with Chen Chunyuan’s family again, this time joined by her brother-in-law Leo and his wife Jiang at Madam Zhu's Kitchen located inside Plaza YueDa at 889 Wan Hang Du Rd. This dinner was simply spectacular, by far the best I’ve had in China so far. What really stood out, was the roast duck! The meat melted in your mouth and the crispy skin added a bit of texture. It was consumed by dipping it in a delicious sauce and then packing it inside a flour wrap along with cucumber and radish slices!
I was blessed during my second weekend in Shanghai with gorgeous weather. It was close to 60 degrees on both days with cool, refreshing breezes. I took advantage of the weather and explored my neighborhood by bicycle. I cycled all the way down Henshang Rd. and after losing my way, came back the same way and continued down West Fuxing Rd. as far as I could. I happened upon a lovely courtyard complex called Le Passage Fuxing. Located in a 1932 restored art deco building, this complex houses a boutique interior design store, Rouge Baiser Elise (hand embroidered clothing and linen), the Ginger Cafe, which sells Asian fusion dishes and delicious desserts (and yuzu-cha, or citron tea!), and the Y+ Yoga studio. 
On Sunday, March 13th I began my day with a full-Vinyasa trial class at Y+, “Shanghai’s best yoga studio.” I was impressed by the cleanliness of the facilities, especially the interior design, quality of the teaching, and overall atmosphere. They provide towels, bottled water, and even a free juice and fruit bar! It’s not worth it thought, for nearly $400/month. Yoga studios in San Francisco and New York don’t even cost this much. This was the first day since I moved to my apartment that I’ve washed my sheets. Like the Chinese, I do not have a dryer, and so must air-dry my clothes on the elaborate bamboo rods that hand perpendicular to the balcony. I hang out my sheets and duvet cover on this beautiful day, and opened up the windows to air the apartment out. Sometime in the late afternoon I heard a faint tap at the door. I thought it was just my imagination so at first I ignored it, but it continued incessantly and ever so faintly, like a bird was lightly tapping its beak against the door. Finally I decided to investigate what was going on. I opened up the door and low and behold, there was a young Chinese junior high student who said to me, “You dropped your _______.” Now, I could not tell what the subject of this sentence was, and when I asked, she simply replied “Look, look,” and pointed inside of my apartment. I then went outside to the balcony and my neighbor was pointing down at the garden apartment on the first floor (I’m on the third), at which point I was surprised to see my sheets hanging on top of the garden apartment. It was in a place that was simply impossible to retrieve on my own, and the tenants on the first floor were not home, so I went to the door man who overlooks these apartment complexes, beckoned him with hand gestures, and said in broken Chinese the equivalent of, “Hello! Please come look.” I apologized profusely as I drew him away from the television drama he was watching inside his tiny doorman shed, and when we reached the apartment, I pointed towards my sheets. With a confident look suggesting to me that he’s seen all of this before, he disappeared for a moment and then returned with a ladder. Within seconds he was on top of the garden and had retrieved my sheets. Since then, every time I pedal by on my bike I wave to him in thanks. I can’t tell if he’s angry at me or if he never smiles, but he certainly will never forget me again! In the evening, I had pumpkin pasta at a relaxing cafe on Donghu Rd. called Wagas, evidently a chain with 18 locations in Shanghai. They serve a delicious array of desserts, gourmet sandwiches, panini, pastas, and coffee/tea, with free Wi-Fi large windows to view the streetscape. 

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