Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hello from Shanghai!

Hello! Jackie's apartment has been without Internet access since we arrived Sunday afternoon. After many negotiations, translations and a slightly angry Jackie, we now have service.

The flight here was without trouble. Sydney slept off and on and was charming when she was a wake. The three of us camped out in a middle row in business class, where we watched some TV, listened to music, ate lots of food and napped.

Jackie's apartment is part of a huge gated complex with multiple 30ish-story towers, all facing beautiful grounds, playgrounds, clubhouse, swimming pool, tennis courts, walking trails, etc. It's relatively quiet here on the sixth floor, though right now I can hear lots of children playing at the playground below. Sydney and I have been there twice, and she is delighted to see so many other little ones.

The apartment is modern, clean and roomy enough for the three of us. (Though Jackie says she's depressed by the size of my room and insists I could handle prison after sleeping in such a tiny space. I can endure most anything for a week or less!)

I'm learning that China is an odd mix of modern and not. For example, the security to get in the building and into the apartment rivals anything I've seen at home. But there's no oven in the kitchen (there is a microwave, though). The washer and dryer is all in one, but it accepts a tiny load of clothes, and it takes a really long time to dry them. (Perhaps that's why there are so many clothes hung out to dry all over the city. We can't imagine that they stay very clean, with all the air pollution.) It seems as if every other person smokes, and they do so in elevators, restaurants, in shopping centers, near children.

Taxi cab rides are an adventure! I've had to stop looking out the windows too often, as I'm sure my pulse quickens to an unhealthy rate each time we almost hit another car or are almost hit ourselves. This is all without the benefit of seat belts! And pedestrians, beware. Walkers have no right of way, even if the light is in your favor. Crossing the street requires extreme caution, speed and agility.

We've eaten some wonderful meals. Jackie's friend and colleague Sam took us to a Chinese restaurant our first night, and we shared multiple dishes. The Shanghai way is to serve rice at the end of the meal, to fill you up, not during the meal as we're accustomed. Jackie asked Sam to ask for it with the entrees, and I'm pretty sure the wait staff thought we were strange. They also asked Sam (who speaks and understands the language very well) why I didn't eat the best part of the chicken, meaning the skin. The meal ended with slices of fresh watermelon, which made me wish even more that Katie & Cooper (and Steve, of course) were with me -- they love watermelon!

After dinner, we headed to Ikea for some basics for the apartment -- pillows, glasses, plates. I live about five miles from a very similar Ikea, and yet I was really a world away. (I know that sounds trite, but it's true!)

For lunch yesterday, we ate at Sasha's, a Western kind of place in the French Concession. I had hot and sour soup with coconut milk and shrimp and penne puttanesca, a dish I like to make at home. For dinner, we had hoped to eat at a recommended Thai restaurant. After arriving around 9:30 p.m. and wandering the street a bit and asking for help, we discovered it had since changed to an American-style diner. We opted instead for Maneo, just a few doors down. It was a good choice. I enjoyed teriyaki salmon atop green tea soba noodles, and Jackie and I shared bread pudding.

Yesterday we also explored Old Town. We started the morning right -- at Starbucks! It was amazing -- even the light fixtures are the same as at home. We wandered through the Yu Garden, missing some of it, I'm sure. It was very much like a maze. What we did see was beautiful, if not exactly calming, only because of the many tour groups. We then did some shopping -- I bargained for a kite for Cooper, and Jackie talked a shopkeeper into a good price for two teacups.

In the afternoon we did some necessary shopping at Carrefour. Imagine a two-story Super Wal-Mart to get an idea. And then add some unusual items, such as tanks filled with fish, crab and other swimming creatures for eventual eating, and produce I've never seen before, even in photos. We had to make some guesses on basic foods, such as yogurt. I think the one we bought was made by Dannon, based on the logo, but I'm still not sure.

We still have more site-seeing. And Jackie has more to do to settle in and get ready for work. We're balancing Sydney's needs with the need to get a lot done before Jackie is on her own.

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