Monday, September 17, 2012

LUCKY or WHAT

When living in a foreign country there is always the though of how things would work if you find yourself with a major problem. The last week has shown me just how the Shanghai authorities can, and will help in this situation.

The reason for needing help? Well with one week before flying home I could not locate my passport. Pretty major loss, as all my visas are also included within the passport. Fortunately I hadn't left it it until the last night before getting the passport out.

Of course, unless I could get an emergency passport which could be given through the British Consulate I would not be leaving China. Before I could do this I had to report it lost or stolen at local police station, who then sent me to the local visa office. It was here I would be able to collect a reported lost document, which in turn I had to take to consulate. First little hitch, but not unsurmountable, it would take two working days to process lost document. This meant it would be Monday before I could get it. I was flying home Wednesday, and there were still a few more steps to the final papers.

It was a long weekend. I was not the happiest of people. For anyone reading this who doesn't know me, I have to let you know I don't lose things. I file, I organise and like everything in its place. So I was so angry with myself. My only excuse could be that I have to carry my passport with me, I have at some point mislaid it. I really thought it was going to be in one of my handbags. But with every bag turned inside out, every drawer searched and every possible place I could think of being searched it was obvious it was not going to be found.

Fortunately a pre arranged night out on Saturday got me out of the house. A few drinks and a comedy show took my mind off the possibility I would not be going home in time for my niece's wedding, and a chance to be with my family. This was making me so annoyed with myself.


Eventually Monday arrived and I was back at the visa office. The paperwork I had filled in on the Thursday was pulled from the file it had been put into, and the official filled it in at this point, and stamped it. Why, I wondered has she not done this on the Thursday. However no point in challenging them.

Now off to Consulate. All went well. £100 would get me an emergency passport, valid for one return trip! It would be ready in three and a half hours. So I could pick it up at 2-30. I had then to get it to a local police station to get them them validate it before finally going back to the visa office for the final stamp. It would close at 4-30, and there was no guarantee they would do it within the time, it could be up to five days. It was a very tense day. I had my husband's assistant with me and my driver.



Police station looked as though it might scupper the whole procedure as they wanted to see rental agreement on apartment. I don't know how, but my driver managed to over ride their refusal and get the much needed stamp, or chop as it is called here. The chop is all powerful. Time was now running out. It was at this point my driver really came through, he drove like a formula one driver. No cones could stop him, indeed he was even overtaking police cars. He was a star.

Finally we arrived at the visa office. By the time we had reached the final point, there was 15 minutes to go before the office would close. Still no one would promise us what we wanted to hear. But the second from last person we saw wrote " extreme urgency" on the top of my paper. The end was in sight.

Final stamp? Not quite! I have to return at 4-00pm the following day. I leave home at 4-00am on the day after to begin my trip home. So we are really cutting it fine. I am almost breathing normally, but until it's in my hand I'll still have a few doubts.

It is now one hour before I go for the final paper. I have packed, and I feel more relaxed than I have in days. All my own doing and I still feel very annoyed with myself. It will not happen again. The final paper won't give me re- entry into China, I will have to apply for that once I get home, but that wont be a problem. I'll cope with that.

So it seems it's all worked out. A few hairy moments. A few people wanted to use their power to make it difficult, but they were always pleasant, just doing their job! Would it be any different anywhere else?
  I don't think so.

So hopefully tomorrow morning I will be flying home. If paper is not ready at 4-00 when I go to pick it up, well who knows. But if you don't see me blogging for a few weeks then you will know I am home enjoying time with my family and friends.

Thanks to everyone who made it possible.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

DISHES of the WEEK

Had this take away menu dropped into my mailbox this week.

Can I interest you in anything? Whose up for the "fish lip soup" or perhaps the "frog's fallopian tube in paw paw"I thought not.

Starting to dream of sweet and sour pork, chicken in lemon sauce with a side of prawn toast and crispy seaweed............
Ah the memories, of what is not, as I have come to realise a real Chinese meal, but one I am craving.

Still great food to be had, sometimes you just have to pick through the menus very carefully until you find a real delicacy tucked away.

Think I will hold on to this menu, for a time when Shanghai is a distant memory and I am nostalgic for what was. Funny how things can often seem better in retrospect, ie: British Chinese takeaway. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

ONE MONDAY in SHANGHAI

When I woke up this morning something felt different. It took a little while before I realised it was definitely cooler, I hadn't rushed to switch on A/C as soon as I went into the living room. As I sat with my morning cup of Lady Grey, Twinings of course, and  piece of toast I was thinking how nice it would be to enjoy a cooler time of the year. It was a lovely 22c, but still only 8-00am. Summer has been great, at times too hot for me, but I certainly am not complaining, I dealt with it, and enjoyed it. Why wouldn't you. Some people leave the city to escape the summer heat, but not us, we stuck it out, and it was no hardship. We know the alternative!

My local paper was telling me that although it would be cooler over the next few days Summer was still with us. Here, unlike at home, seasons are determined by the amount of days with consecutive temperatures. In the case of Autumn we have to experience 5 days when the thermometer falls below 22c. Then Autumn will have arrived. Usually this happens around the end of September.

A Typical Summer Day Here






I then got a nostalgic feeling. I love Autumn at home, and it always makes me want to play the homemaker. I love the smell of fresh laundry and fresh sheets on the bed. A nice stew bubbling on the stove and a nice clean home. Not that I don't like this at anytime of the year but there is something special about Autumn. It is my favourite seasons.

So I set about playing the perfect wife. I decided to start with the ironing. Here I have a confession, I don't really iron any more. Just the odd thing I need quickly, but generally someone does it for me. Come on I'm sure you've all heard of Chinese Laundries! They are everywhere, and very cheap. Also I have an Ayi, translate as maid, who comes in and takes care of cleaning the kitchen, including the cooker and oven, the bathrooms and the floors. So as you see this would be a rare treat for me.  I  know you hate me now!


Iron plugged in, board put up, I set about reducing the pile.

I put "Jimmy's Food Factory" into the DVD player and got to it. I did enjoy it, for about the first 10 minutes, then I realised it wasn't as cool as I had first thought, little rivers of moisture were now slowly running down my spine, the hair around my temples was  plastered flat to my head, and the rest of my hair had taken on a life of it's own. With the heat and the steam from the iron I was now looking like some mad lady. Okay this wasn't as much fun as I had thought. However I had learned that marshmallows are made with pig skin, pig heads and bones, well the gelatine is, I know that rams somewhere in Hampshire are given c.a.t scans before determining the healthiest ram, the one which will have all the fun with the ewes, and hopefully produce the best lambs the following Spring. I also know that cakes go hard when stale, whilst biscuits go soft, all to do with moisture. I know how they roll mini rolls, how they fast freeze fish to produce fish fingers, and why it is difficult to get the perfect fish finger. So all was not a waste of time. My food knowledge had been increased greatly!



Can't believe I've put this dreadful pic out there for all to see. lol. 

I persisted, and completed my task. As always there was the satisfaction of having a nice pile of great smelling laundry. I always like a task when the finished result is so obvious for all to see. I put away all of my husband's shirts, a lot of them, and stored stuff neatly into drawers. 



 I then brought out the polish and duster and soon the house was smelling like a newly cleaned home. One thing is my Ayi does not use any chemicals when cleaning, which I know is environmentally friendly, but I do like the smells of polish and cleaner. Makes me feel I've completed something. 

At this point I heard the washing machine go into a final spin, and remembered that ironing never really goes away! I then decided today had been a bit of self indulgence, bit of role playing, and that truly I am happy to let someone take the chores out of my hands. So happy with what I'd done I settled down with a cup of coffee and a sense of satisfaction.


So please don't hate me for taking advantage of the good life here. I may be a bit spoiled, a tai,tai as they call women in my position. Really it just means someone who is lucky enough to enjoy the good things in life, usually a boss' wife but literally translates as Mrs, Mrs. One thing is I never forget is just how lucky I am, or where I have come from. I also realise the fragility of it all, it could all end as easily as it started. It also has huge disadvantages, family far away being the hardest thing to deal with. I miss them every day.

Life is good in Shanghai, it won't be forever so I am enjoying all I can before it is all just a memory, a very good memory.



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

AN INSIGHT INTO SHANGHAI LIFE

Last Sunday saw my husband and I being taken on a very interesting tour around parts of Shanghai we would probably never have come across on our own.

Thanks was due to a Mr Du and his colleague Miss Li. Mr Du is a high ranking customs official here in Shanghai, and someone my husband meets regularly in the course of business. We were very honoured, and surprised, when he offered to show us around parts of his city.

So at 8-45am on a very hot Shanghai Sunday we set off. First stop was very old Tao Temple which was hidden in the back streets and slowly being surrounded by modern skyscrapers. Within the walls there was an amazing sense of peacefulness. The city was shut out, it was an oasis of calm in what is a very busy, noisy and bustling place. You have to hope this haven of calm never disappears completely. The only part of the wall surrounding the temple was constructed in 1553, during the Ming Dynasty, and although originally nine miles long there is now only 50 metres remaining. This is happening very fast all over the city.


From there we were headed to the markets. It soon became obvious that this was not the markets I came across everyday, but what I think of as being "the real heart" of the city. People living, and working in the same area. Their homes tucked down back lanes allowing them to work alongside. These are homes with no inside plumbing, people visible washing clothes, and themselves in sinks situated outside their living space. They are known as lane homes.


The offerings around the market were many and colourful. Most things you would see around any local market here, although maybe not the way they were offered, or the methods employed by the vendors. We saw people sitting on the road gutting fish, piles of guts and scales lying beside them. There were ducks hanging next to drying clothes, with their innards lying on a poly bag for sale with the duck. Live chickens, pigeons and geese caged ready for the their fate when someone would come along and buy them. No back shop slaughtering here. It was all in full view. 



As the temperature was in the mid 30's with the sun blazing down, you can imagine the ripeness of the air! It didn't help that people were emptying their pots of pee down the alleyways. I did find myself scurrying past some areas very quickly, fighting my gag reflex on more than one occasion. But strangely, despite this, it was a really interesting experience. We were clearly "strangers in town" we saw no other foreigners around, but we were treated well. There was always a smile and a "neha" hello in Chinese. Our request to take pictures were never turned down. In fact people were only too happy to be photographed. It is, to me, amazing how happy people are living in these circumstances. It is so alien, and so far from our expectations of living conditions. I wonder how long before these communities no longer exist, and the skyscrapers take over. They are not so far away now. I can't help thinking that conditions in the future will be better for them, however I hope their culture doesn't disappear with their homes.




As we wandered along the lanes their was something interesting at every turn. It was a photographers mecca. The "money shots" where everywhere you looked. It was such a lively neighbourhood, full of people doing what they did every day of the week. We saw them at work, at sleep and at play.


I love the way the Chines hang out their washing. All there for everyone to see. In some cases you had to literally walk through it, brushing it to one side. My neighbours in Southampton would be horrified. There was a no hanging washing outside policy there. Nobody's underwear hanging out for all to see.
                        

Soon were heading back to the city, one more stop this time to take in a Confucious Temple, and then the all important lunch. The Chinese take their food and their meal times very seriously. Not for them a sandwich or slice of something on the move. We were seated down to a delicious meal. A lovely end to a lovely day.


However the scenes and smells of the day would stay with me. I was so happy and feel so privileged to have seen this side of Shanghai. But I do wonder where there people will end up, will they be taken away from everything, and more importantly from friends and from traditions. Looking at it as an outsider it is easy to think this would be wrong. But who knows it may well be these people are just waiting for the day when they will move out, and hopefully move on. There is no holding back progress, if that is what it is. I hope to return in a few years and see the difference in the area. I'm sure it will be very interesting.





Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dish of the DAY

Sorry but another dish I couldn't be tempted with.

I am doing my best but there are some things which really make me squirm, and this falls into that category.

I'm not even sure I can picture a jellyfish head, it seems to me to be all body and tentacles. Perhaps there is a problem in the translation.

So I keep going in my quest for unusual dishes around Shanghai.