|Christmas in Shanghai|
I just uploaded a new album to Picassa. It includes the church Christmas party and the family one.
Yesterday evening my wife and I decided to eat Mexican with my sister and her husband. Well it wasn’t really Mexican as this is China and they don’t really do Mexican here. It was a tapas place which is more Spanish than Mexican but for whatever reason they do serve some Mexican style dishes - fajitas, burritos, tacos and the like. Although with your quesadilla you get the choices of french fries or potato wedges, which is kind of weird, but good at the same time.
Whatever you want to call that, it was good and just what I was craving. It was also happy hour which meant that I got a refill on my Coke for free. Yeah, that’s right normally you only get one glass of Coke and that’s it. If you want to get topped off you have to pay for it. Welcome to basically anywhere in the world but America.
After filling our bellies we decided to head home. There are two main gates into the schools living quarters. Both are manned by security guards and both have those little mechanical arms designed to keep cars out unless given entry. Though I have seen many of the Chinese workers get stopped and have to show their ID or even sometimes open their bags, I have always been given a pass. I don’t know if this is because I look really trust worthy, or if all white people get a free pass, or if the guards realize they’ll never be able to communicate with me and just don’t bother. Whatever the reason, I have never been stopped.
Until last night.
We pulled up to the front cab, paid the driver and got out. We could have drove on in with the taxi but it is cheaper to pay at the gate, Lord knows I need the exercise, and it is also helpful to others who may be waiting outside the gate to catch a taxi. As we walked towards the gate I didn’t notice anything different about the guards but as we started to pass, we were stopped. It was then I noticed that it wasn’t a guard stopping me, but a policeman.
In broken English he asked for our passports. We were all a little confused and asked what was going on. He again asked for our passports and then said something in Chinese that I didn’t understand. We indicated that we didn’t have our passports on us, and he told us to go to one of the offices in the complex, where someone spoke better English.
At this point all of the horror stories of Americans in foreign countries began running through my head. I could picture myself being taken to some dingy, dirty jail cell somewhere in the bowels of the city never to be heard from again.
We walked to the office and were met by half a dozen officers, some of which were seated at a row of tables looking very formal and menacing. They too asked for our passports and we again explained they were in our rooms. They said we could go get them but first asked us a series of questions involving our names and addresses and such likes. We then went to our rooms and got our passports and returned. We were then asked a few more questions about what we were doing in Shanghai and let go.
All in all it was a pretty easy experience, and certainly the cops are well within their rights to ask for our identification. It even makes sense that they would bring a crew to check passports at a living complex where plenty of foreigners live.
Still, it was a rather frightening experience at first as my imagination took me overboard into all the bad movies I’ve seen over the years.
I have never been much of a party person. I don’t like bars, I don’t go to clubs and come Saturday night you are more likely to find me at home watching a movie, or at a quiet bookstore sipping hot chocolate than you are at some hot night spot. Bars are too smoky, too loud, and too full of drunks. Clubs always play terrible music at volumes that don’t exactly encourage casual conversation. Both contain far too many people and way too much chaos to make me comfortable.
I much prefer a small setting with a few friends that I can converse with - if not on a meaningful level then at least with some humor and interest. I married a woman who is much the same. My dear mate despises clubs and bars as much as I do, and while she does profess a desire to go somewhere from time to time, she rarely produces where that somewhere might be.
Thus we tend to stay at home, playing games, reading books, and watching movies. Now and again you might find us at a restaurant getting some fancy food (and me complaining that it’s too stinking loud to have a decent conversation) or at the movies, or more often than not sitting in a bookstore. Don’t look for us at the hip places; we don’t even know where they are anymore.
I say we’re homebodies. My wife says we’re boring.
There is an exception to this no-party rule. Once a year my wife and I dust off the dinner plates and throw a big pumpkin carving party. We both love Halloween and since we don’t have kids, this party is a fun way to do something childish and still feel like an adult.
I was a little worried about this year’s bash, as we’re living in China and everything is a little more complicated here, but everything turned out really well, and it just might be one of our best parties yet. There was some concern, at first, that we might not find a pumpkin. While in the states every super market carries huge lofts of giant pumpkins the entire month of October, none of the markets around here seemed to have any.
With a little more than one week before the holiday a few of the more western markets began selling a few pumpkins (and I do mean a few, one store had maybe 5 pumpkins in stock). Creatively, my wife and a few others didn’t let the lack of decent pumpkins bother them and bought some brightly colored squash instead.
The other problems involved the fact that none of the stores were selling pumpkin patterns or carving tools. The patterns weren’t too much of a problem as we could find some on the Internet and print. The carving tools were a bit distressing. In the States we have a large collection of little miniature jigsaws, scoopers, shavers and other tools all designed to create interesting, intricate pumpkin carvings. Here we had a set of steak knives.
For reasons that aren’t really clear to me we have more friends in China than we did back in the States. More friends, but not any more space. Pumpkin carving takes more room than your typical standing around drinking parties and there was no way we could invite everyone. Discretion was the word and we invited as many as we could and told everybody to keep it hush hush as to avoid making any non-invitees angry.
The music was hand selected, the decorations hung, the designs printed and the day came. We had an interesting collection of people as two couples have wee ones (a first for our pumpkin party, and a sure sign that we, and our friends are getting older). Another young lady had never carved a pumpkin before in her life.
I had picked out a nice large pumpkin that was more width than height. It was a little different than the pumpkins I am used to carving as it wasn’t exactly orange and it had a extremely thick shell, but was mostly hollow. The shell was so thick, in fact, that I broke my knife trying to get the top off.
The shape of the pumpkin was such that I had a very difficult time thinning the shell with my scooper. This created a difficult carving situation, but I prevailed in the end. Creating something that at least looked like a ghost, if not exactly what was on my picture printout. We all scooped and sliced and carved as best we could until slowly we began to finish. Carved pumpkins found their way to the dark porch, candles lighting their insides with “oooh” and “aaahhhs” from the crowds.
As is tradition, we each voted on our favorite pumpkin and the winner received a lovely prize (a collection of DVDs.) It was really a lovely party, and even though I had worried about China’s ability to have a crackin’ Halloween party it showed us a rather good time. Now the candy has been eaten, the mess has been cleaned up and my wife and I are ready to go back to being boring.