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Archive for January, 2010

Oh Oobi-doo, I Wanna Be Like You-oo-oo

Can you guess what I did yesterday?

Can you?

That’s right baby – Disney on Ice! Are you jealous? You totally should be, it was awesome.

Got tickets for M for Christmas. She’d never really been to an auditorium show before – a short one at the aquarium on her class trip in October, but this was her first “big show”. She spent most of the first half hiding behind the set in front of her, peering over the top, then shrieking when a character came on that she recognised (“Baloo! Mom! Look! IT’S BALOO!”), then going back to hiding behind the seat. Eventually she settled down and sat on one of our laps and stared with glazed fascination.

It was good fun, we all really enjoyed it. Since we don’t have any English language kids channels, M mainly watches DVDs, and she’d got a pretty substantial proportion of the Disney canon. She ‘knows’ that these were just people in costumes, but I think in that way that you can when you are 3, she really bought into those characters as being ‘real’.  She really liked the Jungle Book bit, that’s been a longtime favourite film. There was a Pirates of the Caribbean number (based on the ride, not the film, which is based on, erm, the ride…) that she liked. Also one based on the Haunted Mansion, which I quite enjoyed and thought was nicely done, and M mostly watched through her fingers from behind the chair.

Lately she has been getting into watching The Incredibles too; we have had it for a while but she never wanted to watch it until recently. Part of the ‘story’ – such as it is – of the show involved the Incredibles having to save Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse, who have been put under a spell by Malificent. (You may remember her from Sleeping Beauty – the wicked queen with the spinning wheel? Yeah, that’s her.)

So it was a good time, fun show, everything all good, happy happy, brilliant family day out. Oh, until was time to leave, and M wanted us to buy some overpriced plastic piece of crap pirate sword, and we didn’t, and she had a massive meltdown that lasted all the way out of the arena and down two city blocks until we could get into a cab. In the cab she passed out, slept for a good 20 minutes, then woke up getting out of the cab and carried on having her enormous strop-to-end-all-strops for about another hour. *sigh* Three year olds, they really don’t know much about gratitude, I tell you.

I am Everyday People

I was talking to a friend (thanks, you know who you are) recently about this blog and how I felt bad that I am not writing more stuff more often, but that I find myself alternating between feeling like I have so much I want to tell people but don’t know how to say it, and feeling like my everyday life is really actually not all that interesting and not being able to think of much to say that I think anyone would want to read about. What she suggested was that I stop thinking about people reading it, and if I didn’t have something I was particularly burning to get out, just write down a paragraph or two about something, anything that I did that day or the day before, even if it seems like ‘nothing’ particularly happened that day, because there are things that we all become used to after living here for a little while that have become pedestrian to us, but that are still interesting for friends and family to read to get a picture of what life here is like. And, if I just start writing anything, likely it will prompt a bunch of other thoughts, and before long I’ll have written more than I had thought I would. Which is probably true because as most of you know, I pretty much never know when to shut up.

So, with that in mind, here’s some stuff I did the other day.

There is a ferry terminal over the road from where we live where we can get the boat back and forth across the river to Puxi. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the city, Shanghai divided by the HuangPu River; one side is known as Puxi (“Pu-west”) and the other as Pudong (“Pu-east”). The ferry terminal on the Pudong side delivers passengers to the rim of the very symbol of Shanghai modernity, the concrete canyons of Lujiazui, with its bewildering array of skyscrapers jostling for attention in the financial district. On the Puxi side, passengers are disgorged at the edge of the “Old City” of Shanghai, the area that was once a walled fishing village before Shanghai became an international metropolis, and although no longer physically walled, still maintains dense warren of narrow streets inhabited by longtime residents accustomed to little privacy and even less living space.

When you get off on the Puxi side, you come out into an open area that is sort of part street, part construction site (well actually that describes most street in Shanghai actually, but this is a bit more broad than most). The route out to the main road crossing is lined with vendors proffering all manner of snacks -roasted sweet potatoes, tea-boiled eggs, rolled up egg pancake things, slabs of melon on sticks, fatty spicy lamb kebabs are some of the things generally on offer. Lately I’ve noticed a few guys selling an interesting looking confection off the back of their trikes like this bloke:

This fellow was a funny chap. He told me his name but sadly I’ve forgotten it. He said he comes from “a place near Russia”. The giant slab of stuff he is selling is, like, chopped nuts and seeds in a sweet, semi-solid mass, sort of like a marzipan kind of thng, decorated with candy fruits. I forget the name of this as well. (I know, I know I should write these things down straight away.) I bought a chunk of it and it is so dense and sweeeeeeet, I imagine it shall take me the better part of a month to get through it, as I can manage only two or three nibbles at a go. It’s really good though.

From there I headed over to the commodities market, a popular area to pick up… well, just about anything you might imagine really. In great quantities. I was actually off in search of birthday gifts for 4 year olds (M has two parties to go to this weekend) but this time of year of course Chinese New Year is coming up, so there are multitudes of stalls to go to buy all of your festive Year of the Tiger needs.

Or, if you prefer, a Spirograph.

Shendanjie kuaile!

Anyone want pizza?

I think that means “Merry Christmas!” I’m pretty sure but I’m to lazy to go look it up right now. You can see how lazy I am by the fact that it’s, like, two weeks after Christmas and I’m finally just now getting my butt in gear to write about it. Well hey, better late than never, right?

Part of the reason it’s taken so long is that I feel like there’s so much I want to say about Christmas in Shanghai, but then when I try to write it down I can’t think what to say. Because it’s a really weird thing. I mean, the question I was getting from some of you beloved friends and family was, “So do they like, do anything there for Christmas, or what?”

No idea what this stage is for. I think it is actually just for people to stand on whilst other people take their picture.

And the answer is that yes, they definitely “do something” here. Lots of things. Everything except, well, celebrate Christmas. Everyplace – I mean everyplace – you go there are decorations, trees, lights, windows with that spray snow stuff stenciled into festive shapes, poinsettia plants (real ones, fake ones) galore. Santa faces everywhere. Special sweets and treats for sale. Christmas carols playing in the shopping centres and cafes. The photo at the top of this post is pretty representative – that’s a 10 floor department store (see the people in the lower right, for scale) festooned with a super-size Santa.  But you know, here’s the deal: people here, they love to shop, and they love to decorate with multicoloured lights, both as often and as extravagantly as possible. So, they love Christmas.

One of about five thousand market stalls selling every bit of brightly coloured Christmas gear you might possibly ever need, and may you won't.

Everything but the, you know, the actual Christ part. Because it’s not a holiday here. Everyone (chinese) just gets up and goes to work, like any other day. They don’t really have Christians. There are a handful, but it’s highly discouraged. Foreigners can have religious services but only foreign passport holders can attend. Attempting to recruit/minister to local people is against the law and will get you deported. (Woo hoo, no Jehovah’s Witnesses knockin’ on my door on a Saturday morning.) But Christmas is as good an excuse as any to buy stuff and put up lots of lights and eat sweets and that sort of thing, so hey they’re into it. All except the Jesus stuff. What can I say?

But it is nice to hae something of a festive atmosphere, even if it is sometimes a little wonky (you’ll notice in the top photo, Santa has 3 Rudolphs – they try so hard here sometimes, but just don’t quite get it.) From Thanksgiving on, most of the bigger hotel chains have some sort of regular special events going, like boozy Sunday brunches featuring traditional western holiday foods – I’m a big fan of these, ha ha, although ’tis true they have done my waistline no favours. We went to a nice one the weeekend before Christmas at the Hilton (in an insane world, one can always go to a Hilton for a bit of serenity, anywhere in the world – globalisation ain’t all bad, folks) and they had a big electric train village thingie set up, a quintet playing classical music, activities for the kids, all very civilised.

Who doesn't love a giatn train set? No one, that's who.

Christmas Eve we went with another couple and their two girls to a ‘stew and pie’ buffet sponsored by one of the Abundant Grace International Fellowship church at another hotel. Good food, not fancy but very homey. After the buffet there was a carol service, which we sort of half-attended – it was very crowded and we hadn’t finished our meal fast enough to get seats so there was only standing room at the back left. The two dads decided that they would be magnanimous and give up their standing space to others, in favour of retiring to the hotel lobby and having drinks.  There was space up front for all the kiddies to sit  on the floor so the three girls did that for a bit, but started to get a bit restless, so eventually we gave up and joined the dads in the lobby whilst the girls ran around and exhausted themselves. Ordinarily not behavior one might condone in a nice hotel lobby , but it was all good cheer and happy happy, and no one seemed put off by three little blonde girls dancing around the big tree shrieking “Santa is coming”. So we just let them get good and tired, then bundled off into a cab before it all ended in tears. (As many of you know, with toddlers, it can all go so wrong, so quickly…)

Look! Santa was here!

Fortunately, having been sufficiently exhausted the night before, M slept in fairly late on Christmas morning; no racing for presents at dawn, which G and I much appreciated. She was very excited to see that Santa had eaten his biscuits and drunk the nip of scotch we left for him, and of course, to see the big pile of loot he had left for her. Kind of a challenge for Santa to restrain himself – toys are plentiful and inexpensive here, even the ones not tainted with lead and other toxins.

No, it's not a very small tree. It's a very big Barbie.

The rest of Christmas Day was a fairly quiet affair. We hung around the house most of the morning into early afternoon drinking coffee with Baileys (well, G & I did) and eating pain au chocolat and other goodies.  In the afternoon we went out and had Japanese food and then went to the aquarium. So, not really a traditional way to spend Christmas, but we had fun!