The China Experience

Shanghai Postcard #1

We had a gorgeous sunny day this weekend. A local wedding florist had table centerpieces laid out for two weddings, and several of my neighbors had moved their bamboo chairs to a sunny spot. We smiled and waved at each other. They chatted away in Shanghainese while I headed over to the garden. I love these lanes and alleys for the myriad worlds they contain.

Shanghai: Garden and Food Safety

Wednesday is my day to share pictures of Shanghai, and, if I'm lucky, a fun little slice-of-life. I like to think of them as digital post-cards that tell you a little bit about what it's like to live in China.

Today's postcard is a peek at the darker side of living abroad. I hope to have something peppier to share next week, but in the interim, here is the saga of last night's dinner.

I bought a pack of chicken drumsticks ostensibly from a well-known American brand at a well-regarded grocery chain that caters to ex-pats. Meat scandals are a frequent occurrence over here. I'm not much of a meat-eater to begin with, but Mark likes some animal protein in his diet, so meat appears on our table once or twice every two weeks, and I'm careful about what I buy and from whom.

Nothing seemed off, so I cooked the chicken. Mark and I ate it, and before we even got up to do dished, we both felt the tell-tale signs of MSG overdose - the I-can't-feel-my-face-anymore, awful too-much-cheap-dim-sum feeling.

Other than the chicken, everything else in the recipe was either fresh (onions, fennel, tomatoes, celery, etc) or stuff from our pantry we've used before (polenta, butter, milk).

So it's got to be the chicken, right? The chicken was intended to be sold frozen, and it was thawed when I bought it. Also, there was a weird second packaging layer over the plastic tray on the back. The front plastic was still sealed, though, so I don't feel like I missed any major signs of tampering. Weird.

Before this, we've had a pretty good run. The last time we had this sort of  problem was when I accidentally bought a bottle of fake amaretto (yeah, I drink girly drinks sometimes) and it turned out to be mostly wood alcohol. 

I'm still feeling a bit unwell, so we're back on a vegetarian diet for the moment. Luckily, I'm getting a lot of lovely greens out of the garden, so we've got some fresh produce that's a known quantity. I have a feeling there's a lot of quiche in our future.



Shanghai: Fireworks and Chickens

A wedding was celebrated in our alley this weekend! As part of the festivities, somebody laid out red fireworks in the shape of two interlaced hearts, and wow was it loud.

The cats scattered and hid under the bed for the better part of four hours. I'm still finding tiny bits of red paper here and there in the lane. 

I'm seeing more and more live poultry at the local wet market. It started out with the standard reddish chickens, but is expanding weekly with ducks, pigeons (yep, these guys are all food birds), and most depressingly for me, Silkie chickens. 

I want pet chickens so badly! My Grandad kept chickens, and I have vivid memories of my sweet cousins chasing them around the yard, the apple tree growing up through the floor of their coop, and the sweet grassy smell of their laying boxes, and the warmth of their freshly laid eggs in my hand.

Once I asked him what kind of chickens I should get, and without a moment's pause, he told me Silkies. Silkies are an ancient breed, first discovered by the West via Marco Polo. They have five toes rather than four, and black skin and bones. They're usually kept for their eggs and excellent maternal qualities in the States, but in China, their uniqueness makes them a delicacy.  

Every time I see one at the poultry vendor, I think about spiriting the poor thing away to a life of egg-laying luxury. Someday...

What have you seen around your home this week? 


Shanghai: Garden, Alleys, and Huh?

These pretty little blue butterflies are all over the garden this week. My plot is still producing beet green, chard, and arugula. I've started new rounds of chard, lettuce, radishes, and broccolli. 

This hard-working tabby is here to keep mice out of your shoes. Payment accepted in chin scratches. 

Last but not least, some marketing genius somewhere decided we all need passionfruit, lemon, and chocolate flavored cocktail cherries. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

What did you see around your home this week? 

From the dye pot

It's been a wonderful and busy week. 

Susan B. Anderson's Prairie Ridge Shawl Kit has been really popular, and much of my week was spent in a steamy kitchen with pounds and pounds of wool in various stages of pre-soaking, dyeing, cooling, rinsing, and drying. 

In between batches of dye, I worked on samples. This is a sneak peek of November's free knitting pattern for a pair of wonderfully warm stranded socks. 

These saturated colors have been keeping me energized and excited to knit.  

bund night.jpg

Speaking of color, I wanted to share this photo. Last Friday, Mark and I joined a friend's wedding cruise on the Huangpu river that divides Shanghai. "Puxi" (the older, downtown part of Shanghai) literally means "river west," and "Pudong" (the sprawling new area on the other side) is "river east". These monikers occasionally morph into "Pu York" and "Pu Jersey."

I never get tired of the crazy lights and over-the-top architecture of the Pearl Tower and its surrounding buildings - it's a constant reminder of the slightly surreal wackiness that I love about this city.

What were you working on this week?

Alleys of Shanghai: Jack and Smokes

cigarette crane by cate carter-evans Did you ever lose a bunch of quarters into one of those games where you try to grab a stuffed toy with a crane?

You used to see them in the lobbies of Denny's across America, next to the gum-ball machine and the machine that sold little plastic toys, decoder rings, or day-glow slime in a clear plastic bubble.

Today, I saw one full of cigarettes in lieu of stuffed toys.

Note the Disney branding on the machine's side.

jackfruit by cate carter-evans

In case you haven't yet reached your recommended daily dosage of the surreal, may I present the jackfruit.

They're clearly of alien origin... but perhaps alien fruit is tasty?

Both of these wonders were enjoyed at a wholesale fruit market in Putuo.

It's possible that I came home from this adventure with more fruit than I could carry comfortably. We shall see if I can put up 20 kgs of produce in three days.

What did you see around your city this week?

Alleys of Shanghai: Kitten discovers eels!

Alley kitten by Cate Carter-Evans There's always a lot happening in the alleys around Jiashan Market.

There are garden cafes with mynah birds croaking throaty versions of "nihao!" and gazing down at you with their perfectly round, black, bead-like eyes, turtles neatly stacked on top of one another like circus performers, and leafy green courtyards.

Alley kitten by Cate Carter-EvansThere are also fish vendors with their catches of yellow croaker, catfish, and river shrimp, and almost always tanks full of wriggling fresh water eels.

The eels freak me out a little bit. There's something about the snakey-ness of their movements, the shear number of them in the tanks, and (while I will spare you the gory details) their slaughter is an awful sight to behold.

This tiny kitten has no such compunctions. She (assumption of girly-ness based on her calico coat) is a new addition to the area around the market. As near as I can tell, she lives with a dry goods seller, who's nearly always napping in a folding lounge chair outside his shop.

Yesterday, she was entranced by the wriggling eels.

I just hope she keeps her nose and paws away from their bitey jaws!

What did you see in your neck of the woods this week?

Alleys of Shanghai

Jianbing by Cate Carter-Evans Mmmmmmm. Oh, such good street food.

This is a jianbing being made. Jianbing is a breakfast food, #2 on my list of favorite street foods, preceded only by the baked yam.

Jianbing starts with a batter based layer, which seems to be the lovechild of a breakfast crepe and a fortune cookie. Next up, a whole egg is cracked on top and spread out to cook, followed by unidentifiable pickled bits, ground up hot pepper in oil, and a mysterious brown sauce.

The whole thing is topped with chopped green onions and cilantro, and folded up into a convenient burrito of yum.

umbrella 2Most Fridays and Saturdays, there is an impromptu market that happens in a nearby courtyard. You can usually find the knife sharpener, the pot mender, and the shoelace/broom/mop/feather duster seller.

This week, there was a new addition to the crew - the umbrella repairman!

He was very nice, and seemed to really know his stuff.

I love seeing common household goods being repaired rather then thrown away.

umbrella 3

What did you see near your home this week?

Mystery of the Yellow Melon

Bamboo Scaffolding in Shanghai China. By Cate Carter-Evans It's been a hot and beautiful week. The garden has needed to be watered every day, and it's given me a great excuse to be out and about in the shady lanes near my home.

This bamboo scaffolding is one of the fun discoveries of these little walks. The uprights come right out to edge of the sidewalk, making a slalom course for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Clams at Shanghai Street Market. Photo by Cate Carter-Evans

Late Summer brings Hairy Crab season. I'm seeing more clams and eels at the market stalls, as well as birds - the ban on live poultry due to bird flu has finally been lifted. Chinese Cucumbers. Photo by Cate Carter-Evans

A food-related language mystery was cleared up for me this week. I had always wondered why "cucumber" was translated as "yellow melon" or "huangua" when it's not yellow.

I stand corrected.

There are at least three kinds of Chinese cucumbers. There are smooth-skinned small ones which are great for pickling, rough-skinned long ones like a European cucumber, and then these massive (and yes, very yellow) ones that look like a traditional American cucumber.

Melons are a very big deal in Chinese food. Some of the many kinds include kugua (bitter melon), nangua (south melon) which is a sort of pumpkin, and xigua (west melon) which is watermelon.

Watermelon is really popular - it's traditionally served for dessert after the evening meal.