One of the very first things I noticed about my Jiu-Ma was her incredibly bright and florid energy -- aside from the fact Collin and I had trouble keeping up with her the entire time, she didn't seem a day over 40 nor did she look it. In America, the common attitude of growing old usually creates fear -- the exhaustive strive to stay 20 through face lifts, botox, plastic surgery, you name it. Not to mention the ever foreboding nursing home, where adults send their parents when there is no longer a "place" for them anymore.
In China, it seems the elderly embraces their maturing lives with enthusiasm, fearless of age and wrinkles and constantly striving to stay in the know. A few times a week, Jiu Ma goes to a local community center (funded by the government) where she is able to attend any class of her choice -- ranging from singing, dancing, art, computer and technology, movies, -- all the teachers are there on a volunteer basis and all classes are free.
The most recent class she's been attending has been knitting -- boy does Jiu- Ma have some impressive handwork. She urged that Collin and I have plenty of little panda bears (ASAP!!) so she could make little outfits for them...(not for a few more years guys). She's been attending classes for the past 4 years and along the way she has made many friends -- they will go out to eat, take little vacations together, throw parties for every occasion -- there is nothing old about it.
All the women in her knitting class were full of laughter and smiles -- avidly surrounding the teacher, showing her their weekly creations, learning new techniques -- I couldn't help but smile along with them.
It brought me much comfort to know these options were available to my mother when she moves back. It has been a lonely journey for her here, with her business and schedule, it left little time for much else. I made Jiu-Ma promise me that she will make sure my mother keeps physically and mentally active once she moves here -- her response? "No problem! She, I, we make many friend!" I know they will.
My Jiu-jiu likes to tease Jiu-ma for her love of trendy electronics -- " I don't understand why she buys all these gadgets and then never really knows how to use them." Jiu-Ma immediately exclaims "Bullshit!" She grabs her Ipod Touch (which I don't even have btw) and plugs it into her Ipod speaker box, feverishly mashing the buttons on the screen, scrolling rapidly to find the song of her choice and suddenly pauses "Why can't I find the song?? It disappeared! Where did it go??" I look over at Jiu-jiu who slaps his head and rolls his eyes -- "See, what did I tell you?"
You gotta love that Jiu-Ma.
(Dancer wearing a traditional dress from the Qing dynasty)
She took us to see a fashion show of the "History of Classic Fashions of China" which showcased the different styles of fashion throughout the ancient Chinese dynasties. The 60 minute show used over 600 props, 1200 costumes and equipped with 80 dancers and 40 different scenes.
We were lucky enough to be moved to the first row where we got to see all the intricate details that were on the costumes. I think my favorite dynasty is the Tang Dynasty. During that time, fashion focused mainly on feminine elegance and charm. The designs are very "fairy-like" with heavy influences from nature -- with free-flowing fabrics and elegant silhouettes.
We also ventured through the open markets in Shanghai -- where local farmers bring in their produce and sell their goods at different stations -- very similar to the farmers' markets that we have here. There was anything you can think of, hundreds of different types of veggies, seafood, fresh proteins -- Collin spent the majority of the time poking at the live fish.
It was funny to see all the extraneous animal parts that American's wouldn't even dare to touch here, unless it was in a form of a hot dog. They had pig ear, tendon, chicken feet, duck feet, giblets, kidneys, stomach -- and yes, I have tried all, and yes, I do enjoy eating them very much. (Don't judge me!)
They even had fresh chickens. Now THAT is what I call FRESH. I felt pretty bad for the little guy, seeing he must know his fate but I am sure he will later on be transformed into a tasty soup or a nice dish (Morbid? Perhaps. Delicious? Absolutely.)
One of our favorite restaurants on this trip had to be Dong Tian Restaurant (we went twice), located right on the intersection of Tian Ping Lu and Guang Yuan Lu, served probably the best Szechuan food I've ever had. Not only that, the dishes were cheap and they also had an English menu for foreigners (Collin loved this.) Above we had the Salted Chicken Sauteed with Dried Red Chilies -- I don't think they used enough red chilies in this dish... The fragrant and slightly sweet flavor of the red chilies was enveloped in every bite, the smells were incredible-- if only smelling like Chinese food was fashionable I'd wear it as a perfurme.
We also ordered the traditional Pork with Garlic Sauce and Kung Pao Chicken (Collin's ultimate favorite) which were swimming in a beautiful sea of bright red chili oil. The hotness level of these chilies are very different from what you'd experience from a jalapeno. Opposed to a painful burn, these chilies give you a tingling burn, where you can feel the oils ooze out of your pores and not before long the sweat will begin to drip down your face. Also with the addition of the Szechuan Peppercorns, they almost numb your mouth as you eat them -- it's much more enjoyable than it sounds!
My favorite would have to be the Garlic Spareribs -- I had to be polite and limit myself to 2 but easily could've stuffed a good 6-8 (It sucks to be a "lady" sometimes). They brined the spareribs over night and dusted them in cornstarch. In very hot oil they fried the garlic and spareribs leaving you with a crisp and frangrant outside and juicy flavorful meat on the inside. I've never been so in love with a rib.
(left - Trio of starters: marinated mushrooms, oven dried tomatoes, marinated broad beans. right - Sweet potato fries)
Our last meal in Shanghai, we took Grandma to her favorite restaurant -- Tang's Cuisine -- I couldn't find the address anywhere so I will have to ask my mom when she gets back. They served high-end dimsum and they have a variety of beautiful teas. I picked the rose-bud tea, which enveloped your senses with rich rose aromas with ever sip and left you with a sweet delicate aftertaste.
We ordered a variety of dimsum, my two favorites were the Luo Buo Gao and Char Siew Bao. Lu Buo Gao is better known as Turnip Cake -- it is a rice flour based cake with shredded turnip, chinese sausauge, dried shrimp and shiitake mushrooms. It is steamed and then cut into pieces and panfried. Char Siew Bao or BBQ Pork Bun, is a steamed bun also made of mainly rice flour that is filled with a sweet and savory bbq pork filling.
(left - Chicken Feet right- Stir Fried Pork with Wasabi)
Collin loved the steamed chicken feet -- which my entire family was very impressed with. Most people will shy away from this dish but I find it wonderful. When prepared correctly, the meat simply melts in your mouth with a wonderful combination of textures and flavors from the fermented black beans, soy sauce and sugar. The fried pork was cooked nicely, though I was not really feeling the wasabi mayo on top.
(Steamed Beancurd with Vegetable filling)
Grandma really loved the steamed beancurd -- it was very soft and the beancurd skin soaked up all the delicious juices from the filling. I enjoyed this restaurant for its artistry, every dimsum entree that was served was plated exquisitely. The attention to detail was impressive and the food was cooked well. Grandma ate happily the entire time, smiling at Collin and pointing to the dishes and telling me "Tell him to eat! Eat more!" Trust me Grandma, you don't ever have to tell Collin that :).
Jiu-Ma dug out some old pictures of our family and I thought I'd share a couple. This was my grandma and grandpa on their wedding day, I am guessing around the 1930s. My mother told me before the Cultural Revolution, our family did well for ourselves. I find my grandmother a striking woman, with her delicate features and porcelain skin. Mom also tells me grandma was always the perfect lady -- always very polite, lady-like in her ways, never raised her voice, and LOVED to dress up.
I often wondered where I got my love for shopping from, my mother never buys a single thing. She tells me in many ways I am like my grandmother, and now that I'm older I see it too. Granted I am rough around the edges and I may not always be lady-like in my mannerisms, I embrace the beauty of being a woman. Whenever I go out, I enjoy dressing nice, putting makeup on, making sure everything is in place -- and yes, my grandmother still does that now. When we went out to dimsum she wore her best jacket, put on makeup, styled her hair and finished off the whole outfit with her hella cool shades -- the woman is hip.
In the pictures above, the little chubster is my mother. She is the youngest in the family by 14 years. I can see where I get my goofiness from, most of the time my mother stays very collected but she always has her spurts of random goofiness that makes me laugh til my sides ache.
Going back to Shanghai this time has really changed my life. Little by little I am learning more about my family half way across the world, every time I go back I grow closer to them. I feel fortunate to be able to have that part of me, to hear the stories of my childhood before I moved away, to meet and love the people who helped raised me, where for so long I only knew through a picture, and to experience and soak in the culture and life of the place I was born.
I gave my grandmother one last hug before I left, I hugged her tight and told her "I will see you next year." Fighting back the tears, I really hoped that I will have the opportunity to do so. To have my life enriched by all the beautiful women in my family, it's times like these that I don't want to say good-bye. It's times like these when I wish I could stay, walk to Grandma's every morning, give her her daily dose of hugs and kisses and then go on with my day. It's times like these where I wish I could eat and laugh and hang out with Jiu-Jiu and Jiu-Ma and anyone else in my family whenever I wanted to. But it's these times that you hope for, that push you to work harder towards a future that will help you fulfill these desires. I hope I will have these times soon.
Thank you all for entering my very first giveaway, it was a great success! Using Random.org I selected a winner... Congratulations to Silvia from CitronetVanille for winning my very first giveaway! Please e-mail me with your address as well as your selection for the picture you would like on print :).