(PICTURE: Eva and me on The Bund)
About a week before I left the states I received a text message from one of my favorite fellow Orange Alumni--Lene Dahl. Without a doubt Lene was the smartest person I met at Syracuse. Technically, even if she wasn't, she came across that way with her slight Dutch accent. For anyone who has traveled in Europe, it's a fact that Europeans just sound smarter than us. I'd trust a five year old with a British accent over my own brother any day of the week in a trivia contest. Lene's text was something like, "What are you up to?" I naturally replied, "Moving to Vietnam in a couple days." After a few back and forth texts, I told Lene about my travel plans and she mentioned that her cousin lived in Shanghai and her sister was living in Cambodia. Always one for meeting a local whenever I travel (AKA mooching off a stranger), I got their emails and introduced myself. The next morning I received an email back from Lene's cousin Eva. Before I knew it I had an invitation to sleep in her extra bedroom--an opportunity I could never turn down.
To use the lexicon of a seventh grade girl, Eva has been the "hostest with the mostest." I told Eva that I cared about two things: eating and eating some more. Eva assured me this was her speciality and she has proven it meal after meal since my arrival. Eva is half Chinese and half Dutch (Just like Lene) and speaks fluent Cantonese. After eleven days of traveling with hand gestures and a vocabulary consisting of "hello" and "thank you" it has been amazing to be shown around by someone who speaks the language and looks like a local. I immediately knew things were going to be different in Shanghai when we walked up to a local street vendor selling buns. Eva asked for one pork and one vegetable bun. I took out 10RMB to pay. Eva told me it was just 2RMB. 2RMB!!! That's like thirty cents. This same culinary purchase anywhere else during my travels would have cost me at least 10RMB--the foreigner price.
Shanghai isn't a city with much to see. This is a place of business and not a place of sights. There are a few museums and major walking streets but nothing that jumps out at you and says, "this is China." Well except for the millions of Chinese people and all the signs. But besides that I feel like I'm just in New York's China Town...if China Town grew exponentially in size and had no seeming driving laws. That said, I'm loving it here. Eva and I have literally just walked around the city and eaten at every turn. We ate wonderful Cantonese food the first night I was here with the highlight being my first taste of jellyfish. Eva said that many foreigners don't like the crunchiness of jellyfish--but I'm not a typical foreigner. I devoured half a plate that was supposed to be split between four of us. Whoops.
The other thing I've been doing a lot of in Shanghai is playing backgammon. Between Dad and I playing two days before I left Jersey, and having played four hours on the Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong, I consider myself one of the greatest backgammon players in the world. After letting Eva win our first two games and having her brag about how great she was in backgammon, I introduced the betting dice. Five games later she owed me 39 beers.
Today I'm off to meet some friends I met at The Great Wall who happen to be in Shanghai today. After that I'm headed to the fabric district to pick up two shirts I had made (I decided wearing the same green safari shirt was starting to look disgusting in all my pictures...so I had a black and white one made just like it). Following that I'll be headed to a local massage parlor to get a rub down by a blind man who I was told "works magic." It's tough work traveling and I deserve a little R&R today.