The Scrooge of Shanghai

Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Monday, December 24, 2012

I could see Buddha and Santa being buddies...
Every Wednesday, because I have orchestra rehearsal, I carry my viola to work and go straight to our rehearsal space by Jing'An Temple at 6:15. I'd listened to classic Christmas songs all day and was bumping along, happy as a clam, when I saw something that made me, if possible, giddier than I already was: an electric Christmas tree outside of Jing'An Temple! Shrugging off the philosophical-level confusion, I started snapping photos. What a delightful juxtaposition of religious symbolism! What a glorious, overwhelming display of Christmas cheer! Visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, I practically skipped the rest of the way to practice.
Santy Claus been here!

I entered the rehearsal hall just in time, wished my friends happy holidays, and opened my viola case, carefully as always, to find a surprise. Unfortunately, this was no Christmas present from Santa. Or maybe it was and I've just been particularly naughty this year. Yes, in fact, perhaps a broken viola is the adult version of a lump of coal in your stocking. 
I picked up the loose fingerboard and stared at it, puzzled, as my stand partner's shocked gasp summoned all the musicians within earshot to gather round and stare, wide-eyed, into my case. To the stragglers running late into the room, we may have looked like an overly dramatic caroling group acting out "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer". There was nothing to do but close the case and head home.
Lugging my broken viola slowly back to the Jing'An Temple Metro Station, I glanced over at that stupid Christmas tree with the lame "Martini brand" topper and let out an exasperated "Bah Humbug!"

The musical elves of the French Concession

As I left, feeling like Cindy Lou Who after the grinch burned down the Whoville Christmas Tree, a violinist handed me an address of a place where I could get my viola fixed. Her directions led me to the French Concession with it's fancy architecture and ritzy cafes and I felt that my poor viola and I were going to be in good hands. I started to see more and more violin shops and soon enough I was on a street dedicated to string instrument repair! This town has a district for everything!
As abruptly as I'd realized my viola was broken, I found myself in a back alley of the French Concession full of tiny repair shops. Like watching a mesmerizing snow globe, I peered into dirty windows and saw women crouched under staircases working on cellos and men in 4x4 shops tuning violins. I double checked the business card and knocked hesitantly on door #6.

The man opened the door and looked at me, surprised by my (admittedly shocking) laowai face. "Uh, is this the instrument repair shop?" I stammered, unsure whether or not I was using the correct vocabulary. I handed him the card and he motioned for me to come inside. 
When I opened the case, he chuckled. "No problem. Come back for it tomorrow." After some haggling over the price, which all Scrooge's know how to do, I left. The weight of the viola off my shoulders, I decided to explore the area and found myself outside a Mexican restaurant called El Gato Verde. Feeling adventurous, I ordered the nachos and sat happily munching on chips and thinking about that silly Martini Christmas tree at Jing'An Temple.

The office Christmas party

"Hurry! Come help us!" my coworkers beckoned as I walked in the door on the morning of Christmas Eve. Two were hunched over a desk cutting slips of paper as the other decorated the tree. 
They handed me a slip of paper. " what am I supposed to write?" I asked. They motioned to the tree, giggling. "Write your Christmas wishes of course! You're American! Don't you know what to do?" 

"Oh, yeah, of course I do!" I asserted defensively. As I stared confusedly at the blank slip of paper, pen in hand, it came to me. "You know what, guys? This isn't a Christmas tradition...this is what you do at temples." Apparently, I was the first to notice that we were mixing traditions here. We had a good laugh and I wrote down my wish and hung it on the tree with care.
At 4pm, the festivities began! We presented each other with gifts, "ooh"ing and "aah"ing dramatically as secret Santas were revealed and silly presents were unwrapped. I was appointed to the high rank of DJ and we each received free toothpaste from a "former client". Well, that was the story. If the boss thinks our breath smells, he should just come out and say it.
As we feasted on kebabs, sandwiches, and cake, I felt a strange sensation in my chest. "Help me, Sophie!" I cried. "I'm...I'm FEELING!" 

And what happened then? Well in Shanghai they say the laowai's heart grew three sizes that day!

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