Baba Mama in Shanghai
Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
25Trip End Ongoing
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Welcome to the Ikea Hotel!
I opened the door to the living room, empty except for a few new second-hand couches and large boxes that had just arrived from Ikea. I don't know when we decided that it was a good idea to move on the exact same day my parents arrived. We lugged their bags inside and I began the tour. "Well, this is the bed," I said, pointing at one of the boxes. We followed the sounds of hammers upstairs to find my roommates building their own beds and tables and unpacking their many, many boxes of clothes.
What a guy! What a guy! After 20 hours of travel, my dad built a sturdy Ikea bed before passing out on it. Who's the best hostess ever?! In the end, I guess we couldn't have settled on a better moving date!
Despite constant rain, we continued to explore the many sites of Shanghai: the Bund, the Urban Planning Exhibition Center, and West Nanjing Road. Their tour guide, yours truly, didn't have enough information to answer mom's many insightful questions. She was unsatisfied with the identical answers my dad gave to every question: "It's just like Disneyland."
We sought out Shanghai's best tour guide, a Shanghai local who, if she didn't know the answer to a question, would not hesitate to invent a colorful and almost-completely-believable story. Our tour guide was Wenying, my former roommate from USC who had returned to Shanghai to celebrate Chinese New Year with her family.
Before entering the gardens, we joined crowds of shoppers on a path through a blow-up illustration of the Legend of the White Snake. Wenying offered us amazingly succinct translations. "So, Wenying, what do those two paragraphs say?" "Oh, um...and then they fight and stuff." She also told us a wonderfully inventive story about how all pagodas were built to store single kidney stones extracted from extremely pure monks after they died.
Built in the 1500s by a wealthy politician, the Yu Gardens feature a number of fun-shaped doors that can be used to explore gestures to welcome the year of the snake or teach fathers about popular Korean music video stars.
Friends and Family
While my mom was doing her in-depth, pre-trip research, she found a cafe that she absolutely knew Wenying and I would love. Central Perk! A replica of the cafe from Friends! Not only does this amazing venue exist, it's located within walking distance of Wenying's childhood home!
Central Perk lived up to its promises, with colorful descriptions of each beverage on the chalkboard, Friends playing nonstop on the TV, and even the opportunity to meet the real life Hugsy!
Shocking as it may be, however, I will admit that Central Perk wasn't the best food of the day. After acting as tour guide extraordinaire, Wenying invited us to her parents' house for a homemade, Shanghainese dinner.
We feasted on Shanghai specialties including gluten with mushroom, eight treasures rice pudding, fried wontons, tomato and cabbage soup, shrimp, bamboo shoots, peas, and carrots and green peppers.
Wenying and I became interpreters for the four parents. Of course, they couldn't chitchat about simple things that we learn about in language classes like family members and their favorite colors. "Sarah, how do you say Roth IRA?" Really?
However, the most difficult translation of the night was the word "pea". "Pi" in Chinese can mean pass gas. Pee in English can also mean, well, pee. So after a few drinks, when Wenying asked how to translate "wandou" and I said "pea", she stared blankly at her plate. "Oh my god," she said, "I've been eating pea." When her mom asked her to stop saying the word "pi," we both completely lost it. Our parents smiled at each other awkwardly as they waited for their interpreters to gain control of themselves.
We hesitantly left Wenying's warm family home with full bellies and fulfilled hearts. No time to rest though! As amazing as it was to show my parents around Shanghai and introduce them to Wenying's folks, it was time to pack for Chinese New Year in Beijing!