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Monday, May 11, 2009

Just an Egg

It’s 730 in the morning on a Saturday. The sun has been up for two hours and I’ve been up for three, still slightly jet lagged. I’m standing in the Carrefour, with a cart containing Coke and a few expensive western items, but all I really want is an egg. But I will end up leaving without it.

The contrast between diverse places appears sharpest at the borders of experience. My first few days back in Boston made me realize breathing clean air, relaxing in uncrowded green spaces and easy completion of daily tasks does wonders for the soul. Likewise, returning to Shanghai and feeling the vibe, learning new ways to live here forces one to grow. It is almost too easy to perform daily tasks in your native language, where’s the challenge in that?

In the store, I’m on a mission and a scouting expedition. The mission relates to breakfast. I have boutique pancake mix and premium New England maple syrup at home. All I need is one egg. The scouting expedition for future reference. Looking at the mini-fridges, fans, cell phones, books, office supplies, linens, toilet paper, basketballs, electric bikes. My stomach growls as I wander up and down the aisles on the second floor looking at the strange packaging of the food products. I grab some expensive familiar western items, pasta, sauce, cookies, cheese, Coke. Then I look for eggs.

I walk past the produce section where there a tremendous crowd of old Chinese people gather. Strange to see a line to select produce. I walk past the live turtles and fish, and the meat cleavers chopping hunks of flesh to what appears to be the dairy refrigeration section. There is a queue of more old Chinese people here as well. They are waiting for eggs.

The line, just to pick up the eggs, is enormous. The line to pay even longer. There are no egg cartons. My stomach growls angrily, I forgo the egg queue and get in the pay queue. It takes 30min to get through the register. No pancakes today.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Back Home, (sort of...)

I’m sitting in the airport restaurant in Chicago, weary and hungry after a 14 hour flight, but excited to be back in Meiguo (America) – in Chinese literally “beautiful country”. The view of the city enchants when landing/departing…the great lakes, the neat grid suburbs, the gleaming high rises, the green space, the clean air. It is beautiful.

The waitress calls me ‘hun’ even though I’m likely older than her, and smiles broadly. I ask for water and it arrives brimming with ice. I open the menu and there are no pictures, all in English. I order, eat and smile to myself. I actually understand the conversations going on around me. This little 15min encounter convinces me that I will never be able to pass for anything else but a meiguoren (American).

I like when strangers are friendly to me and smile, I like lots and lots of ice. I like that the food looks nothing like the animal that was killed for my meal, there are no eyes, no heads no skin or fins or bones on my plate. The salad does not have thousand island dressing and the meal does not end with watermelon. The dessert is very very good. I’m probably gaining weight already.

Using a knife and fork feels so clunky now. Is it weird that I want to bring chopsticks with me? And why do I have to tip? I put down the green, colorless money in odd demoninations and head off for my connecting flight to my old home.