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My first Shanghainese meal (and its consequences)

My first Shanghainese meal (and its consequences)

Today, I got my official welcome to China. It involved me, a toilet, and half an hour of continuous vomiting. The good thing is that my general malaise about being in China is gone. I think this country is brilliant and I am completely embracing this bizarre and wonderful experience. The bad thing is my malaise has been replaced by a persistent, dull stomachache. I don’t know whether it’s the water (it’s probably the water), the fact that I’m washing the fruit I’m eating in the said water, the $2 dinners (nahh), picking out chunks of beef out of the tofu that ‘did not have meat’, or Spam out of the fish ball soup (I feel like the irony of spam was not lost Chinese chef who assured me there was no meat in the dish).

Three days and five aloe yogurts into my time in China, I had my first meal. 29块 (that’s less than $5) gave me a plate of pickled cucumbers, shrimp and vegetables, fish balls (with Spam, alas), and a weird, eggy soup. It wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever eaten, but I even counted out the change to the grumpy register lady in Chinese, and I think she smiled, maybe a little (and then got angry once more when I had the gall to ask her where the chopsticks were — they were right behind me). Needless to say, I am no longer surviving on banana milk and yogurt (although I did buy a 6-pack of the aloe yogurt at the grocery store across the street for less than $1.50). I am even learning enough Chinese to order food without pointing at pictures like an idiot.

I also finally moved into new apartment. House-hunting in China is wild. There are no year-long leases, no landlords as far as the eye can see, and the average expat apartment resembles a college dorm or a hostel. It has five bedrooms, one bathroom, and at least two cats. I was given a lot of advice before coming to China, most of it quite crappy (sorry Mom, but yes, they do have green tea in China, so I don’t need to bring any from Costco), but the one thing that D told me I should do when moving here is not live in a dump. I think he was right. I actually look forward to coming home, and the 2km walk to work in the morning is filled with sightseeing (I pass right through city center) and so many delicious smells (I’ve been scoping out 油条 places but have yet to find one that doesn’t use gutter oil). And so, for less than what I paid for my crappy Elmhurst apartment in New Haven, I live in a two-story 29th floor apartment with a rooftop terrace and air-conditioning. And because real estate in China doesn’t make sense, I am only paying $40 more than the aforementioned cat-infested hostel room.

Something I still haven’t gotten used to yet, is the concept of an ‘ayi’. Most houses here have an older Chinese woman who comes to clean and take care of the house. Ours is in her 60s and extremely giggly. For a small sum (way too little in my opinion, but hey, this is China), she comes in to do our dishes, our cleaning, our laundry, our ironing, and every other household chore that I would stress out endlessly about doing. It makes living with three strangers you’ve never met before much less chaotic.

On a brigher note, I started work. It’s a much longer topic than this short paragraph, but I’m really enjoying it. Except for the 95ºF commute. I spent about 20 minutes today fanning myself with my iPad. Tomorrow, I’m getting an actual fan.

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