Dinner and a Show: Us Being the Show​

上海 Blog #15


Thursday June 4th, 2015

Local Time: 17:34 Shanghai Time

Lunch today was, zeme shuo yingwen, just plain weird. We decided to try this little hole in the wall called “Sugar.” Now don’t let the name throw you off, everything else about this place advertised itself as a burger joint. Much to our dismay, there were no burgers on the menu, however I did manage to purchase some chicken poppers and round, fried mashed potato balls for just 18 RMB. The ketchup was 10 RMB extra, so I just ate it all sauce less. Really missing barbeque sauce right about now, but there are no Famous Daves in sight. I heard rumor of an Outback in Global Harbor mall, but I imagine it’s quite pricey and despite my gradual aversion to yet more Chinese food, I really do want to try and strap back on the local food bag.

Our afternoon activity was a simple visit to a local elementary school, JinDing. The school is public (as are pretty much most things in China) and caters to students of migrant families, that is, those whose parents come to Shanghai from the country side to find work. We were expected to give a 40 minute English lesson to the students then play with them during their recess for about 20 minutes. The classes we taught in groups of five were composed of 40-50 first grade students who have little to know prior experience with English. Wonderful.

Let me tell you, if you have not attempted such a feat before in your life, you know neither the definition of futile, nor the definition of adorable. Because my communication with the children in their native language was limited, they essentially became little parrots and regurgitated back to us everything we said. We “taught” them Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, then Simon Says (which pretty much failed), Happy Birthday, and Twinkle Twinkle. All the children shrieked and squealed whenever we completed an activity or told them they did a good job or asked them for a high-five. We were most certainly a spectacle to behold.

Recess was a workout. Playing a traditional children’s game, we all lined up and held each other’s shoulders. One person faced the line and attempted to tag the back of the line. These little kids are fast! Next was a variation on Duck, Duck, Goose. I discovered through the whole process that little kids are a lot of fun, but I really don’t want to be a first grade teacher. I don’t know how my first grade teacher did it!

Apparently students here all wear uniforms and once they finish third grade are endowed with a red scarf they wear every day. It used to be a symbol of allegiance to the communist party, I was told. Now it supposedly symbolizes coming of age and growing up. A little unsettling to see it on all of these little kids, knowing the sign’s history.

I’m back at the hotel with some free time for now. Word is a few of us are planning to go out for a decent sit down dinner tonight. Should be fun. Signing off for now.

Later…. 22:47pm

Wow…. You want to talk about a crazy experience. Six of us left the dorm at 18pm with the intention of hailing a cab to go to the restaurant Zhai 老师 recommended. It was a chain apparently called 外婆家(Grandma’s Home). All we were given was a webpage full of characters we couldn’t read. We really did our best to hail a cab. But the curse of being 外国人(foreigners) in China is the cabbies really don’t want to stop for you because they assume you don’t speak Mandarin. So, about five failed attempts later, we gave up and Adam called a town car. Ten minutes later we were picked up by a Honda Odyssey manned by an amiable man who spoke not a lick of English. Somewhere on the website page we gave him must have been the address because he dropped us off at a mall that contained the correct restaurant. Conveniently, 外婆家 was located right next to a music store, the first one I’d seen in Shanghai. I told the woman in Mandarin we wanted a table for six, but she wasn’t having it and would only talk to me in English. Ugh I hate that. It’s almost insulting. I’m making an effort to engage with you in your language. Please allow me to do so.

Regardless, we were seated with 5 minutes and a new challenge began. The menu was all characters, no English, no pictures and we were expected to check the boxes of the dishes we wanted. After fifteen minutes of deliberation and some desperate attempts to contact Chinese speakers to help us translate the menu, we manage to obtain a large picture menu complete with English and Chinese descriptions so we would be able to properly match the characters and check the boxes of those dishes we wanted. I, with my 200 characters of Chinese experience, was naturally put on “match-the-characters” duty.

But alas, it simply could not be that simple. I quickly discovered none of the dishes my compatriots had picked from the picture menu could be found anywhere on the actual characters only menu. Once again, we appeared to be doomed. Thankfully, our going on thirty minute struggle had been noted by the table next door, and a kind, young, English speaking Chinese guy who had been enjoying dinner with his parents and a young lady, came to our rescue. He offered help and he likewise discovered that none of the dishes in the picture menu we were given could be found on the actual menu. Turns out said picture menu was extremely outdated and their actual menu had since become outdated.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so we told our new found friend to order us seven dishes of his choice as long as we get some chicken, beef, rice and the bread concoction his family had been working on eating. Finally, we were on our way to actually receiving some food!

The bread and ice cream dish was the first to arrive and unlike the rest of the restaurant’s Chinese customers, we ate the whole thing, bread bowl and all. Even more impressive was we managed to demolish it in under 5 minutes. Next came a whole chicken. I mean a WHOLE chicken. We’re talking they plucked this thing and then stuck in the oven with a bit of marinade. About half way through our consumption of the dish we found the feet and head, eyes sockets staring up at us. At least it tasted good, but I don’t recall anybody eating much more of it after our surprise discovery. The headed chicken was followed by a sweet and sour unidentified meat, then a peppery beef everyone loved. The whole fish that came out next covered in vinegar sauce turned up some snubbed noses, but we all gave it a try anyway and it was decent, I guess. Not quite my dad’s jerk seasoned salmon, but it made due.

We were two dishes away from a successful dinner now. Unfortunately, neither success nor luck was to be in our fate tonight because we found ourselves waiting five, ten, twenty minutes for our final two dishes. Finally a woman comes up and asks me a question in Mandarin, pointing to two of the dishes on the recent. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure exactly what she said, but I assumed contextually it must’ve been something along the lines of “have you not received these to dishes yet?” So I just replied “对” (correct). My compatriots of little faith looked at me skeptically, but their doubt faded when our remaining dishes of sautéed veggies with chicken and beef fried rice appeared.

Right about then a French couple and an official looking French business man were seated at the table next to us. After the trio discovered they could not read the menu, they were given the same outdated picture menu we’d been given. Imagine that.

We all discussed on the subway back that next time we need to play Chinese Cuisine Roulette and just pick dishes at random and be totally surprised by the outcome. I look forward to it.

Vinegar Fish
Vinegar Fish
So many kids!
So many kids!
Bao Bao as a Xiao Xue Sheng
Bao Bao as a Xiao Xue Sheng
Whole chicken head, feet, and all
Whole chicken head, feet, and all


1 thought on “Dinner and a Show: Us Being the Show​”

  1. Hi Heather,
    I bet you’d love China Town in Chicago and in San Francisco. Your food photos remind me of those amazing places.
    What wonderful experiences with the children and the photos made me smile and smile. Children regardless of any and all factors are universal in many ways….
    love, Cathy

Comments are closed.