Thursday morning began early when I met my travel companions near the Xiamen church. There were quite a lot of us, maybe 25 or 30, including one of the Xiamen priests, Fr. Cai. We took a bus to the airport and flew from there to Shanghai’s domestic airport, HongQiao. The flight was only an hour and a half but seemed long – I slept, ate some surprisingly good dessert-bread-thing (surprising both for China and an airplane!) and read what Lonely Planet had to say about Shanghai.
We were met at the airport by our tour guide, a strikingly large Chinese woman. (Every now and then, I understand why people stare at my gargantuan self; this woman was both taller and heavier than me and was impossible not to notice. Still, I didn’t stare.) We loaded onto a bus and she introduced Shanghai as we drove to lunch; I understood a lot of it. My ‘assigned seat’ on the bus is in the back corner; while it had a feeling of exile to it, I did appreciate the window seat. Shanghai has real trees (not just palm trees) and I liked looking at the leaves. It looked like fall which, while still a season behind home, is a season ahead of Xiamen.
Lunch was interesting. I thought the restaurant seemed very nice, which in America would generally equate to even higher levels of cleanliness. But the old ladies were freaking me out, using the boiling tea to sterilize their bowls, cups, and spoons, before dumping the “dishwater” into their plates. This turned out to be a regular thing, and other restaurants even provided large bowls for disposal of the dirty water. It’s interesting because most of the restaurants I eat in provide tablewares in little sterilized packages, which seems incredibly wasteful and probably inefficient, but . . . maybe I’m underestimating the challenge of hygiene in this country.
After lunch we went for another drive, this to Mass. There were no missals and the readings were different than the ones I was expecting, but I did okay.
Afterwards, the priest (who was a classmate of our priest in seminary) introduced the church, telling us that it’s 150 years old and usually holds 300-400 people for Sunday Mass.
The rest of the day was spent touring Shanghai, Chinese-style. Basically, this means long stretches of bus time punctuated by short stops at important sites for picture-taking. Our first stop was the Yuyuan Gardens in the Old City Town, where we took pictures in front of the authentic old-style architecture (and Starbucks).
I had been feeling a little bit ignored up to this point but as soon as the cameras came out, I – the token foreigner – became the most popular thing since seaweed-flavored anything. They started to warm up to me; the physical proximity required for photos helped, as did their realization that I speak Mandarin. I would have thought it was obvious that I spoke at least a little bit of Mandarin, but then again I also would have thought it fairly obvious that I was Catholic. Neither of these were apparent enough to my travel companions, though, and I was asked a disconcerting number of times if I believed in Jesus. No, I just figured it would be great fun to tour Shanghai with a bunch of grandparents . . .
The next stop was Nanjing Lu, which is the main shopping road in Shanghai. Apparently I didn’t take any pictures of the street itself – I fail as a Chinese tourist! But I did get a picture of me with Shanghai’s most famous resident – Haibao. He’s the mascot for the upcoming 2010 Shanghai World Expo, which is kind of a big deal. Half of the city is under construction for the expo, and the other half is covered either with images of Haibao or with vendors selling stuffed Haibaos and Haibao keychains.
Dinner was great. As soon as I realized that touring with Chinese people meant eating with Chinese people, I was a little bit afraid . . . I love Chinese food, don’t get me wrong, but not all of it. When Chinese people go out for a nice dinner, they usually order dishes that I would serve to my dog (after removing the pork bones). Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by the food on this trip. Yes, there were more bones on the table than I personally would have preferred, but it certainly could have been worse. There were excellent meatballs, good potatoes, delicious rice, curry, and a dessert of sugar cane.
Speaking of sugar cane: This is one of those dishes, not few in China – that require the removal of undesirable parts from the mouth as part of the eating process. This is how the Chinese cope with bones, fat, gristle, seeds, etc. in their food – by simply spitting it out. This is already weird to Americans but it gets worse – they spit it out on the table. While I do spit things out occasionally now, I am resigned to being a foreigner and use my plate, trying not to think about the generations of Chinese who have used the table. Anyway, it’s not just spitting that is acceptable here. You can pick your ears and nose, AND you can examine the fruits of your search afterwards! You can speak with your mouth full; it’s okay. I also discovered at dinner that you can sip some tea, swish and gargle a bit, and then spit it back into your soup bowl. But if you’re going to use a toothpick, please cover your mouth while doing so. No one wants to see that, okay? Gross.
After dinner, we went back to the 酒店. Yes, the place we were sleeping is literally called a “liquor store”. I just recently learned it is also the word for a nice hotel, which means the enormous glittering 酒店 sign near ZhongShanLu makes more sense. Anyway, I find it funny.
My roommate is Cai 修女, or Sister Cai – she’s a nun! I took advantage of my captive audience to ask some burning questions and found out that the chant-like prayer they say is indeed the Rosary but is not in Mandarin. It’s in Minnanhua, the local dialect of my province, which explains why I was not able to understand anything except “Mary” and “Jesus”. Come to think of it, despite having the text of the Hail Mary in Mandarin, I’ve never actually heard anyone say it. I think I may just try to learn it in Minnanhua, which would at least be handy for the next 8 months or so.
Also, the prayer books that they brought along for the pilgrimage, which I was so excited to receive, are also in Minnanhua – fail.