heading home (tbt)

I’ve been back in the United States for about six months now, and although I find myself reminiscing about China, I have no regrets about leaving. Sure I’ll complain about how expensive things are in New York and how I’m much busier with work here, but it is so nice to feel like you’re at home.

For me, being back in the US means feeling like I belong, like I’m not an outsider. Not having to alter my speech into that dreaded Chinglish or hide my accent so people could understand me easier. It also means having access to great healthcare, and not worrying so much about food safety, or product safety, or water safety. It means being able to establish a routine, and not having to continually make friends. In Shanghai it was actually much easier to make friends, but only because people were constantly coming and going, so everyone was more open to meeting new people. But it got tedious. No one really lasts in Shanghai. Heck the city itself is in a state of constant flux/evolution.

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I was recounting to a friend how I love flying, because I generally just fall asleep, so long hauls usually aren’t a big deal. But remember that one time I flew to Shanghai and got sick? I think that was mostly because of nerves. Because I was so terrified that I had just made a huge mistake by moving to China, and since I was already on the plane headed to China, it was too late and I was screwing myself over. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a good thing I ended up going to China. I learned a lot about myself, and I feel like I grew up a lot as well. I gained valuable work experience, made great friends, traveled to amazing places, and learned what I really wanted out of life. So even though I was pretty much convinced that moving to China was the wrong decision, I don’t regret any of it.

On my flight back to the US (or rather to Vancouver first, then the US), I slept like a baby. Well, I slept like a baby after the turbulence died down and they moved me from a squished window seat to a free row, but I probably would’ve slept like a baby regardless. No nerves or mini freak-outs whatsoever. Moving back to the US? Definitely the right decision. No questions about it.

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let the non-relaxing vacation begin!

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I often say I’m busy, which is true, but it’s not entirely accurate. You see, I do have stuff to do, but it’s not really so much in terms of quantity, but its timing really, really sucks, so I am stressed out beyond belief. Today is the start of my vacation to Qingdao, I’m sitting here in the airport sleep-deprived and a bit nauseous, and the only thing I can think of is: I really should have brought my laptop with me, I’ve got work to do!

Oy. Here’s hoping the hostel has good wifi. Things were busy but manageable last week, they just kinda snowballed in the last few days. I probably should stay at home and be a good little worker bee, but here I am at good ol’ PVG anyhow because I need a vacation. I did pack a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to connect to my phone, which should make finishing work a bit easier, but … oh who am I kidding? This is going to majorly suck. What a depressing way to start a vacation.

And it is absurdly early. I hate mornings. Bah humbug.

junk food: pizza, popcorn, burgers

Somehow I always get around to posting about food. Given my job in the art industry, one would expect me to post non-stop about art, artists, art exhibitions, and the like, but … you know what? Since I spend so much of my time at work around art (and especially around bad soul-sucking art and pretentiously snobby art people), I prefer to find comfort in food (like the good ol’ American I am) and especially in good ol’ American junk food, id est, pizza, popcorn, and burgers.

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1. Margherita, Marco Polo, and Meatlover’s Pizzas from Una’s Pizza

I love pizza. I always knew that the type of pizza I grew up with wasn’t ‘real’ Italian, but I never realized how ‘fake’ the pizza I know and love really is until I came to Shanghai. Kinda random, right? Regardless, there are plenty of places to get fake-style pizza in Shanghai, and Una’s is one of them. To be completely honest, I don’t actually like Una’s Pizza. Their thin-crust style is decent yet sub-par and their toppings leave much to be desired, but the taste is alright and the price is acceptable. I much prefer Pizza Street, but their website ordering system is down so I’ve been exploring my options, and while Domino’s Pizza is okay-ing-ly chewy, it’s nowhere near as good as in the States.

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2. Act II Microwavable Butter Popcorn

28 RMB for three bags of popcorn? That equates to about $1.50 per bag of popcorn and normally my cheap self would be completely against such an obvious laowai-gouging price, but you know what? Heck, yes! I didn’t realize until I saw that box of popcorn on the shelf of that small little stall on Changde Road that it has been years since I last consumed buttery popped corn goodness. I even used to own a popcorn machine back in New York that saved me a ton of money. But alas, microwaves in China do not have a standard Popcorn button so most of my popcorn turned out a bit burnt. Eh, whatevs. Popcorn (even burnt) is still a pretty satisfying snack while working.

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3. Burger King Steakhouse Burger

I’m generally a creature of habit. If I’m at Burger King, I get a Whopper. If I’m hungry, I’ll add a side of large fries. It really is that simple. But for some reason, after a long day at work at which I got off around 9 PM, I decided to throw caution to the wind and order a Steakhouse Burger. No idea why. Unfortunately, the picture on the menu never lives up to expectations. The expected fried onions were barely detectable and the meat was kinda weird and the bun was kinda weird and the sauce was kinda weird. It was just … off. And 38 RMB compared to the normal Whopper’s 21? I should’ve stuck with my usual. But oh well, I was adventurous (if only a little bit).

And you know what? The longer I stay in China, the more American I feel and the more I miss the States. As in, only in seeing the differences do I realize how completely American I really am – in the way I talk, the way I act, the things that I like, the things that I value. Sometimes even simple things like my preferences for food really put things into perspective. I’ve been in Shanghai for almost two years now and as much as I like and appreciate Shanghai for its potential and as much as I’ve grown personally and professionally since moving here, there really is no place like home. And I really do miss the food.

grilled cheese for the win

There’s a new restaurant in town and it is beyond amazing. Right next door to CinnaSwirl and actually sharing the same address is Co. Cheese, another sign that Americans are taking over this city. But instead of that being an apocalyptic statement, it’s a glorious one (although maybe not for the traditionalists). Co. Cheese is a sign that not all Americans are English teachers, we don’t eat McDonald’s all the time, and lowbrow food can be darn good food.

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Co. Cheese is a grilled cheese restaurant. Oh yes. But it’s not just cheese, bread, and butter; it’s got options. Back when I was in New York, there was the whole gourmet simple food thing going on, like specialty hot dogs, fancy mac and cheese, et cetera. In a city like New York, known for both the best pizza on the planet and dollar cheese slices, it made perfect sense and I didn’t think that much of it. In Shanghai, where it’s a struggle to find decent comfort food, and where you’re usually stuck deciding between the fancy schmancy restaurant with food flown in straight from France (with its associated prices) or the somewhat sketchy place on the corner with its ten-kuai noodles in a plastic-lined bowl, a proper grilled cheese sandwich is like ambrosia not meant for mere mortals.

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At first the thought of a grilled cheese restaurant was like “those crazy expats,” but upon first bite of a brie, avocado, ham, pear, and arugula grilled cheese sandwich from Co. Cheese, I was in heaven. And instantly I felt three times more American, remembering all those grilled cheese sandwiches I used to make with Colby-Jack on sliced sourdough bread. Let’s face it, as simple as the grilled cheese sandwich is, there are probably a million ways to make one: In a toaster oven, on the stove, with an iron? Kraft Singles, a mix of cheeses, shredded or sliced? White bread, whole wheat, sourdough? Which sides get buttered? Any toppings or tomato soup to dip it in?

There’s just something so great and democratic about a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese sandwiches are for everyone, and everyone loves ’em. Co. Cheese steps things up a notch by offering a wide range (I need to try the mac and cheese one next) so it’s beyond the standard grilled cheese that I could make at home. But even if it were just cheese, bread, and butter, being that this is Shanghai, where you have to go to specialty or import shops for good cheese and bread, Co. Cheese is greatly appreciated and fills a niche. It’s simple lowbrow food, but it’s so darn American, so darn appreciated, and so darn good.

Co. Cheese Melt Bar
32 East Yuyuan Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai

burger at the camel

Ah, burgers. I try not to be one of those obnoxious “look at me, look at me” Americans because they give the rest of us a bad name, but it’s still pretty obvious that I’m American. Not only because of my accent and the way I project my voice without consciously meaning to, but in my absolute enthusiasm for meat, cheese, and bread. And being from Texas, not only do I like burgers, I am a burger connoisseur. And sadly most of Shanghai’s options land on the mediocre to mediocre-good portion of the scale.

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A bit back I went to The Camel, a pretty popular sports bar in Shanghai, for their Wednesday burger deal (burger and beer/wine for 50 RMB). I had their bacon cheeseburger and yum it was good, but just the standard kind of yum. You know what I mean? Meat, cheese, and bread will nearly always get a checkmark in my book, but it was a bit lacking in flavor and seasoning and just didn’t have that greasy richness I was hoping for. So The Camel won’t make my list, but if I’m in the area on a Wednesday … it’s still a good deal.

The Camel
camelsportsbar.com
1 Yueyang Road
Xuhui District, Shanghai

cinnamon rolls, oh my, oh yes

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The world is a much better place with cinnamon rolls. Yep. Most definitely. A cinnamon roll bakery opened up not too long ago not too far from me, and oh my gracious goodness it’s amazing. Oh wow. Oh yes. I’ve always loved cinnamon rolls, but they are incredibly frustrating to eat. There is absolutely no way to look sophisticated eating one and you definitely need some wet wipes on the ready to clean your sticky hands. That being said, when faced with the prospect of eating a gooey cinnamon roll, who cares about sticky fingers?

CinnaSwirl is a bit pricey, but alas, such is the Shanghai condition. The high price is probably a good thing anyway, because too many cinnamon rolls is definitely not good for the cholesterol level. Oh, and not only do they have a small little storefront, but they also deliver! Woah.

CinnaSwirl
cinnaswirlchina.com
32 East Yuyuan Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai

lunch, aka the delivered meal

I rarely go out for lunch, because in a small office where clients can come in at any moment, it’s not a good idea to be away too long. And as much as I’d like to say I brown bag it, I’ve left my packed lunch on the kitchen counter way too many times while I rushed out the door in the morning, and it’s just so much less effort to order delivery.

Good thing there’s a whole host of cheap deliverable food in Shanghai!

Noodles, rice, oh my. Often I just order from whatever place my colleague is ordering from, so it can be hit or miss. Lately I’ve just been going with fried rice, because it’s the least risky option. Usually it’s at least decent/edible … but if anyone ever offers you curry chicken rice from a chain called Babela’s Kitchen (巴贝拉), save yourself the trouble of throwing it out and just say no. Seriously. Say no.

chillin’ on the west bund boardwalk

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It’s spring! Oh my, oh my! The weather these past few days has been amazing. Warm, sunny, vaguely blue skies! My perception of ‘sky blue’ has totally warped during my time in China. If it’s more blue than yellow, it’s blue! And blue-gray totally counts as blue. Yay spring!

Over the weekend I hung out down in the West Bund area and chilled for a bit on the boardwalk. Ah, so relaxing to just sit and stare out at sky and water. Reminds me a lot of Long Island City in the way that it’s technically still city and not too far from the action, but feels like it’s a world away. LIC is so much more awesome, but I’ll take what I can get!

when antique pottery fails so hard

You ever have those days where you’re just, like, so over things? But to your sleep-deprived and highly-caffeinated mind, it’s hilarious? That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. And that’s how I felt when I saw these pieces that were on display at the Aurora Museum in Shanghai. They’re probably still there. I want to meet the curator and shake his/her hand for displaying such wonderful pieces that scream “FAIL” in such a wonderfully amazing manner.

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Because even though these two pieces of pottery totally fail (all collapsed and what-not), the fact that they’ve survived from the Yuan Dynasty and made it into a museum collection is just fantastic. I love it. When we see historical objects in a museum, they’re usually all just so pristine and untouchable and holier-than-thou perfect, even when they’re broken fragments. But these aren’t just ‘broken’, they’re failures in craftsmanship. That just makes me smile!

shanghai at night … and bathtubs

I’ve mentioned this before, but I really quite like Shanghai at night. It has a semi-deserted feel to it, but there’s still enough light and movement on the streets that it doesn’t feel calm-before-the-storm you’re-about-to-get-whacked threatening, it just turns into a subdued version of the normally way too stimulated Shanghai.

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Near-empty sidewalks! Near-empty streets! Oh my, is that near-nothingness I hear? It’s so much more quiet and peaceful, even the air seems fresher. Shanghai’s never completely quiet (wait until the Spring Festival for Shanghai to turn into a ghost town), but there’s definitely much less of everything at night, which is greatly appreciated in a city like Shanghai, which is known for being constantly more of everything.

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Oh, but there’s still a lot of crazy. Yep, you still encounter some crazy obstacles at night. Like a bathtub. Weird.