Friday, 4 November 2016

A Japanese Canadian in China

I had signed a contract for a teaching position in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and after waiting nine months-yes, NINE months, for the contractors to get their act together, I stopped waiting and took it as a sign that I'm not supposed to be in the gulf. My incredible Irish chef never stopped asking me to join him in China, but I wasn't sure about...A lot of things. I'm not unaware of the recent tumultuous history between Japan and China. I have studied Asian history, read books and news about Asia often enough to know about the tension among Japan, China, and Korea (background info: http://asiasociety.org/china-korea-and-japan-forgiveness-and-mourning). I have a guilty conscience about Japan's actions...However, with zero offers for work in Canada and the strong desire to head to the far, not middle, east, I took a deep breath, applied for a tourist ("L") visa, and got on a plane to Shanghai. The weekend before I left, I was lucky enough to celebrate my aunt's 50th birthday in Hamilton and squeeze in a belated birthday bubble tea :)

 Wild Orchid, a Portuguese dining spot in Hamilton (Ontario): http://www.wildorchidrestaurant.ca/
 Calamari!!! This was AMAZING!
Shrimp...Sorry it's so blurry :(
 My sister, not a fish or seafood fan, ordered a chicken pasta dish.
 My dish was HUGE and I barely made a dent in it. A potato dish with cod and onions. SO YUMMY!
 My dad chose a seafood risotto which smelled incredible!
The birthday celebrations continued at my aunt's sister-in-law's home :)
 What was left of my homemade apple crumble!!! I used almond flour, added ground cloves and ginger, and allspice. I also cut the amount of sugar. I received the recipe from a colleague-turned-good-friend, Leah! Her baking photos on Facebook make me hungry!!!
The fall decor!!! I don't do anything of the sort, but I LOVE autumn and Halloween decorations!!!
A quick, but awesome belated birthday date with some special girls xo (birthday girl: bottom right)

Fast-forward a few days, and a hop, skip, and a jump across the Pacific brought me to Shanghai. My first weeks here were filled with rain. Additionally, I struggled to find a mask to filter pollution. Luckily, we're in Shanghai-not Beijing-where the AQI (Air Quality Index) is A LOT lower than its Northern neighbour. For example, yesterday, Shanghai (Yangpu) was at an "Unhealthy" level of 168. On the other hand, Beijing was at a "Hazardous" level of 363. Gross, gross, gross!!! Now, I will be the first to admit that my knowledge about the roots of pollution in China is almost nothing. From what I've heard and the information in Leonardo DiCaprio and National Geographic's documentary, Before the Flood (2016) [You can watch it free here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90CkXVF-Q8M], it has to do with the overuse of coal and fossil fuels. For some background information, check out this link: https://priceonomics.com/why-is-the-pollution-so-bad-in-beijing/. I am continuing to do research and learn more. On my reading list: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein (2014).

Just like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie!
A necessity, not a luxury. Sadly, I rarely see people wearing these...And if it can get worse, children almost NEVER have masks on :(  Heartbreaking.
As if the mask wasn't futuristic enough, the Irish chef and I took part in some VR! Craaaazy! We chose a horror option and it was freaky!!! We want to try out another one that's like the Psyclone at Canada's Wonderland!

In spite of my voracious appetite for food, I've been warned about the quality of food here...I can't speak for the street food, and if you saw the level of cleanliness, or lack of, you'd understand. Unfortunately, my gut is too sensitive, so I've had to be careful. That being said, I've gotten to try out a few nice places so far :)  The Irish chef and I went out for Japanese food with his colleague and colleague's girlfriend. I didn't take pictures because I didn't want to weird them out. I DID, however, take pictures at the Italian and Korean spots we hit up.

 Bella Napoli (fb page: https://www.facebook.com/bellanapolish/)
 Outdoor patio seating
 The Menu
 ...The rest of the menu, lol!
 The Irish chef's steak was undercooked. He ordered medium-rare and got rare meat.
 My pasta was undercooked. ANNOYING! The gravy-like sauce was underwhelming. I wasn't impressed. However, the pizza and calamari looked good.

Before lunch at Bella Napoli, we visited the Shanghai Public Library and it was AMAZING!!! The Irish chef and I are bibliophiles, so it was a great outing!!! 

 BOOKS!!! In English!!!
 They have a great selection of books by Australian writers :)
 Ohhh, yeah! 7th from the right is Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman (2015). 
The gardens, which I knew nothing about until I read this article in The Atlantichttp://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/04/a-visit-to-the-shanghai-public-library/391032/
 Mmmm! Korean starters and pickles!!!
 Our rather tiny dinner table, lol!
Salad (bottom), kimchi (top right), and a fruit salad...Wait...Wha?!?
The beef cooking to the left and the aubergine were the high points in my opinion :D
Seafood pancake!!!

So amid stares of curiosity, indifference, and wonder (the wonder is mine), I'm once again in a place where I blend in rather than stand out. My virtually non-existent Mandarin puts me at a disadvantage, and I've relied on the kindness of locals to help me because, while some written Chinese is understandable (Japanese people learn the Japanese and Chinese reading of symbols that the two nations both use), some is completely incomprehensive. It's these days when I'm out on my own that it dawns on me: I'm not unsafe here, and I'm so grateful. When people learn my nationality, no one is rude or mean, at least not yet. I'll never deny or forget the tragedies that have passed; I'll always apologize and make every effort to move forward in a meaningful, peaceful manner (that's the short version).

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