Saturday, October 25, 2008

When Fact Feels Like Fiction, Part I

It was shaping up to be a rather ordinary day. We were scheduled to move from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where the conference on Reform and Opening had finished up, across town to Tongji University, where I will be giving a talk on the US presidential election. Professor Qiu, who had arranged my visit, told me that he would send a car over to pick us up. My assumption was that a graduate student would be tasked with this, and then we would be on our own to continue our exploration of Shanghai. Boy, was I wrong...

When we met up with the car (a minivan, by the way) outside the Jiao Tong Faculty Club where we had been staying, we were greeted by a delegation of three people. At first, Roy, the only English speaker in the group, seemed to be "in charge," so to speak. Accompanying Roy was a driver (a young guy who provided the car) and a middle-aged woman named Ms. Lu.

Ms. Lu, we quickly began to realize, was actually our host for the day, and she had some pretty grand ideas. She started by suggesting that we might visit Cheng Huang Miao, a famous temple located in the heart of old Shanghai. We, of course, were game, so off we went.

It wasn't long before Ms. Lu had given Julie a present, a Chinese-style accordion fan, adorned with birds and scented...a lovely gift. Then it was Z's turn. Upon arriving at Yu Yuan, the bazaar where we had spent some time on our last visit to Shanghai, Ms. Lu promptly walked into a store selling every kind of chopstick imaginable (from the ancient to the post-modern) and purchased Z a set of Beijing Olympics-inspired kuaizi.

As we quickly discovered, Ms. Lu was far from finished. There were writings by Chairman Mao inscribed on slats of wood, for Desi and I to hang on our wall and display in other ways. There were all kinds of traditional Chinese snack foods...nuts, dried fruits and vegetables...bags and bags full of them. Even some zong, a uniquely Chinese food that consists of sticky rice wrapped in leaves.

While some of this shopping was going on, Desi and I slid over to a music shop. Andrew had requested that we keep our eyes open for some gongs and cymbals. We figured we might try out a few here, to get our ears accustomed to the sounds. Then, later on down the road, we might find a little treasure to bring back home to the percussionist in the family. Well, Ms. Lu eventually found us and insisted on purchasing the gong we were playing with at the moment. (The same thing happened when I decided to buy Julie and Z ice cream cones. Before I could get the cash out, there was Ms. Lu again...)

By the time we made it to the temple, Desi, the kids, and I were loaded down with all of Ms. Lu's generosity. (Oh, she also paid for the four of us to see one of these traditional Chinese screen shows, where you look into a big box and are entertained by a funny story that blends the ancient and the modern...Colonel Sanders even made an appearance!)

As our whirlwind was going on, we kept finding out bit and pieces of information about Ms. Lu. She is a friend of Professor Qiu, who could not be with us for the day, due to other commitments (but who called several times to see how things were going...very well, thank you very much!). She was described to us as a "powerful local official" who works in the public security bureau. And she has a daughter in college in Paris, who may study next year in DC.

Our visit to the temple completed, we headed out to meet back up with our driver and head to our next destination. You see, we hadn't even eaten lunch yet...



Post a Comment

<< Home