Saturday, October 25, 2008

When Fact Feels Like Fiction, Part II

It turns out that the highlight of Ms. Lu's plan for us was a trip out to Zhujiajiao. Zhujiajiao is an ancient city (have you heard that China has 5,000 years of history?) located in the countryside well outside of Shanghai. Frankly, we had never heard of the place, but it sounded very cool...lots of crisscrossing waterways and villages connected by bridges of all sorts. Once again, we were game...so off we went.

Leaving the futuristic skyline of Shanghai behind, we soon found ourselves nodding off to sleep, tuckered out by all of that gift receiving (which really does make you wonder what to do in return...we are still searching for the answer). When we woke up, we were pulling into a restaurant located in the middle of nowhere, apparently not far from our destination.

This stop gave us a chance to experience authentic Shanghai-style food. Shanghai cuisine is not nearly as spicy as the food up in northern China. In fact, it is, if anything, sweet in its dominant impact on your taste buds. As for the food itself, Shanghainese love to eat anything that comes out of the water. There were plants, like lotus served with a glaze...delicious. And there were plenty of creatures. There was some frog, served in its entirety. Prepared in a very tasty sauce. There's just not much meat on those little guys, so you spend a lot of time sucking on bones.

And then there were three different types of fish (yes, for those of you who are squeamish about such things...they were presented from head to tail). One fish had a vague taste of lemon. Another was prepared in a darker, almost barbecue-like sauce. And the third was served in soup. All excellent. "What about Z?", you might ask. Ms. Lu was kind enough to make sure a bowl of soup with nothing but noodles made it to our table.

Our bellies stuffed, we jumped back in the car for the short trip over to Zhujiajiao. The place was as interesting and beautiful as advertised. The first bridge we walked over translates into English as something like, "Set the Animals Free Bridge." In the area's Buddhist past, there were apparently monks who would set fish and other creatures back into the water, lest they be eaten by the locals. (Buddhists don't eat meat and don't believe in killing other living beings for consumption.) I found it peculiar that at the base of this bridge, there were lots of older women hawking pet goldfish. Where are the monks when you need them?

As we wound our way through alleyway after alleyway, we couldn't help but notice these old-style wooden boats that were plying the canals and rivers. Before long (and I shouldn't have been surprised by this), Ms. Lu had procured one of these boats to take us on a pleasure ride. What a fantastic experience that was! Gliding under bridges, past tea houses, listening to a history lesson from our shifu, and watching people go about the business of their day. It was just spectacular!

Back on dry land, we wandered the streets of Zhujiajiao until dark. Along the way, Ms. Lu picked up a silk quilt. It seemed to be a real beauty. It was only much later that I realized it was not Ms. Lu's...Yep, you guessed it...I'm staring at it right now! It's still in its bag. I just don't think we can comprehend the concept that this quilt is ours. Must be some kind of mistake or misunderstanding.

And we were not done yet...We hadn't yet eaten dinner...

~Steve

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