Beneath this bowl of stars...

toddler activites, food, photos, and other orbital occurrences

here are some quick picks from a little stroll we did a couple weeks ago. Usually I am alone and it is really hard to stop the stroller and get out the camera. The first is just a nice street scene. Typical outdoor kitchens making and selling lunch and people going past on bikes and mopeds. The second is one of my favorite streets, where there area always people out eating and just in a good mood, but this was taken in the morning before the action really picked up.

Sometimes you see what seems to be a guy selling Shawarma... but if you take a closer look you see that like most things in China, it is fake. It's pork on a stick in a way that looks like Shawarma (the stick does not even spin).

I saw this in a market the other day and was so amazed I almost bought it.... but then I started thinking... if it really is so great, why have I never seen one out on the streets in New York, or even out in the streets here. Must look great, but when you actually use it, the folding mechanism is probably horrible.

For things like recycling and delivering water, the chinese use bicycles rather than trucks. Even for things like moving a couch.

I have been trying to grab a great picture of this for a while, but for some reason I either do not have my camera, or by the time I get it out and on, the shot is gone. So here you go, several shots of several different styrofoam collector bikes (Unfortunately these two are on the small size, but you will get the idea):

Amber and I were talking about Santa and Christmas in the tub tonight....

me: What do you want for christmas?
Amber: Pinecone! (this comes from her deciding that the "magic word" is 'pinecone' and not 'please' a long time ago, so whenever I ask her something she always says pinecone to be annoying)

me: no silly not pinecones for christmas, what do you want Santa to bring to you?
Amber: presents!
me: ok, what kind of presents do you want santa to bring you?
Amber: (eyes move around while thinking hard for a few seconds) A puppy!
me: A puppy? what are you going to do with a puppy?
Amber: eat it!

she's already eating like a local and we have only been here a month and a half!

Early last week Amber had a photo shoot to be put into the model book for a local children's photographer/talent agency. I signed her up to do it mostly because I just needed something to do, but also on the off chance she might get a job. I put off the appointment until Amber's Nainai was here because the studio is located in the middle of nowhere and I didnt like the idea of getting in a taxi alone going to some warehouse when I cannot talk to the driver and know nothing about the place I was going.... not to mention finding a taxi home. I figured with NaiNai around, we could at least tell the driver nevermind, take us home. Luckily she was with me because the driver had a hard time finding it and we drove in circles for a while, and it was a scary location (not crime wise, just deserted warehouse building area far far off the main street. They put Amber up on a white stage with white all around her started snapping away. They used a feather on a fishing pole, bubbles, a squeaky duck, a toy car, and a real white bunny to get her to smile. It all happened really fast and then we were back in a taxi headed home. We got a cd of about 300 pictures that they took and a huge poster print of one of them.
Then last Saturday while we were tree shopping, I got a call that they had a job for her! We went to the job today. We rode in the car for well over 2hrs to a town called Pinghu. Another child, Joshua who was 5 also came along. During the drive Amber developed her first crush. Joshua was singing, in true 5yr old form, "Life is a highway" and Amber was glowing from ear to ear.... she could not take her eyes off him or stop smiling.

To be cont....

takes longer than eating....
When you go to a restaurant in china, it is quite a different experience than in the US or most places in Europe. First off, most of the time the service is amazing. Maybe not the best in the world, but often you are assigned your own server, or several servers, or if yours is busy, anyone will happily help you. The other thing is that if you are 5 or more people, or if you agree to spend a minimum amount you get a private room. Most restaurants have several and many have entire floors full of nothing but private rooms. If you call ahead to reserve one, you arrive and are told a room number, much like checking into a hotel. You then head to the elevator and to your floor. When you get off the elevator there is usually someone there to help you find your room. Once inside the room, there is a large round table complete with lazy susan in the middle and 6-18 chairs (depending on the size of your room/table)and a service buffet furniture piece where they store lots of extra dishes and on the top shelf place extra bottles of beverages (for if/when you finish the first round... this can be water, soda, juice, beer, wine, etc). Next comes the menu. There is only one menu per room and it is nothing like any menu you will ever see in the US (unless at a fancy chinese restaurant). It is a huge book (think wedding album or larger). Inside are pages and pages of photos and descriptions of food. One or two people usually take on the responsibility of ordering and while everyone else gets settled and starts drinking and talking, the orderer(s) start making selections. Since the menu is so large, not only does looking through it take a long time, but deciding how many dishes to order and which dishes to order can end up taking longer than it takes to eat most of the food. Typically cold starters are ordered first and arrive before the ordering is complete (this also gives the rest of the party something to do while the order is being placed). The server stands at the side of the orderer often with a large clip board making notes and answering questions. Food is always ordered and eaten communal style so there can easily be 15+ dishes for 6 people (some of the dishes are much smaller than others). Ok, since this post was supposed to be about ordering I will stop now and describe the rest of the meal another time. (oh one more thing... since i was sitting next to Dave who was ordering, I got to give my input for the order. I asked that if we were having the shanghai crabs if we could have them out of the shell):

Getting older, still single and too busy to find a mate?
Got plenty of dates, but your parents think you can do better?

Here in China parents are often the ones who find potential mates for their children. This is not as you might guess by an arranged marriage to a close family friend. No, No, not at all that easy. In China the parents work very hard. They have to be good at sales, marketing, social skills and selling fake handbags (the latter only to obtain the skill of coming up to random strangers and convincing them they should just take a look, at least half a dozen people came up to us, i guess they thought we had an older child (amber was in the stroller)). Every Sunday (or some frequency) parents gather in People's Square in Shanghai and other parks around the country to attend/participate in what I like to call a real life craigslist. They create a one page advertisement with information about their child including birthdate, height, weight, hobbies, interests, schools, salary, housing, etc, etc. They then paperclip, clothespin, tape or staple this ad to a bush, tree, wall, or other surface in the park. They wait with most anticipation for someone to come and take a peak at their ad, at which point they seek out the details of that parent's child. If they both like what they read/hear they exchange information and arrange a time or their children to meet. You can follow the whole process in the photos below, concluding with an aerial view. (you really should enlarge a couple of the photos and take a good look for the ads, they are everywhere, not just on that clothesline looking thing. Even on people's bags, coats, etc I would guess there were well over a 1000 ads, I just didnt take enough photos)

no no, not a lobster boat out moving on the water... a lobster cut up as sashimi and the rest of it still moving, served in a boat! (I have blogged about this before, but these are nice pictures).

Since Amber's Ayi (nanny) does not speak english, we have to find creative ways to communicate. One day she made us some food and wanted to leave instructions for Dave on how to best cook/heat it, so she left him a note on Amber's chalkboard. Since Amber likes to erase the chalkboard whenever someone writes on it, I took a picture and showed it to Dave when he got home.

There is a restaurant, Ding Tai Feng in the mall complex across the street from us that was at one time voted the number one restaurant by NYT. They claim to have (and I totally agree) the best Xiao Long Bao (little basket buns or soup dumplings) in the city. Here is an article about xiaolongbao. If you have never had one, it is a little bun shaped dumpling that is filled with pork or crab and made in a way that there is this delicious juice all around the meatball. So you pick one up, dip it in gingered vinegar put it in a spoon, make a small hole dump the juice in the spoon, slurp up the juice and then eat the dumpling (you can just eat the whole thing but they are super hot inside, so it is best to eat a few this way until the rest cool a bit). The juice is created with fat and gelatin, however at this place they just use gelatin and thus the juice is cleaner, not as fatty and better tasting. (its cheaper and easier to use the fat rather than gelatin so that is why everyone else does it that way). This restaurant also makes each dumpling look like a work of art...

We also ordered some buns.... just like the ones Amber and I had the other day. These were much better, at least the dough part. From today (top picture) were about $2.5 each, from the other day (bottom picture) about 25cents each.
We took lots of pictures of Amber for some reason at this lunch, so here are a couple, she was in perfect cute form

For anyone who cares, this lunch actually took place the weekend before thanksgiving, I am just slow in posting.

but if your foot is so big they don't even sell boots in your size, you will get laughed out of the store!

I have been wanting to buy a pair of tall black boots since i didnt bring mine and because they are everywhere from 399rmb to 1888rmb. I have been looking around a little from time to time when i pass a shop, but I could not really try any one since 1) I did not know what my size would be in asian sizes, 2) I could not tell them my size even if i knew it 3) I didnt understand the sale signs, so i really didnt know the price. Several things fell into place over the last few days so I was ready to get my boots. Dave explained to me (need to post a picutre here and then tell details, b/c telling without the picture will ruin it) how the sales work over the weekend. Then in my mandarin class yesterday I learned how to say big numbers, and finally I converted my size. I went to the big department store down the street which is having a huge sale right now. I started looking at boots and asking for my size. I got laughed at by not one, not two but at least 7 different sales girls (in stores here there is not just one shoe department, each brand has its own department and workers)!!

So not only cannot not buy shoes or boots here, but I get laughed at for having big feet!

A little contest that will become a semi-regular feature. Leave a comment with your guess. Answer will be left as a comment in a few days to a week.

all the buildings around here are nuts, in the architecture sense.... but these really stand out.

We went Christmas tree shopping on Saturday. Around here its either a very plastic fake tree (think bright colors, silver or white) or a live tree in a pot, or an insane amount of money for a dried up tree imported from Denmark. We opted to go with the tree in the pot. To purchase one, we needed to go to a flower market. There are several around, but only one that was less than a 30 min cab ride. The selection and size was not as grand as I have heard of the others, but we did find a tree, lights and a few decorations. This flower market, the Cao Jin Du market was 3 floors. The bottom floor was plants and fresh cut flowers, the second floor was plastic, silk and dried flowers and plants, as well as things like decorations, ribbon, paper to wrap flowers/plants and the top floor was odd things like wedding arches and baskets and other items that reminded me of a movie set. There was also a bird, fish, turtle and chicken market out back, we wandered there by accident and almost stepped on a loose chicken.
After we went to the Christmas Fair at Paulaner Beer Garden

Every Sunday (well, really every day just not in the same numbers) people come to one area of the old town to sell their goods in what is called the Sunday Ghost Market (named b/c people show up so early on Sunday that the locals believe only ghosts are awake at that hour). They may not have ghosts for sale, but you can find just about everything else... This guy will fix our shoes right on the spot if they need mending This guy reminds me of the guy who is always in Union Square in NYC demoing and selling the carrot graders.

This guy was just hanging out on his bike smiling at everyone waiting for someone to make a purchase

This guy was selling rubber gloves. He made me laugh. I love how my picture captured the other guy with his hand to his head.

I keep running into buddha heads...

For some reason the Shanghainese like to wear their brightly colored fleece pajamas out and about. Some people wear them with the big cheap slippers you can buy on any corner, other choose to complement them with a nice pair of pumps or heels. The first few times I witnessed this, I just assumed it was some lazy people. After the several 100th person, I now know that it is a strange phenomenon that occurs here. I have read that to the locals its a sign that the wearer has the day off. Or maybe its required attire for getting the best deal on vegetables: (enlarge photos to see shoes)

There are so many kinds of oranges here. None of them are the same as those from CA of FL or even clementines. Most are very very sweet and you can easily eat dozens in one sitting. Some are as small as cherries and you can eat the skin and others are larger than grapefruit. You can find them everywhere... supermarkets, corner markets, on blankets, bicycles, and by the truckload.

Its been a week and I have not posted anything... sorry. I have been crazy busy getting ready for Amber's birthday and now christmas that I have been too tired at night to write anything, and I am once again having hard drive space issues, so all of the pictures from the last week are still on the camera cards.

Stay tuned for lots and lots from this week.

Amber turned 2 today!
She woke up to find a new kitchen (new b/c we have one back in Wellfleet, so this is actually her second kitchen). Comparing this kitchen to the other is like wal-mart sheets to egyptian cotton. The sad thing is that this one is an exact replica (well not even a replica, it is the same thing) as the little green and wood one sold at many stores in the US for between $99-$130, it is made in the same place and everything that is usually green is red (i actually like the red better). We paid $40 and could have gotten it for much less, we just didnt have time to bargain. This one had 6 screws and is put together like a puzzle. The old kitchen had about 500 screws and weighed about 500 lbs! Amber could care less about the quality.... she just loves to cook! (check out the crown I made for Amber.. about midnight last night I realized that Amber's crown from last year was back in the US, and she just had to have a crown/tiara of some sort to wear on her birthday... so out came the felt. I remember seeing a similar crown on one of the blogs i read. A good friend of mine turned me onto the Birthday Tiara a few years ago. The idea that all day on your birthday you get to wear a tiara or crown b/c its your special day. I have participated ever since! Amber wanted absolutely nothing to do with this crown all morning, she even said "take it away". Right before the party, she fell down and hurt her lip, I told her the crown was a magic crown that would take the pain away... she wore it all day, even when we took her out for french fries for dinner)

It was a cold and yucky day out, so we stayed inside. Amber played with her NaiNai and Yeye and I got ready for the party. As i hung up the birthday banner and balloons Amber pointed with excitement. I asked her about a week ago what she wanted for her birthday and she said "A party!". We don't really know anyone with kids her age yet, so I sent an email to the shanghaimamas email list I am on and basically invited everyone. 15 kids were supposed to come, but only 7 made it (it was the perfect size).

The party had a pony theme (chosen by Amber back in Wellfleet when looking through a catalog of bday supplies, i though ahead enough to order before we left). I made a pony cake, had a great pony to color that i got from this site, we had pony sticker scenes to assemble, a pony coral with balls and inflatable ponies for little ones to play in, a stick pony for pretend rides, carrot and dip, apples and peanut butter, oatmeal cookies and of course a pony cake!
Here are a couple pictures of Amber enjoying her presents: