Chinese food and the Foreign Correspondents Club

Well, it’s been two weeks for us here in Shanghai. Anastasia has settled into her new school and is making progress in learning Mandarin, as am I. Basil is still home with us during the day, but we’re starting to think about finding a kindergarden or pre-school for him to go to.

Richard’s work is going well at the Shanghai Daily. The kids and I have visited him there twice already and ate at the workers’ cafeteria our second time there. They had Chinese food there, of course. But none of it was recognizeable as Chinese food! We still haven’t gone to a Cantonese restaurant, which is apparently where American Chinese food comes from.

There are million little stores within a block’s walk of our apartment complex and I’m still finding new ones. Yesterday, the kids and I went to the postoffice to mail a letter to Anastasia’s class and we found a little bakery half a block away that had the most amazing croissants, big and flaky, and cakes and cookies and a beatiful, crusty, sesame-seeded bread loaf that we ate in one big gulp when we got home. We got two donuts (big, sweet and chewy) and a bag of cookies and a loaf of bread and two huge croissants for 12 yuan — or $1.50.

Outside, there was a little old man with several bamboo bird cages with little birds. Chicadees? Anyway, cute little birds. He let them out of their cages and they would fly right back to him to take seeds out of his hands. He let my children hold the seeds and the birds would fly right into their hands. Then he put a coin down on a stool, and the bird would fly over, get the coin, and bring it back to him. The kids loved it, and a crowd of a dozen-plus people gathered to watch them and the birds. Richard said that he’s seen the old man there regularly — he’s retired, Rich says, and the birds are his hobby. Rich says that there are a lot of retirees to go to the parks or other outdoor areas every day to give their birds some fresh air and a change of scenery.

Then we walked to the “supermarket” — really, a mid-sized grocery store. There, I found tomato paste and tomato sauce — a great discovery, because there’s a kind of noodle that’s a lot like spaghetti and now we can eat Italian food at Chinese prices. Otherwise, we have to buy spaghetti sauce in the pricey imported food shops.

I’m setting into my job. I don’t do any reporting in China yet because my accreditation hasn’t come through. It will take a couple of months or so. But I do have some miscellaneous stuff to coordinate with the office back home. This means I keep regular east coast business hours. When the kids go to bed at 8 p.m., I take a two hour nap. When I wake up, it’s 10 p.m. in Shanghai and 9 a.m. in New York City. Then I go to work. I’ve been talking to people over the telephone from Shanghai. My location sometimes makes for some nice chit-chat before the official conversation starts. In the past, we’d have to talk about the weather.

Speaking of the weather, I’d been cloudy and cool here for the past few days. We go outside in sweaters or light jackets, though the kids take theirs off when they play actively on the playground.

Yesterday, I finally put on some grown-up clothes, panty hose, heels and lipstick and went to a meeting of the Foreign Correspondents Club (the first one I’ve ever been to, in any country). There were about a dozen of us around a table in a historic restaurant in downtown Shanghai that was located on the grounds of a sprawling, pre-revolutionary beautifully landscaped residence and villa complex. We discussed the state of foreign journalism with a visiting dignitary, an old foreign correspondent turned university lecturer. Our table had a revolving glass circle in the middle of it, and waitresses kept bringing out large platters of Chinese food to put on that revolving circle. Then we all helped ourselves to what we wanted. There was egg drop soup, and pork fried rice, and spicy noodles, and various kinds of pork dishes, a roasted duck, and several other dishes as well. And I came late because I had trouble getting the taxi driver to understand the address when I said it, so I missed the first round! It all cost 50 yuan per person — or around $6.

The organizer of the event said that the restaurant was insistent that this wouldn’t be enough food, and urged her to go for the 200 yuan a plate option, which would have included turtle soup. Since we didn’t eat even half of the gigantic amount of what was served, she decided she made the right decision to go with the less expensive alternative.

I was immediately invited to join a newly-formed group composed of international correspondents and bloggers located around the world who are discussing the future of our profession, and I did. It’s very nice to be back in the middle of things again.

I also volunteered to help organize things for the Foreign Correspondents Club if the needed any help, but it looks as though the group is *very* well run. I’m impressed with the number of events they hold. The day before yesterday, for example, they had a get-together with some ambassadors and tomorrow a writer is talking about a history book he’s just completed.

I’m also interested in the local Chinese media organizations, but haven’t gotten in touch with anyone yet. Richard’s newspaper, the Shanghai Daily, has a corporate membership in the local journalists’ union, and he was supposed to find out how to get in touch with folks there, but he hasn’t yet.

So far, to my disappointment, everyone I know here speaks fluent English. I haven’t made friends with any of my neighbors yet, but want to. I really want to learn Chinese. I have a reputation to maintain. 🙂 Meanwhile, I’m continuing to listen to my tapes.

In mid-April, Mathew Schwartz, a former colleague of mine from Computerworld, will come stay. He’s coming to Beijing on a press visit sponsored by the wireless industry (I think) and will make a short detour to us for a weekend. By then, we’re going to have a fold-out couch. We’re not buying it *just* for him, since Richard has two friends who will stay over as well. If anybody else wants to come, just let us know! We have a very nice apartment, with gorgeous views of the city (think “Frasier”). The light show every night that some of the big towers put on is spectacular, and we’re on the 18th floor facing downtown, so we get to see it all.