One of the fun things about going to my knitting and book groups is they are always held in different people’s homes.
The secret is out–I really like to see other people’s houses and these outings don’t require me to go out at night and hope for an open window to peer into from the sidewalk.
So, last Friday was my book group and I rang the doorbell of the apartment and was greeted by a Chinese woman in a white chef’s coat. Ok, that was pretty weird. We’re generally a pretty casual bunch. Sometimes the ayi(maid) might answer the door, but she’ll be dressed like the rest of us and since I often don’t know the people hosting, and there are a lot of Asians in the bunch, it’s often not immediately clear that the person answering the door is the ayi.
The hostess came to greet me and another member who had come up in the elevator with me, clearing up any idea that the woman opening the door was the hostess. Peeking around the wall of the entrance way, I was greeted by the sight of the biggest living room I’ve seen in Shanghai so far, decorated with enormous, gorgeous Chinese tapestries on the floor and huge chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. At the end of the room a large round table was beautifully laid out with a tea and coffee service and snacks and flowers and the uniformed woman, who was now standing behind it attending to its needs.
My, we’re not in Kansas any more, are we?
My elevator mate who seemed to know our host, commented on the size of the living room, which our host described as her “bowling alley”. Our hostess said, “Well, we often entertain as many as 100 people at a time, so it helps to have so much space.” Wow. That’s a lot of friends.
My elevator mate asked if there were slippers available and my hostess replied, “Yes, I have a few, although we made a conscious decision not to make this a slipper house.”
Yikes, I’m feeling like a real slob by now, because I couldn’t even offer somebody my own pair of slippers if they came to my house, as I have none. This woman actually has about a dozen slippers to hand out to guests and she even considered having enough for a hundred people at a time!
At this point, I said, “Am I missing something?”
“Oh,” she said, “My husband is the Consul General for the Chinese embassy for the Shanghai office.”
Well, it never hurts to have friends in high places.
Our book this time was one of those books that a lot of people described as “better than an Ambian” but yet generated the best discussion that everyone agreed we’d had all year. It was “The Discovery of Jeanne Baret” and it is about Jean Baret, a French woman, who in the mid-1700’s was the first woman to circumnavigate the world. It was actually more about her role in botanical discoveries at the time than circumnavigation, but the main problem with the book was that it is written like a PhD thesis, so it could be a bit dry at times. However, I have such a better appreciation for what the world was like during that time after reading this book.
A lot of the book centered around the rush to classify and discover plants at the 18th century. I just hadn’t really thought about how there was a time when all the plants didn’t have names or actually hadn’t even been discovered yet or that food was really bland because spices were grown in far away places no one could get to.
Also, people were still sailing around the world without the benefit of latitude and longitude to help them navigate (there was a race on during this time period to figure out how to determine the same–a clockmaker figured it out!) so ships would set sail, put their finger to the wind and just hope dumb luck would get them to where they wanted to go.
I’ve always had a rather romantic notion of sailing. I think this came from all the times when I was growing up and we would go to the Soo locks at Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan and watch the ships go through the locks. The sailors would come out on deck and wave at us and every once in a while a woman would come out as well, presumably the ship’s captain’s wife. I thought sailing on a ship would be about the coolest thing ever.
I was quickly disabused of this notion after reading this book. The cross section of the boat Jeanne Baret sailed on sealed the deal.
An MRI machine has more room than those ships.
Not to mention the sea sickness. I get motion sickness watching movies that use handheld cameras. Clearly, I’m not cut out for a ship on the high seas.
Speaking of cameras…I have a new camera, found with the help of vast amounts of research done by Mark. I call it my super-stalker camera because it has an articulating lens, (something I didn’t even know existed) and a super high power zoom. So, now, I can walk down the street with my camera, turned on, held in my hands at my waist, and shoot pictures without ever having to raise the camera to my face. The hope is that I can take pictures of people without them knowing it, so that I can bring you more, interesting, candid shots of China. Unfortunately the weather and my schedule hasn’t been that cooperative of late, but I’m sure that will change.
I do have a couple of pictures to show you though. The camera does panarama shots, so this is a shot from the 8th floor of Shanghai Centre on Saturday, which did happen to be a very sunny day.
Saturday night, Mark and I went to La Saleya, a French restaurant with two locations in the French concession that we’ve now been to for a second time, although this time we went to a different location.
Warning: Next picture may cause excessive drooling. I accept no responsibility for damage to your laptop.
This place can really do chocolate. Last time I had their profiteroles and the chocolate was some of the best I’ve ever had. The floating islands that Andy had were also amazing, although not chocolate.
It’s always hard to know what language to use when you go to someplace like a French restaurant in China. For instance, do you ask for l’addition or mai dan or the check? Or just grunt and use sign language for signing a check?
My super stalker camer has revealed that his name is maybe Rivaldi? Perhaps his constant look of irritation was because he was made to wear a sweater with a big “letter jacket R” with his name down the side.