It is amazing what you find out when you just decide to talk to people. They open up and tell you stories you just never expected to hear. Two moments of this kind happened in a span of less than 24 hours, and they were so amusing that I simply had to share them with the internet world.
The first took place as I went to redeem a gift card I had received from my work at this bakery in the Cloud Nine Mall called Ichido. As I perused the shelves, looking at overpriced puffy pastries and weird meat and bread concoctions that looked anything but appetizing, I wondered how on Earth I was going to spend the 100 RMB voucher here. Then I saw the lovely jars of jam next to a friendly young Ichido employee. Grinning, he beckoned me over. It was a quick interaction, but it went something like this:
Man (in Chinese): “Ma’am you simply must try this jam.”
Me: “Ohhh I do love me some good jam. What is a good choice then?”
Man: “Ma’am, they are all a good choice. They are all so delicious.”
Me: “Really?! I want all the details of this delicious Ichido jam that I can get for free with my gift cards. Do tell.”
Man: “Pineapple. Blackberry. Raspberry. All the best and all so unbelievably tasty.”
Me: “Stop it! Blackberry jam, you say. Well I just don’t know which one to have! SO many choices. Which one is your personal favorite?!”
Man: “Oh revolting. I hate jam. I’ve never eaten these before. How gross.”
Me: “But you just said…you just said they are all delis…nevermind.”
Man: “Oh ma’am, I work in Ichido far too long now, I think everything here is disgusting.”
Props for honesty. And probably a good thing his boss didn’t hear this conversation.
The second instance was a much lengthier interaction, and it took place as I was forking out for a mani/pedi at American Style Nail in Zhaojiabang Road. Heaven forbid I go to a Chinese Style Nail place. That would be like…cultural integration. Ahhh! The thought!
As I sat there, I realized that the two owners were acting as my adoptive Chinese parents. “You’re hands are so dry. So so dry. Moisturize every day, Charlotte. Every. Single. Day.” “Oh and your feet are so dry as well. I take off all dead dry skin now. How awful.” “You need to start taking better care of yourself. More ‘you time’, you know. Yes yes yes. More you time. This not OK. How long you wait to get new nails done? And your feet. No no no.”
So I waited as they doled out parental advice, and as I turned to the left, I noticed a wall of pictures of the couple all around the world. The conversation then turned to their life story. And it confused the heck out of me but explained so much about their store name. They were a married couple with a daughter who had just graduated from ECNU. She had then gone to Belarus because she was studying Chinese to Russian translation. Had to check I had properly understood that one in Mandarin. But yes, Russian translation. Apparently it’s a huge thing here in Shanghai and she is making bank. The daughter hates when her mother tries to do her nails. They moved back to Shanghai because the wife’s mother was getting old, but they used to own a nail salon on 92nd Street and Madison Avenue for four years before that. The wife’s favorite place in all of America? Macys on Herald Square. The husband’s favorite place in all of America? Not Macys. But the conversation turned to other places in America and for the next ten minutes, we spoke of the beaches in Massachusetts, the lighthouses in Maine, and the lakes of New Hampshire. So there I was in a tiny mall in southern Shanghai talking about the Nubble Lighthouse with two 55 year old Chinese people. Then the husband informed me it was his birthday, right as his phone rang. It was a friend, confirming the dinner plans. As they layered on another coat of “Big Apple” OPI nail polish, we all sang Happy Birthday in Mandarin quite loudly to the husband. What a sight that must have been – a ginger and two Chinese parents singing “Zhu Ni Shengri Kuaile” as the laowai sat getting her feet all prettied up in a tiny stall in a mall in Shanghai.
The wife and husband returned to the job at hand and sat there bantering as they hacked at my feet and hands, occassionally slapping my hand or foot to indicate something else I had done wrong by being lazy for three months and not going to visit them to get things “fixed and sorted out. So bad. So so bad.” Yikes. I left with a grin on my face, 200 kuai less in my pocket, and a plan to revisit these folks more often.
Shanghai can be a crazy city. With 24 million people zooming past you on mopeds, screaming at pedestrians from their taxi cab windows, and peddling around you on their bikes, it can seem frantic and impersonal at times. Yet, these moments of entertaining interactions bring you closer to the people. These insane, honest, ridiculous, amusing people make Shanghai such a crazy and wildly hilarious place to live.
Let the stories keep on coming.