With 8 feasts in 15 days, we ate too much delicious food in too short a time. After a couple of days, home made food, especially vegetables tasted better than seafood or other Chinese delicacies from high end restaurants. We craved for ordinary food, looked for street vendors for breakfast and lunch when we were at Shanghai and Wuhan just to have a feel of real life there.
The first morning at Shanghai, we got up really early due to jet lag. We strolled in the street near our hotel at ~ 6:15am, to look for street vendors for breakfast. We found two, which were adjacent to each other. We bought an egg spread from one vendor and went to another for You-Tiao ( a fried flour stick), Soy Milk and Tender Tofu - typical Shanghai breakfast for ordinary people. While we were there, the boys enjoyed their breakfast, I ate and looked around. This was a pop-mom type of shop. The couple apparently knew most of their customers: a couple of city custodians came in for breakfast after their early early morning shift, an old man, apparently from the neighbourhood, came in, and a guy stopped his car in the street, had a breakfast take-out.....
One thing I observed on my subway rides in China was that no men, young or old, had a hair style like mine, hair parted at one side. My hair style was out of date in China. I mentioned my observation to Lily. She persuaded me to have a hair cut at barber shop when we were in Beijing.
As the barber, a young man at his early thirties, started cutting my hair, Lily asked :'He parted his hair. What would be a good style for him?'. This started the barber: Parting or not is not important. The main thing is to have a good transition from short hairs to longer hairs. His hair was OK as of now, but the back does not look good ......
I interjected. "She has been my personal barber for more than 15 years!". "Oh!", the barber was surprised, he paused a moment, and went on, "Your technique is very good for an amateur, but in the back you need to ......" He started to tell Lily what to do to improve her technique while working om my hair, kind of like show and tell.
Education and "Connections"
When we were in Wuhan, the report cards for local high school entrance exam and national college entrance exam were just out. For parents of examinees, the question of "How did your child do?" was just as common as "Hello". Of course, education was a very hot topic.
Parents in China emphasize education so much they can spend a quarter, a third and maybe even a half of their annual income on their child's education. They pay for private tutors, they pay for after school programs, they pay to send their children into better elementary schools, better middle schools, out of their residential district, even though in district schools are free.
They have such high expectations of their only child, they dream that their children will go to the best college in the nation. Unfortunately only so many kids can get in in a year. As many parents can not have their children enrolled there, they want instead to go in to take a look at it. The best college in the country - Tsinghua University, becomes a tourist attraction!! I witnessed this when I went to Tsinghua University to visit my former academic advisor.
What makes current Chinese way of life interesting and complex at the same time is the "connections". You want to send your child to better school out of your residential district, you need a connection otherwise you will have no way even if you are willing to pay; you want to find a job for your college graduating child, you need a connection; .... In fact, "connection" permeates every aspect of life in China.
To me, it seems that using connection is just a way to cut in line, a way to take advantage of others, and a way to circumvent rules/regulations. The common sense there, however, is: if you have connections, use them; if you don't have one, find one.
Here or There?
After welcoming me back to work, a colleague asked me:" Do you prefer to be there in China, or here?" "Here", no hesitation in my reply.
Comparing American way and Chines way of living, a Chinese friend, who stayed in USA for a year as a visiting scholar at an American university a couple of years ago, put it this way: " You live a simple, peaceful and regular life in America; we live an exciting, boisterous and complex life in China." In some sense, he summarized his friends' life across the Pacific ocean pretty well.
I like a simple and peaceful life.