I arrived in Shanghai and I felt like I was in Hong Kong again. But it felt a little different, a little more Chinese. And I like that.
I got to my hostel and my room is a single room. I booked it intentionally because this is just past the middle of my trip and I know I need some space to myself (even though I just had a couple of days unplanned in Jiujiang). My room is small but it has a bathroom and that’s all I need!
After I got settled in, I researched some things to do. It’s new years eve so most everything is closed. Most of the places that are open are Western places like burger joints and bars on the Bund. The Bund is the famous skyline by the river (expensive though as those kinds of things tend to be).
I had planned to go to this dive bar that was playing live music tonight just down the street from my hostel and just hang out there and see if any other Westerners would be there.
That was my plan.
I stopped at the hostels bar to just get a quick sandwich since it would probably be cheaper at the hostel than at the bar. And when I ordered, the guy paused. He said “wait a second” and yelled at someone in the kitchen. They talked and he turned around again and said to wait again. Then he asked this girl passing by something in Mandarin. He turned to me and said, “We just cooked dinner… If you want, you can join.” He pointed to the tables on the left where about 16 people were sitting and there was literally plates full of food covering the entire three tables. It was all a family, one big family celebrating the Lunar New Year.
I was flattered and taken aback and said “Are you sure?” I’m not in the family, I’ve never done Chinese New Year, I don’t want to intrude. All these thoughts. But they insisted and immediately brought up a stool, poured me some Chinese wine, and started showing me all the food on the table. I felt like Harry Potter when the Weasley’s took him in.
The mom started asking me about myself and same with the dad. I’m guessing the oldest daughter kept pouring me wine when my glass emptied, as custom.
I didn’t understand most of what was being said but I loved it. I loved watching the two little kids playing with each other and picking up the food with their hands and getting jokingly scolded by the parents. I liked how the grandma looked approvingly at me when I immediately reached for the chicken feet as if to say, “you really are Chinese.” Although the chicken feet were the only thing I knew on the table.
I liked how I could tell each person’s had this personality even though I couldn’t understand what was being said. I could tell the son was the typical smartass. He’d say something with a dead pan expression and a little bit of sass in his voice and everyone at the table would laugh. The mom was the talkative one, social butterfly. The older daughter seemed to also be a bit of a smartass with some comments that would get chuckles from the family. There was this person who I’m thinking was an aunt who seemed a bit goofy and mostly played with the two little kids.
I liked watching the mom and dad slowly get more and more drunk. The mom got happy and kept eating more and saying she shouldn’t drink anymore but kept accepting when her kids would pour more into her glass.
Every 30 minutes or so, they’d pull out their phone and start comparing hongbao. It’s the red envelopes with money. They are comparing how much money they are getting through WeChat from friends and relatives. It was funny because, especially the siblings, would laugh at each other when one got more than the other.
There was also this large projector screen playing CCTV’s Spring Festival show. It’s like the Olympics opening ceremony combined with Eurovision combined with the Dick Clark’s New Year show. It’s a huge production and it’s tradition for it to be playing in the background throughout the night. Jackie Chan was in the audience and popped up a couple of times.
I ate so much food. Literally stuffed myself but it was good and there was so much food! We had a funny conversation trying to translate what one of the vegetables was and I couldn’t understand them but finally we found out it was garlic.
They, the parents, asked me where I’m from and I showed them the documents from the police.
There was silence and they said some things under their breath in Mandarin but it didn’t seem negative to me. They started calling me by my Chinese name 方英. They were happy when they found out I’m from Jiangxi province because one of the girls at the table was also from Jiangxi.
Everyone kept toasting each other and clinking their glasses. 干杯！ Ganbei! Means empty glass, basically cheers. And they would encourage me to join in as well.
They were happy with the little Mandarin I did know and didn’t seem disappointed that I couldn’t really speak it. They seemed happy that I was learning it online and encouraging that I was learning it by myself even though I’m pretty awful at it.
I didn’t feel a whole lot emotionally in Jiujiang. I think it was maybe because I didn’t really talk to anyone and I’m such a people-centric traveler.
This was one of the best moments I’ve ever had traveling. It’s moments like these that make me feel so lucky and bewildered that I can run across these kinds of people who are so nice and welcoming.
I was planning on spending my new year’s eve alone and going to a bar but instead I got to spend it, as someone who is Chinese probably should do it, with a large happy family, lots of food, and lots of wine.
I really feel so thankful for tonight. It wasn’t just a family taking in a lonely traveler, it was a Chinese family taking in a Chinese girl who didn’t know much at all about Chinese culture on Chinese New Year.
I had talked about this in my Hong Kong, crying on a mountain post, but then deleted the portion before I posted it. But I have always been nervous that I won’t get accepted by Chinese people because I don’t know the culture or language.
I don’t blame anyone for that, it’s simply that I just don’t know. I want to be considered Chinese. But I have always been nervous that I wouldn’t be accepted by Chinese people, that I’d just be seen as another Western traveler.
I often get written off by fellow Asian Americans as “basically white” and I was worried that I’d see the same kind of reaction from Chinese people.
So from Thomas, to my roommate in Hong Kong, to this family tonight, I maybe feel so thankful because I’m relieved that they do see me as Chinese.
Anyway, here’s a tea egg I got earlier. It’s apparently really common in the U.S. in big Chinatowns like NYC but I’ve never had one so I got excited when I saw them in the convenience store. It’s good, I can’t really explain what it tastes like but I like it lot.