A Month Ago from the Future

02 December 2012

Motel 168 Pudong Airport Shanghai CN

December 1 has vanished with the international dateline; twenty plus hours of flying with lots of water, lots of sleep, no booze. I have arrived.  Pudong Airport is huge, clean, and new; it feels like the future. It has always been strange to me arriving at an airport late at night. It seems a space odyssey, a lonely fluorescent and cement city with plastic people modeling watches and clothes and whatever else they think we weary travelers might be susceptible to buying.  Larger than life, more beautiful than real, and with eyes that follow you on the interminable moving carpets. What is funny is number of celebrities hawking the bling.  One never sees them in the States doing this because they need to keep their star images up.  They are, after all, our royalty.  Brad Pitt, savior of children, wants you to buy a _________; flash “Lost in translation.”

The long-distance busses from the airport to Hangzhou have long since stopped running so my first night in China is the classy Motel 168. I am in a sparse Blade Runner room with a no view but a spectacular shower. The floor is a smoking floor; it is gross. One forgets how pervasive the stench of tobacco is. I think briefly of the lone brick they have left blackened after the second restoration in Grand Central Terminal; a reminder of the good old days of smoking.

Hungry, I hustled to hotel’s restaurant which was on the verge of closing. I was the last and obviously unwanted customer.  I had a beautiful light soup in a very large bowl: gingered chicken broth with rice, thinly sliced Chinese broccoli cooked perfectly (although I have since learned they call it broccoli and what we call broccoli they call yellow cauliflower), and five different kinds of mushrooms.  Some I recognized and others not. I had no luck in getting an explanation of the various mushrooms. The conversation with the hovering waitress went something like:

“Excuse me, what kind of mushrooms are these?” Silence. “Um, do you speak English?”

No — she nodded yes and another server arrived.

“Yes? Help you?”

“Yes, what kind of mushrooms are these?” I pointed to two unfamiliar ones. “They are very good.”

“Mushrooms very good for health”

Yes, I am sure, but what kind are they?” More blank looks and a third waitress arrived.

“Pay now, we close”

“Of course, here is my credit card”

“Must be wait, bill not here yet.”

“Okay, bring the bill please.”

Smiling, she said “Yes yes.”

The bill arrived fifteen minutes later.  I looked it over, soup and a beer; reasonable for airport hotel stuff. She hovered. I went add a tip and she pushed my hand away.

“No, no name sign only.”


“No, no good.”

Fine…I signed the bill and went to the “Top Bar” for a nightcap. I walked in and immediately heard three westerners talking loudly. Actually it was one man yapping to a couple looking miserable at being trapped in the conversation.

“Yup, we are building a 1,000,000 square foot factory. And when we are done we got another one in the works. I tell you, these people don’t ever quit. HAHAHAHA!

I avoided them and had my drink at the opposite end of the room and left quickly. I have always been able to blend in wherever I go, but I know I will never be Chinese and will always be an outsider. I wanted to disappear from the loud westerners and not be associated. NOT HERE or the rest of Asia.

I took a really long shower trying to drain all the hot water from the hotel or Shanghai, and then slipped in and out of sleep as the time zones played tricks in my head and on my body; time to get up, time to eat, time to sleep, time to who knows what all in a few hours. The dreams were crazy, influenced buy the voices coming through the wall. At three, I banged on the wall and they quieted down. More dreams and confusion. I woke early to get the first bus.  The hotel breakfast was awesome: Congee (rice gruel) with all kinds of weird tidbits through and through: preserved eggs, wood ear mushrooms with loofa and marrow, pickled vegetable greens, peanuts, little fishes, ground meat, sticky buns.  Those who know me  won’t be surprised. I eat everything with legs except tables and chairs, everything with wings except for airplanes, and all that swims except for submarines.  I had thirds.

The bus to Hangzhou was uneventful; it was gray and rainy. Is it grey or gray? I was greeted by family, my brother and little nephew Roran – two-and-three-quarters who looked at me with huge suspicion. It was forty minutes to home. The views are beautiful; we are at the end of a little cul-de-sac in the new old village of the famous Longjing tea fields. The terracing of the tea bushes are pruned and shaped, a topiary all the way up the mountain. I have three instant best friends, the family dogs Pong a dumb husky Golden Retriever, Wong a yellow wild dog, and KuaKua a mix between a Collie (Lassie) and German shepherd. We go for a walk my new best friends and me. We have been on many walks together. I am adopted as a fourth member of the tribe.

Rice Soup with Mushrooms and Greens

Start with a light and clear chicken broth and add leftover rice and a few large pieces of ginger for flavor. Simmer gently. Meanwhile clean the greens and slice thinly on a bias separating the stems and the leaves. Steam the stems first then add the leaves so that all are just cooked. Sautee five different kinds of mushrooms and add to the broth. Serve in a large bowl and add the greens at the very end. Pay the bill quickly and don’t leave a tip. Apparently they are illegal in China.

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4 Responses to A Month Ago from the Future

  1. Karin says:

    Why are all the leaves green when it is winter?

  2. Joe Carter says:

    sounds like a great beginning. How long are you planning (if at all) on staying and what’s the weather like this time of year?

    • timothynh says:

      It’s really cold. Hangzhou was blanketed in snow the last few days. I am in Beijing for a couple of weeks eating my way to the fat-house. Tomorrow my first open-Mic 20 minutes of bossy in the capital…
      Aston how long? Who knows?

  3. aarona says:

    Bravo! The photos are a stunning compliment to your prose, at once lush and languid. What beauty, even the dogs- so cute they deserve double names! As for Grey or Gray, depends on which side of the pond you are on. Lastly, only you could get Fat on such fare- even most Chinese are thin! Disfrute.

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