Week 8: A Quaint Evening

I had another rather quiet weekend this week, with little fanfare and traveling. I did venture out to Fuzhou Lu to check out the stationery stores, where I got some colored brush pens. Unfortunately, the street isn’t much to look at, but the Foreign Language Bookstore is there, and it boasts the widest variety of books in Shanghai that are written in English and other languages.

I spend a lot of my time in the evenings doing calligraphy, which you may have seen on my Instagram. My calligraphy is almost always in Kannada, which is my mother tongue. I was inspired by the beauty and tradition of Chinese and Arabic calligraphy, wanting to create a new kind of art that younger Kannadigas can appreciate. A lot of the art that younger Indians consume is less textual, not always physical, and very aesthetically oriented. More traditional forms of art, like classical music and dance, are less interesting to younger Indians, simply because of a strong fascination with Western culture. I grew up in the West, and I have opposite sentiments, being rather tired of the stuff I saw in the States.

Calligraphy is a blend between the semantic qualities of language, and aesthetic qualities of art, and that’s what I love about it.

“Ameshi – Asian American” – An original coinage of mine

Chinese calligraphy (in my experience) is often about a precision that demonstrates respect for the written word, and only once you’ve mastered that do you have the creative license to innovate in writing. Arabic calligraphy is similar, and it’s often said that a student spends years learning to prepare the paper before they even learn to use the pen. Arabic calligraphy, as artwork, is a work of devotion and encourages the beholder to appreciate the semantic meaning of the writing.

These traditions are about a conscious and active appreciation of language, art, and culture. There is purposeful selection of content, skillful application of artistic skill, and an expression of cultural appreciation. I can only hope that my calligraphy will get somewhere to that level.

“Harihara” – The composite form of Shiva and Vishnu

I really want other Kannadigas to appreciate the language in a special way, one that really inspires a love for who we are and where we come from. I feel that the spread of English and Hindi makes it really easy for people of all regional backgrounds to discard their identities in favor of something expedient.

It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place, because on one hand, using English or Hindi makes it easier to do business and get ahead in society, but when you have all the money and material things that you need, you don’t have much of a personal identity anymore. You end up spending so much time using another language for finite ends, you lose the ability to appreciate something that really lasts.

“Sankata” – The pain of separation, grief from parting, and the sorrow of nostalgia. 

The dissolution of all these identities into the whole, in my humble opinion, is not a good thing. It’s not only easy to gloss over people’s issues this way, but it also dashes an opportunity to understand more visions of the human experience.

The only ways to really keep our languages alive is by using them in art and in our media. I know that my Kannada is not absolutely perfect, but it would make it so much easier to reconnect with my culture if I knew that there was niche culture scene where it was the predominant medium of expression. There are languages that are close to dying out (and Kannada isn’t even one of them), and I can only imagine how some young people in those communities feel. The helplessness of watching your culture die before you is horrible. To have someone else essentially tell you “If you can’t beat’em, join’em” when it comes to resisting a dominant prestige culture is even worse. Hindi is not the only language of India, and English is not the only language of the world. I won’t let my language, my history, or my people be erased, if I can help it.

Week 7: Wanderings

This week, I did a little more independent exploration. Diwali also passed this week, and since I wasn’t home for the occasion, I decided to put on a small dinner party for my friends.

I wandered around Yu Garden, in the Old City of Shanghai. It’s a bit of a touristy place, but there’s still some stuff to see. The Old City is a bit of a ways from Pudong, and quite different from the shopping areas of Puxi. Fuyou Road has a lot of different shopping areas, including one dedicated to tourists. I decided not to peruse their wares, mostly because I was just stopping by.

I was on my way back from the only Indian store in the entirety of Shanghai, which is, as one might expect, a quite small place. It’s called Bhoomi Stores, on Yaohong Road, not far from the Songyuan Road metro station. They stock mostly ready-to-eat meal kits and instant spice mixtures. It’s a little taste of home for the Indian expats living in Shanghai, I suppose. I can’t say that I’m missing Indian food in Shanghai, so much than my mother’s cooking. When you’re cooking mostly variations on stir-fry for dinner, it can make you miss home-cooked food a lot!

A lovely view of the Bund

Anyway, this week was a little more chill. I’m entering midterm season, and working on a lot of different things. At the moment, I’m juggling language learning, my calligraphy Instagram, and schoolwork. It’s not proving to be very difficult, but I have a lot going on, and sometimes it’s a little much to stay focused.

In other news, I had this unexpectedly delicious pasta at Wagas. It was a spinach and pumpkin pasta with tomato sauce, topped with feta cheese and pine nuts. Wagas is a solid place to get vegetarian options for lunch or breakfast, so always keep that on your list.

That’s all for this week!

Week 6: A Daily Grind

During my sixth week, a lot of the initial excitement of coming to China started to fade, though that’s not to say that I’m not enjoying myself. I am certainly following a routine, since I go to class most of the week. The grind is definitely back, though I don’t hate it. I have a lot less to talk about in this post, but fear not, I have non-China(-ish) related news! I started learning Farsi last week because I was reading more about the grammar and it’s actually very structurally similar to Hindi-Urdu. The language doesn’t have noun gender, grammatical case, or tons of irregular verbs, so it’s easy to start learning, especially if you already know Hindi-Urdu (or another Indo-Aryan language), and even a Romance language, to some extent.

Anyway, I still managed to check out a few new places near my school, including the only mosque in Pudong! It’s a really interesting place, since every Friday, there’s a Muslim market where people from Xinjiang and other Muslim merchants sell their delicious wares. Since I’m vegetarian, I couldn’t actually eat that much food there, but I was very pleased with what I could eat.

Muslims in China actually have a long history, and the state of Xinjiang is Muslim majority. There are two main Muslim communities, the Uyghurs and the Hui. The Uyghurs are of Turkic ancestry, and have their own language, which is related to Turkish. The Uyghur language has many loanwords from Persian and Arabic, since most speakers are Muslim, though in recent years more loans have come from Russian and Mandarin. The Hui Muslims are said to be descendants of Persian traders who settled in Northwestern China, as well as converts during the Ming Dynasty.

There aren’t a lot of Muslims in China, but in Shanghai, there are people from all over, including from countries that are majority Muslim. My school has many Pakistani students, some Bosnians, and there are Muslim Malays, among many other nationalities who come to this mosque every Friday. It’s one of the only reliable places to get halal food, along with the small number of halal eateries scattered throughout Shanghai. Fortunately, they’re easy to spot since they’ll have the word حلال (halal in Arabic) written somewhere, usually in green. I’m not Muslim, but I’ve had a lot of interest in Sufi philosophy and the history of Islam in general. A lot of people, unless I tell them I’m Hindu, assume that I’m Muslim because if I start talking about it, I get really into it. It’s really fascinating stuff, but I won’t get into the specifics here.

It was pretty cool walking around, though there was an elderly man who was trying to usher me and two of my roommates (one who’s Indian and the other is Chinese) into the mosque for prayer, assuming that we were Muslim. It was somewhat awkward explaining (in Mandarin) that we weren’t Muslim and we were just looking around. It didn’t help that none of us knew the word for “Muslim” in Mandarin offhand. He didn’t seem pleased with me taking pictures of the inside of the mosque while the Jummah prayer was taking place, so I will not post those photos out of respect for the space.

The market is right outside the gate of the mosque, and there’s a line of vendors selling all sorts of items, including lamb kebabs, freshly baked naan (a different kind from the Indian naan I’m used to), noodle dishes, and even cake! The noodles I had were a simple preparation of knife-pared noodles with cucumbers, peanuts, chili oil, and vinegar. It’s a nice snack, though not especially substantial. That said, it was only 5 kuai, so it’s more than a good deal.

I believe the naan was about 15 kuai; I thought it was quite nice, though it doesn’t taste as good once it cools off. They bake it in these special ovens that are very similar to tandoors used in India to make naan!

But what takes the proverbial cake was the cake! It wasn’t fancy or anything, but it was a substantial slab of sweet, creamy goodness. The pictures really don’t do it justice, but it was really good considering that it wasn’t refrigerated.

It looks like a tiramisù mille-feuille, but it’s difficult to describe the flavor as anything other than milk cream and chocolate. The funny thing is that I essentially ended up eating cake for lunch since the box (when it was full) was 55 kuai. I had actually wanted only about half the amount, but because of some confusion, I actually paid the vendor more, so she gave me enough extra cake to compensate.

For about a 2×2 inch block of cake (please don’t quote me on measurements, I’m really horrible at eyeballing dimensions), it would have been 30 kuai, so, again, a quite good deal. I intend to come back here (especially for the cake), so you’ll likely see these pictures again!

My roommates and I also went to a nearby Mexican restaurant on Saturday night, which was an interesting experience, to say the least. It was kind of a mix between a Tex-Mex place and authentic Mexican in terms of what it was trying to offer, both in terms of food and also aesthetically. I ordered enmoladas, or enchiladas with mole sauce, a type of Oaxacan sauce that is often made with cacao and various chiles. The serving size was actually pretty decent, seeing as most of the type, Chinese serving sizes are pretty small in my opinion.

 

The restaurant’s name was Pistolera, and isn’t far from Jinqiao Road by bike. If you head down Biyun Road between Yunshan Road and Hongfeng Road, it’ll be there near some other Western restaurants. The food itself was not bad, but quite overpriced at 95 kuai. Foreigners beware: you will pay a premium for any kind of Western food in China, even if it’s not authentic or good. This dish should have been no more than 50-60 kuai, especially since the mole sauce just kind of tasted like a generic bean sauce. I don’t think I’ll come here that often if at all seeing as I’m not exactly craving Mexican food in Shanghai that often.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you look forward to next week’s post!

Week 5: Golden Week in Review

Last week, I got the week off from school on account of the Chinese holiday known as Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节/中秋節 – zhōng qiū jié). The week around the holiday is known as Golden Week, a period of time that is hectic with families traveling home or out of the country to avoid the crowded cities. Shanghai is especially known for being crowded during Golden Week. The nice thing about Golden Week, though, is that plenty of things are discounted on account of the holiday, making for tons of deals!

During my Golden Week, I took a trip a few hours south of Shanghai to Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province. In my mind, I compare Shanghai and other cities to those in the US and India, but Hangzhou was quite unlike any other city I’d been too.

It was very unique in that it was not a huge city, but still fairly busy, and definitely a center for tourism. It doesn’t have all the trappings of a westernized Asian city like Shanghai or Bangalore. 

The only city I can compare it (and only in principle), is Mangalore, a city in Karnataka not too far from Bangalore. Hangzhou is very much a Chinese city in the sense that it is steeped in its own culture but not to the extent that it’s obscure and inaccessible to foreign travelers (as some small towns might be). Mangalore is very similar in that respect, though aesthetically and experientially, is very different from Hangzhou.  Hangzhou’s street market felt very local, even though there were tourist stands selling trinkets that only tourists would buy. The street is lined with all sorts of Hangzhou specialties, including some vegetarian bread items (whose names I neglected to find out). Some stalls had very traditional Chinese sweet dishes, such as Eight Treasure Soup (八宝粥/八寶粥 – Bā băo zhōu) , a kind of sweet rice porridge.

Assortment of Chinese sweets at a stall in Hangzhou’s street market near Gaoyin Street

It’s called that because the eight items used to flavor the soup are purported to have potent medicinal and healing qualities. Popular ingredients include peanuts, lotus seeds, and red bean. In the picture to the right, there’s also a bowl of grass jelly (仙草 – xiān căo), another traditional Chinese sweet often consumed on its own, or more recently, in bubble tea.

Entrance to the temple grounds

About half an hour away by taxi, is the Lingyin Temple, one of the most famous and largest Buddhist temples in China. It’s known as 灵隐寺/靈隱寺 (língyĭn sì), translating as “The Temple of the Soul’s Retreat”. The temple is in a bit of a secluded area, being closer to some of the tea villages than Hangzhou itself.

The temple grounds are sprawling and really quite stunning with a large scenic area of forests and caves with statues of the Buddha. While you’re there, it’s absolutely necessary to see the Mahavīra Hall, where a huge Golden Buddha sits, waiting to hear the prayers of devotees.

The Golden Buddha inside Mahavira Hall

This temple is easily one of my favorite places that I’ve visited so far, and I’m really glad that I made the trip. I have a ton of photos, so I won’t be able to post all of them. They don’t do justice to this place anyway!

Food!

Food in Hangzhou was a little more difficult than in Shanghai, partly due to a lack of Western restaurants which might actually have things for me to eat. Fortunately, I was able to get some vegetarian mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐 – má pó dòufu), which often contains pork, beef, or chicken. You should always ask in restaurants whether they can make a dish without meat.

Some partially eaten mapo tofu
生菜 (shēng cài) (I’m not sure what vegetable this is to be honest)

 

 

 

 

 

I was able to order a vegetable dish as well, and with rice, it was more or less a complete meal.

At Lingyin Temple, I was able to eat a vegetarian meal made by the temple’s noodle restaurant, which is a common institution in Buddhist temples. These small eateries serve completely vegetarian (and often vegan) food, so if you’re in a temple town near a temple for an extended period of time, it’s a good place to get good-tasting and relatively cheap vegetarian food. The only catch about Lingyin Temple, is that you do have to pay 40 or 45 RMB to enter, and then meal itself will be around 15-20 kuai.

I hope that you all enjoyed this post, and I look forward to writing next week!