Well I’ve recovered enough from Murder in the Market to share with you a few more stories of our Shanghai adventure.
A couple of street food stand-outs on Linfen Road: a husband and wife team making crepe sandwiches on what looked to be the lid of a trash can. I know it wasn’t but it did look like it. The wife sat at a metal drum that had charcoals burning underneath (I guess that’s what’s known as a “stove” on the streets). She spread a very thin mixture of quinoa flour, soy flour and wheat flour onto the hot metal lid and then the husband leaned in and cracked an egg in the middle. The wife then spread the egg to cover the whole thin crepe. She added cilantro, scallions, pickled veggies and then quickly scraped back and forth underneath to separate the crepe from the lid. She folded it in half into a half moon and added some kind of chutney and a chile paste, and spread that out too. Then the husband put a large dried wonton cracker in the middle of it. She crunched it up, rolled the crepe up and cut the whole thing in half. He bagged the two halves and took the money. And she started all over.
They had a real machine going there and people were lined up to get these things. People were complaining because the line was too long and some disgruntled customers even left. Susan described it as starch and starch- as if we were to eat a potato bread sandwich but that didn’t stop her from tasting it and loving it! I think that may have been something like her fifth or sixth breakfast out of our promised “ten Shanghai breakfasts” and she was still going strong.
In one of the next stalls Susan got the chance to actually make the Youtiao that we had tasted early that morning. She had a blast, although I don’t think her first attempt was all that successful. The customer refused the one Susan made and wanted one from the owner. Further down there was a man making thin wonton skins over small metal barrels.
At that point, after my horrible market moment, I was wandering around the crowded streets wondering why I had agreed to this godforsaken trip in the first place and being confronted at every turn with some horrible sight that made me whimper “I just want to go home.”
In Mandarin, “hello” is “ni hau” and “thank you” is “shea-shea.” I had been practicing “zi chien” (goodbye) since I got to Shanghai. The only thing that changed my mind was the Jewish Museum.
During World War II, when the Nazis were murdering millions of Jews all over Eastern and Western Europe, one of the only countries (including, ashamedly, the U.S.) that would accept refugee Jews trying to flee was…you guessed it, China. Almost 30,000 Jews escaped to Shanghai and were forced, by the Japanese occupiers, to live in a ghetto in a poor neighborhood called Hongkou. They worked, played and socialized amongst the people of Shanghai who were amazingly accepting and showed an incredible lack of bigotry. So many Jewish bakeries, delicatessens, dance halls, and cafes were opened in Hongkou that the area, at the time, was nicknamed “Little Vienna.”
I had read about this phenomenon and wanted to see the area for myself.
The old synagogue is now a museum that has collected stories, pictures and interviews of people who were here then. It was incredibly moving to read their stories; people escaping the holocaust and starting all over and raising their children in Shanghai for years. There were a number of interviews of adults who as children were raised amongst the Chinese. Many of them married Chinese people and recently there was a Shanghai reunion of a large number of the people who are still alive and remember those years.
The artist Peter Max was raised in Shanghai from the age of 3 to 14 and credits his Chinese nanny with teaching him to draw.When the Cultural Revolution took place all the Jews left and went to places like America, Israel, some back to Europe, etc.
I was moved by the strength of the Chinese people who were suffering under their own Japanese occupation yet still welcomed these Jewish refugees. I was filled with respect, gratitude and yes, love for these people. So even though they still cook on trashcans and still hang their laundry on the street and kill their food with their bare hands… I love Shanghai.
zi chien, China!
A few parting shots: