I heart SH: Food nostalgia

You never know if you are going to fall in love with the food in a new city, or if you eat and are always disappointed. During my two-week visit in Shanghai I tried to always eat as local as possible. I only had a few western meals, and other than trekking all over the city to find a good green smoothie (actually just a real green smoothie), I stuck to trying new things.

I have not been a fan of Chinese food in Portland. Most of the places we have tried have been too Americanized and are mostly bland options. For the most part Thai or Chinese food for us has been the quick “too tired, or too busy to cook” option. You do not really crave that kind of Chinese food, it is more of a convenience. So not really sure what to expect and knowing that I have definitely not really ever experienced “good” Chinese food, I jumped in head first. I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

photo 5Xiao long bao is a kind of steamed dumpling (or bun) that is made in bamboo steamer baskets, and filled with a tiny amount of broth. Xiaolongbao - Yum!They are usually served with slices of ginger, soy, and vinegar to dip in before popping in your mouth. I became addicted to the pork filled versions, although I also had some that had hairy crab inside. They have a thin, light exterior, and it is best to tear a corner and check the temperature of the soup, or just go for it and down it all in one bite, hoping not to burn your mouth in the process. They are little morsels of intense flavor and just so so so good.

Favorite location: Din Tai Fung (for those of you in the US, there is a location in Seattle). Roadtrip soon, Chris?

Sheng Jian BaoTheir cousins or siblings are Sheng Jian Bao (fried soup dumplings) and take a close second for me. My first Sheng jian baoThey are a breakfast speciality in Shanghai. Twice the size of the Xia long bao, also filled with pork and broth, but fried on the bottom. They also have a thicker exterior.

Favorite location: Yang’s Dumplings

I tried other local Shanghainese food, with differing opinions. Some dishes were bland, some just not the flavor I would crave. Junk food, street food, fine dining. More items with beans then I can imagine. By far my favorite were these two versions of dumplings. I have already started the hunt of where I can find something even close as to as good in Portland.

Dessert in Shanghai was few and far between. We usually were too full to care, but not in that ‘your pants are bursting’ kind of way. In more of a ‘that was amazing and I do not want to do anything to the flavors happening in my mouth’. However, we happened across a bakery selling a Cronut (croissant + doughnut), we could not resist.

CronutEver since we had heard about all the hubbub in New York City at the Dominique Ansel Bakery, we have always wanted to try one. While I appreciate that the fad has not blown up and been cloned all over the US, when you have never had one, and you see it in Shanghai, why not try it? They know that they are stealing the idea from New York City, but rather than completely steal the idea, we saw it marketed as “Cronut = Crack + Doughnut.” Whatever way they want to justify it, we found two bakeries that sold them. Worth it? Yes.

I enjoyed trying so many unique and local dishes and will miss Xiao Long Bao, but the adventurer in me will see if I can find them locally. Or, maybe Chris will play in the kitchen and see how hard they are to make right at home.

Don’t make me think…

We have become a culture of easy, quick, right at your fingertips. The iPhone has changed the way we look at the world, what we expect, and how we expect to consume information, apps, and really anything that is easily accessible.

On my flight back from Shanghai I finished reading a book called: “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Klug. I love the title of his book as it is spot on. I would rather frequent a website that does not make me hunt and peck for the information I need. Obviously there are plenty of websites that you do not have a choice and have to use. Your banking, credit card, local water company or trash service website all mean you either call them or get what you get on their website.

I am still always in awe of how quickly smartphones, the web, and apps have made it that we do a zillion things all within a tiny little device. I remember maybe 5 years ago, I was still using an old school flip phone that did not even have a camera, while Chris had a Razr phone. At the time the Razr was so slim and such a big deal. Eventually I upgraded from my old school phone to an iPhone 3 and well, my life was just never the same. Klug explains this well in this comment:

“Just consider how many things the smartphone allowed you to carry in your pocket or purse at all times: a camera (still and video, and for many people, the best one they’d ever owned), a GPS with maps of the whole world, a watch, an alarm clock, all of your photos and music, etc., etc.” page 144

Think about how much you do on a daily basis on your phone. How many people do you communicate with daily, hourly, each minute? How many pictures and videos do you take and share? How often do you check your stocks? The news? How many games do you play? How often do you interact with social media? How much do you manage your finances right from your phone? Do you check the weather daily? Get directions to that new restaurant? Listen to music? Track your flight? Surf the Internet? Do you manage your life, grocery, and errand lists on your phone? Oh, and the old school part of it all, how often do you even use your phone to talk to someone?

Later Klug says:

“And think about the fact that for most people in emerging countries, in the same way they bypassed landlines and went straight to cellphones, the smartphone is their first—and only—computer.” page 144

It would blow my mind if my cellphone was my first computer. That would be like driving from zero to 100 in seconds. We have become so picky about user interface. We want easy, clean, and simple. The great part is that most of the time we have access to so many options. The even better news is that our options are only going to get better and better. Allowing us to do so many things on autopilot without having to think. With great design our lives become that much easier. My only concern is that we do not lose our capacity to think critically.

Pooping at work

Yes, I am talking about pooping at work. Yes, you might feel uncomfortable, but you are most likely slightly curious. Come on, you are. You are curious. From time to time, I have shared poop stories, but this one came directly from Fast Company. How could I not share? The article is titled: “How the Most Successful People Poop at Work.”

I will tell you it is often a conversation in my office. Maybe not pooping directly, but the office bathroom is often a topic. For one there is a fascination for what the men’s bathroom looks like, does it have urinals? Is there any privacy? The women’s bathroom has recently had a range of smells. Sometimes it smells like men’s cologne and other times it ranges to the rankest of smells. We continue to call the direct line to someone who might be able to help rectify the smell, but we think the culprit is the drain in the floor bringing back some foul odor.

Does it tell you something about office culture that we can talk about pooping? Or farting? If you look back on my blog posts, I have frequently mentioned farting on an airplane, speeding because I have to poop, the squatty potty, poo-pourri, and much more. So as you can see it is a topic I feel quite comfortable discussing, but do we all feel comfortable with the topic? No. Yet this article talks a lot about the food we intake and how that interacts with our bowels, and the etiquette we find in work bathrooms. You know what I am talking about: those that hover waiting for you to leave so they can finish their business. Those that talk to try to mask the noises coming out of their bum, or as the article mentions throwing toilet paper into the bowl to try to mask the sounds. Whatever the method, we all try to mask the bodily sounds and noises that come from whatever food is wrecking havoc on our bodies.

So…why is it so taboo to talk about it? Why do we all shy away from it? I think my team has become mostly transparent about it, we laugh about it, and discuss what we can do about the rampant changes in the bathroom odor, but are we unique? Are we normal, or do most workplace environments quickly hike the stairs or rapidly push the buttons on the elevator in order to escape to a bathroom on another floor?

What do you do? Be sure to read the article I shared — it will add a chuckle or two into your day.

I heart SH

Shanghai skyline

Shanghai skyline

Shanghai has my heart. I cannot tell a fib. I am a bit smitten, but at the end of the day Portland is still my favorite. Every time we travel somewhere new we always compare it to Portland, and every single time Portland wins. While I am still smitten with PDX, that does not mean I cannot allow a bit of a few other cities into my heart. There are quite a few things I want to share about Shanghai, so I will split it into a few blogs over the course of the next few weeks. So, where should I start?

We walked. A LOT.

Crazy number of people in the street

Crazy number of people in the street

Every day. In some ways it is like New York City in that there is a great subway system, buses, and cheap taxis, but somehow when it is nice out and warm enough why not walk? You find the great hidden gems in a city on foot. We found amazing food, funky shops, random neighborhoods, and loads, and loads, and LOADS of people. Our first day ended up being over their National Holiday, so the people that we saw were actually potentially from another part of China on vacation (of course I did not ask them, but that is what we were told). The photo below shows how many people are coming towards us as we cross a street. Hundreds at one time.

One of the things that stood out to me the most, is how genuinely nice everyone is to you. Of course maybe that is because you are a guest in their hotel, store, or restaurant, but hell I am a guest in hundreds of places a year in the United States and no one has ever treated me with such kindness. There is always a smile on their face (and maybe it is part of their job, but if it is they do not make it look painful). I found myself on the plane trip back saying: xie xie (said syeh-syeh) only to realize I was on my way back to the United States. Xie Xie is thank you in Mandarin. I got so used to saying it to everyone all the time, maybe because they have such an amazing service culture. The US could really learn something from their patience and poise.

Guy carries handbag

Guy carries handbag

A few funny things.  We often would see men carrying their spouse, partner, girlfriend, what-have-you’s purse/bag. You rarely see that in the states. Chris will ONLY do it when I am trying on clothes and do not want to leave my bag in the dressing room. Does that make men in Shanghai more carefree, egoless? Is there another word that describes it?

Mobile pet store?

Mobile pet store?

This I guess is a mobile pet store? We saw bunnies, gerbils, a dog, and a few other animals. I did not want to stay long enough to find out, but it was a busy little portable pet store located on the outskirts of a park.

Open 25 hours?

Open 25 hours?

There are other things that perplex me, like this shop that is open for 25 hours.

More to come in a future blog on my favorite food in Shanghai, taxis, and bathrooms (what is not to love about potty talk in a new city)?

I heart good people.

It has been a good week. I have been surrounded by genuinely good people. It makes my heart flutter a bit to be reminded of the preciousness of life, of meeting new people, trying new things, and having a wonder and awe that sometimes when you go outside of your routine you are able to look at life differently.

I actually love my routine. I love the structure it provides in my life, what it allows me to do. However, we all need moments, days, and weeks in our life where we live outside the bubble we live in. Where we feel uncomfortable, do something different, and have moments where our awkwardness sheds light into a different or new view on the world. Maybe that is through a new experience or challenge, new food, or a new culture.

I am on my way back from Shanghai, China. I have been here for two weeks, and in a few hours I will be flying back home. Next week I will share some highlights from my trip. It is a fascinating city, different from Portland in so many ways. I will not tell you about that now, as I want to savor my trip and let it marinate a bit. I will tell you that I am inspired by the conversations I had this week, the different individuals I met, the new friends I made.

As I said I want to process it all, put together the story of my week, but all in all, I feel blessed to have been surrounded by good people. It makes me optimistic about the world, it inspires me, and brings a smile to my face. We like what is comfortable. So often we go to work and interact with the same people, get into our car, drive home, and do it all over again. Sure we interact at the grocery store, or Target, or with the gas station attendant, but how often do we get to meet new people and truly connect with them for an extended period of time?

Good people. We should always surround ourselves with good people.