Hello from Shanghai! Yesterday we made the drive back from Hangzhou, encountering our first rain showers since arriving in China. We left having passed our qualification tests to work in the Shanghai store, but only with great difficulty – on the last day before our departure, we practiced and ran time trials on dough cutting and rolling from 4:30 AM until after 8:00 PM, and still needed the next morning to pass the most difficult portion, the dough cutting. I think I can speak for the entire team when I say that we are very proud to have completed our test successfully, but even more so we are humbled by the difficulty of training, and the dedication the staff has showed in trying to help us overcome the challenge. As if the generosity they showed us with their time and patience was not enough, we were presented with amazing gifts at the end of training.
These masks are based on traditional stage make up that represent different traditional Chinese characters. Jhonny received the visage of an ancient general from the Three Kingdoms period, Gerry was given a character that was described to us as a ‘ghost buster’, and I received the Monkey King. I recalled that Mr. Yang had asked me what my zodiac sign was a few days ago, and being born in 1992, I told him it was the Monkey. To me, that level of thoughtfulness speaks volumes about the quality of people we work with. I never expected that leaving Hangzhou would feel so much like leaving friends behind.
Before packing up and leaving our luxurious rooms at the Bo Jiang International Hotel we were treated to one last meal cooked by the ayi (literally translating to ‘aunt’) at the training center. From the first piece of braised pork to the last spoonful of blackfish soup it was extraordinary. Yes, sometimes I wasn’t sure exactly if what I was eating was duck or pork, and debates were had over the definition of bacon, but if it tastes good, I eat it. Thanks to Tom for correcting my poor chopstick skills, you would think I would have mastered them by now, but like bao making it’s all about knowing the right gestures, and practicing until the motions as natural as breathing.
The trip to Shanghai was a long one. We packed our Volkswagen Sharon, a model of minivan unknown in the states, until the bags were nearly completely blocking the back window and spilling jenga block style into my third row seat. From there.
We took one last drive past West Lake, taking a short break for a photo op in a rock garden and some more sightseeing. Hangzhou to Shanghai can be driven in less than two and a half hours if the traffic conditions are right. Our trip took nearly six hours, due to a traffic jam that clogged the freeways from the edge of Shanghai to its center, and a peculiar law that I had never heard of before. If you do not have the correct license (our Sharon was registered in Zhe Jiang Province), you are not allowed to enter Shanghai during peak traffic hours, which end at 7:00 PM. Jhonny commented that there is a similar system in parts of Colombia. By the time we arrived at our base of operations in Tongji University it was nearly 9:00 PM, but none of that matters now, because we’re finally back in Shanghai and as I write this, we are putting on our orange caps and tying on our aprons for our first shift as certified baoists (bao makers).
My colleagues in China, Eva and Penny, have done a wonderful job translating this blog into Mandarin Chinese. Apparently their translation gets more views than my English version. I choose not to dwell on what that says about the quality of my writing… Anyway, if you would like to take a look, here is the link to that version – this is just one of my posts, but I will create a page with all of the links in the near future.