Lunch in Shanghai

September 24, 2010

in Shanghai,Travels

Street vendors in Shanghai

Street vendors in Shanghai. Photo by Robert Corkery.

In Shanghai, I was eating alone at a cafe when a woman somewhere in her 70s or maybe even older sat down across from me. She spoke no English and I had no Chinese beyond a few pleasantries. But as she sat down, she shyly smiled at me.

As I ate my noodle soup, she watched me intently. It began to be a bit uncomfortable and I wondered if I was eating in someone else’s seat or doing something wrong. She started speaking a flurry of Chinese, none of which I understood. In English, I told her I didn’t understand and shrugged at her. But she kept talking, picking up her chopsticks and pointing to mine.

At last I understood: she was showing me a better way to eat my lunch. I gave her technique a try and promptly dropped the mess of vegetables on the table. The next attempt landed on my lap. The woman made some understanding noises, then laughed out loud and showed me again. After another try, I got it. Then she smiled and nodded again, patted my arm and walked away. It was such an unbelievably kind gesture that just the memory of it makes me smile.

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