Shanghai Love Story (Birthdays, Love and Dumplings in Shanghai)

Blinking a few times I tried to work out whether I was dreaming or not. My train of muddled thoughts dissolved into nothingness when he gently squeezed my hand, casually reminding me of his presence. Not a dream then. The real thing. I breathed a sigh of relief and went on smiling. Definitely the real thing.

Happy Birthday!

Life really does work in mysterious ways, you know? As my occasionally over-sized blog posts may show, I like to natter on about things, but for the first time words fail me when all I want to do is to share some of my joy.

As you all may know I have spent the last two weeks travelling China. I have been to Hong Kong, Hangzhou, Shanghai and as I pre-write this post I’m sitting in my over-sized hotel room (pardon, three-room suite, I got upgraded free of charge) in Beijing, enjoying a rare evening off after a day full of activities...or should I say two full weeks of activities? It feels like I've been here a month and the fact that I’ll soon be leaving instills somewhat of an irrational fear. I don’t want to leave this place. Despite feeling like a fish out of the water for about 75% of the time, I’m very happy here. People are so warm-hearted and when you laugh they laugh with you - even if we don't understand each other properly, laughter is still universal. Plus I have found something / someone very special. Said someone special is the reason for this blog post.

I found myself a sweetheart, my other half. I didn't actually think I'd ever find him, because well, I just didn't think I’d ever be this lucky. Apparently though, I am this lucky. Apparently there was someone out there for me all along and I've finally caught my fish. Like I said, life really does work in mysterious ways. I’ve found real happiness and have no doubt that he is Mr Right (no, I'm not delusional). Let me tell you, this feeling is terribly addictive, it’s one of these addictions I’m happy to give into though. Just like my dumpling addiction, but then that's a different story altogether.

I had originally planned to start out my blog series about my China holiday with my time in Hong Kong. I’d planned to tell you about my arrival and the weather and the incredible good food. That was the plan I had before I arrived in Shanghai. Once in Shanghai everything changed. Why? Well, because I got the best birthday present ever. No, I’m not exaggerating, and no I’m not seeing the world through a pair of rose coloured sunglasses. Well, maybe I am, but I maintain that I can still think more or less reasonable. It’s okay if you don’t believe me.

I should probably tell you a little more about the new man at my side. We ‘met’ by chance a couple of months ago. Out of all the places we could have bumped into each other, it was on Weibo, yes the almighty Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter). We casually chatted several months, then notched things up a bit by using a private chat service called Weixin (微信). 

(For all of you who have a Smartphone or an iPhone, Weixin (or WeChat as it's also called) is similar to Whatsapp only about a million times better. I may be somewhat biased here seeing since I’m using Weixin more than I’m using Whatsapp but I know you'll forgive me for the blatant promotion. This is probably also why I’ll never make a good critic but that's okay, I'm not big into criticising people, unless they really deserve it.)

A trillion text messages, voice messages and hour-long chats followed. All were pretty flirty but throughout this time we both only ever referred to each other as friends. Friends, Friends, Friends. We both never ever questioned that statement and went along with it - if it comes to being in denial, I think we both deserve a gold medal. Looking back I have to laugh at this, it was a silly game we played with each other, a charade. Nevertheless, it was fun at the time. Every time I received a message from my so-called ‘friend’ my face equalled a 20,000 Watt lamp. You just don’t smile like this when a friend texts you. Well, maybe you do but, oh well, you get the gist of it. If you don’t, then I don’t know how to explain it. I’m not exactly an expert in all things love, in fact I’m pretty much a novice at playing this game but I can tell you if I feels right then it’s pretty easy to wing it. Or at least I think it's pretty easy to wing it. I'm just doing what I think feels right and so far it's been working.

Anywho, those two ‘friends’ agreed to meet in Shanghai to celebrate my birthday together…and what a fab decision it was. We celebrated in style and it was probably the best birthday I’ve ever had. It pretty much just took one look and we both knew that we definitely weren’t friends, although I must admit I was a little confused at first. There was mutual kind of attraction, a kind of instant chemistry. I couldn’t take my eyes of him and he couldn’t take his eyes off me. There was definitely a lot of subtle flirting going on throughout the day and I loved it. Plus, a good friend (and our match-maker as I like to refer to her) cleared up any doubt I had left about how my new man felt about me. So thanks for that, Sally, you're advice about boys was pretty useful!

Queuing for the elevator in the Oriental Tower 东方明珠塔

Tell you what. I love the innocent, cheeky kind of flirting. It’s got to be playful and it’s got to make you laugh and feel a bit bashful. That’s the best kind of flirting. My new man is extremely apt at this kind of flirting, not only in writing but also in person. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the day and to be quite honest I still can’t stop smiling whenever I think back to all the fun we had.

To be quite honest, I didn’t think my birthday would be quite as special as it was. I had so little time in Shanghai but I managed to make the most out of it. I got to meet a bunch of lovely people and then I got the princess treatment for an entire day – what more can a girl ask for? If you ask me there isn't much. All I need is some friends and a little bit of love. Add some coffee to that (and let's not forget the dumplings) and I'm pretty much as content as it gets.

After leaving Hangzhou early on the 12th of June to go visit Wuzhen Watertown (an old, traditional Chinese Watertown about halfway between Hangzhou and Shanghai about which you can read here) I was pre-occupied with what I'd be doing while in Shanghai. I’d planned to meet up with MaryAnne from An Impractical Guide To Living In Shanghai and Awesome Mops Of China but I was seriously fretting because I was running late getting into Shanghai – as much as I love the city, the traffic quite frankly stinks! 

I was pretty much bombarding poor MaryAnne with text messages to apologise for running late. After finally meeting up with her and the lovely Fiona of @nanchanglu we realised that none of my text messages had made it to their destination - thank you, China Mobile. That’s also how my pre-birthday dinner plans with my other half dissolved into nothingness. He hadn’t received any of my text messages to inform him about my arrival in Shanghai and had decided to meet friends for dinner on the other side of the city. As you can imagine, on the eve of my birthday I was feeling pretty bumped, thinking that my 25th birthday would be just like any other had been before. Mediocre. Boring. Nothing special. How wrong I was!

Following a delightful lunch/dinner with MaryAnne and Fiona (during which we gorged on a fresh, cold street-food noodle salad type of dish) and an invitation from Fiona to join her for some more street-food for breakfast on Nan Chang Lu the following day, I returned to my hotel room to sulk. Because well you know, when a girl gets dumped by a guy sulking is what she does best or at least I thought I should sulk after giving my other half the third degree. Nevermind that it wasn't his fault that he didn't get any of my text messages, I still gave out to him, at least a little anyway. I firmly told him that if he didn't show up the following day to spend my birthday with me, I'd never speak to him again.

I do realise that this is kind of a really flawed logic. While sulking in my hotel room, I handwrote a blog post on the hotel’s headed paper, enjoyed the incredible night scenery of Shanghai from the window on the 21st floor and eventually opted for a relaxing bath and some television. I went to sleep early in the hope that my birthday would magically brighten up and it did. It didn’t just brighten up, it turned into a magical fairytale. My other half had promised me a fantastic day out in Shanghai and he didn’t disappoint.

The view from the 21st floor of a Shanghai hotel really isn't bad!

But first things first. As I already mentioned, my day started with some heavenly street food and a stroll through Fiona’s neighbourhood, including a nearby park filled to the brim with little kids and their mums for there was some kind of mini-marathon event going on. I can't say I read the banner properly since I was trying to eat, walk and pay attention to what Fiona was telling me all at the same time.

I did observe that the somewhat elderly generation of China was relaxing in the shade, practicing Tai Chi or writing beautiful water calligraphy on the smooth park paths. I was mesmerised and only grudgingly followed Fiona as we moved on, chatting about this and that and observing the staff of a nearby restaurant receiving their morning pep-talk from their manager. Admittedly, Fiona and I mostly we chatted about food - there's just too much awesome food in China not to talk about.

I had some birthday dumplings for breakfast and they were heavenly fresh and yummy. Thanks to Fiona’s helpful meddling, I also got to get in touch with the awesome Sally of UnbraveGirl and we scheduled to meet up. I feel somewhat special that she abandoned her fantastic couch just for me and travelled from Wuxi to Shanghai to enjoy a fabulous day out in Shanghai with me – you can read about her thoughts on this here. Fiona’s time was limited and after an hour in her lovely company she had to press on and get to work while I returned to my hotel to meet my other half. I should clarify that at that point he was not yet my other half (he was in my head, but I hadn't yet officially informed him about this minor detail).

By the time I got back to the hotel the butterflies in my stomach were out of control. They magically evaporated into thin air once my fish actually stood in front of me and I relaxed instantly. I have already noticed that he is somewhat of a calming influence on me or so it seems. I shouldn’t be able to think clear when I’m around him – you know all those confusing feelings of love and everything – but I feel pretty at ease handing him the reigns.

At this point I should, or could, probably add that my other half, or my Little Fish 小鱼 as I call him (In Chinese culture the fish is a sign of happiness, luck and good fortune. My other half is all that and so much more, so this is one of the many reasons why I call him that) does not speak English. Well, he knows a little bit of English and I'm starting to think that he understands more than he lets on, erm. Listening to him speak English is quite endearing. He’s trying so hard to learn and I love him all the more for it. I’d like to think that I’m his inspiration for making such an effort seeing since when it comes to learning Chinese he certainly has become mine.

He has an astonishing amount of patience when it comes to trying to understand what I want to say and his corrections are subtle. Instead of outright correcting me he subtly repeats what I said but correctly. I almost don’t notice when he corrects me, especially when he corrects my pronunciation but I am hoping that his subtle way of helping me to improve my Chinese will make me grasp the language even faster.

I think my fish would actually make a very good teacher. He corrects in such an eloquent and diplomatic way that I have to applaud him. One of the sweetest memories I have of my Little Fish and me is him helping me to read a notice board in the museum on the ground floor of the Oriental Tower. I could have just skimmed over the English translation but I didn’t bother, instead I struggled with the Chinese as I did for the most part of my holiday. He patiently stood by my side, listening to me reading the words out loud and whenever I didn’t know a character he gave me some time to think before reading it out for me. In a way we read the poster together and it felt pretty special. I'm pretty sure though that by the time I had finished reading out the first paragraph, he'd memorised the entire text.

At times the communication between us requires the assistance of a dictionary but for the most part we manage to communicate just fine. On the plus side, seeing since we’re boyfriend and girlfriend I have the right to simply kiss him to mask the fact that I didn’t understand a word of what he just said although I think he already copped on that I’ve been resolving to this method – nevertheless he lets me get away with it. I do like a man who likes to be bribed with kisses, it makes the relationship all the more fun. His principles are definitely nothing to complain about.

In terms of being in a relationship with a Chinese guy, the relationship is vastly different to a Western relationship if you ask me though I can't say I have a lot of experience with Western relationships (I believe I'm not missing out!). The feeling of being the queen of someone's world is pretty special. While out and about he takes the reigns, which I appreciate for we would never get anywhere if I took the reigns (and I'm talking public transport, taxi, etc. here, he doesn't just decide where we go and leaves me to follow him like a puppy although I'd be quite happy to do that too, to a certain degree anyway). When there's just the two of us it's pretty relaxed and I'm blessed that he likes cuddling about as much as I do so the couch is my favourite place as long as I get to use him as a pillow and I can tell you he makes a damn fine pillow - not that I'm going to let you try. Occasionally I can also convince him to massage me, so there's another added bonus. I shall spare you all the amazing details about my little fish - I don't want to make you nauseous.

For my birthday I got to be a princess for the day but on every other day he treats me just as well. I have managed to catch a very romantic fish who has a way with words that my makes heart melt. Whenever I tell him something funny and he bursts into laughter my knees go all weak. Whenever he smiles and I get to look into his adorable chocolate brown eyes my resistance melts away completely, not that I’ve actually been trying to resist him in any way. That would be counter-productive. I like how he still tries to chase and woo me even though we’re already together. To me it just shows me how much he cares and that feeling is incredibly special. He doesn't take me for granted, which considering that it's early days is lovely, but judging by his character I don't think that will change.

One of my many birthday presents, my little Panda named 苹竹, the name doesn't really make sense but we were relaxing across from the apple store in Shanghai, underneath a bunch of bamboo trees, when I named the Panda. My fish thought it hiliarous but I love the name, so I'm sticking with it. Although in all fairness, that Panda looks a bit like an Angry Bird, doesn't it?

Anyways, I love the feeling of having somebody by my side who treats me like I deserve to have the entire world bow at my feet. I never thought I was the kind of girl who turns into a puddle of goo when presented with a teddy bear but apparently I am - one does frequently discover new things about oneself. Said teddy bear was also a super cute Panda bear and as you all may or may not know I have a thing for Panda bears.

My Little Fish apparently knows the way to my heart. Not only did he buy me a little Panda, nope, he also treated me to a traditional Shanghai “Dim Sum” although they call it 小吃 rather than 点心 which consisted of loads of dumplings, xiaolongbao (小笼包) and some Shanghai style hot & sour soup. I mean how could I resist all of that? Come on! I’d have to be insane to turn down a declaration of love that comes with awesome food and cuddly toys. I love all those random little facts he remembers about me like the fact that I like to eat a spoonful of sugar when I have absolutely no energy e.g. a bit of low blood sugar. It’s so refreshing to have someone at my side who really cares about me. Obviously my friends also care about me but this is just a little different, I don't think I need to explain.

The treats didn't end with 小吃 and a little cuddly Panda though. He bought yummy sweeties for my colleagues back home to try and we enjoyed an amazing day out at the Oriental Tower in Shanghai, followed by a fresh Seafood Dinner. He went all out and even ordered noodles for me to have for my birthday and last but not least I got the best birthday cake ever.

The Cake!

All I can say is watch this space because this love story has only just started and I sure as hell have no intention of letting my little fish off the hook. I’ve found my man and I’m keeping him for all eternity. I do have to add that a long-distance relationship is pretty pants but thanks to the internet I can almost always have a 2D version of my man by my side. It does make it a little bit easier, though not always. Still, I'm prepared to give it my best shoot to make this relationship work and so is he. As a foundation that's all we need.

The glass-floored viewing platform that clearly freaked me out and amused my boyfriend

To Be Continued…