The Loving Hut

photo Two years ago, while visiting Shanghai, I had a saying that went somewhere along the lines of, “Fruits, salad, bread and beer.” At the time, I didn’t know much about where to go or what to ask for, but I knew that most everything I experienced in China was cooked with or based around unusual (to a Westerner) meat, such as chicken feet, pig’s face and scorpions. This time, I vowed to myself to bring plenty of Clif Bars and stick with what I was certain would not be a foreign meat in some rare form.

Then Leigh Ramsdell went on Happy Cow, and we decided to do a little exploring. Happy Cow is a Web site that allows users to list, rate and review vegetarian restaurants the world over. As it happened, Shanghai had a few vegan-friendly restaurants, so we got Chinese directions from the hotel concierge and headed out.

The first place we visited, a restaurant about two miles from the hotel, looked a bit suspect. But the one English word the wait staff could speak was, “Ve-gan,” and that’s all it took. There was no English on the menus, and the waiter used his phone to translate what the pictures we pointed at on the menu were. I would point at a picture, he would type Chinese into his phone, then let me look at the English translation. The first picture I pointed at, I thought was a pretty simple mixture of tofu and vegetables. When he showed me his phone, it read “Fungus flower,” which I took to mean mushrooms.

In the end, we played it safe, pointed at two dishes and hoped for the best. The first dish, a mix of chili peppers, peanuts and mock chicken (we hoped) was really good, but the next dish threw us off. At first we thought it was a mix of mock chicken and green beans. I grabbed some green beans with my chopsticks and dug in. But the green beans were hot peppers. Hotter than most things I’m accustomed to eating. Our mouths roared with fire, but we continued picking at the dishes and determined that things were okay, even with a huge communication barrier.

The next night, we tried a new place. Called The Loving Hut, the restaurant quickly became a daily destination for us. The food was cheap and the friendly proprietor didn’t mind tossing his English skills around with us. They even had an English section on the menu, meaning we knew what we getting into now. (Sorry, we’re dumb Americans.)

My first night, I had traditional Chinese noodles and the same combination of chili peppers, peanuts and mock chicken from the other restaurant. The traditional noodle were akin to American lo-mein, but the Chinese American taste in China spared me from a week of straight fruits, vegetables and bread, and I was glad for that. The rest of the week, we feasted on fried mock pork cutlets, curried potatoes, something that tasted exactly like chow mein, various soups, flatbread and mock meats. When we would finish, the staff would politely wish us a good night and ask for us to come back.

The walk back from The Loving Hut to the hotel took about 20 minutes each night, and along the way, we would buy cheap beer while peering into the market windows of the many shops and restaurants along the road, as children from the shops played on the bustling sidewalk. Occasionally, we would stop and marvel at a “Strong Man” condom machine placed on a wall around a sharp corner in the road, but mostly, we were just glad that The Loving Hut was there to feed us.

The “I” In Traffic

leighOn Friday, June 4, during a short bike ride through midtown Manhattan, a pedestrian walked straight into me while I was stopped a traffic light. He was composing a text message on his phone and not paying attention to where he was walking. The pedestrian tripped forward over my front wheel, fell onto a Park Ave. sidewalk and looked back at me, yelling, “Watch where you’re going asshole!”

I smiled and nodded at him, then pedaled away when the light turned green. Normally, I would’ve verbally retaliated with something along the lines of “You walked into me. Why don’t you pay attention to where you’re walking?” But things were different now. I had just returned from a week long excursion in Shanghai, China, and I had learned not to take my position on the road personally.

Shanghai’s streets are overrun with a mix of speeding cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, scooter, pedi-cabs, rickshaws and pedestrians. Traffic lights aren’t necessarily obeyed, obsessive honking isn’t unusual, and spotting a bike with a payload of a refrigerator and an oven on the back is more common than finding a restaurant with dog meat on the menu. Entering into a deluge of vehicles on an overcrowded Shanghai street, is, at first glance, an unspoken entrance into mass chaos. But within that chaos exists order; one just needs to not search too deep for it.

For starters, you need to change the way you view your self, or better yet, completely stop. Because less emphasis is placed on the individual in traditional Chinese culture, the rules of the road reflect a more communal approach to life, aspiring to a sort of harmonious interdependence. It is not “You versus the rest of the people on the road.” It is “You and the rest of the people on the road.” Nor is it, “Get out of my way so I can get to my destination.” It is, “Let’s keep this thing going so we can all get where we need to go.” The ramifications of this approach of getting from point A to point B manifests itself in many ways. But perhaps the most important (and my favorite) aspect of this approach is the lack of anger and aggression on the road. (A by-product of no selfishness.)

So on a random Shanghai street, with all manners of vehicles noisily buzzing to and from their destinations with little regard for Westernized traffic rules, it’s important to remember to not internalize your fellow driver’s actions as personal attacks on the self. This is all of us just doing what we can to get from one point to another, together. And that’s why I didn’t get angry at the pedestrian calling me an asshole, back at home in New York.