Of Charming Discoveries and Conversationless Explorations in Golden Shanghai

I may be inhibited with my attire, but I’m not uninhibited with my words. Because nobody has told me my mind doesn’t work right.

I was finding newfound wisdom in the nondescript streets of Shanghai, where, despite not understanding any street signs nor the topography of the city, it was penultimately the biggest test of my wit and confidence. I voyaged through architectural familiarity, through signage, and most importantly through the power of eye contact and emotional intelligence. I am an inhibited person with a chaotic mind.

The experience reminded me that people talk a lot but they have very few conversations. How else would one explain my favorite times in the gritty Old City of Shanghai and the design distinctness of the French Concession? The former, with its gigantic gold cats and lions which had been imitated worldwide, and the latter with its curious name from The foreign concession that ended in 1943 after almost a century, with signs of foreign architecture intermingled with Asian flair. There was an Indian Ganesh sculpture adjacent to the historic Gold Temple, the classic architecture alongside Brooklyn style graffiti cars, and so much more cultural finesse that was in stark juxtaposition with my very Western Balmain leather tank and Retro Super Future eyewear.

People are megalomaniacs, someone once told me – it all ends up with conversations about themselves. In that sense, I was in a deep conversation with myself, despite having eye contact and body language communicating with the many strangers around me. But where it came to talking about me, I could not refrain from diving into indulgent local bites, albeit bound by Grandma’s Kitchen, an outpost of which I had already salivated over in Hangzhou. Complete with dragonfly china and familiar vegetarian dishes.

There was the Chinese yam with osmanthus sauce, with it’s apricot-flavored sauce, again in cuboids and architectural blocks that made for easy gorging. I even gobbled the classically more Indianized dish of sautéed potatoes with pepper iron wok. Some of these were tossed in gram flour like Indian bhajia, and to my surprise, some even contained purple potato!

The newer dishes included a baby soft tofu in soy, which almost melted like savory milky ice cream in my mouth and on the plate – a juxtaposition that was no match for words. The peanut soy lettuce almost tasted like a Western adaptation, saved by its strong sense of Chinese spices, distinct only by the visible chunks of spice, not a mix.

The browned firm tofu was a pleasant surprise, sans any salty or sweet flavor, with a purity that was evident from its velvety texture. Quite the contrast to the deliciously fried soy and peanut bread crumbs, retaining their softness and with their starch cut by a slice of fresh citrus.

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

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