Seated in a booth at a café on Nanjing Lu, I sipped my coffee while watching the Chinese embrace Valentines Day outside. People were passing out flyers, electronic boards flashed their messages, and store fronts were plastered with advertisements. The messages were diverse - Buy a box of chocolates and get one box free, buy an overpriced sort-of-real Gucci bag and a girl will love you, buy a tube of whitening cream to make you more beautiful so that a man will love you, buy virility tea to make your more potent so that a woman will love you - but they all made a direct correlation between commercialism and the eternal happiness. Of course, such happiness can only be found on this particular day and one would be wise to dismiss the other 364.
I sighed and looked around the café, taking a magazine off the rack. I wondered whether anything related to Valentines Day would be posted but alas, I was disappointed to find the standard array of special-massage-dancing-talking services advertised. However, the following personals were amusing: (1)Seeking Large Shapely Lady - I’m seeking an Asian or foreign lady based in Shanghai from 20-50 for mutual pleasures, kissing and cuddling. I’m a fit and well-endowed man seeking a hygienic woman…… (2)Friends -…..For sure I still desire to meet someone must be deep inside. We are not animal though sex is a very good part of our life. (3)Looking for Lose Weight Partner - I’m fat, young Chinese girl. I wanna lose weight, but my mama always said that I lack perseverance so I need a partner, that we can help each other, and pushed each other to win. We can get up early and running in the park.
The waitress came by with the special menu and I declined the heart shaped hamburger.
The moment I opened the door of the cafe to exit, I was accosted by numerous street vendors encouraging me to purchase cheap-locally-produced-teddy-bears-with-giant-hearts-on-their-bellies. Since they were pulling along a massive trolley about 20 feet high and laden with an array of stuffed animals (almost all had some association with Hello Kitty), I was able to escape quite easily. As I walked away a woman came bicycling towards me - and towards traffic - waving her free arm and ferociously shouting “Buy flowers lady.” I had seen her before on our road, always dressed in the same torn plaid jacket and animal patterned pajama bottoms. Her skin was darkened and its texture was cracked and course, her fingers short and calloused, and her stout muscular legs were bowed. When she smiled she did not cover her mouth, revealing her missing bottom teeth to all who passed. I looked at her flowers and was not surprised to find that each was individually wrapped in red cellophane paper.
I considered traveling to People's Park to witness the weekly parental match-making festivities. Chinese parents gather in the park to exchange photos and personal profiles (yes, they print and distribute explicit information). For example, a mother who is searching for a wife for her son may include his salary and car model. If he has passed the ‘expiration date’ she will openly accept a divorced woman. Parents run amuck, notebooks in hand, jotting down notes regarding their children’s potential suitor. Often times the child is abroad and unaware that he or she is being bargained away under the umbrella of the plum trees. There is an interesting clash between those who remain sentimental to the past and those who embrace Western ways yet still absorb the weight of their past lives.
That evening Andy and I, along with Amai and Kaspar, were invited to Cristina and Inigos home for a ‘Jamon Serrano and Foie Gras’ party. I was pleased to see that Cristina did not serve heart shaped foie gras.