I was almost pickpocketed today. John and I were on our way to meet up with Wang Jian and his wife Ya-Ya at the Pacific Hotel (where we stayed in September). It’s location alongside Nanjing Xi Rd. has always been a bustling spot in the city… just across the street from People’s Square and near a shopping distrcit where plenty of foreigners drop some dough. We got off the metro and walked through the square, passing three unkept women, each carrying a toddler. They seemed to know one another– could have been part of some organized begging operation which I’ve been told is common here… but as I continued walking, all I could dwell on was the children. Certainly SH is like many cities with the blatant and uncomfortable juxtaposition of affluence and poverty. There are beggars everywhere, but what I find most disheartening are the child beggars. Sometimes they are just so painfully young… maybe only two or three years old. They sit on the sidewalk for hours each evening, with a cup in front. There’s no harassment, no clamoring for coins, just a lifeless steady stare straight ahead and cheeks burning red from the cold. I was carrying this image in my head when suddenly John turned and said, “Watch your bag!” I looked to my left and what I had dismissed as a shadow shrank back into a small dark figure. I turned around to find a frightened 5-year old boy. He said “hallo” and then quickly turned back. I looked down at my purse and saw that the zipper had been pulled halfway. I had no idea someone had been tagging along so closely. Fortunately, nothing was taken… but the scare of nearly losing my passport or ID has now prompted me to put a small combo luggage lock on my purse.
So we went out to a Mongolian restaurant for dinner with WJ and YY. The restaurant had a really rugged, frontier-feel to it with large tree stumps for chairs and fur pelts hanging everywhere. The food was good though… always is so long as someone else orders. Afterwards, we went to a tea house on Hengshan Rd.–formerly the most popular late-night street (but now surpassed by the trendy Xintiandi). We had wulong tea, prepared and served in that special tea-pouring sequence (which includes rinsing/warming the tea cups, washing the tea leaves, pouring into the fragrance cups, inverting it with a regular tea cup, and passing the cups out on wooden coasters). Had some snacks with the tea too… mini-walnuts, pistachios, and sour plums. Over tea, we saw their digital honeymoon pictures from Phuket Island, Thailand. They went in November and it looked so warm and sunny and beautiful. I think John and I are going to have to take a trip somewhere warm during this bitter winter.