February 24, 2008

Missing

Posted in life tagged at 5:16 am by coolkid

I still can’t get over the fact that Mr. Hu, our family friend, has passed away. It was last Nov. Mom called and told me about this bad news. I was totally phased out. My mind was totally blank. He was only 54.To me, he was the closest friend to my family. We lived in the same neighborhood. Her daughter and I have known each other since kindergarten. We became very close friends, so were our parents.

Mr. Hu was a truck driver. In late 80s and early 90s of China, not many people had driver’s licenses. Every summer, he would drive his truck and sent us watermelons and other fruits. He also took us to nearby resorts for vacations.

In the lazy days of the summer, we visited each other every day. Our houses were about five minutes’ walk. Two families would spend the whole night chatting and laughing. Mr. Hu was a quiet person. He always smiled and listened to our conversations. I can’t count how many summers were spent like this. 10 -12 years, maybe. My family moved to a new apartment when I went to the college. After that, we did not really visit each other as often as before.

Mr. Hu was not lucky. He kept losing his job due to his asthma conditions. My mom introduced him to several jobs. He worked for year or two. Bosses were always satisfied but finally fired him because of his health. Mrs. Hu was diagnosed cervical cancer and chemos made her sick and quit her job. That was the hardest time in their life. They just bought a new house and mortgage was not yet paid. My parents tries to help them financially. They always turned them down, saying. “Your daughter is still in college. The tuition is expensive.” Even though I told them my scholarship covered my tuition. They would not accept our help.

After that, I went to America. In 2006, I went back to China and visited the Hus.

Mr. Hu obviously lost some weight. He used to be a big man. Now he seemed to be a size smaller. Mrs. Hu earned her living by babysitting. They looked really tired. A week before my departure to the US. They came to our apartment to visit us. We had a very happy chat. I showed them the clips I took in the US. Everybody was so happy. Everything seems to be back to the good old days. Mrs. Hu bought a papaya, our favorite fruit. Me and mom loved it very much.

When they left, Mr. Hu said to me: “come visit us next time when you come back. We all miss you very much.”

And I would never know that was the last time I saw him.

Mr. Hu went to work as usual. Suddenly, he felt his chest was extremely painful. He parked his car and struggled back to his house.

His wife heard his scream and went down to see what’s happening. She saw her husband lying down on the ground, not breathing. She called the ambulance, but everything was too late. We lost him.

It turns out Mr. Hu had a heart attack three months ago. But he did not let anyone know. He went to the pharmacy, bought bottles of OTC aspirins. That was his heart attack prevention.

After the funeral, my mom browsed through old photo albums. She called me and said:” Honey, you know what, The pictures you took with Mr. Hu are more than those you took with your Dad. There were almost hundreds of his pictures in our album. ”

That is true. Mr. Hu is an indispensable part of our family life. He was a true friend.

And life is so unfair to take him away. or maybe God loves him so much and asked him to heaven so early. Even though I was not a religious person. When I think about this. my sad heart start to recover a little.

I am sure he is looking at us from high above

February 23, 2008

The Memory of the Old Noodle House

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:45 pm by coolkid

I lived in an old neighborhood in the Old Town part of Shanghai for 19 years. There was an Islamic noodle house across the street from where I lived. The neighborhood had a large population of Muslims. I have many Muslim friends throughout my childhood and teenager years. We even had an Islamic Temple and it is just two blocks away from my house. The temple was called Xiao Tao Yuan Islamic Temple, Xiao Tao Yuan means “Small Peach Garden” in Chinese. Because of the temple, we called the noodle house “Xiao Tao Yuan Noodle House”

We did not know if the noodle house was owned by this temple. Ten years ago there was even an Muslim food store across the street of the temple, but it was closed. Anyway, the noodle house was a great hang out place for Muslims and Chinese in this neighborhood. The house was not big and could only hold 10 tables. It was always crowded. The noodle house provided take out service too. All you have to do is just bring your own bowl or plastic container. Cook would pour warm and hot noodles into your container of choice. You told the cashier how many noodles you want, usually in traditional Chinese weight measurement of “Liang”, 1 Liang equals to 0.05Kg. Usually people would ask for 2 Liang or 3 Liang of noodles, and server would give them what they want.

Back then, my breakfast could have several combinations. I could have milk and a small loaf of bread, or beef noodle or rice with some veggies. I did not drink milk everyday because milk was still expensive at that time. Beef noodle with curry was my favorite in the winter because it warmed me up. It was also very cheap. With 3 Chinese RMB (equal to 0.4 US dollars) we can buy 3 Liang of beef noodles. 2 Liang of noodle was 3 RMB. When I was around 10 I could only have 2 Liang, but as soon as I went to junior high school I started to eat 3 Liang of noodles. That was a lot for a teen. Sometimes even an adult cannot handle that much of noodle. My Mom always joked that this beef noodles buffed me up from a slender little girl into an athletic muscular woman.

For quite a long time the noodle cook was an old woman. We did not know her name but she looked like a Muslim. She was generous to me, every time we went to buy noodle she would say to me :”Eat as much as you can, you are at a growing-up stage and you need nutritions”. So I did. She gave us lots of beef and noodles, probably more than what we asked. I always joked that beef noodle to me was like spinach to Popeye. I just got powered up and became energetic.

We did not move out of the neighborhood until the freshman year of my college. I had this classmate from my department. He was from Yemen. So I took him around my neighborhood on a holiday. I took him to the noodle house for the beef noodles. He loved it. I also asked him about those Arabic characters written under its Chinese name sign of the restaurant. He said it just said “Islamic Noodle House”, not like the restaurants nowadays having fancy and weird signs. This one was so simple and straightforward.

After I got into college, we still had noodle during the weekend. At that time the old lady got retired and replaced by a young man. He did not give us as much noodle as the old lady did. My Mom complained. I thought their business might not be as good as before. As lots of people moved out of this neighborhood over the years. And some regular customers passed away.

In 2006 when I went back to China, the noodle house was still there while most of constructions nearby was pulled down. Some real estate company bought the whole neighborhood including my old townhouse. They wanted to build an upper scale apartment residency in this place. They cannot touch the noodle house because the cleric in the church asking the government to protect it. But last year they cannot protect the noodle house any more. So It was gone too, with all my memory of the restaurant.

Through the years I have been to many noodle houses around China and the US. I still like to order curry beef noodles but they never taste as good as my old noodle house. Maybe because it has all my childhood memory in it, which you cannot find in other restaurants.