As this was my last day in Shanghai I decided to get in a little shopping before heading to my mid-day meetings. Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s premier shopping area, is not far from my hotel, and the weather was perfect, so I set off on foot to rid myself of my remaining Yuan.
Nanjing Road features every conceivable store imaginable, from upscale clothing stores like Armani, to health and beauty stores like Sephora, to local artisans and merchants. It also has three McDonalds.
I didn’t realize I was having a Big Mac attack until I spotted the golden arches. Suddenly a happy meal sounded like the best thing on the planet. I darted in and eagerly placed my order.
While enjoying my burger I spotted another American sitting down with his food. I was appalled. How pathetic! You’re on vacation in Shanghai and you go to a McDonalds? Ignorant peasant! Surrounded by all this culture and spectacular food and he chooses McDonalds?? Bah!
I was thoroughly enjoying my contempt when it occurred to me I was having exactly the same meal. I assured myself that I had a far better reason for being there than he; after all, I’d been on the road for near a month. He had obviously just gotten off the plane and headed straight for the closest fast food joint.
Try as I might, I wasn’t able to make myself really believe that. On my way out I decided I’d better apologize for thinking him an ignorant peasant.
He wanted to be offended by this, but his larger concern lay in determining how I’d gotten a day pass from the asylum. I figured I’d better tell him the whole story, sure he’d laugh along with me, but this only further convinced him I wasn’t playing with a full deck. He bolted from the restaurant, leaving his half-eaten Quarter Pounder behind.
I felt bad for having ruined his meal, so I scooped up the sandwich and followed him into the street.
I fear the sight of the lunatic chasing him down Nanjing Road clutching his abandoned lunch may have traumatized him for life.
As afternoon turned to evening I met some friends and caught the ferry from the Bund to the Pudong side of Shanghai. The riverfront redevelopment at the Bund is splendid, and watching the sun set behind the skyscrapers from the river was a fantastic way to wrap up my last day in China.
For dinner I was invited to a friend’s home. I wanted to bring a bottle of wine, but my friends explained that in China it’s not proper to take wine; here it’s traditional to bring fruit.
At a street-side fruit market we bought bananas, strawberries, a watermelon and two dozen mangos. The shopkeeper wrapped it extravagantly in a basket replete with ribbons and bows.
When they saw how much I’d paid my friends were outraged, assuring me I’d been ripped off.
It was $7.
The dinner menu was fairly mundane compared to most this trip, and was very good, but I couldn’t get the delicious Big Mac out of my head. I’ve been so busy these past weeks I’ve barely had time to catch my breath, much less ponder what I wasn’t eating. It occurred to me that I was really craving American food.
And what I was craving was a taco and cheese dip from La Parrilla, or fried lobster sushi at Thai Spice, or the Santa Fe Salad at Cheesecake Factory.
Maybe what I’m missing isn’t American food after all.
Maybe what I’m missing is Home.