Shanghai’s Redeeming Factor: The Noodle Lady
The first step to recovery is a bowl of Noodles.
One simple bowl of delicious noodles helped to mend my broken trust in Shanghai and its locals. After the tea ceremony scam experience I had my first day in Shanghai, I really didn’t think I could recuperate that trust or feel interest in the Chinese culture. I was hesitant to leave my hostel. I felt everybody was out to cause me harm. Curiosity no longer fuelled my thoughts, and diminished my desire to explore.
But as I lay on my top bunk, engrossed in a fantasy world provided by my Kindle, hunger pained my stomach to the point I had to feed myself. No restaurant or bar adjacent to my hostel meant I had to leave the safety my hostel provided and go back into the city I now deeply abhor. I couldn’t remedy my distaste for the two locals who scammed me and I blamed the entire city. But I had to go back out. I had to eat.
I bundled up, shoved a few Chinese Yuan notes deep in an interior pocket, left my purse safely stowed in my locker in my safe hostel, and stepped foot outside once again. It was dark. I started a brisk pace and kept my eyes downcast. I was hungry. I needed food. I would make it quick; Find a small stall or a corner store, in and out, back to my hostel. I turned the corner onto a smaller street and my eyes were drawn to the few lights on the street. A small cubby restaurant. A lady standing over a steaming pot. Noodles. I like Noodles.
I scoot over to the lady. Stare at the giant pot of brown liquid bowling with 5 ladles draped over the side. Bowls, Spices, Noodles. I look up and she’s smiling. She tries to speak to me. I smile back and say Sorry in English. My uproarious stomach acts as a universal signal and signifies I’m starved.
She hands me a little green basket and points to a wall cooler filled with more baskets. My basket is empty but those baskets are filled. With mushrooms, sprouts, lettuce, and many things I couldn’t identify. I ogle at the selection. The lady sidles up beside me and smiles again; she begins to fill my bowl with things. I only translated one word into Mandarin on the plane: 素(vegetarian) pronounced so. It comes in handy tonight. She leaves me with my bowl and returns to concocting soup and noodles for other customers who have appeared out of the darkness on this quiet street.
Contrary to common thought, the darkness makes me feel safer right now. As if hiding all of the hate I’m holding; Lighting up only this Noodle shop on the quiet street. With the nice smiling lady. Hunger has managed to repress those hurt feelings. And while those feelings were temporarily stilled, the Noodle lady’s kindness seeps into me and I feel I can trust her. It is only a bowl of noodles. A simple thing really. And yet, at this time, with these feelings, it is helping to heal the wound.
I stand watch as my basket of goodness is dumped into the brown liquid and cooks. Steam drifting away into the night air. The lady is smiling at me again. She’s trying to speak without words. We have no common language. She points to herself and points down, then points to me and shrugs her shoulder. I think she’s asking where are you from? I draw a Canadian flag on a scrap of paper and show it to her. She smiles. I smile. I don’t know if she understands or if I understood, but the smiling is communication enough.
She hands me my bowl of soup and walks me up the stairs. Places a spoon and chopsticks next to my hand. I grasp it. She watches as I take my first slurp of soup. My taste buds are pleased. My stomach is satisfied. I wipe my face of wayward liquid and smile up appreciatively.
As I finish my bowl and walk away I realize: The noodles did more than satisfy my hunger, they helped repair a part of me that felt broken. She helped me.