Friday, September 22, 2023


There are times when I wished I had spent more time trying to learn Shanghainese. Years ago I knew several people from Shanghai, and if I had studied their language assiduously it would have stood me in good stead. Understanding what the two elderly ladies said would have been far more "data rich" than just imagining a series of badly translated subtitles.

It started when one of them dozed off at her table after kvetching. When the other one at a nearby table noticed, she reached over with her walking stick and gave her a poke.


Imaginary dialogue: "Hey, are you asleep? Don't fall asleep!" "I wasn't sleeping, I was thinking about food" (Chinese people often think about food, the same way rednecks think about beer, pickup trucks, and the city of Denver). "Oh yeah, what kind of food?" "Hairy crab and pan-fried little buns." "Hmmph, it looked like you were out of it, a senile moment hah?" "What are you waffling about? It was hairy crabs, I tell you!" "You wouldn't know a hairy crab if it came up and bit you in the hoo-hah!"

Point is, I have no clue what either of them said. Indistinct hissing and grumbling. Sounding for all the world like bad-tempered soda water siphons. They could have been talking about hairy crabs. Shanghai is famous for those.

They both looked old enough to have been lively young things in slutty cheongsams dancing at a night club back in the fifties, when North Point was still a Shanghai in Hong Kong. They had probably been going to the same hair salon since coming to the States, likely brought over by relatives, by the time the dance halls, theatres, and boutiques established by exiles on the island were all closing and the community had melted into the surroundings. The hair salon is probably run by an old gentleman from Pudong, and caters primarily to other double transplants. There used to be several businesses run by Shanghainese in Chinatown.

There are no hairy crabs here. Nor Shanghainese nightclubs.

There were several more pokings with the stick.

And squawking or hissing comments.

Teatime was enjoyable.


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