My alarm clock rings, it’s morning already, and I am hearing the same ringtone I have heard all semester. It’s seven in the morning in Shanghai, and the sunshine bleeding through the thin curtains of my apartment in YangPu tell me it’s time to start my day. I hop in the shower, get dressed in my “I need to do my laundry” outfit that everyone on the planet has. Mine just happens to consist of Thailand parachute pants and an old football shirt. An outfit I would call 最舒服 (zui-shu’fu- the most comfortable). I walk down the driveway of Tonghe International Student Apartments, and take a left out of the complex. If this were the afternoon, I would normally take a right and get to class all the quicker. But it’s morning and that means it’s time for breakfast - it’s time for egg man. Egg man is the nickname given to the man that cooks only one thing…the coveted 煎饼 (Jian’Bing) - a thin crepe-like pancake made of millet flour and cooked on a heavy metal plate kept hot by a charcoal fire underneath.
The Egg Man, AKA Li Fei, has become a good friend of the foreigners that visit his stand every morning. Li Fei starts his day at five in the morning and cooks until he runs out of pancake batter around eleven o’clock. Cordially greeting us every morning with a 早上好 (zao’shang’hao- good morning) and a smile, Li Fei works his magic. He starts with the millet flour batter that he scoops out of a massive pot to his left and glops onto the heavy metal plate. The batter sizzles as he quickly takes a flat piece of wood and spreads it thin across the surface of the plate. He then asks the only question a meat head weight lifter wants to hear in the morning - “how many eggs?” I always order five eggs and am always met by gasps from the local Chinese people behind me.
“Five eggs?!” they say. “One egg is more than enough, your heart will not take it.” Although back home I only eat egg whites, here in China I make an exception. Egg Man doesn't deal in Egg Whites so neither do I. I explain my situation to the crowd, and Egg Man follows up by telling them that Americans like a lot of eggs in the morning, because they like to train their body at the gym. Their questions persist, as the egg man continues his process. I tell them that, although Americans like to go running, we also like to lift weights at the gym, and this requires a lot of protein. After a few more questions, they normally end with some sort of “your Chinese is so good!”comment, but by then I have already refocused my attention on the Egg Man and his mesmerizing routine.
He throws onions and chives on top of the eggs he has cracked and spread onto the pancake. He waits a moment, and then takes a scraper and runs it along the sides of the pancake. This lifts the pancake off the griddle before he folds it in half. After that, he spreads on a purple gelatinous mixture. At first I assumed it was red bean, but I later found out it was fermented sweet plum. Either way, the mixture is delicious. After he spreads that on one side, he adds a bit of spice and two strips of crunchy rice noodles that resemble larger versions of wonton soup noodles from back home. Li Fei folds it over one more time, cuts it in half with the scraper, and tosses it in a bag to go.
I smile, thank him, and finish by saying see you tomorrow. And I will of course - Egg Man is the best breakfast on the block. And Li Fei only charges about eight kuai for my five egg jian bing (about $1.30 USD). After that, my walk continues - I’m off to Chinese class. As I worry about how prepared I am for my upcoming quiz, one things for sure, this jian bing is as delicious as always. It’s a little hard to have a bad day after a run in with Li Fei and the best jian bing in Shanghai.
China is one of the craziest, most fun, and challenging place I have ever lived. While in China I visited six provinces, twelve cities, three villages, three holy mountains, and so many temples I can’t even count. I met people from China, Tibet, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, The Philippines, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, Norway, Finland, Taiwan, Sweden, the UK, Niger, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Ecuador, Germany, and everywhere in between. I made custom suits at the fabric market, I lived on a tea plantation, I briefly joined a family of goats, I was valued for a marriage dowry of at least four yaks, I ate some of the best and worst food in my life, I taught English to migrant children, I met friends that will last a lifetime, and most importantly I accomplished my goal of improving my Chinese language to a point where I can navigate most conversations. I loved it all, and I can’t wait to go back. I would highly recommend visiting, and when you do visit, see as much of the country as you can. Whether it’s making sure you meet up with the Egg Man every morning or it’s planning an adventure into the wild west of China, wake up every morning ready to chase after life with all you have and leave any reservations you had of coming to China on the plane when you arrive. You won’t be needing them, my advice for you prospective traveler, is simply dive in and “when in China do as the Chinese do.” (“入乡随俗”，ru’xiang’sui’su).
Nick Henderson '17
Term Abroad: Spring 2016 & Summer 2016
Weis College House
Minor: International Studies