Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

006 : Rose Longhurst outside the Family Mart on Zhangyang Lu, Pudong
Born in 1982 in London, Rose Longhurst currently works as a charity worker. Why Shanghai? It’s somewhere you can achieve anything. She digs the following Shanghai bits: the markets, KTV, the optimism, the street food, the safety. She is, however, a bit miffed by the spitting, the inequality, the expats, the traffic, the pollution. For more info on Rose Longhurst you should send an email.

image: T. Gao

“As we all stare at her open-mouthed, she starts to beg like a dog, barking and licking my hand. ”

It’s the early hours of the morning and we’re outside the Family Mart[1] in Pudong. In the moments before light breaks the enormous streets are empty, parallel lines running into the distance mirroring the sharp silhouettes of the buildings shooting off into the sky. Apart from the occasional tai-chi practitioner, our group are the only people breaking the silence, as the city is on the brink of stirring.

We’re in limbo also. Neither happily drunk nor queasily remorseful, we’re unwilling to let go of the night we’ve just shared, but wary of being present when the city wakes. We can sense the clocks uniformly ticking toward alarms, but for now our peace is only disturbed by the repetitive tinny jingle emanating from the Family Mart entrance as we sit on the cool marble steps outside, eating unidentifiable fried food with our hands. The street cooking is what brings us here, and I’m in the process of negotiating a meal.

There are two types of food-vendor[2] outside Family Mart: the lady with the things speared on sticks, and a woman with a large table covered in bowls of raw meat, vegetables and rice.

Tonight I’m eschewing my usual order of ‘miscellaneous green root on a stick’ for the more substantial offers of the fried-rice vendor. I’m looking at a bowl of what appears to be bamboo shoots, but I’m wary, having recently been given chicken as a vegetarian option in a restaurant. Despite my best efforts, the stall owner is unable to comprehend my basic Mandarin, and after several attempts at “Is this vegetarian?” and “Is this meat?” I resorted to just naming animals while pointing at the bowl desperately. She stares at me blankly.

My Italian friend, who speaks no Chinese and yet seems to have fared well during her time here, comes over to see if progress can be made utilising her significant sign-language skills. As physically expressive as the Italians often are, none of our group are expecting the elaborate mime that then follows. Like a parody of a street-performer, she begins to silently portray a tree growing, starting as a seed emerging from the earth, twisting upwards. As we all stare at her open-mouthed, she then starts to beg like a dog, barking and licking my hand.

We’re all entranced, street-food vendors and European students alike, as she furiously mimes various animals and plants. The vendor doesn’t have the slightest hint of recognition in her eyes; she looks confused, nervous almost, and this charade continues until a Chinese-speaking friend arrives.

“What’s Elena doing?” she asks me.

“Trying to ascertain whether it’s bamboo shoots in that bowl”, I respond.

Everyone holds their breath. Finally, someone who can break the stalemate. This futile exchange can come to an end, and the catharsis of a question answered will buoy the dying embers of our evening.

Words are exchanged with the vendor.

“She says it’s pig intestine.”

referenced works

  1. Family Mart is a popular Japanese convenience store chain with operations in Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and China. In Shanghai, it’s 24-hour outlets can be found all over the city.

  2. Food vendors can be found on the streets of Shanghai at all hours of the day. Depending on the time, the goods on offer differ. In the morning, for example, different types of dumplings, breads and drink are offered; late night, some vendors bring out simple coal-fired barbeques to cook up assorted meats-on-sticks, while others set up wok-stations with sundry bowls of noodles, rice, meats, and vegetables from which customers can pick and choose to make a customized meal – all for roughly RMB 4 (USD 0.60) or less a bowl.

location information

  • Name: the Family Mart on Zhangyang Lu
  • Address: Zhangyang Lu, Pudong
  • Time of story: Late NIght
  • Latitude: 31.228500
  • Longitude: 121.519100
  • Map: Google Maps



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