The next day Ruby said we would go shopping again, but this time in some historic district.
“Are you sure they need to go shopping again?” my father asked. Jim glared at him.
“This is a historic district,” Ruby said. “You will see old Shanghai.”
“We can see old Shanghai without buying anything,” my father grumbled.
The historic district had a lot of classic Chinese architecture and sculptures of dragons and things. It was also extremely crowded and full of tiny shops that could only fit about six people.
“We’re basically going to have to split up,” my mother said. “I don’t think any of these shops will fit all of us.”
“Really? That’s just terrible,” Jim said, leading Ruby away by the arm. “You all have cell phones, call me when you’re ready to leave, bye!”
“Wait, we don’t know Chinese,” my father said, but Jim and Ruby had vanished into the crowd.
“Okay, cool,” Margo said. “I guess that means we just go wherever we want, then?”
“I want to go over there,” I said, pointing at a shop full of musical instruments. “Is that like a Chinese violin in the window?”
Margo grabbed my hand and started pulling me through the crowd. We slid past some people into the store. There were a lot of intricately carved instruments that looked like flutes and some stringed instruments on the wall. Some were long and thin and mostly strings, and some looked more like violins. After that we went to a fan shop and a shop that served food on a stick.
“Hey, you like crawfish,” Margo said. “You should get one of those crawfish on a stick.”
“Why don’t you get one of those fried dough things?” I countered. “Those look really good.”
We both settled for lemonade with some pinkish fruit squeezed into it.
After that we wandered down an alleyway onto a street that was smaller but not as crowded. A lot of the shops had items with poorly-translated English on them. Margo found a card with a cat in a communist hat on it. It said “Chairman Meow: Dog my Cats if I Want!” We both needed one of those.
I found an enormous table of playing cards. The table had two surfaces, a lower and a higher, and they were both covered in playing cards stacked about twenty deep. There were playing cards in every possible theme: Pokémon, European paintings, Chinese landmarks, squirrel-shaped novelty ornaments. They weren’t arranged in any particular order, so I started burrowing through them. Near the bottom of the pile, I made an amazing discovery.
“Margo!” I called. “Holy shit, Margo, get over here!”
“What’s up?” Margo asked, surfacing beside me.
I showed her the box of cards. It had a smiling man in a communist uniform giving a salute and the words “Red Years” in a big red font.
“Dibs,” Margo and I said at the same time.
“You can’t call dibs,” I objected. “I found them. I was just showing them to you.”
“Then why were you calling dibs?”
“Look, let’s see if there are more in the pile. Maybe there are two.”
We spent the next fifteen minutes or so burrowing in the enormous stack of playing cards.
“I got one!” Margo shouted, surfacing with one called Red Age.
“That one’s a little different,” I said, holding my deck next to it. “But I think they’re from the same series.”
“This is the greatest thing in the world,” Margo said. “I need a pack of these for everyone I know.”
By the time we left the store, between us we had eight decks of communist playing cards called Red Years, Red Age, and Red Memory. We wandered around for a while longer until Margo gasped and pulled me down a side street to a front window with a clothing display. “I want. That. Shirt,” she said.
The shirt had a stylized eagle on it and said “Reliable Young.”
“It’s me as a shirt,” Margo said. “I’m reliable. I’m young.”
“You are not reliable,” I said.
“I’m getting that shirt,” Margo said.
When we left the store, Margo was wearing “Reliable Young” and I was the proud owner of a shirt that said “Salad Head.”
“You’ve got to see what we found,” Margo said over lunch, pulling out the playing cards. “Look at these!”
“Are those… communist playing cards?” Jim asked.
“Hell yeah!” I said. My mother rolled her eyes. Ruby slurped her noodles with a confused expression.
“You’ve gotta hear this,” I said, turning over the box. I read: “The Culture Revolution has ended for 30 years. The discussion about it has lasting for 30 years.”
“You paid money for these,” my father said.
“Alas,” I said. “Capitalism.”
“Hey, look, the cards have writing on them,” Margo said. She read: “‘A triumphant song ascends to the sky above the workers.’ This is the best money I’ve ever spent.”
“This is why I say David Letterman ruined American humor,” my father said. “It’s not enough for things to be funny anymore. They have to be ironic.”
“I never understand what your family is talking about,” Ruby told my brother conversationally. “I do not think it is my English ability.”
“‘You should care about national polity, and thoroughly perform the proletarian literary revolution,’” Margo read off a card.
My grandmother slapped a twenty-dollar-bill onto the table. “Deal me in.”