January 31, 2008

Expats Anonymous

I have learned and memorized the phrase Wo ting bu dong Hanyu, or, "I don't understand Chinese." This is true. While I feel my vocabulary is crap and my pronunciation is okay, I have such trouble understanding people when they speak to me. Also handy is the phrase "Please speak a little slower," which I can't remember at the moment, but um ... I should :-)

Last night a couple of the expats and I went to the ShanghaiExpat mixer at Malone's in Puxi. We just wanted to see what it was like and what kind of people showed up. We got there around 8:45 and sat at a table talking. Around 9 or 9:15, people started showing up and milling around, but my co-workers and I were just sitting at our table - they were nursing drinks and I was eagerly awaiting my ice cream sundae (yes, the simple pleasures). It was taking awhile, and more people were showing up and talking in small groups, and I just felt stupid sitting there with these people I already know, like, you know, middle-school boys at prom. So I wandered over and started talking to people, pretty randomly, and I'd say that was very worthwhile :-) Definitely far more outgoing than I'd be in America (shit, I almost typed mei guo. It's going to be really hard to go back to thinking & speaking in English all the time in a couple months.)

Let's see: I met two Americans, a handful of British people, one Indian guy, and one Italian girl. Everyone was new to everyone else, so introductions were handled all around. It was pretty interesting talking to everyone about their experiences in Shanghai, why they came here, what they do here, when/if they plan to leave, and so on. Two of the British guys sort of just moved here randomly, one without even finishing high school. He dropped out, bought a one-way ticket to Beijing, stayed there for a week, then made his way down to Shanghai. He was only 18 at the time (he's 19 now) and didn't know anyone here or any Chinese at all. So, I mean, that's pretty impressive. I admire people who have the guts to do things like that. But that line of travel is definitely not for me :-)

Most of these people have been here at least six months: I think the Italian girl has been here the longest, one year in Xi'an and one year in Shanghai. So I think that when I spoke in Chinese to them I sounded like an overeager kindergartener showing off a new toy. (Actually that's how I feel anytime I speak Chinese, haha.) But lucky for me I have no shame, and even though some of the others were giggling, I kept on trying.

I mean, I'm not here to speak English -- not even at an expat gathering. The only way I'll get better is if I practice, and, you know, the whole city gets to be my scratch pad -- whether they are Chinese themselves or not :-) Expats, taxi drivers, waiters, random people on the street (okay, not them) -- I don't care. You're getting an earful of my Chinese, whether you like it or not :-) Especially if you are walking past me on my walk home from the metro, haha. That's when I'm apt to be practicing my tones and pronunciation, lol.

One of the other British guys has been here about a year and professed he cannot speak Chinese at all - he has been focusing on reading. He recently finished the latest Harry Potter book in Chinese, and he said it was extremely difficult. (Really??!)

Around midnight I realized what time it was and since I had to get up at 8 AM for a call from Austin, I decided to 23 skidoo.

(Okay, the only reason I wrote that sentence was so I could include "23 skidoo" in this blog. I need to convince my Chinese co-workers that people in American actually say that, so maybe they'll start including it in emails, hahaha.)

Anyway, so most of the expats were nice, but a couple definitely were jackasses. A microcosm of the universe if I ever saw one :-) I might go back this Wednesday, just because we're out of work and I might be able to enjoy myself more. But who knows.

I'm looking forward to spending a whole week exploring Shanghai and taking tons of pictures!

January 28, 2008

I Wish My Bathroom Looked Like That

I've never ever seen a bathroom sink that looked like this until Bonbon:

Notice the soap dispensers in the middle. The water drips down from the part that's attached to the ceiling. On the far right-hand corner is a tray with some towels on it where an attendant stands, dries your hands, and shoves a stick of Wrigley's in your mouth. Crazy.

I think the Blogspot template cuts off the pictures - so click it for the full view.

Let it Snow

While I'm still thinking about it, I want to document this random encounter I had outside the metro stop on the way home. First, we got let out of work at 3 PM because it had been snowing all night and all day. w00t. It really is beautiful, but my shoes are soggy and mushy from walking in all the slush :-( Everyone is saying how rare this is and how it never snows in Shanghai. I must say I feel very lucky to be here for this, except by "lucky" I mean "sodden." Haha. No, really, I haven't seen snowfall like this in about five or six years. And I haven't gotten out of work/school for snow since my internship during winter break 2000. I can't wait to walk outside tomorrow when it'll be nice and frozen from the overnight chill! And whoopdie-doo, it's supposed to be like this for the next week.

So I had an earlier-than-expected tutoring lesson with one of my co-workers (yep, I've got two tutors) where I spent half an hour trying to say zao and zui correctly. Yes, it's that tough :-) It's all about where you put the tip of your tongue. Also I have realized that I'm forcing it too hard because I want to say it correctly. Often the extra effort causes me to flub a pronunciation. So I'm trying to relax more when I speak. But I did impress my coworkers this morning by grabbing some food from the snack table and saying Zhe ge shi wo de zaofan. ("This is my breakfast.")

But anyway, outside the metro plaza, I walked past three guys building a half-formed snowman. I laughed and asked Ne ge shi shenma? And they answered "Zhe ge shi snowman!" Hahaha, that was great. So I laughed and was walking away, then one of them starts going "Golf! Golf!" I was like -- wtf? Golf?? So he runs to his van and draws the door open. I'm thinking great, I'm gonna get wrapped up in a carpet and smuggled out into the countryside. Hahaha, not really. But the dude pulls out this giant golf club bag from the backseat. Of course, now it was time to say Bu yao.

Ah Shanghai - where anyone, any time will try to sell you a golf bag.

All this snow really makes me want to not leave the house ... I think I'll join the gym tomorrow. Since I took the tour on Thursday, the membership guy has been calling me nonstop asking me when I'm coming back. I really do want to join, and the price is good, so I will probably go tomorrow, assuming they're open.

January 27, 2008

Little Red Wheaties

prop 008
Originally uploaded by ryry9379
Today's adventure was the Shanghai Propaganda Art Museum. I kind of can't believe such a thing exists, but I'm really really happy that it does :-) I'm assuming that, because you can access the museum's web site from within China, and because the museum sells postcards intended to be mailed, it's kosher to post stuff like this. If you don't hear from me after a week, you'll know I was wrong :-)

The museum has hundreds of posters and art pieces dating from 1949 - 1979. They're displayed all over the walls in chronological order and with English translations of all the captions. The emphasis is on the art and the political/social situations surrounding each decade of posters. Unfortunately there are no photos allowed, so I bought 10 postcards and took them home to photograph. These 10 images are but a small sampling of the museum's treasure trove. The museum is insanely interesting, and the curator (whose face adorns the header of the web site) is really nice and knowledgeable.

There's a lot of anti-US stuff, of course, mostly from the 50s and 70s. You can see a couple of those in my collection here. There was one picture depicting the US as a wolf getting stabbed by the butt-end of flags wielded by the proletariat. Tied to the wolf's tail was a ripped US flag with a dollar sign in place of the stars. There also was one depicting the US as a paper tiger, again festooned with dollar signs. But most of the time the US was depicted as a skinny, craven, hunched man with a big nose and a paranoid or aggressive look on his face. Many times, as in the above wolf example, he was accompanied by a dollar sign and/or a small, pathetic-looking pistol. Throughout the 30-year period the collection covers, the posters advocated support for many foreign countries in resisting US intervention. I was surprised to see a poster, created during the 60s, advocating support for the Civil Rights movement.

Then of course there were the Great Leap Forward posters. One showed a picture of a HUGE pig with many suckling babies. The English caption read something like "Raise pigs to get more fertilizer to increase crop yield." Sounds logical to me. And lots and lots of pictures of Mao: with children, with workers in overalls, and even a couple alongside shadows of Marx, Lenin, Engels, and Stalin. Mao often was represented as a big red sun bringing light to sunflowers, which represented the people. There were many pictures that included his Little Red Book of quotations, and you even could buy copies in the museum's gift shop.

So yeah, it was a fun time. The Lonely Planet guide said the place would be hard to find, but it wasn't really. Especially not since I learned numerals this morning, so after getting out at the Jiangsu Lu metro stop, I was able to say to a cabbie, "Huashan Lu ba liu ba", or "868 Huashan Road". That puts you at an apartment complex. Once there, I showed the gate guards the Chinese characters for the museum, and one of them helpfully walked me through an underground parking garage to the museum, which is in the basement of building 4. The ceiling was extremely low, which elicited some chuckles from the guard and a nearby resident. Wo tai gao le, I exclaimed. "I'm too tall."

So it was pretty easy getting there. (I also could have told the cabbie "Huashan Lu ba bai liu shi ba", or Eight-Hundred-Sixty-Eight Huashan Road, but why make life more difficult?)

Rewinding a bit, I'd like to observe how helpful Yao Ming has been in my international interactions here. Whenever anyone asks me where I'm from, I say mei guo which, as we've learned, means "beautiful country" or the USA. If they want me to get more detailed, I just mention Yao Ming. Why? Because EVERYONE knows who Yao Ming is and that he plays for -- what team now, kids? -- the Houston Rockets. Austin is like 150 miles, or 240 km, west of Houston. So I can use Yao Ming to give people a better idea of where I live (assuming they could pick out Houston on a map, of course). Kind of makes me glad I'm not from Duluth, MN :-) Although I suppose I could say, "You know Houston, where Yao Ming plays? I live 2,224 km north of that." Somehow it doesn't have the same impact, though :-)

And speaking of impact, I was joking around with my tutor this morning. We were in my dining room and I hadn't had breakfast yet, so I fixed myself a breakfast of small rice cakes and Pocky. I then exclaimed "Ah, breakfast of champions!" I realized she had no idea what I was talking about, or why I thought that was funny, so I explained about Wheaties, Michael Jordan, and how the phrase has become (at least to me) something funny to say when I have a terrible meal for breakfast. We (by which I mean she) then deciphered the phrase in Chinese as guanjun de zaocan, or "Champion's Breakfast", which I don't think has the same impact, but hey, it works :-)

Seriously, this is how I spend my time. I also taught her "expatriate" and its shortened form, "expat".

Also, re: the haircut yesterday: I want to write about how there were like seven people hanging around my chair most of the time. And the reason was my ear piercings - the industrial and daith. Seriously, the barber and the greeter (every place of business has a greeter, here) called over a bunch of people to look at them. I'm sad I couldn't understand most of what they said. But it was hilarious and I could tell I was the first guy with an industrial and/or daith they'd seen. Not that this is a huge accomplishment - I get the same kind of looks when I sit in an unfamiliar barber's chair in the US - but somehow the fact that this is in China (and I couldn't understand them at all) made it that much more amusing to me. I did manage to point to my industrial and say, through some laughter, "Ni yao zhe ge ma?" Which means, "Do you want this?" Of course I got a very polite bu yao (I don't want) back :-)

I'd like to remark on how many people were there. There was the greeter, then the shampooer/ scalp massager, then the actual barber, then another girl who took me back to wash off all the cut hair pieces. So that's like four people, just for one customer. And again, there were at least 3 other employees who came over to my chair, not to do anything, but just to hang out and chat with the others. Nuts :-)

January 26, 2008


Yay, Shanghaiist published my mini-article about Friday night! I had a really good time. Before the show I downloaded my camera's user manual and did a small bit of research about shutter speed, aperture size, and how those apply to pictures. (Who'd have thought reading a manual would be so useful??) I think this research helped because my pictures turned out pretty good. I now better understand the tradeoffs between long and slow shutter speeds and how those affect my camera.

I did some quick 'net-research on shooting in nightclubs, and everyone seems to agree it's super-difficult to do it well with just basic gear. I mean, it's easy to get cool pictures I guess, but what I'm interested in also is super-clear shots of specific people, such as the DJ. That can be tough depending on if/how the DJ booth is lit and how far away from the DJ I am. And it was tough to get so close to Sven because the dancefloor was packed, but I think my pictures came out decently. Like many things in life, taking pictures is all about trade-offs. Haha. I will probably upload larger images to flickr, so watch out for those.

After the show, Tim and I went to this place called City Diner, a 24-hour cafe that serves American food. I had a triple-decker French Toast sandwich. I kid you not. As soon as I saw that menu item I was like "That's genius! Why haven't I seen this in America before??" Very awesome. I'm totally going to lobby Kerbey Lane for that menu item.

Oh, and it SNOWED yesterday. Pretty hard and all day long. Only a little bit of it stuck to the ground. But it was beautiful. And I got a haircut, which didn't seem to result in the disaster I'd expected. I didn't even tell the guy what to do or attempt to explain myself - he just went to work and it ended up looking halfway decent, I think.

I figured now that I have flickr, I might upload pictures that I've taken over the past couple years. For example, I have hundreds of pictures from my trips to Miami and the Bay Area that I really should upload. I also have tons of pictures just from parties in general. Maybe I'll do that now before my tutor comes over :-)

This upcoming week is interesting because I have to work Monday - Sunday, haha. It's because the Shanghai office gets Monday - Friday off next week for the Chinese New Year. People have explained it to me a couple times but I'm still not 100% sure why it's that way. I think because Monday and Tuesday aren't official holidays but the office is closed anyway, so we have to work two days to make up the hours? Oh well. I have a party to go to on Saturday night, so we'll see how effective I am on Sunday morning :-)

The cool thing also is that I can go see the Super Bowl, which is showing here at 7 AM on Monday February 4th. Because I don't have work that day I can wake up ass-early and go watch the game somewhere. Still haven't figured out where yet, but I've seen many places with ads for their Super Bowl TVs or whatever, so that'll be cool. I'm also scouting the best locations for watching fireworks - so far I've been told the Bund, Century Park, and People's Square are good places to go.

It looks like a surprisingly clear day today, which means it might be time for some sightseeing!

January 24, 2008

Vroom vroom

After one month, one lost check, one stopped-payment fee, hours spent wondering why CarMax asks you to enter your SSN into their phone system only to have the operators ask you for it, phone calls and faxes to VA, and zillions of recitations of my address/cell phone number/work phone number to various CarMax operators, I've finally sold my car. If you've ridden in it, you may fondly remember its myriad bumper stickers and the fact that it said "Hello" to you when you started the engine. Well it's now in Tuscon, AZ where it shall cart around one of my friends during her job training period there. I didn't even have to remove the "Virginia Tech Alumni" license plate frame -- it applies to her also :-) And who knows, it might end up back in Austin within the year, haha.

Happy trails, mon ami!

Many people were curious why I wanted to sell my car when my contract in Shanghai is for only six months. It just seemed silly to hang onto an expensive piece of machinery that I wasn't using for six months. I'd be paying several hundred dollars a month for just about nothing. (Okay, you could say that it would have been going towards owning the car eventually, but I'm young enough to not care about that sort of thing just yet.) If I'm not getting active use out of something, it seems silly to hang onto it like that, especially when it continues to drain your wallet.

I also have a small fixation with not accumulating vast amounts of "stuff." I bet this is a side effect of moving so often -- at least once every two years -- since 1999 when I shipped off to college. But I also don't like to think that I'm contributing to the consumption-centric lifestyle to which so many people these days fall victim. So I figured that moving to Shanghai, for however long, was the perfect opportunity to take these ideas to their logical extreme. I'm kind of proud that I fit my entire life into a 10x10 storage unit (and 3 suitcases to China). And I know plenty of people who would take up even less space. Maybe it's some kind of badge of yuppie honor.

Obviously when I return to Austin I'll have to get a car. But right now I'm kind of enjoying not having to worry about driving, gas, or maintenance here in Shanghai. Putting my life in the hands of Shanghai cab drivers is not even that scary anymore. We'll see how long that lasts :-) But for now it's good.

Hen Hao

Just got back from my first Chinese lesson, and boy, is my mouth tired!

*hold for laughter... holding ... holding ...*

Yeah it was tough. But I think I did okay. The best part was that my tutor and I met in a KFC at the Longyang Rd. Metro stop. Yes, Hanyu gen KFC = good times!! I had a chicken sandwich before the lesson, haha. And of course people were staring at us the entire time. But after a couple minutes I didn't really pay attention to them. And the people who sad next to us didn't seem to be annoyed too much. In fact when they got up to leave I turned to them and said "Ni hao!" And the guy laughs and goes "Very good."

I could only take like an hour of speaking nonstop before I had to give it a rest, haha. Also, she insists on asking me things in Chinese. Which is good, I mean, getting exposure to the language and getting my brain used to interpreting faster. But it's frustrating to have her ask a question that I don't understand. I probably said Bu zhidao ("I don't know") about 30 times, hahaha. That, and shenma ("What?") were my mainstays. But again, it's good, because now I know how to say "I don't know". Also, Wo bu shuo Hanyu ("I don't speak Chinese") came in handy, haha.

But that's good because now I'll remember at least those couple phrases. What's tripping me up is the ch, sh, and zh sounds. Those are tough for me, especially when I combine them with the pinyin i. Because the i is pronounced differently depending on its antecedent. So yi ("one") is sounded like yee (with a very soft y). But chi ("eat") is not chee -- it's more like chur (with a ch like in chair), but not quite. I know English has rules like these, but you know, I hardly ever think about them :-) When you combine both pronunciations in a word like shiji (Century), you end up with something that sounds like shur-jee.

Also, the tones. At one point I said Wo yao shui which means "I want water", at least when you say shui in the third tone. But she heard shui in the fourth tone, which means "sleep". So she got confused for a second, lol.

But I was able to tell the taxi driver that I need a rest, and I asked him if he did too. He said dui which means "Right" or "OK", so I'm not sure if he understood me or if he was humoring the lao wai. Oh well, who knows, but I feel like I'm learning :-)

January 23, 2008

Chop the Pepper Big Fish Head

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Shanghai has some fucking AMAZING food. Last night I had some kind of honey-BBQ pork with a side of (get this) dates stuffed with rice and glazed in sugar. With sprinkles on top, no less! Permit me to drool for a second ...

Tonight however, I walked into Tasty Hall, opened up the menu, and promptly saw this staring me in the face:

My favorite is "The Beijing onion explodes the fat cow." I just picture a harmless cow, perhaps a little on the "beefy" side, wandering around in a field in Beijing. Suddenly, an onion jumps out of nowhere!

KABOOOM!!! Cow giblets everywhere. The onion waits for a split second, calmly rotates around, and rolls off into the sunset, never to be seen again.

But I also like to imagine a platoon of west toast snow fish, spears at the ready, strapped into helmets and rattling their chain mail, gazing at a distant castle with a steely glint of determination in their round eyes.

Tonight, they invade.

(Ai ai ai, muchos peces peligrosos!)

Other delicacies on this Chinglish-ridden menu include:
  • Pumpkin healthy fungus
  • Burns the shrimp
  • The XO sauce explodes the spiral piece
  • Spiced salt little yellow croaker
  • The Guangdong snake ground fries the cured foods
  • Pineapple and the meat
  • The gold garlic steams the Guangdong towel ground
  • Pair of taste burns the dried meat boiler young
  • The fragrant and hot string burns the big shrimp
  • Fat cattle winter mushroom boiler young
  • Tasty Hall water cooks big shrimp
  • Chop the pepper big fish head
... and so on.

If you look at it long enough you can recognize patterns, like "burns", "cooks", "explodes", and so on. I'm guessing that "cooks" means "boiled", since it's paired with "water". "Burns" could mean "fried", except that "fries" appears a couple times on the menu. As to the other ones, well, I leave that up to you to decide :-)

So what did I have? Well, the "Tea tree mushroom and meat", of course. I had no idea what kind of meat would show up -- and now that I've eaten it, I still have no idea!

I wanna find these menu writers and hire them to write documentation for us :-)

In more word-friendly news, Shanghaiist posted an entry about an anagram map of the Shanghai metro. My stop is, appropriately enough, Huge Shoe Healing Communist Ascendancy (Shanghai Science and Technology Museum). And it's only a 4 kuai fare to I'm a Hot, Dashing Dinosaur. (Shanghai Indoor Stadium). Good times :-)

January 22, 2008

Wo e'le

That means -- get ready for it -- "I am hungry" :-)

Today I also learned how to say "Zai zhong guo wo tai gao'le." Which means "I am too tall for China." When you say it with the right tones, anyway. Hahaha. This after I keep bonking my head on the ceiling-mounted handlebars on the newer metro cars :-) And don't get me started on the shuttle bus that goes from the office to the metro station. *thwack*

Also today, if you can't already tell, I got a tutor. My first session is Thursday. w00t :-)

January 20, 2008

The Price of Tea in China

Well that last post took me an hour to write -- hopefully this one will be shorter ... although probably not :-)

Friday after work, I hung out with Tim, Herbert, and Tony. Tim's wife is in this cooking club and one of her friends invited her to this concert/sale/fashion show at High Street Lofts. Before that, we went to dinner at Dong Bei Ren ("Northeast People"). They serve (get ready for it) Dongbei cuisine. Pretty yummy, especially the appetizer dish of cucumbers, cilantro, onions, and sesame seeds. Very zesty. This is the first time since my arrival that I've had Dongbei cuisine, and like all the other cuisines I've had here (Shanghainese, Cantonese, Sichuan, Hunanese), I really liked it.

Anyway the four of us got kind of lost on the way out there, which resulted in probably an hour's worth of walking. We met up there with Megan and a friend of hers and proceeded to order. There was a game of snooker on the TV; unfortunately the TV was right next to my head so I was probably blocking a bunch of people from looking at it :-)

The food was great, but the high point of the night was this: halfway through dinner, we heard shouting and clattering dishes from upstairs. Megan, who speaks / understands Chinese very well, told us that somebody had just swore a couple times. So we were kind of giggling at that and just wondering what was going on. For like 10 minutes, we heard people shouting, some bottles breaking, and more cussing. We all just thought it was some kind of fight. All of a sudden, four guys come walking down the stairs -- and they're carrying, literally, a heavier guy who is completely passed out. Hahaha. I guess he got a bit drunk and obnoxious. They carried him outside and propped him up against a wall. We were all laughing at this point. Tony and Tim even had the balls to break out their cameras, open the door, lean outside, and take pictures of the scene. I don't think they got any good shots, mainly because they were smart enough to stand well away from the guys. But the idea was funny enough.

After that we hiked it down to the High Street Lofts. We cut through a dump, like, literally a dump on this plot of land in between two ritzier streets. People were carting things around. That's Shanghai -- the old right in there with the new, the poor jammed up against the rich.

We end up inside this shopping mall and take the escalator up to the second floor. Everything's very white. There's a group of guys and a girl playing djembes and other kinds of drums in the middle of the floor. Clustered around them are photographers and other hangers-on, mostly expats, who look like they do belong in a fashion show. There are several photography sets scattered around the place, and people are fussing with lights and clothing and cameras and sound equipment. We're in the center area of a 5-story shopping mall. Of course the space is circular and not very acoustically-minded, so there's a lot of crazy echoing going on. There's nothing much to do, so I take the escalators up to the highest levels and walk around looking for something interesting. I find nothing of the sort :-) All the stores are either women's fashion, bridal wear, or furniture. That, plus a couple cafes and stuff like that. So I'm not too disappointed when we all decide to leave like half an hour later.

On the way back to the subway, we cut through Maoming Lu, which is supposed to be this famously pre-Guliani Times Square place where lonely expats and prostitutes mix. So we're disappointed when we walk by the strip and all we see are like six bars with nobody doing anything interesting. One girl outside the New York Bar (which is playing techno, natch) yells at us to come inside. We laugh it off and keep moving. Apparently this place used to be far more of a den of sin, but the city appears intent on beautifying it because they've shut down many of the bars. At the end of the road is the House of Blues and Jazz, which Tim tells us is moving to a new location. How disappointing.

It's late now, by subway time anyway, so we rush to the station and hear a train arriving. Huzzah! Unfortunately it takes off before we can get there, and an attendant tells us it's the last one. Bu hao. So it's off to find a cab, which, given the cold and rain and the fact that it's Friday night on Huaihai Lu, is no easy task. It takes maybe 45 minutes of walking, walking, hailing cabs, walking, and more walking. Finally we find out and pile in. Night complete.

Saturday I awoke to rain. Given what everybody tells me about the Shanghai weather, I'm surprised it's taken this long into my visit to rain steadily. I'm still intent on sightseeing, though, and I walk to Da Mu Zhi to get coffee and breakfast. On my way out I duck into Carrefour and pick up an umbrella. This is the first umbrella I've owned since college, seriously. Because that's the last time I ever had to do this much walking :-)

Still intent on going out, I head for the subway station and exit at Lujiazui. My intent is to visit the Pearl Tower and do all the dumb touristy things inside, like the museum and the sightseeing deck. But after waiting in line for tickets for like 10 minutes, I decide to forego that plan and attempt to see the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum in People's Square.

Unfortunately I don't quite make it :-) The museum is on my map but I cannot find it in the park at all. Instead I find the MoCA, which is where I ended up spending my time and taking all those neato pictures. That took about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. It was pretty cool. I think the last time I was in a museum was for a project in my senior year of college. And before that, I can't remember -- maybe when my dad took me to the Smithsonian when I was a kid? No idea. I guess I am just not that interested in "art" or maybe I just don't consider it something that I'm interested in, so I don't go. Who knows :-)

But for whatever reason, I really enjoyed the exhibit at the MoCA. The sculpture of the girl and the eggs was really fucking amazing. I'd pay money to have that installed in my house :-) Upstairs was really neat, with hundreds of folding fans and decorated bags all over the place. Some of the prints downstairs were also really cool. I may have to re-think this whole anti-museum thing :-)

After that, I planned on heading to the Bund sightseeing tunnel, so I packed up my camera and started trekking across the park. On my way out, I passed two Chinese girls holding an umbrella. They said hello, and I said hello back, and like that dude on Nanjing Dong Lu, they stopped and begun talking to me. I figured they just wanted a chance to either a) talk to a foreigner or b) practice their English or c) all of the above. They were really nice and they asked me lots of questions, like "What's your favorite color?" Hahaha. Since I really had nothing else better to do, I walked around with them for like 20 minutes. Our walk took us outside the park onto one of the main roads, I think Fuzhou Lu. The sidewalks were incredibly crowded and because it was still raining, everybody had their umbrellas. I kept having to raise my umbrella up so it wouldn't hit either somebody else or a fence or pay phone on the other side of the sidewalk, haha.

Anyway we walk and talk for like 5 minutes and we get to one of the side streets when they say something like "Hey, come with us - we want some tea because it's cold out and that'll warm us up." Immediately I'm like: scam! I'd read about it way back in January 2007 when I first was thinking about taking the trip to Shanghai. Ah, good ol' brain, you come in handy sometimes. So I declined and said something about wanting to keep walking, or that I wasn't hungry, or some combination of the two. They politely excused themselves and went off down the side road.

At the time I felt kind of bad, I mean, who knows, maybe they were just looking to make friends? But I figured I've been here two weeks and don't know the lay of the land just yet - it's better to just decline anything like that, especially when I've read about it beforehand. And I'd rather not have my ass kicked by goons shaking me down for tea money that I don't have. It sucks, because the logical extension of that philosophy is that here in China, anyone who approaches you like that wants something from you (most likely your money) and is willing to put on false pretenses to get it. It makes me want to keep my guard up, which also sucks because lord knows my guard is up enough as it is. But hey, you know, that's just how it is.

When I spoke with Tim today, I told him what had happened and he was like "You did the right thing. I know plenty of people who've gotten taken in by that scam." So that at least made me feel better and that I'm not just some paranoid lao wai who's terrified of experiencing China, haha.

He even congratulated me for wasting half an hour of their time - "Way to take one for the team," he said, lol. But I was just trying to be friendly :-)

I went home after that, and that's pretty much the extent of my Saturday. It rained all night and morning. I left the apartment to get dinner on Saturday night and again this afternoon to get some grub. I had braised beef, asparagus, and deep-fried pumpkin cakes -- yum!! So delicious. Great breakfast :-)

Tonight I just got home from Cotton's where there was some improv comedy going on. I went with Tim and Herbert, who wanted to check it out because he's a stand-up comic. But it wasn't that funny. Part of the problem was the venue -- Cotton's is a bar with three rooms connected via open doorways. It's not a traditional stage-and-audience venue. So the announcer and his troupe were wandering from room to room, doing the same sketch in here as they did over there but with a different premise. I couldn't see the performers half the time. They were going for a Whose Line is it Anyway kind of deal with a lot of audience participation, and it kind of worked, but the performers weren't that good :-) Before that we had dinner at Vedas, an Indian restaurant just down the street. That was pretty good - actually, the tandoori sea bass was awesome. And at the show we sat next to these two women from Holland. They are in Shanghai because they have degrees in hotel management and Shanghai has an inordinate number of five-star hotels, so they're working their way up the ladder, haha. Also, they want to land Shanghainese men - "to carry [their] purses." I thought that was funny. Apparently though, they're in the right place. Shanghainese men have a reputation as being pretty meek. And Shanghainese women have the opposite reputation - they're stereotyped as manipulative, materialistic, and all that. Hahahaha. I wonder how those dynamics evolved.

So that's about it for now. I really need a haircut, and I really need to sign up with a gym. I haven't worked out in forever. But for now -- you guessed it -- I'm going to sleep :-) Finally caught up with my blogging ... woohoo!!

January 19, 2008


First, if you haven't seen the flickr set from the MoCA, I highly encourage you to do so. To convince you, here are some of the better images from the set:

More here.

I'm not the world's biggest fan of "art" or even museums, but something about this collection really sparked my interest and caught my eye. I wonder if it's because the art is from Japanese artists. Or maybe it's just because this is the first museum I've been to in, oh, forever :-)

Well Sherman, it's raining and cold out, so it's the perfect time to update this blog. Let's set the Wayback Machine for Thursday and go from there:


On Wednesday night, Kenneth from Shanghaiist invited me to a contributors' dinner in Puxi. Funny; I haven't even contributed anything yet :-) So Thursday after work I caught the train to the Hengshan Lu station. I wandered up and down the street for like 30 minutes looking for the restaurant, Le Garcon Chinoise. It took me that long to find it, even though I knew the general area (Hengshan near Dongping). The reason was that the restaurant is set way back from the street down this really long driveway/alleyway and there's no sign on Hengshan. I get the feeling that's typical in Shanghai :-) But I found it by myself, which I was proud of.

Of course I was the first one there; I'd left work early because I still don't know how long it takes to get from work to that area in Puxi. Turns out it's about 45 minutes, which is not that bad given the distance. The cool thing about Shanghaiist (and, I gather, most web-based writing projects) is that many of the contributors have never met each other in person. Why should there? There's no real "office" for the site. Dan Washburn runs it out of his home, and people send in stories when they have something to say. I mean, that's how I wrote for JIVE since forever, even though they do have an office. I've never been to Atlanta, let alone met with my editor there. I'm not even sure I know her real name :-)

Anyway, people start trickling in, and every one of them has a different accent :-) It's great. There's a Singaporean girl, a French girl, three guys from England, one from Australia, etc. You know, I just have been assuming that, since someone here might be white, they might speak English or even be from the US. Oh how nationalistic that seems now, haha. I did meet a guy from DC though who has been in Shanghai almost a year to study the language. So we swapped stories since we grew up pretty close to one another.

There wasn't really any agenda for the meetup - just see who everyone is and meet and talk and drink free wine. Nice. I ended up staying for about three hours and meeting a wide variety of people. Near the end, when I was about to leave, people started handing out business cards. Jazz schools, tourism companies -- everyone had a card except for me! Since I have nothing to sell. Actually that's not true - I have my DJ self to "sell," and several people there seemed interested. I had brought along some CDs because I was going to Logo after the dinner, so I passed out a couple of those. But I think from now on I might bring along my stack of business cards. At least a couple. Since I still don't even remember my damn phone number ;-)

One interesting aspect was that, while these people are expats, they live and work for Chinese companies (or go to Chinese schools). So in that regard I felt like kind of an outcast, like, I am making American dollars and have many subsidized expenses. So one girl was talking about the cost of the taxi ride from Pudong to Puxi (just like at work in Austin, everyone I meet is flabbergasted by how far away I live) and I was thinking well, it doesn't cost me a dime, at least not directly. It's been budgeted for by my job, so personally it costs me time and that's about it. I mean yeah in a larger sense it comes out of the budget for the company that affects my salary and bonuses (along with everyone else's), but it's hard to feel that personally. It's a fantastic benefit that I don't even fully appreciate yet.

And before all of my co-workers get up in arms like "Stop taking taxis across town and decreasing my bonus!" it's not even that much money in American dollars ;-) It's like a $8 - $9 cab ride, and even less expensive for the subway, where it's less than $2 a trip. An $8 cab ride in Austin gets you squat, but here it gets you pretty damn far, haha.

So I felt a little weird. But, you know, that's how it is and I'm definitely not advocating for that to change ;-)

So the dinner was fun. I met a bunch of people and exchanged contact info with some of them. I'm sure I'll see many of them out and about also, since they mentioned places that I've heard of and had considered checking out. For example, one guy is a jazz trumpeter and plays at Club JZ regularly. I'm sure I'll end up there for a show sometime soon.

Anyhoo, after the dinner I took another cab down to Xingfu and Fahuazhen, which is where the Logo bar is. I'd been in contact with the Void techno DJs, and the contact Cameron (Cammy) had been really nice, and I'd been looking forward to checking out the "underground" music scene.

Logo reminded me of Plush in Austin. Small bar, kinda dingy, with poor lighting. Whereas Plush is the size of a walk-in closet, Logo is the size of maybe 2 - 3 bedrooms put together, haha. I walked in the door and through the lounge area into the bar/dancefloor space. The bar itself is a square in the middle of the room, which is an odd design choice because it leaves very little contiguous space for dancing or even standing around and talking. But the DJ on the decks, Nat Alexander, was rockin' it. I felt immediately at home. They were even using Pioneer CDJ-800s, which are the same kind I have :-) And while the techno was more on the minimal side, it was fast and enjoyable.

I stood around for a little bit and just watched the DJ, like I like to do at these kinds of things. A guy came up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said "Ryan?" It was Cameron. He must have assumed that the tall white guy, standing there staring at the decks, was me. And he was right :-) So we shook hands and talked for a little bit. Cammy's from Scotland, so he has a great accent. Yes, I must admit that I was reminded of Groundskeeper Willie. So sue me -- I don't meet many Scottish people :-) We chatted for a bit about his crew, techno in Shanghai, what Void's all about, and stuff like that. So that was cool. I gave him a demo CD and also gave one to another DJ in his crew, Fish, to whom Cammy introduced me.

I started dancing and then taking pictures, then I sat down just to people-watch. The lounge area had mostly Chinese people, but the bar/dance area had mostly expats. Interesting. I sat around watching people (my favorite activity) and taking pictures. The place wasn't too crowded, but there was a decent crowd. It improved throughout the night, too. I think I got there around 11, so to many people that is not even "nighttime" :-)

After awhile, Cammy got on the decks. I really dug his set. He played some pretty hard bangin' stuff -- not D.A.V.E. the Drummer style, but some jackin' Detroit techno. There weren't a lot of bass rhythms, which contrasts with the style of music I like to play. But again, it was good times. I felt really comfortable, like I had to remind myself I was in freaking China of all places. I guess it's true what they say, music is universal.

After that I only interacted with really two people. One was this drunk French girl who seemed intent on making sure everybody was having a good time. Nothing wrong with that at all. It's very kind when bar patrons take responsibility for other peoples' well-being :-) And I'm like look, for me, right now, sitting here eating bar popcorn with a sore neck because I've been nodding my head so much to the music -- that counts as good times, at least as worked up as I'm willing to get on a Thursday night :-) She went on some spiel about the importance of luck -- at least that's what I thought she said, given the loudness and her accent. She might have been saying "love," but I don't think she was. And she was speaking so close to me (it was rather loud in there) that her nose was kinda in my ear, hahahaha. After so many years of talking to people in loud bars and clubs, I've developed strategies for speaking to people in those environments -- and that is not it, hahaha. But she was nice. The other encounter was a guy who noticed I had the same camera as him. I think he was French, too. Or Italian. I think my accent recognition capabilities need work :-) They are definitely put to the test in Shanghai, that's for sure.

I left at about 1 AM and cabbed it home. I had no trouble finding a cab because three of them were parked outside the bar. The drivers were snoozing and waiting for people like me. I got home by saying "Da mu zhi" and confirming I meant Pudong, and away we went.

I could definitely see my music working in with the Void crew's stuff. So hopefully I'll get a chance to prove that :-)


moca 004
Originally uploaded by ryry9379
I managed to catch the last day of the Eco X Design exhibit at the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art.

Full flickr set here.

Stories later. Maybe tomorrow. I promise!

Also, part of the exhibit was this video showing in a side room. I don't pretend to understand it, but then again, I was sober.

I can't tell if that video shows up properly, but if it doesn't, you can see it at YouTube here.

January 18, 2008

Masked Scottish Techno DJs

nighttime 002
Originally uploaded by ryry9379
I have many stories to update since Thursday, but it's 1 AM and I'm tired. For now, enjoy these new photos. Some are of my apartment complex at night. I've put them in the Shanghai - Home set.

Many parts of Shanghai have a crazy neon glow at night -- I'm going to have to do a couple special nighttime photo shoots, especially down places like Huaihai Lu and Lujiazui.

The other set comes from Thursday night's techno meetup with the Void Shanghai crew.

Again -- more later :-)

January 15, 2008

Blockin' and Fakin'

One interesting dilemma about being in zhong guo (hah, don't I sound pretentious) is the GFOC. Yes, it exists, and no, it's not a joke. What's neat is that people here perceive is as normal. Like "oh yeah, couldn't get to your flickr page, it was blocked yesterday." No biggie, no sweat, just a part of life. But the funny part is that some of the blockades come and go. Like over the weekend, flickr was all good. Then on Monday during the day, it was getting blocked intermittently, before being shut down for good on Monday night. Now it's back up again. Oh well, c'est la vie. I can't be too concerned, since my main audience is ya'll lao wai anyway :-)

What's weird is that individual web sites, like Slashdot, might not be blocked, but their RSS feeds are. In fact I think the entire feedburner.com domain is blocked, which is trouble because most sites I check use feedburner to track subscriptions to their RSS feed. Also this morning, blogspot (my gracious host) suddenly became unblocked, when it's been blocked since I've been here. But strangely enough, when I was here in November, it wasn't blocked. Somebody must have just gotten arrested. You can see how confusing this is on any given day :-)

My theory is that some censor in Beijing, let's call him Xian, is maybe having a bad day. Maybe his wife leaves him, he wakes up and sees an eviction notice on his apartment door, and then he gets chewed out at work for being late. Then he accidentally spills coffee on his new shoes. Now he's in a terrible mood, like a walking thundercloud, and he's like "Lousy wife/landlord/boss!! Always pushing me around. I'm gonna block flickr! Yeah, that'll make me feel better." He sits down at his desk, cracks his knuckles, and double-clicks an icon on his desktop. Bam, no more flickr for the entire country. It's like releasing a pressure valve. Then a week later, he meets a new girl, he's able to pay his rent so his landlord gets off his back, and he gets a promotion at work. Oh, and he gets some new shoes. Congratulations everybody -- flickr is now back online!!

That's my theory anyway.

It's freezing here. No -- literally, freezing. So I bought a jacket today. Like a bigass thick heavy jacket. In a metro station. Yes, many metro stations have underground shopping plazas in them. The goods in there are probably of dubious quality. For example, as I was shmying (there; I just added Yiddish to the list of languages in this blog) and chatting with a store owner who spoke pretty decent English, I noticed the label on one jacket read French Concotion. I couldn't help but laugh. Not only that, but I pointed out the misspelling to the girl and offered to proofread her labels in the future. She pretended to study the label as if it were somehow just defective, but to her credit, she wasn't all offended and defensive as if I'd insulted her store's merchandise, haha.

So with that in mind, when I saw the Ralph Lauren Polo label on a jacket in a different store that I actually wanted, no one could have convinced me that it was actually Polo. But I bought it anyway. Here's how:

The store keeper and I chatted for a little bit, I pretended to be interested in some sweaters and different shirts, and then when I landed on the jacket and said "how much?" she started me off at 1250 RMB -- $172. But then she said "special price" and knocked it down to 850. Really??!?! A special price just for li'l ol' me??? (She said it was because I spoke such good Chinese. Ah, she knows the way to a man's heart.) Blue Light Special.

Suddenly I'm in one of those situations the travel guides tell me about. She is typing these prices on a calculator and then she hands it to me. I falter for a minute and then type in 750 and hand it back to her. Oh man, the look on her face, you would have thought that I'd shot her pet dog. Oooh, just gets me right here in the heartstrings, man. Right here.

She comes back with 830. That's still tai gui, which I repeat to her. The great thing about a phrase like tai gui is, both words use the fourth (falling) tone, so it's really easy to sound disappointed when you say it, like:
"I'm shocked and appalled at your greed, you cur. You have impugned my honor! It's pistols at high noon."
At this point I'm like well, I'm here in this underground mall, I'm not super desperate for a jacket, and it's not like textiles are in short supply around here. So I start in with "Oh, you know, I'm gonna just walk around some more, bu yao, bu yao xiexie, zai jian." I was being honest, but I'm sure all of you reading this know what happened next: she offered to cut the price even more, even more. I kept refusing, and she kept asking, and it's funny because she is saying "How much would this cost you in mei guo?? Is cold in mei guo!!" And I'm laughing and saying "Yeah but we're in zhong guo! Zhong guo!" Oh, the hilarity. I should buy her a book on Aristotelian logic.

At this point I'm moving out the door and back into the plaza, and she follows me, tugs on my jacket and says "Five hundred! Five Hundred! Final price!" Now, even though this isn't a Ralph Lauren Polo or anything, it certainly isn't a piece-of-shit jacket. It definitely is warm and thick and, what's more, it fits my tall ass rather nicely. I've no idea what it might run for in the States, not that it matters, and it doesn't even matter what price she started at -- now she's pricing it at $68. That's too much (or too little) for me -- I give in. She's got me now.

She follows me to the ATM across the way, stands like 50 feet behind me while I withdraw my money, and bam, I've got a new jacket. She even throws in a cheap bag (which I promptly discard outside the subway station, it's so useless). She completes the sale by saying, essentially "I only give you this price because is last sale of day. You come back tomorrow, price not be so good."

Uh huh. Sure.

So there you go. Robert tells me that everyone gets screwed on their first couple haggling gigs but that you get better at it. I'm not sure if I got screwed -- I have no perspective just yet. I'm sure she still made a tidy profit off me, but that's all well and good, because I got a decent jacket at (what I think is) a good price. And boy is it ever warm. I just hope that, y'know, it doesn't start falling apart in a week. Or that there's not a family of mealworms living in the armpits. (Yum! Special direct import from Malaysia.)

Outside in the plaza, I was waiting in line for a taxi, and this guy struck up a conversation with me about how cold it was. He said he was from Singapore via the US, and I said "where in the US?" you know, just being friendly. And he goes "Austin, Texas." No fucking way! What are the odds of that? Turns out he works for Freescale. So yeah, now I have another expat buddy from Austin, not even from work.

I took a cab to the Thumb and walked around, kind of feeling out my new jacket and making sure it is as warm as I thought it was when I was buying it. (It is.) I ended up at -- damn, can't remember the name of the place, but I had the fried lotus root and some kind of spicy chicken dish. Oh, muy delicioso. And it cost -- well, I don't really want to get into money too much, because I think talking about it makes me sound cheap. But just trust me, shit here is cheap. Hahaha.

January 13, 2008

Thumb Plaza & Jing'an Temple

sunday 035
Originally uploaded by ryry9379
Today's adventure: some pictures from the Thumb Plaza, down the street, where I do my shopping and mainly eat dinner. Okay, so that's not much of an adventure :-)

The real adventure, as I see it, was the Jing'an Temple, a 1700-year old Buddhist shrine. Not only that, but I managed to eat & order food at a restaurant all by myself. (Sorry, this occurrence still impresses me.) And I think the host understood me when I told him "hao chi", or "good food". :-)

Check out the flickr set here.

Tonight I think I'm gonna eat dinner at Moon River Diner @ the Thumb. The expats eat there a lot, but I haven't yet. It's western food, which, again, I'm actually trying to avoid. But I feel I should check it out at least once :-)

Oh yeah, tinyface, if you're reading this, I wore your scarf today and it kept me quite warm. Thank you very much :-)

January 12, 2008

Framing Babies

I was so intent on setting up Flickr last night that I forgot to describe what I actually did during the day :-)

I woke up and did laundry. Exciting! I won't bore you or embarrass myself with the horrible details of what occurred. Let me just say that my hands were freezing and my floor was wet. The wash itself went well though, and I'm relatively certain that my clothes are actually clean. The hanging-out-to-dry thing is very new and unfamiliar, but I checked this morning and it seems most of my clothes (except my jeans) are actually dry. I need to invest in an iron though. And, let's just say, a laundry basket.

In setting the wash and looking at the washing machine, I recognized the Chinese character for "middle" or "normal" which I think is 中. You would pronounce that as zhong. For you Westerners out there, that's "jong" but with the tip of your tongue closer to the roof of your mouth your teeth. That, and the g is soft. And it's not the typical "o" sound like in "long" -- it's more, hmm, it's softer than that. Oh, and it's first tone, which means you raise the pitch of your voice and keep it steady, like you were an opera singer holding a high note. Come to think of it, it's tough to think about how to describe it by just using English. But anyway, when you put that together with the character for "guo" (country), you get "middle country" or "China".

So anyhoo, I chose the "middle" setting on my washer, and it seems to have worked out pretty well. If my clothes aren't actually clean, they at least smell nice, which has to count for something.

After that I was getting ready to go to Garden Books when Tim called. He had to run some errands around that area and wanted to know if I wanted to tag along. I said sure thing, and in 30 minutes met him and his wife Laurel outside my complex. We walked to the subway station, got on, transferred to Line 1, and ended up at the South Shanxi Road (Shanxi Nan Lu) station. We were all hungry so we had lunch at Di Shui Dong, which serves Hunanese food. Among other things, I had the ziran paigu (cumin ribs) which, wow, were amazing. Chairman Mao would have approved - he was from Hunan province. But the highlight of the meal was when I successfully ordered my first bottle of water :-D Laurel graciously took a picture of me with the bottle, and I put it up on flickr, but the site's down now so I can't link to it. Just look in the Shanghai - January 12, 2008 set.

Tim and Laurel are avid photographers and travelers - they've been in Shanghai for over two years now - and they were going to get some of Tim's pictures framed. If you check out his blog you can see his skills. We headed to a framing store that his friend had recommended, but that was swarmed by expats. But we checked around and there are no fewer than five framing stores all along that same street (Maoming Lu) within three blocks of one another. We'd unwittingly stumbled onto the Framing District in Shanghai :-)

While Tim and Laurel haggled with the owners of one of the stores, I said I'd meet them later at Garden Books, since we were so close. I walked down Maoming and turned right on Changle to end up at the store, where I ordered a coffee (woohoo!) and just rested my legs, which were tired from so much walking.

Garden Books isn't large, but it's the largest English-language bookstore in Shanghai. So it was swarmed with expats. Again, not what I'm looking for right now :-) But I looked around at the book selection. There were of course a lot of books about Shanghai and China. There's even a German-language section, where I saw the German editions of two familiar books. That was kind of neat.

After a little bit I decided to go for a walk down Changle, so I did. For the next hour I wandered around the Changle Lu / Shanxi Nan Lu area, which is pretty interesting. There's a bunch of neat little stores that sell knicknacks, interesting styles of clothing, furniture, and generally just what you'd expect to find in the South Congress area of Austin. One tidbit: I noticed that a lot of stores had maternity clothes on display. I wondered as to the origins of this phenomenon until I passed the window of one building and saw a nurse swaddling a baby while a happy mother looked on. It turns out that I was passing the Shanghai Center for Health of Mother and Baby, or something like that. Suddenly all the maternity stores made sense ;-) I even saw a clothing store that advertised its clothing as being resistant to electromagnetic waves, or something. (I wish I had taken a picture of this ad.) I snickered to myself until Tim told me, later on, that electromagnetic-resistant clothing is a common concern among pregnant women in China. Hm.

So in one day I found the Framing District and Maternity District of Shanghai :-) Here's where, if my family and co-workers were not reading this blog, I would joke about putting both of these districts to good use during my stay here. Oops -- guess I just made the joke anyway ...

After that I met back up with Tim and Laurel at Garden Books, where we ran into a friend of theirs. This friend actually is the senior editor of Newsweek's Chinese-language edition, which sounds pretty cool. She's American but has been in China for six years (or maybe eight, I can't remember exactly). We ate and drank some more in the cafe, and then they invited me to dinner, which turned out to be at a new restaurant called Effigie just down the block. Tonight was the "media preview" which meant that the owner, a friend of Laurel's friend, had invited a bunch of magazine writers to eat at the restaurant like 2 weeks before it actually opened. It was close by, so we got there quickly. For the next four hours, I drank good wine, ate amazing food, and had awesome conversations with some really cool people. It was neat being around a bunch of magazine writers, because I'm a writer myself but in a completely different capacity.

I talked with a guy who sells programmable milling machines that make jet engine turbines. This gave me the perfect chance to geek out about NI and start talking about virtual instrumentation and modular hardware in a casual dinner setting :-) And what's more, he understood me because he was an engineer. We even discussed hardware-in-the-loop simulation. Nuts. I should have gotten his business card or something and passed it along to our sales department ;-)

Unfortunately I also had two cups of coffee, which meant that when I got home around 11, I stayed up until like 2:30. But that turned out to be good, because it gave me the opportunity to set up Flickr because Picasa seems to be blocked.

Right now it's about 11 AM, and I'm gonna take a shower, go eat some breakfast, and recharge my transportation card. Don't know yet where I'll end up today, but I promise I'll bring my camera along :-)


home 013
Originally uploaded by ryry9379
Check out my apartment building. I think you could fit all of Columbia, MD in here ...

Picasa seems to be blocked from China, so I've switched to Flickr. View all my photos here. There are the ones you're familiar with from my visit in November, but there are a bunch more that I took today.

Home Sweet Home

First off: My dad was trying to find my house on Google Earth. The coordinates of my building are:

Latitude: 31°13'43.29"N
Longitude: 121°33'0.15"E

If you look to my east, you'll see a green U-shaped field. That's the school that I live next to and pass on my way to breakfast. Which, like so many other things around here, is at the Thumb Plaza - 31°13'45.53"N, 121°33'20.27"E.

The following coordinates are of the closest metro station:

31°13'18.26"N, 121°32'17.89"E

The distance is about 15 - 20 minute walk.

The semicircular building to the west of that plaza is the museum itself. (I should really go there some day.)

The road that heads northeast from the plaza is Shiji Dadao (Century Avenue). Southeast of the Plaza is a big green expanse. This is Shiji Gongyuan - Century Park - at 31°13'1.45"N, 121°32'41.22"E.

There's no way I could visually distinguish my office area from the rest of Pudong :-) Just know that it's way the hell out there, about 20-25 minutes east of my apartment.

Photos coming in the next post.

January 11, 2008

Bonbon at 11 AM

One of the best parts of being at Bonbon tonight was knowing that everyone in Austin was at work while I was watching DJ Marky pick up a turntable and scratch a record upside-down.

There's a coat check on the first floor of the club, and when you hand in your coat you have to write down your phone number on the ticket. I don't have mine memorized, so I just wrote down some random numbers. I assumed they only used that information if you didn't pick up your coat, so they could call you. Well apparently you have to recite the phone number back to them in order to get your coat back. Again, I just wrote down some random numbers and forgot about them. Kind of troubling :-) After attempting to explain, and having Justin tell the guy that I don't know my phone number, and handing him my credit card with "Ryan" on it (I'd also written my name on the ticket), I got my jacket back. Lucky thing too because it's barely above freezing outside. On the way out Justin informed me that the only reason I got my jacket back is because I'm white. I was like shit, I'll take that :-) But what he really meant is that I should memorize my phone number ;-)

When I got home I was investigating the built-in hangers on my balcony that you use for drying clothes. (Laundry day is tomorrow.) I noticed that the main sliding glass door was open. It's been open for over a week. No wonder my living room is so effing cold! I know nobody else opened it because I remember on move-in day that all the windows were open. I guess to get any sorts of smell or whatever out of the apartment. I must have missed closing that one, because I didn't go out on the balcony. And it wasn't a theft danger because, well, I'm on the 18th floor, and Spider-Man uses his powers for good, not evil.

So I shut the door and quickly checked all the other windows, which were closed already. Hopefully this new development will result in a warmer apartment, which is a good thing, because people have been telling me a cold front is moving in -- even though Accuweather says the high tomorrow is 52 degrees F, which seems comparable to what it's been like this week.

My quest to order a bottle of water in a restaurant continues in vain. (Yes, it's become a quest now.) Last night I ordered one, and was rewarded with three bottles of fruit juice. Well, I said to everyone, that's almost like water. And at least I got something this time. And that something was some form of liquid in a bottle. That's progress, right?

January 10, 2008


Shanghai seems to be overflowing with all-you-can-eat-and-drink places. At Teppanyaki, 150 kuai ($21) gets you "No limit to quantity of food serviced." Yum. And this ain't no Waffle House, neither. Hao chi jile.

The cool thing to do, as expats, is get the business card of any cool place you visit. That way you can get there again simply by showing the card to a taxi driver. Knowing this, most places I've been to have business cards sitting right out on the counter. And if you're super cool, you get six or seven cards, one for you and the others for your expat buddies so they can try the awesome place you just went to. Rob and Tony already have a collection. I'm working on mine :-)

Yesterday I confused my writers by speaking Spanish -- intentionally, this time. "Es tiempo para almuerzo!" I guess I just want to show off that I actually can learn a language. Then I said "Gesundheit" when someone sneezed, which prompted a quick lesson in German. And this is on top of the extended discussion about Hebrew I had with my manager on Tuesday.

In talking with Tim, I found out he and his wife practice a fun mixture of Spanish, Chinese, and English. I forget what the name is, but it's funny. I demonstrated: "Puedo tener mas shui, please." See, it's easy :-)

January 9, 2008


Hullo out there in blogland, I am not dead, it's time for my semiregular update :-)

First off, the title of this post is a reference to what I'll be doing this Friday night, which is listening to some nasty drum & bass at Bonbon, courtesy of DJ Marky. I. Can't. Wait.

These posts have been so long, and I've been pretty tired after work, so I haven't had the time or inclination to commit two hours of my evening to blogging. I'm sure as life here settles down and becomes more normal, my posts will become shorter (and perhaps have more pictures) and I will be doing smaller updates. But for now it's all so new and zany that I've just gotta post about everything, heh.

Let's rewind the time machine back to Sunday, where we last left off ...

Sunday morning I woke up and had nothing to do, so I decided to go on an adventure. Those are not hard to come by in this city, especially not when you don't speak the language :-) Because I couldn't think of a better place to get coffee, I walked down to the Thumb Plaza and had a coffee + chocolate muffin at (shudder) Starbucks. I read a little bit of That's Shanghai, which is where I discovered the aforementioned DJ Marky event. I also saw that Sven Vath is playing there in two weeks. After being in Austin for the past couple of years, with its good-but-not-great electronic music scene (like the majority of US cities), I am thrilled to be in a city where techno/house/drum & bass actually are regular things for people to listen to :-) w00t :-)

Anyhoo after chilling at Starbucks for awhile, I decided to take the metro, on my own, for the first time. I live off Line 2, and I didn't want to mess with changing lines just yet, so I got on the train and headed to People's Square. I exited the subway stop and came out from underground, and for some reason I looked behind me. There was People's Square framed by massive skyscrapers in every direction. It was pretty awe-inspiring. I'll have to go back this weekend and take some pictures.

So that vista was behind me. Ahead of me, though, was the Shanghai No. 1 Department Store. I'd heard about this, and even though shopping doesn't interest me as a pastime, I thought it would be neat to see what it's like inside. So I crossed the street (no mean feat given that I didn't immediately see a crosswalk) and went inside.

Wow. The building is 11 floors of shopping insanity. Whole floors are devoted to a single type of product, like menswear, sporting goods, electronics, etc. And each floor is pretty extensive. Like the electronics and fabrics markets on Saturday, each floor is segmented into, well, let's call them vestibules, but that's not proper since they can be pretty large. Each "brand-specific sales area" is devoted to a certain brand. So on the meanswear floor you have your Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Dockers, etc. vestibules. There's also a ton of European (I think) and Chinese (I guess) brands, of course. On the sporting goods floor you have your Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Puma, etc. vestibules. And so on. It's insane. And it was really crowded on a Sunday afternoon, which made it even more insane :-)

I must have spent two hours wandering around just looking at things. Here and there I would pick up an item to see the price, and they all seemed pretty expensive, even though I am only barely capable of determining what passes for expensive here because I'm not used to thinking in terms of renminbi. And my instant-division skills are lacking. I use the rule of thumb to dividing by 8 to get a rough estimate even though it's really more like 7.2 yuan to the dollar (damn currency appreciation). But I'm sure I stood there like a moron for a couple seconds trying to divide 560 by 8 (quick! The answer is 70). And only later did I realize that I have a calculator, and more importantly a currency converter, in my cell phone :-)

After all that window shopping I headed out on the ground floor, only I got turned around and instead of being back at People's Square, I was in some sort of shopping plaza (go figure). I looked around for a place that looked like it sold food, and saw a Subway and a Pizza Hut. Because I was hungry, I headed for the Subway. En route, I saw another smaller restaurant that was Chinese, so I opted for that instead. I ordered food all by myself (yay!), a process that was helped by a quasi-English-speaking waitress. At any rate there were a couple other white dudes in there, so I could have prevailed upon them for help if I needed anything. In fact, at Carrefour that morning (oops -- forgot to mention that I went sundry shopping all by myself -- that's where I got the slippers), I asked a couple of white people if they knew where the trash cans were. Turns out they were German, but they were able to also use some pidgin English to communicate with me. Actually it was mainly just pointing :-)

Not much to tell after that. I had dessert at some coffee shop and took the metro back home, where I promptly bummed around the apartment for a couple hours. I called Rob and we went to Thumb for dinner. There are like a billion restaurants there. In fact I've eaten there every day except for Saturday and Monday, and I'm planning on going there after I finish this post and catch up on my emails :-) Mostly because it's so close to my apartment . . .

Monday was my first day at the office, and it went well. At lunch with my team, I managed to successfully order a bottle of water, only they didn't have bottles, so the waitress stared at me and everyone laughed :-) During the day I'd made plans to meet up with Kenneth Tan from Shanghaiist. He lives and hangs out mostly in Puxi, so we agreed to meet at The Arch for dinner. Getting to the Arch involves switching metro lines. I guess that Sunday's experience convinced me I could do it on my own, so I did. Before I left work, I looked at the map on SmartShanghai. After work, I took Line 2 to People's Square and changed over to Line 1. I got off at the Hengshu Lu station and exited onto the street. Took a right on Gaonan Lu, then a left on Huaihai Lu. The Arch is at the corner of Huaihai and Wukang, but the walk on Huaihai Lu was taking awhile, so I stopped in a ritzy-looking hotel to ask someone if I was going in the right direction. All I was able to say was "Wukang Lu" with a questioning look on my face and a shrug of the shoulders, but the bellhop pointed in the direction I was walking. Sweet :-) After another 3 minutes I found the place and set up shop inside to wait for Kenneth. While I was waiting I had some french fries, and they were pretty good. When Kenneth got there I ordered a chocolate cake and some ice cream. What a great dinner -- for a five-year-old ;-)

While I was there, my dad called and we talked for a bit. It was neat to talk to him on my cell phone and to realize just how strange that was, given the time zone difference :-) And, as I started to walk back to the Changshu Lu metro station (as advised by Kenneth) my mom called, completely independently. (Everybody say "Awwww" ...) So that was pretty cool, walking down Huaihai Lu at 9 at night while talking with my parents. Neat.

As I exited the Shanghai Science & Tech Museum metro station, I thought I'd push my luck with navigation and language skills, so I hailed a cab. I stuck out my left arm and said "Changliu Lu", then I stuck out my right arm perpendicular to my left one, touched my fingertips together, and said "Dingxiang Lu". Then I took my right hand and pointed to the spot where my hands had just been crossed.

This almost worked, and it was my fault that it didn't. I recognized we were on Dingxiang Lu, and then the driver said something, which I interpreted as "Here?" No idea why I thought that. So I nodded and said "Hao" ("good"), indicating I wanted to stop here. I got out and paid the fare, then realized I was one block over from where I wanted to be. Oh well. Again, my fault for not recognizing where I was. But at least he knew the general direction and area I wanted to go :-)

That's all I can really think of. I'm sure I'll have more to tell on the weekend, so if I don't post before then, don't worry :-)

Oh yeah, and I would love to reply to the comments I'm getting here, but due to Internet blockades from inside the country, I can't actually view this blog page to reply. Actually that's not true -- I can view the page but I can't log in as myself to reply to any comments. Which is strange, because I can post to it just fine, but that's because I post from blogger.com while the actual blog address is blogspot.com. Again, strange. But keep sending the comments, and if you want to talk to me, just Skype or email me or use whatever other way you know how to get in touch :-) I'm planning on posting some pictures of my apartment, complex, and neighborhood on Saturday morning.

January 6, 2008

Setting the Shanghai Fashion World on Fire Since January 2008 ...

Check out what Carrefour had in stock:

I won't blame you if you're jealous. You have every right to be.

They're just the thing to keep my feet warm in my apartment. AND they're stylin'.

I can't wait for the day when I accidentally leave the apartment with these on my feet.

January 5, 2008

Shrimp Flakes and Baby Steps

Saturday morning (Friday night for you all) I woke up and called YAC (yet another co-worker) because she was supposed to hang out with me during the day. We included two other co-workers (they are so common around here!), the ones that I ran into at Carrefour/McDonald's the previous night. We met up at the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum metro stop and took the train to ... well, I don't know where exactly, but we ate breakfast at a place in Puxi called Abbey Road. No, there was no Beatles decor, and they weren't playing music or anything like that -- for shame! You'd think with a name like that ...

I had the Berner Rosti, which is ham, eggs, bacon, potatoes, onions, and cheese all mixed together and fried in a bowl. It was delicious. Deeeeeeeeeelicious. On my way out I picked up some English-language magazines, including a copy of That's Shanghai. I also noticed a magazine with a big picture of Carl Cox, one of my favorite DJs, on the front. I flipped through it and saw it was all in Chinese, but it's obviously a magazine about the club scene in Shanghai. So I took that, too, just to look at the pictures and see the names of DJs I might like :-)

After that we took a cab to a Best Buy somewhere downtown. The goal was to get me a cell phone. The store here is a massive four-floor endeavor, smack in the middle of this gigantic road interchange connected to a metro stop and several other malls. (If there's one thing you can do all day in Shanghai, it's shop.) We looked around for about half an hour, and my Taiwanese coworker represented me well to the staff, but I decided to go somewhere else to get a phone. "Somewhere else" meant an electronics mall just down the street a little bit. Here again is a massive multi-story building that sells nothing but electronic gizmos. Computers, laptops, TVs, DVD players, cell phones, video games, digtal cameras, MP3 players, etc -- it is a geek's heaven. Everywhere you look you see Samsung, Nokia, Gateway, Lenovo, Sony, Benq, LG, and so on ... I'm talking about an entire floor of a mall devoted to just MP3 players and computers. Cell phones were on the third floor.

Buying a phone in China is not like buying one in the US. In the US, you choose a carrier, choose a phone that they offer, and sign a contract for a year or two to use that carrier. In China, you buy a cell phone (any kind you want) and then buy a SIM card for that phone. The SIM card gets you a phone number and a certain number of minutes to use. To get more, you just go to any kiosk and recharge your SIM card. It's pretty slick. There's no contract - it's pay-as-you-go. This mentality is starting to make its way to the US, I know, but you are still limited to phones that the carrier provides for you.

After wandering around a bit and looking at some of the phones, I settled on a Nokia 3110c. Nothing too fancy but does everything I need. It is an unlocked tri-band GSM-based phone, which means that when I get back to the US, I can find a GSM carrier and use this phone with them. Sweet. I learned the word for "tri-band" is apparently san ping or something like that. (I probably messed that up - I didn't get a chance to see the word, and I'm a visual learner.)

The phone's pretty slick. Once we got it to display English characters, I was off and texting some of my coworkers. I was poking around the menus and found out that to access the games, you select the "Magic Box" option. If only :-)

After that, one of my coworkers wanted to look at getting a shirt made, so we took a cab over to a fabric market. This place is three floors of stalls crammed together - each stall has a designer displaying their wares - all sorts of shirts, jackets, socks, suits, pants, vests, hats, dresses, and so on. The deal is you pick a fabric and pick a design, then the designer measures you. In about a week, you come back and pick up your custom-made clothes. You can pick a pre-made design from the stall or you can, for example, bring in a magazine and show the designer something in there that you like. In fact, each stall had a supply of fashion magazines to look through. A lot of my coworkers come to this place, or others, to get this kind of custom clothing done. I'm sure I'll end up doing it myself at some point :-)

The place was enormous and crowded (much like Shanghai itself), and I saw more lao wai there than at any other place so far. We probably walked around for an hour while my coworker looked at various stalls and designers, looking for something he liked. Now when I say custom, I mean custom. The stalls with shirts in them each had 10 collar and 10 cuff options on display. Everything is negotiable.

As we were walking around, my cell phone buzzed with some incoming text messages. I checked them and the sender and message were both in Chinese. In my brain that equals spam! So I quickly complained that I had signed up for phone service 10 minutes ago and already I was getting cell phone spam. My coworker looked at the message and said "That's not spam; those messages are from China Mobile welcoming you to their service and telling you who to call if you have any questions." D'oh :-) She showed me the characters for "China" and "Mobile", which led to a 20-minute discussion on how to pronounce zhong guo (China). I tried hard to get the tones right. At first she told me zhong was in high tone and guo was the falling-rising tone. I must have sounded like a complete idiot because I literally repeated "zhong guo, zhong guo" over and over again, out loud, for like 20 minutes straight. Can you imagine walking around a mall and hearing a Chinese person saying "America. America. America." to themselves over and over?? Hahaha. Oh well, good thing I have no shame. And hey, that's the best way to learn, right? After a little while we ran into one of her friends, and she told us guo is in the rising tone, so I was even saying it wrong!

That led to a discussion on accents, because my co-worker is Taiwanese. We talked about how to pronounce the zh sound. For whatever reason I've been having difficulty with that. Here's the thing: when I hear my Chinese coworkers say "zhong", I hear "tzong" (that's the closest I can get, phonetically, in roman characters). But when I say "zhong", I force a j because that's easier for me, so it comes out more like "jhong." They tell me I'm speaking it correctly. But what I say doesn't sound, to me, like what they say. So I was a bit confused :-) But it's all about accents. I still don't know enough of the language to know what is "correct" and what is an accent (or that it doesn't matter). Hey, as long as people can understand me, I guess I shouldn't worry about it :-)

She also taught me the word for leather, which is pi ("pee"). However what that really means is "skin." It's highly dependent on context. If you walk up to someone on the street and say "wo yao pi", what you're saying is "I want skin," which is insanely creepy. But if you walk up to a clothier who is displaying jackets and say "wo yao pi", he understands you are saying "I want leather." Which, without the noun jiake (jacket), is only slightly less creepy :-)

After my impromptu Chinese lesson (I hope to be be having many of these), we split up. Three of us took a cab back to my area, because we all live there. These other two co-workers, who've been here for a couple months, showed me around the Dingxiang Lu area. I'm within walking distance of Thumb Plaza, a shopping center with tons of places to eat. I'm also near the Renaissance Shanghai Pudong Hotel, this grand opulent building. There are sports bars and family marts all around. Very cool.

Oh, I forgot. My co-workers told me that my power outages most likely are caused from having all three heaters on at once. This might be overloading the circuitry, especially during the day when the entire building is also using its electricity. Nice. I'm just so used to central heat and not thinking "Ok, I'm going to move into the living room, gotta turn the heat on in there." I guess the good thing is that, again, I will never take central heat for granted again :-)

Anyway, I got home and rested for a bit. Then it was time for dinner with YAC and her husband. We went to the Thumb Plaza and ate at Bi Feng Tang, a chain dumpling restaurant. (I went to the one on Dongchang Lu during my last visit.) I didn't order anything exotic on the menu, but I let me tell you, there were some descriptions that made me jump, haha.

I walked home from there, and it was only about 8:45 PM or so. Maybe even earlier. I didn't want to go to bed just yet, so I decided to be adventurous. I packed up my camera, Lonely Planet guide, and my Mandarin phrasebook, and hailed a cab to The Bund. In Chinese. I'm not gonna lie -- I was very impressed with myself :-) What I said to the cabbie was "qing Waitan" which means "The Bund, please." I practiced saying this in the elevator on the way down (I had plenty of time -- the elevator is really slow) because I was worried I'd mess it up. That's why I had my guidebook, so I could point to the Chinese characters if necessary. But no, he understood me on the first try, and off we went. Woohoo :-) Now, asking to go to the Bund is a bit pointless, since the Bund is a mile or so long, so in the car he suggested dropping me off at the corner of Nanjing Dong Lu and Zhongshan Lu, to which I agreed.

I got out of the cab, paid, crossed under the street, and just walked down the length of the Bund. I had my camera and took a couple pictures, but they all suck. I really need to learn how to use this camera; the automatic mode doesn't work very well at night, and the night mode is too blurry. It's a pretty fancy camera; unfortunately for me, I just don't know anything about how to use it properly :-) Anyway here's the one that turned out the best, I think, of a guy playing a saxophone right on the Bund:

At the end of the Bund, where there are stairs that go back down to the street, I saw a sign for I Love Shanghai Lounge, which is apparently underneath the Bund. I recognized the name from a this Shanghai web site that I read, and there was no cover, so I headed in. It's a Western bar, so the couple people that were there were white. I just sat down for a bit, relaxed and listened to the music (some kind of jazz/hip-hop) and took it easy.

I asked a waiter if they ever had house/techno DJs play there, and he said yes, on Friday night, and to talk to the owner. So I did, and the owner was like "I don't know what he's talking about - we only play hip-hop here." So I have no idea what that was about :-) The owner is Jeff. He's from Seattle and has been in Shanghai four years. He moved here originally to each English for three months, but he's still here as the owner of a bar. Neat :-) Before I left, I bought a t-shirt with their logo (in Chinese) on it.

After a little while, I got up and headed back up the Bund to Nanjing Dong Lu. I walked westwards until I came to where the street dead-ends into a plaza with shops on either side. I just kept walking, going inside stores that looked interesting, but mostly just meandering. A little ways in, a Chinese guy passed me in the opposite direction and said "Hello." I answered "Hey" just to be friendly, but this guy stopped in his tracks, turned around, and walked next to me the whole rest of the way. We chatted about nothing really; I figured I was helping him practice his English skills, which is cool. Actually his English was pretty good.

At the end of the plaza I said goodbye, hopped into a cab, and headed home, satisfied with my first solo adventure in Shanghai. This morning I woke up early (again) and snacked on a pouch of Shrimp Flakes ("with natural iodine!") while writing this blog entry. Mmmmmm.

Zai jian!