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 :-)

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