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!


Michelle said...

Ohhh that Berner Rosti sounds delicious! I'm amused at the whole bit about the ham though. XP And your description of that electronics store just makes me envious. How are the prices out there? Sucks about the I Love Shanghai Lounge but I'm sure you'll eventually figure out where the Shanghai electronica scene is at. The whole custom made clothing thing sounds absolutely freaking awesome though!

Rachel said...

Hey, I like your pics! The camera you have is a very nice fancy one--lots of optical zoom, which is good, and many megapixels, also good. If you are having trouble taking pics with the auto mode, try a night mode or, if you can figure out how to, open the aperture (lower number f-stop, if that makes any sense). I am SO jealous that you are having this cool adventure, and I am SOO happy to be reading your journal--thank you for sharing this!