February 29, 2008


Honestly, it's pretty cool that I've been here only two months and already Shanghaiist has posted like four of my pictures/videos:
And my co-worker Tim got his shot at stardom, via his wife, here. It's great encouragement for continuing to shoot photos.

Last night was no fun - I think I ate something a wee bit nasty at the cafeteria yesterday, haha. Yuck. On top of that, I've had a cold since about Tuesday. But I'm feeling a bit better now. This is the first time I've been sick here, so I figure if I can go two months without getting sick, that's a good thing.

The weather right now is 15 degrees C (59 degrees F) and I'm loving it. After being in Austin so long, I forgot what spring felt like - that magical day when you realize "I'm wearing too many jackets". It makes that winter chill just a little bit more bearable. Funny thing is I'm going to get back to Austin and roast. When I first got there in 2004, I felt like I was at the beach, haha. I'm sure it'll be a similar situation this time around.

Yesterday for a couple hours, the blogspot.com domain was unblocked ... and I saw my blog in all its glory *sniff sniff* But the ban seems to be back in place now. D'oh.

Humm, not much else going on at the moment. I'm going to try and do some picture taking at Century Park sometime today, since it's so nice out.

February 26, 2008


  • So, I figured out the equivalent of the "measurement words" in English. It's like how you say, a gaggle of geese, a pride of lions, or a murder of crows or things like that. You've got to be specific -- but if you can't be (who is going to remember all of those?) you can just say like "a bunch" or "a group". I think now that I've made this analogy, it'll be easier for me to understand how things work.
  • I talked with one of my co-workers today about the le word ... and it doesn't mean a change in state, it just is there to describe a state. So, wo e le describes me as having the state of being hungry. Wo bao le is the opposite - I have the state of being full. So I guess if I wanted to say I'm happy, I would say wo kuai le. Which isn't too hard to guess, given that all I heard at the beginning of this month was Xin nian kuai le - "New Year Happy", or, as you may have guessed, "Happy New Year".
  • You can say ba at the end of a sentence to indicate that it's a command, kind of like an exclamation point. Ne ge chi ba would mean "Eat that!" Which is what I'll be saying to myself when I'm staring down a plate of deep-fried bees this weekend ... muhahaha.
Okay, that's all for now :-)

February 25, 2008

Wo bu zhidao zenme shuo ...

The language lessons continue. Daily. Hourly. I love it.

At my last tutoring session on Saturday, my tutor spent most of the time speaking, while I translated into English. It's tough! A lot of it was contextual. Moreso than I would have like. What I mean is, I was able to recognize a couple words and then figure out what she was saying/asking. A couple times I got mixed up, like hearing xi when she said qiu and so on. I learned a bunch of new words, too. Like "baseball" and "Tokyo" and "convenient" and "buy" and "there" and "here". From the subway, I also know how to say "We have arrived" which helps with the taxis, although now I can also say "Stop here" or "Stop there" while pointing to a place. Very helpful. And this morning at work I was able to put together a sentence - Xin qi liu wo zai Jialefu mai chi de. (I think that's right, anyway.)

Notice (if you can) the placement of the prepositional phrase there -- zai Jialefu. It is stuck in the middle of the sentence, where in English the prep. phrase usually is at the end of the sentence. But I guess in Chinese it's different - which is just one of the many things I'm having trouble with. I also have heard different opinions about adjective/noun placement. For example in English I would say "the black cat" - but in Spanish I would say el gato negro. I think Chinese might be a mixture of the two, which -- well, damn, more confusion to be had :-)

Oh, and there are no articles - "the" or "a" or "an" do not exist in Chinese. It's actually quite refreshing to not have to worry about those words. It's like, I'm saving my breath, haha. Even though it takes an extra second to realize "Hey, I'm not going to sound like a moron if I leave out the article." Hahaha.

Another thing is this seemingly random placement of de. I've figured out le - it indicates that something has changed. So, Mei you means "I don't have [it]", while Mei you le means "I do not have [it] anymore," or put more simply, "[it's] gone." Your state of having-ness has changed. (If you're speaking this at home, phonetically this would be pronounced "may yo luh" although not quite.) The subject [it] is omitted if you can figure what "it" is out from the context.

Another example: dao means "arrive", but dao le means " to have arrived." (The subject is implied by the context) See how that works? I think dao is 4th tone and you'd pronounce it similar to "dow".

But I still haven't figured out de (pronounced "duh"). In one sense it indicates possession, so, for example, wo de means "my" or "mine", ni de means "your" or "yours", and so on. But in other sentences and other contexts it seems to just appear randomly. I'll have to inquire further about usage. It's also one of the few words that are toneless.

Other fun stuff. Today my coworkers and I were walking to lunch, and Mark said something that translates word-for-word as "Your back has a car." Um ... wtf? What that means, though, is "A car is coming from behind you." Hahaha. I am starting to see how Chinglish comes about so easily :-)

I learned "most" is split into two words - duo for countable objects (for example, the number of pieces of candy I ate at work today) and cui for un-countable objects, like, the degree to which someone is a jerk, haha. I would also say wo ren cui gao le, or "I am the tallest person"! Haha. See, now that's an example of something that's confusing me - I can't figure out how le indicates change in that sentence. Maybe it's just another random placement, like wo e le ("I am hungry"). If you say just wo e, that's apparently not a complete sentence. And wo shi e is not proper, either. So yes -- confusing you see this is.

Today at the cafeteria I needed an extra chair for my table, so I found an empty one, pointed to it, and said to the guys at its table, Ni men yao zhe ge? They kind of stared at me funny, and so I repeated myself. Then one of them acknowledged me with a wave of his hand, that said I could take it.

You astute Chinese speakers will realize my mistake here, and it's one I still make from time to time -- I left out the ma in the above sentence. So what I said to them was not a question, but a statement: "You [collectively] want this." No wonder I got a stare :-)

Speaking of zhe ge - zhe means "this" and ge is a generic measurement word. Chinese has tons of measurement words, for example, yi zhang piao means "one ticket". Yi is "one" and piao means "paper" (but refers to tickets usually). Zhang in this case is a measurement word associated with piao. As you can imagine (or read on that link), measurement words are different for all sorts of things. But ge can apply to just about anything - the only problem is that it's generic, so you have to be sure you're being specific by using other means (usually by pointing at what you're talking about, haha).


And tonight at the gym, I was getting some water when one of the staff asked me for help with a word. He's got a little book that he's using to teach himself English at home. One word turned into twenty, though, as I walked him through words like "captain," "harbor," "sail", "confident," "large", "treasure", and so on. (He was apparently on the nautical chapter.) I was having a lot of fun. On words like "large", I could hear him adding an extra "uh" on the end. So the word became "lar-juh". Again, this is typical if you hear a native Chinese speaker say words in English for the first time. But, you know, I've never heard someone actually go through and learn it, so that was really neat.

He also had a problem with "throw". I exaggerated the degree to which I stuck my tongue between my teeth to make the "th" sound, but he still couldn't get it. It kept coming out like "srow", which, again, is a stereotypical thing to hear I suppose. When I am learning, I have found it helps to watch the person's mouth and, if they speak English, inquire about proper tongue placement. (I'm really resisting the temptation to make a foul joke or two here, haha.) These tactics helped me with sh, ch, and zh, which still give me trouble but which I think I'm still getting better at. And doing this requires you both to share a common language, which wasn't really the case here.

But also, doing this really helped me see how much I want to learn proper Chinese pronunciations, not just the words themselves. I want to sound, like, good. Hahaha. I suppose anyone would. But I feel a strong desire to speak (and understand) proper Chinese. Appropriately enough, I bet that "language" is the most common tag on this here bloggity-blog.

I think I'm doing well. At least I'm able to enumerate some of the problems I'm having and some of the areas where I could use more work. I try out my Chinese all the time. Primarily on my co-workers, but I also want second opinions, because my co-workers are highly educated and trained in English, so they are used to hearing it spoken to them. I want to talk to, for example, the taxi driver, or the woman selling oranges in People's Square, and see if they understand me.

So I do and, usually, I think I get my point across :-)

February 24, 2008


I stepped outside today, saw a clear blue sky, and immediately thought "Jin Mao!" The pictures I took from my first visit up there, back in November, were kind of hazy. Today I went back and took some more pictures. You don't waste days like these in Shanghai. Unlike in Austin, where I was always like "Oh, I don't need to take advantage of the nice weather today - it's guaranteed to be this nice for at least the next eight months", in Shanghai (at least in the winter) when the weather is clear and blue like this, you get your happy ass outside!

I set the white-balance mode on my camera to its fluorescent-lighting setting, which resulted in this dark-blue overtone that I think looks kind of neat. The toughest part was capturing the shadows of the clouds while still keeping the picture itself light enough to make out.

First, some pictures to prove the sun was out in force today:

Then some from the Jin Mao:

Just beautiful. I wish the city itself had come out lighter. But still. I'm not complaining.

This one probably will be my new computer wallpaper.

Or this one ...

I could see all the way into People's Square. Notice the white balance is set to "Auto" on this one, so it's not all blue.

Afterwards I walked down the street to the Oriental Pearl Tower and took in the view from its top floor, which was slightly less impressive. Okay, much less impressive. The only thing worth seeing was the twin peaks of the Jin Mao and the WFC standing side-by-side, which is a view you obviously won't get from the Jin Mao itself.

These could probably use some lightening-up, but I'm lazy.

The full set is here.

Another pic, this time of the metro plaza near my apt:

And some more interesting (I think) architecture:

At the Oriental Pearl Tower, I met this guy Elias from Bavaria who also was doing some sightseeing. He's in a situation similar to mine: he is in Shanghai on a work visa for 6 - 7 months. He's a little bit newer than I am, so I took a certain delight in giving him tips for navigating the city, telling him how to pronounce the area he lived in, cluing him in to this party I'm going to on Saturday, correcting his pronunciation of "fa piao," and teaching him how to day "I'm German" in Chinese. Haha. I won't lie, it was a good feeling to be able to pass off some knowledge to someone who's newer here than me :-) I see this situation all the time at work - we have someone who's been there for three months teaching the person who has been there for two weeks. It works out well that way for all parties involved. Same thing here. After all, the best way to learn something is to teach it yourself!

I came home from the sightseeing excursion to find my aiyi finishing up her first day on the job. Holy shit does this place look so much nicer than yesterday. She not only cleaned like I asked her to, she did all my laundry, organized all the stuff I had laying around, unpacked my last suitcase, and folded everything that was already in drawers or the closet. Wow. I am very impressed. And, well, yeah. I could get used to this :-)

I think I misspoke in my post yesterday. I maybe should have said "hoity-toity" instead of "bouregoisie," because the latter term implies labor exploitation and class struggle. I didn't intend to convey those ideas, because I certainly don't feel they apply to this situation here. I don't think hiring a maid is exploitative in any sense. After all, I am putting money into the local economy and increasing her earning power without acting like a robber baron (I hope).

I mainly was talking about not wanting to spend money on tasks that I could do myself, because I would consider that a wasteful endeavor, e.g. something that a hoity-toity (HT) person might do. (If there are any HTs reading this blog, you are exempted from this overanalysis.) But considering what she's charging me and what she did for me today, hoo boy, I would not call that wasting money at all :-)

And in a larger sense, if you're paying for a good or service and you're happy with what you get for the price, it's not wasteful (in a monetary sense) at all. Like there is a certain price point at which having my laundry folded would become, to me, wasteful. Just to throw some numbers out there, I might pay someone fifty cents to fold my laundry, but I would not pay anyone fifty bucks to do it, because I would consider that amount wasteful. At fifty cents, I don't think I'd consider that wasteful. You see what I mean. Man, I've been reading the Freakanomics blog way too much.

Plus, "hoity-toity" is way more fun to think/say.

February 23, 2008

I Have an Aunt

So, I'm about to head out to go ice-skating, except I'm worried they will not have skates for my giant American feet, haha. My friend humorously described this lack of inventory as an "untapped market", which made me laugh. You will not be surprised to learn that she works in PR :-) But I'm on my way out the door, so we'll see if they can dig up a special pair just for me.

I spent the afternoon today shopping at Carrefour for cleaning supplies. Not for me, mind you - but for my aiyi. Literally this word means "aunt" (Hi out there!) but colloquially it refers to a maid. Yes, that's right - after almost 2 months here I am breaking down and hiring a maid. I resisted for so long because, well, I am used to cleaning (however infrequently and half-assedly) myself. And I don't like the idea of paying someone to do something that I can easily do myself. I guess it makes me feel, too, what's-the-word -- bourgeoisie. (Icky.) But the dust is piling up and I'd rather spend my time sightseeing (and ice skating), and Tim recommended his aiyi who he and his wife have employed for over two years. So I hopped on the spoiled-expat bandwagon. I'm mitigating this feeling by still doing my own laundry and food gathering/cooking. It's just the scuzzy floors that will get a cleaning. She's coming tomorrow at 1 or 2 PM.

For whatever reason, the mop/broom aisle in Carrefour is the home turf of like 6 different salespeople who all try to push (pun totally intended) brooms on you the moment you step in the aisle. Nowhere else in the store has anyone else tried to offer my something. But there's like 2 - 3 people giving broom/mop demos in this particular aisle. Even when I clearly had a broom and mop in my cart already, they were still trying to hawk their merchandise, haha. I have no idea what's going on there or why that aisle is so popular with the type-A employees.

So I regaled you all in the past with the tale of my heating units and how I wasn't sure I was using them effectively. Turns out I was right. After several weeks of procrastination I brought the units' remote control into work and asked my boss to read the labels for me. I discovered I'd had the unit on "Automatic" instead of a specific "Heater" mode. Also I now can use the high-powered mode and have the fan blades oscillate to heat an entire room better. Coupled with the slight rise in temperature (I think it was 8 - 9 degrees out today) I'm feeling a bit toastier. Asking my boss to read the labels on my remote control brings me back to that embarrassing feeling where I know what I want but don't know how to say / ask for it, haha. But I swallowed my pride and it turned out to be a good thing (as I would imagine usually is the case) :-)

I've been eating some badass food, too. On both Thursday and Friday nights I had food from Guizhou province. The food is spicy, but not nearly as spicy as Sichuan or Hunan food. They have some interesting dishes too, including worms, bees (yes, bees!), dog meat (perpetuating a stereotype), and steamed turtles. I have to admit, I'm really curious to see what a meal consisting of bees and turtles will taste like. I'll let you all know what I find out, and of course I'll bring my camera along for the ride :-)

I also saw one description on the menu that was heavy on the Chinglish - apparently the dish contained "Jew's ear." I saw that and was like fuck, I'm getting out of here, ya'll aren't taking my ears!!

Tonight I go for the hat trick as, after ice skating (if I can indeed do that) we're going to a Hunan place. No rest for my tongue :-)

Small anecdote: I was discussing Chinese and American leaders today with my tutor, where I found out the Chinese refer to Dubya as "Bushi", which, when said out loud, sounds pretty close to how you would say "is not" in actual Chinese. I liked that. And she taught me how to say "Clinton," and then she said another name starting with an L. And I was like, "Hillary," naturally assuming that she would be the woman most closely associated with Bill. But Joyce (my tutor) was like "No, not Hillary, not his wife -- [this other woman] can't be president." I literally had no idea who she was talking about, so I kept saying "I really think you mean Hillary" and just assumed Joyce was mistaken.

But it turned out she was trying to say "Lewinsky"!! I cracked up for a couple seconds there, just because, you know, I don't think most Americans think about that incident anymore, but apparently that's not the case overseas. Oh, the legacies we weave without even thinking about it . . .

February 19, 2008

Chi fan

I'm not sure what it is about food here, but it seems less filling than in Austin. Maybe that's a comment on the typical American diet and/or what we like to put in food. Maybe I'm still in like "vacation" mode or something, so psychologically my brain is still relaxing. (Maybe this is why I can't seem to find time for the gym.) But seriously, I eat a whole meal and like 3 hours later I'm hungry again. Even when it's not Chinese food - even when it's cookies or chocolate or something like that. Something over here must be different. If I could read the ingredients, I might investigate :-)

Tonight Charles, Herbert and I ate some hot pot. That's this deal where you all sit at a table with a big, well, pot plonked down in the middle of it, above a burner. The pot is full of broth and some veggies. The staff turns on the burner, and you order raw meat and throw it in the pot. When it's nice and cooked (that's the important part), you take the food out of the boiling cauldron and eat it.


Being in a foreign country, and being also perhaps preternaturally disposed towards worrying about unsanitary food, and being aware that my co-worker James got sick from hot pot when we visisted in November, I was a little wary about trying it myself. And, unfortunately, my co-workers insisted we order the spicy version. Now, I was not raised on spicy food, but I was pretty proud of the effort I made in Austin to eat spicy Mexican food. I even indulged in some spicy Indian and Thai food on occasion. However, spicy Chinese food (usually from Sichuan or Hunan province) is a totally different level. I can only take so much of it in one dish, let alone an entire meal. So when I saw the red peppers floating in the broth, I knew I was in for it.

And yes, it was insanely spicy. The kind of spicy where my lips, tongue, and throat were buzzing after each bite. It was not very pleasant, but I managed to hang in there and finish the meal. I couldn't really tell if it was good, though -- the spiciness just got in the way of the food. It was too much. So if I do hot pot again, I'll make sure to get the non-spicy version - but the way I hear it, that's kind of like the wussy way out. Oh well, so sue me - I like to taste my food :-)

As for the wigglies, well, I gave everything a thorough once-over before I actually ate it, and once or twice I even checked with Herbert or Charles, who have hot pot experience. So I think I'm fine. But, I will wait 24 hours or so before declaring myself 100%, haha.

February 17, 2008

Words & Food

Today was the first time I've been able to say it's actually warm. I even took off my big heavy jacket on the walk from the Thumb Plaza to the metro station. Of course, it's all relative, as today's temperature was something like 7 - 8 degrees C - hardly "warm". But given the past month of crappy weather, I'll take it. Oh yeah, and the sun came out. It was pretty nice :-)

I went to the Shanghai Art Museum today. Half the stuff my guidebook said to visit wasn't there, haha. Either that or I was just not good at finding it. There's not much English or Pinyin to be had, so I just walked around and looked at all the pretty pictures for awhile. There were a couple of which I wanted to buy prints, but the gift shop didn't seem to have them. I need to learn the word for "buy". Um, I'm sure it's in my phrasebook. I also need to learn "live", "need", "with", "there", "here", "after", and "like". Probably all also in my phrasebook.

The great thing about having a language tutor is that I can come to her and say "Help me learn these words." In fact I might text message her with these words and ask her to come up with sentences designed to help me learn and remember them. Word. (hah! no pun intended!)

I'm getting better at recognizing words I know when people say them to me. That's pretty cool and empowering. So I am having more mini-conversations with taxi drivers and waiters. In the morning when taxi drivers have talk radio on, I'm starting to recognize words like "today", "want", "have", "you", "me", and so on, from the vocabulary that I actually know and can speak. Baby steps man -- baby steps. Today I saw a billboard for Heilongjiang - and immediately knew that means "Black Dragon River". That's a pretty badass name for a province, if I say so myself.

In fact I was watching a bit of TV this morning, and there was some commercial for skin moisturizing cream on - Garnier, I think. (Amusingly, the announcer pronounced it "Gar-nyer", where in America it's pronounced "Gar-nyay", which I guess is the correct way to say it in French.) I heard the phrase gao keji, and immediately went - ahh, I know what that is! Because two metro stops I say the most are Shanghai Keji Guan and Zhangjiang Gao Ke. Ke is technology (first tone, anyway), ji (fourth tone) is science, and gao (first tone) is tall. (We all know why I know this word.)

So gao keji, in the commercial, literally means "tall science and technology". In this context though, gao probably means something like "advanced". Combined with my knowledge of how these commercials are all the same, e.g., they all try to convince you they've uncovered the secret formula for eternal youth, I could infer that the voice-over was using this same technique of persuasion in China. Not that there's anything especially interesting about that - I'm just happy I was able to recognize the words in a normal, everyday context.

Another funny phrase involving gao is Ni he gao le. This literally means, "You drink tall" which makes no sense. But colloquially, this phrase means "you're drunk", and if you think about it, it kind of makes sense (at least to me, anyway). This one is easy to confuse (when either speaking or listening) with Ni hen gao le, which simply means, "You're very tall". A way to make it easier is that he is first tone and hen is third tone, so if you get your tones right, I guess there's less of a chance of insulting someone accidentally.

In other, smaller triumphs, I went shopping yesterday at Carrefour and bought vittles. It took me a couple trips to load everything into the taxi, so I knew I wouldn't be able to carry everything up to my apartment by myself, not in one trip anyway.

Solution, you ask?

As we stopped at my door, I said to the taxi driver, Wo gei ni er shi kuai bang wo. This translates to "I give you 20 kuai help me." I could have added zhe ge ("this") while pointing at the bags, I suppose, but I got my point across. He understood and helped me carry all my bags upstairs. Victory :-)

Speaking of er ("two"), it's pronounced like "ar" (as in "yard"), and it's first tone. So every time I say it I'm reminded of the sound a dog makes ("arf arf!") and I feel a little silly because I feel like I'm barking at someone in the way a small dog would, haha.

Also speaking of er, you only say that when you're saying the numeral two. When you want to say "two of <something>", you say liang. So if you want two bottles of water and you say Wo yao er ping shui, you'll confuse people. What you need to say is Wo yao liang ping shui. But if you're giving a street address, you'd use er. Don't ask me why this little rule is in there. But it's confusing :-)

Back to Carrefour, or Jialefu as it's called here, I bought a pot and a pan. So now I can boil (and fry!) the frozen jiaozi that I bought, which is way better than microwaving them. They also make for a much better dinner than a pack of Bugles and some rice crackers. (I'm such a bachelor.) I'm really starting to enjoy all the different kinds of dumplings - jiaozi, xiaolongbao, and wonton. They're cheap and delicious. Good times. I guess it's in my blood, and all, given that I grew up being served kreplach every so often :-)

I'm not sure if now's the time to explain how I've been living here almost two months and my refrigerator was not plugged in -- but, I guess I just did. The funny part is, I didn't even notice, because it's so cold here. All the bottles of water I had in there were cold, so I had no reason to be suspicious. Yesterday I dropped something behind the fridge and had to look back there, so I noticed, hey, this thing's not plugged in! Now the fridge light turns on when I open the door, and I'm like -- oh, right, that's supposed to happen -- I forgot.

Back to Jialefu. You know you've made it in China when your company or product is blessed with a Chinese name. For example, KFC is known as kendeji which, when said out loud, vaguely sounds like "Kentucky". Same thing for places like Washington DC, Houston, Italy, Canada, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonald's, et al.

Aaaaand I am looking into booking a trip to Beijing at the end of April. Randomly enough, a friend of mine who I used to carpool with to Hebrew School in 3rd grade is in a play that is touring through China this spring. The tour is not coming to Shanghai, so I'm going to plan to meet up with them in Beijing.

February 10, 2008

Go Dong Bo Go!

  • I am kind of addicted to these rice crackers I bought at Carrefour. I'd tell you the brand name but, uh, I can't read it.
  • Emboldened by my success at ordering watermelon on Friday, I tried it yesterday also. Unfortunately I ended up with a straw. You know, like, a drinking straw. I guess I must have gotten the tones wrong there, haha. Again, judicious use of the word chi saved the day. (I also may -- may, I stress -- have mimed eating food by biting my hand.) Undeterred, I asked the waitress today if she had xigua, and she said no. Going on the assumption that they do have straws, I will interpret her response as pertaining to watermelon, which means she understood me :-)
  • On the subway back from Xintiandi I started talking to this Chinese guy who was headed to Guam for some diving. He spoke pretty good English. He asked if I was American and I was like yeah, I am. He then said he was going to America, and I was like oh really, where? He told me Guam, and I chuckled and was like uhh, that's almost America. (Best line from The Critic: "I don't even know what to call those people. Guamanians? The Guamish?") I know it's a territory of ours, but does that really count as "America"? I was about to say no, because they don't pay US taxes. But they are technically under Dubya (at least according to Wikipedia) and their currency is USD. I also found out that its people are US citizens. So OK, I concede my error. That guy is going to America :-)
  • Four days later, there are still crazy fireworks shows going on outside my apartment as I type this at 10:30 PM. I can't stress how bizarre it is to have fireworks exploding in midair literally 10 feet from your window. Bizarre and annoying. I guess I wouldn't mind so much except that I have to work tomorrow :-)
  • I just finished watching like 20 minutes of the 2007 CCTV Cup English Speaking Contest. A (Chinese) contestant comes onstage and gives a minute-and-a-half prepared speech. Then they are questioned by a panel of experts and commentators. They then pick a number at random that corresponds to a topic, such as urban sprawl or the necessity of doing work-study programs in college. They have 5 seconds (although the hosts say "15 seconds" which is strange) to prepare a response to the question, give a minute-long speech, and then defend their answer again for two minutes. The whole round is then scored like slam poetry (drop the high and low scores; add the rest) by a panel of judges.
I was really into the idea of judging and editing the English (yes, that's right, I was into it), but apparently it's more like a debate competition. However, the comments focused not so much on the English but on the debating skills. I wanted the commentators to be like "'Upward' is not a verb, kid! Stop saying that cities are 'going to upward'." I almost said that out loud during one speech, haha. But instead the commentators were like, you know, you should present more evidence, you should organize your points better, etc. So that program title seems like a misnomer.

You could easily tell when a candidate got flustered, which happened with all three of the candidates I saw. One poor kid was sweating his ass off -- I felt bad for him. They started slipping in their answers - making broad generalizations and logical fallacies and such. I dunno, I would have been way harder on these kids. They were scoring like 95/100, whereas I would have scored them maybe in the 70s. I guess I'm not sure to what standard they were being held, though.

The extemporaneous sections were tricky because they were set up in terms of absolutes. "Is x better than y? Is z necessary?" I would have called most of these questions false dichotomies. But I guess those force you into taking one extreme position or the other, which probably makes for better TV than a candidate advocating for balance. But as a judge I would have hoped at least one contestant might break from that mold. Granted I didn't watch all the contestants, but the three I saw didn't deviate from the yes/no standard.

One commentator asked a follow-up question in the form of "Is x better than y?" which he immediately followed up with "Or is it a balance between x and y?" And I was like no, that's a terrible question! If you set up a false dichotomy and then give them a way out of it, they're going to take it. They need to come up with the deviant path on their own.

Wow, look how riled up I got over 30 minutes of TV. I totally need to be a judge on that show :-) However, I got bored after the third contestant when I couldn't follow their speeches very well. This might disqualify me from judging if one of the commentators hadn't begun her response by saying "I kind of tuned out during the last part of your speech...." hahaha. At least they're honest.

Anyway this post's title references Dong Bo, the last contestant I watched. Her extemporaneous speech was on sprawl vs. density, and she chose to argue for density. The three commentators attacked her by arguing for sprawl. I couldn't tell if they seriously felt that way or if they were just trying to, you know, engage her a little bit by saying she was wrong. Probably some of both. Her arguments were mostly good. But I wanted to hand her a copy of The Austin Chronicle :-) After 5 minutes of reading that, she would have had like 60 arguments for choosing density over sprawl, haha. Either that or she would have wanted to move to Seattle.

I think it's funny that, while America and the UK and Australia are like "Hey, Chinese is going to be an essential business skill soon -- let's spend years learning it!" the Chinese are like "Let's give money to kids who can speak English the best and put them on national TV!" Which side would you say is using their time and energy more effectively? (Quick, you have 5 seconds to prepare your argument.)
  • I was pressing random buttons on my TV remote and *gasp* the color came back! I'm so excited. It's like 1954 all over again!
  • I've been asked several times about the US elections. Mostly it's British and Australian expats who are doing the asking. So I've been involved in a couple political discussions already. Very interesting. I love hearing outsiders' perspectives on the situation the US and how other countries perceive us. I realized I didn't know what was really going on because I've been concentrating so much on Shanghai. So I did some Googling and caught up with who's in and out of the race up to this point.

February 8, 2008

Full Flickr Set from Yesterday

... is here.

The Old and the New

Whew, I'm out of clever headlines for these posts :-) Today, even though did nothing special yesterday except eat dinner at a friend's house, I was feeling really beat. Still though, I pushed myself to do another walking tour, my third in four days. The biggest reason was that the sun was shining and the temperature was a balmy 5 degrees C. These occasions have been rare in the past 2 - 3 weeks, so I figured I'd better tak advantage of the decent weather. Also I guessed it'd be a good day for picture taking :-) And I was right:

Looks positively tropical, don't it? I'm kind of amazed the skyscrapers in the background came out so clearly.

Today it was the Nanshi ("Southern City", but referred to as "Old Town") and Xintiandi, which translates to "New Heaven on Earth". A pretty bold claim if I say so myself. So it was kind of a mix of more traditional Chinese lifestyle, although Nanshi is pretty tourist-ified, and the bright new future of Xintiandi, this mixed-use development just a little bit west of Nanshi.

I had the cabbie drop me off at Fangbang Zhong Lu and Henan Nan Lu, which is about on the southwest border of what is considered the old town. Even though I had the walking tour handy, I kind of wandered around by myself for a bit. I'd been here with Andrea and James back in November, so the sights were familiar, but the crowds were even more intense this time around because of the New Year. Yuyuan (Yu Garden) is a popular tourist attraction on any given weekend, but in the days following New Year's it suddenly becomes even more important. So I avoided it, which was not hard given that I would have had to exert serious effort to even get near it. I will have to actually go there one of these days.

As I entered the main plaza I came across this fine character:

Pretty impressive if I say so myself. Rats all around! There were tons of other decorations hanging from the buildings and even floating in the lake:

I was hungry, so I stopped in a tiny dessert shop and had some ... shit, I don't even know what it was, but it was the only place there that wasn't jam-packed full of people. I ate my "meal" and took a picture of the neat sign behind the counter:

That's totally going to be the name of my band, or at least my next demo CD. Dessert Monster Invade the World. I'm actually impressed that they spelled "dessert" correctly :-)

After that I got on the walking tour, which just involved going south and heading back out onto Fangbang Zhong Lu again. That street is a marketplace and, again, it was insanely crowded. I kept having to dodge people trying to sell me watches and DVDs and whatnot, but I'm pretty used to that by now. It doesn't bother me at all.

I wandered through the alleyways and headed west along Dajing Lu. I saw a bunch of marketplaces, and one of them even had live frogs chilling on the street in a basket:

I suspect he's not long for this world. There was a bucket of guts right beside him :-)

I continued out along Dajing Lu, past the White Cloud Taoist Temple, and came out to Renmin Lu. Here I kind of freestyled for a bit and wandered north away from the tour. After a little more wandering and picture-taking, I decided to walk to Xintiandi since it was kind of close. Along the way there I passed a group of guys playing cards on Chongde Lu, and sat and watched them for a bit.

I wanted to take a picture of them, but, and this might sound odd, but I feel weird taking pictures of people. Because I feel like that would be treating them like some stop on a tour. And these are just, you know, people going about their lives in the city. I don't want to intrude or make them feel like they're under my magnifying glass or anything. So I kind of avoid taking pictures of people, except maybe in groups. But then I feel like my pictures are all of buildings and streets and things. Which are fine, but that's obviously not all there is to this city ;-) And it gets a bit boring.

Anyway, I ended up walking past Huaihai Park. On a whim I decided to go in. I'm pretty happy I did, beceause I encountered a bunch of people singing and dancing:

It was these two women and a guy. They had a mic and a small speaker and were singing in the middle of the park. A couple people had stopped to watch and clap along, which was kinda cool. I stopped to take some pictures and some video, and then I was like, shit, I kind of want to join in.

So I did. I started clapping along with them. They were smiling at me and continued singing while I clapped on the beat. The whole time I was thinking "I should totally sing something. Nobody knows me here, and even better, nobody will understand me. What can I sing?" The words "Bon Jovi" flashed through my brain but uh, I don't know any Bon Jovi. I just think it'd be fun to sing "Livin' on a Prayer" in a park in Shanghai. Too bad I don't know the words :-)

So I kept on clapping and in a little bit I ended up dancing, well, as much as I could to what was going on. It was pretty fun. Then the woman who was singing stopped, passed the mic off, and came over to dance. We danced around each other for a little bit, then we grabbed each others' hands and did some quasi-tango sort of thing, I dunno what exactly, but it was fun. I spun her around a couple times on one hand, you know, and she seemed to like that. Then they tried to hand me the mic, and because I couldn't think of anything on the spot like that, I declined. But I really should have sung something. Anything. Stupid Bon Jovi! :-)

Anyway, here's what we were dancing to:

My dance partner rewarded me with a very well-put "Thank you!" and I smiled and said you're welcome, bowed a little bit and excused myself because I was hungry. I went ten steps down Taicang Lu and ran into the Bellagio, which I recognized because Andrea took James and me there in November. So I sat down and had a nice little meal of pork fried rice and some dumplings. Mmmm, xiaolongbao.

I even managed to ask if they had watermelon (xigua) and order some even though it wasn't on the menu. Go-go Gadget Mandarin :-) It was funny because they have watermelon juice on the menu, but I didn't want juice. The waitress heard me say xigua, brought over the menu, and pointed to the watermelon juice. But I said Wo bu yao he ("I don't want drink") . Wo yao xigua chi. I'm sure that last one isn't a recognizable sentence, and neither is the former, really, but chi means "eat" so I figured if I threw that in there I'd get my point across. And it worked :-) I ended up with a lovely watermelon platter:

(Yes, I'm starting to take pictures of my meals.)

A lot of the places I've eaten serve watermelon as kind of a dessert thing. It's actually a really refreshing way to finish your meal. The cold watermelon is a nice counterpoint to the hot, oily, sweet, and fat-ridden main dishes. I can see this becoming a habit :-)

After that, I continued on to Xintiandi. The name might be fancy, but I think it's kind of boring. I guess it might be a good place to go with friends, but there doesn't seem to be much to there except shop, eat, and catch a movie. I wasn't really interested in either of the three, so I took a bunch of pictures and passed on through to a small park on the south side:

Then I turned around and saw this coming at me:

I wish I could like, give some background as to what was going on here, but I can't :-) It probably was just some New Year's celebration.

I tried to catch a cab home, but the cabbie pretended he didn't know where I was going. Hah! I tried to play dumb and was just like "Go to Shiji Dadao," but he just said "No go, No go." So I got out - obviously he didn't want to go out to Pudong. But I AM proud that I conducted that conversation entirely in Chinese. So yay me :-) Then I realized I was really near the Huangpi Nan Lu metro stop, so I just caught the train home.

Now I'm super-tired and ready to sleep, but there are still fireworks going on outside my window. It's not as bad as New Year's Eve or even last night, but I'm still gonna rock the earplugs.

Not sure what I'm gonna do this weekend. I'm pretty much toured out for a little while. I feel like I really made good use of this week off, having taken walking tours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and today. I'm sad the break's almost over, but I have stories, hundreds of pictures, and a lot of video to look back on. That makes me feel good. And, um, I still have five months left here and there's tons of more things to see and do in the city. I'm not complaining at all :-)

February 6, 2008

And the Rockets' Red* Glare ...

*by "red" I mean "red, blue, purple, yellow, green white, orange, etc ..."

So like I said, the fireworks began in earnest about 6:30 PM yesterday, as I was typing up that other blog post. As soon as I submitted it, I left for my friend's house in the Jing'an district. Walking to the metro was like being in a loud and colorful war zone. The staccato bangs of fireworks were all around me and going off constantly. The sounds were amplified by the fact that many fireworks were going off in the courtyard of the numerous apartment complexes around. The buildings form echo chambers in which the blasts of fireworks, already very loud, reverberate even more.

You could, as I did, question the safety of setting off fireworks so close to apartment buildings. If anyone has their window open, well, I suppose that's the Darwin Awards at work, right? Also, some of these fireworks fail to launch properly, and they explode like 10 feet off the ground. Yeesh. Luckily I was never anywhere near them. As I arrived at my friend's building, I encountered two kids putting down a firecracker literally right in front of the building. That was kind of exciting, so I took a video, but it didn't turn out well.

Throughout the dinner, conversation was impeded by loud bangs of fireworks. It was kind of funny and also kind of scary. I mean you're literally sitting in the middle of this mass fireworks display. I took some great video from the window that shows how close and loud it was:

Keep in mind that was happening all throughout dinner. And this is at like 8:30, 9 PM.

After dinner we all chatted for a bit and settled in to play some video games. Another guy was supposed to come over with his own fireworks that we were going to launch. But since this is my first (and most likely only) experience in China for Chinese New Year, I wanted something a little more insane. I mean, I've heard all these stories - I wanted to see for myself. So around 10:30 I hopped a cab to The Bund. I assumed there would be a good view of some fireworks from there.

I got there just before 11, and there was not much going on. I kind of wandered around among everyone else there. I could see a couple small pyrotechnical displays across the water on the Pudong side, but nothing insane. I was beginning to wonder if I'd made the right decision, and I considered taking another cab to Centry Park.

But at around 11:30 the fireworks across the river increased in frequency and tempo, so I was like "Okay, this is the right place to be after all." As the clock ticked closer to midnight, more spots across the river, and behind me in Puxi, lit up in celebration. And then to mark the switch over to the Year of the Rat, at midnight, this happened:

I think that building is the HSBC Building, but whatever it is, it was literally right across the street from me. So yeah, I had a front-row seat. But the cool thing is that from my viewpoint on the Promenade, I could see like 360 degrees of fireworks. Everywhere I looked, either across the river or on my side, there were 2 or 3 spots where someone was setting off an insane amount of fireworks. I could see flashing lights reflect off the Jin Mao tower and its neighboring buildings. And the noise -- in those videos, it kind of sounds like wind, but it's not. It's the sound of firecrackers echoing across the Huangpu river.

That was probably the most impressive part. That it was all around me. Your typical July 4th fireworks are, like, right in front of you. You all gather at a certain spot, look up, and are presented with fireworks. But here I was surrounded by them. I dunno. It seemed more ... pervasive? I think that's the word I'm looking for. Also, with fireworks I'm used to, they're more paced out. Typically the launchers don't fire until the previous firework has dissipated. At the end, you might get a rapid-fire blast to close it out. But here it's constant launching, bang-bang-bang-bang for like, well, three or four hours really :-)

It wasn't like spectacular insanity, like night turning into day or anything. But it was neat :-) I'm very glad my first experience with this was on The Bund. It was a good spot to be.

I tried to capture the panorama as best I could. You can see a little bit of it in the second video above. The rest of the videos are available at my YouTube page here: http://www.youtube.com/user/ryry9379. There's another video of the Bund and one of some kids lighting fireworks in the middle of Nanjing Dong Lu as cars whiz by.

I stayed put for about 20 minutes, then took a cab back to my friend's place. The ground outside all the apartment buildings was smothered with red fireworks paper. I couldn't believe how messy it was. I guess the city cleans it all up or the complex has to pay for it? Regardless, it was the same story for every single building, just piles and piles of spent fireworks paper in front of the doors. I am kind of glad I wasn't there because I'm quite sure I would have gone deaf :-)

Anyway, her friend with the fireworks hadn't shown up yet, so we settled in to watch this random French action movie. By the time that was over, it was like 3 AM and I was beat. On the cab ride home I managed a mini-conversation with the driver. I could understand him okay, and that he was asking me question about myself and/or America, but again, he was using words I don't know. So it was mainly ting bu dong and zenme shuo bu zhidao, but sprinkled in there were a couple of informational tidbits, like, I'm a science/technology "IT worker", I'm American, I work in Pudong, his New Year wasn't the best because he had to work himself, etc. I was a little confused when he began one question with nimen, which means "You all (collectively)." I'm like, uh, it's only me sitting here? But maybe he was talking "me all" in terms of Americans.

So far this morning I've heard more sporadic fireworks blasts (including right now), but nothing insane. I think it's funny because I'm like, uh, it's daytime - fireworks can serve only as noisemakers now. But maybe that's the point :-)

French Concession

Originally uploaded by ryry9379
Man, I realize I am drowning ya'll in photos! There's almost eighty more to look at today, courtesy of a walking tour I took in the French Concession. The most fun part was perhaps walking around the empty revolving restaurant at the top of the Jinjiang Hotel, waiting to get thrown out. But thankfully that never happened :-) The hotel is where Nixon signed the historic Shanghai Communique with Zhou Enlai in 1972.

The area is an interesting mix of the swanky (such as the hotel) and the not-so-swanky. The tour took me along Changle Lu, Julu Lu, Xinle Lu, Xiangyang Lu, and several other sidestreets in between Huaihai Lu and Yan'an Lu. In the pictures you'll see all these little alleyways diverging from the streets. Some are decent-looking, but some appear pretty squalid. The contrast between the rich and the poor, the new and the old, is pretty jarring on some occasions. It was just like seeing a cluster of poorly-put-together shops right next to the Ferrari dealership in Renmin Guangchang yesterday.

Tonight is a NYE dinner party at a friend's place and then, hopefully, some fireworks insanity :-) She advised me to go to Yuyuan tomorrow because it'll be insanely crowded, so I think I'm gonna do that. Then, shit, I need to rest my damn feet. They are beginning to hurt from all this touring. But it is really worth it. Not even for the photos, which are awesome, but just to get out and do something and make use of the limited time I have here. Doing that makes me feel great :-) And it makes me feel more "at home" here than if I just stayed in Pudong and did nothing.

I've stayed pretty close to the French Concession / Pudong areas so far. So, I want my next excursions to be to Hongkou (northern Shanghai), Xujiahui (southwestern Shanghai), and Hongqiao (western Shanghai).

Just think: tonight will be my third New Year's celebration in less than six months! I celebrated Rosh Hashanah in September , the solar New Year in December, and now the Chinese New Year. For me is it the Hebrew year 5768, the ... um ... solar? year 2008, and the Chinese year 4706. I feel a little bit like Pi Patel.

I can hear the fireworks already. Xin nian kuai le, everyone!!

February 5, 2008

People's Square

Originally uploaded by ryry9379
Today I did a walking tour of the area in & around People's Square (Renmin Guangchang). The tour included a 2-hour stop in the Shanghai Urban Planning & Exhibition Hall. The highlight of this museum is a giant model of the city, in full 3D and lit up when the lights dim, that takes up 75% of the third floor. It's amazing to look at. I took a couple pictures of it in the set, but these pictures hardly do the model justice.

Afterwards I wandered around the area just taking some pictures of the buildings. I stopped in a small little eatery and had some fried rice & dumplings. Man, I really love the dumplings. They're so good. I get them whenever I can.

I had small conversations with people throughout the trip. I asked a street guard where Renmin Ave. was. (I knew the answer, but I just wanted to see if he could understand me. He did!) I talked a little bit with my waitresses, but nothing major. I even tried to talk with the staff at the public toilet (which costs 0.6 kuai to use, btw). But these conversations were limited to Wo shi meiguoren and other teeny-tiny phrases.

I feel like a dope when I can't understand people. It's actually pretty discouraging. And it happens a lot for two reasons: 1) people talk quickly, and 2) they use words I don't know. And by "quickly" I mean "normal speed for people who understand Chinese." They repeat words again, slower and louder/clearer, but it's lost on me if I don't actually know the word. It's very frustrating and humiliating to not be able to order a meal at KFC without pointing at this special menu they have for the lao wai. (Yes, I've eaten at KFC -- so sue me :-)

I knew before I came here that I'd feel this way. And actually I was looking forward to it. You know why? Because now I know what it feels like to be the newcomer who can't speak with anyone outside a pre-determined circle of people. That's a perception that not everybody gets to have. And it's very alienating. Especially because I like being nice to people and chit-chatting with them, but I can't do it here in the way that I want. So I feel like I can't be myself when I'm out alone, unless I happen to meet someone who speaks English. Therefore, regardless of what these people think of me when I'm around them, they are not seeing who I am.

So I'm looking at it from that point of view. But, you know, I've only been here a month. And I'm trying to practice all the time -- that's all I can really do, right? Hopefully at some point I can at least understand people. But I have no idea how long that'll take.

However, I did understand my waitress when I asked for the check. She just said Wu shi wu, or 55. She had to repeat it three times, but I got it :-) You know, now that I think about it, I probably should have asked for a paper receipt instead of just going with what she told me. But it seemed reasonable based on what I saw from the menu, haha. And I did have a small conversation in Chinese with Justin on Sunday night, too. So that was encouraging.

Learning Chinese while being in China is just like learning a programming language. In both situations, you have this system, out there, that you have to interact with. And in your head, you know what you want it to do. But it doesn't understand your English that you've worked 20+ years at perfecting. You speak at it in English, and it doesn't do squat. So you have to learn how to talk with it.

You start by learning the basics. Then you write one small "Hello world!" program, which here I guess is like taking a taxi somewhere successfully or ordering food all by yourself. This is your first test. Does the system respond the way you want it to? Do all the characters print onscreen? When you tell the taxi driver "Fuxing Lu", does he take you there or to Xingfu Lu instead? (Both of these are actual streets in Puxi, and they're pretty close to one another.) I guess that's what I'm doing right now.

But it's fun to watch the system respond correctly to my inputs. For example, in a bar telling someone that they're drunk, at my office asking my co-workers if they want to go eat lunch now, or in a taxi telling the driver that the guy who just cut you off is insane, or asking the guard where Renmin Ave. is. In these situations I have seen the system produce the expected output, and it's made me happy. These are my "Hello world!" programs, and they're not all perfect, but they compile and execute and return results that are mostly similar to what I expect. I get excited when, for example, I asked the waitress today if the restaurant had watermelon, and she said "No, we don't have it", and I understood her.

What I'm doing now is, again, working on parsing the results. This can be a problem in computer programming too, as any of you who've done it (or even used Adobe Photoshop) will understand. Many programs spit out incomprehensible error messages, and in a similar fashion, when I ask someone a question in Chinese, I seldom am able to understand the response :-)

God damn, I'm a dork.

The good thing is that I'm getting better at adjusting my camera's flash, f-stop, and exposure time manually. Most of the pictures I took today turned out pretty good, I think, and I took 95% of them manually. It's a small hassle to adjust the settings before every single picture, but now that I'm used to having this degree of control over each photo, I'm hooked. I don't know why I wasted all those years relying solely on the automatic method. See, people -- reading manuals actually pays off :-)

Plus, I avoided another tea scam. And I feel pretty competent with a map of Shanghai, like, I have a good visual picture of the city in my head. That's pretty helpful.

The fireworks are beginning. I've been hearing them sporadically, like maybe once or twice a week, for the past two weeks. But last night there were a ton of them, and they are only getting more frequent. Actually, I'm hearing some as I type this :-) Tomorrow is New Year's Eve when the big shows go on. People tell me the fireworks go on for literally hours. I'll venture out to Shiji Gongyuan and try to get some pictures and/or videos. I wanna try and catch a parade, too.

February 3, 2008

Shanghai Super Bowl Spectacular

So this morning, Tim, Herbert and I took a cab over to Big Bamboo in Jinqiao. And by "this morning" I mean "barely after sunrise." BB was one of the many venues in town showing the Super Bowl. Kickoff was at 7:18 AM our time, so I was up at 6:30 on the dot. Ugh.

The place was packed with expats. There was a really good buffet of toast, eggs, tomato slices with cheese (a dish I've seen several times here), ham, bacon, sausage, muffins, and dumplings. Mmmm. I am really full from all the food and, combined with the small amount of sleep I got last night and the night befor, I might just to take a nap pretty soon :-)

I neither follow nor care about football, but I know that even in these situations it's more fun to pick a team to root for. Otherwise you have no emotional investment in the game. Because I wanted to pick the underdog, I picked the New York Giants and wound up pleasantly surprised when they came from behind to win with like 3 minutes left in the game :-) It was a pretty boring game. After the first 20 minutes, nothing much happened. ll the excitement came in the last 10 minutes when the Patriots (and then Giants) scored to close out the game.

We all know that one of the main reasons to watch the Super Bowl is the commercials. Unfortunately, our broadcast was being shown on Solar Sports, a Filipino sports network. Which means that the most exciting commercial we saw was for Alaska Powdered Filled Milk. The commercial involved a small child playing soccer (I mean, er, football) as his mom watched on, cheering. The kid has the ball, jukes past several defenders, and takes his shot. The opposing goalie dives valiantly but misses by half an inch, and the ball sails just past his outstretched fingers. The kid and his mom rejoice in celebration. At this point the voiceover explains how Alaska Powdered Filled Milk is directly responsible for this kid's skills. You see, APFM has phosphorous, calcium, Vitamin B, and other nutrients. These nutrients help eliminate the "growth gap", humorously depicted as two red silhouettes stuck in the middle of blue silhouettes on either end.

In the closing shot of the commercial, the same kid jumps skyward to head a ball. For a split second, he ages 20 years and turns into a muscular man, conferring upon him the extra power and head-butting skills that come with the transformation. As he drops down, he returns to his original age, and you can see a small milk moustache on his lips. Cut to mom cheering and then the jingle, which of course is in Tagalog except for the word "Alaska", so everyone in the bar would sing that last word.

We must have seen this commercial 20 times, which is why I can describe it in such detail. By the fourth or fifth time, everyone in the bar cheered loudly when the kid scored his goal. It was great. I was laughing so hard. And then everyone would chant "Pow! Dered! Milk!" when the logo showed up onscreen during the game itself. Hahaha. I will never look at Alaska in the same way again, which is interesting given that I've been to Anchorage and Fairbanks.

February 2, 2008

The BEST Thing About Snow ...

... is the snowball fights.

I work in an office park with like 30+ buildings. All of them are 3 stories high and they all have roof access. You can see picnic tables and umbrellas set up there for when the weather actually is decent. Until today, I never would have said that they're within snowball-range of one another. But guess what, they are!

As some co-workers and I were walking across the office park to and from the cafeteria, we all heard (and saw) a bunch of inter-roof snowball fights going on. We heard the yelling and the *thunk* *thunk* of snowballs splatting into the sides of building. So naturally, a bunch of co-workers and I joined in this time-honored tradition by gathering on the roof of our building and hucking snowballs at one another. The roof is split in two by a gap -- some developers gathered on one side and my group gathered on the other, and we flung away for like 20 minutes.

Then I noticed the people in the building next to us, who work for a different company, were out on their roof having their own mini-snowball fight. So I turned their way and fired a warning shot. Soon, the inter-office battle was joined. Unfortunately for the other company, they were not only outclassed but also outnumbered. It seems their co-workers were not as eager to fight as ours were :-) The other office mustered up a bit of offense, but I think it's clear whose side carried the day. Huzzah!!!

It was so much fun. No one really got hit, because, well, I guess because it's hard to wing a snowball accurately when you can't even feel your hands. Also, we all had big jackets on, and those somewhat limit the range of motion of your arms. But I did manage to land a couple good shots. And I didn't get hit. I also fell down a lot. And my shoes are soaked through.

So, all in all, it was your typical Saturday at the office.

Another interesting sight is the little snow-figures that have popped up all over the city. I saw at least a dozen of them around our office park, variously dressed with mittens and hats and such. (I feel for the humans who once wore them.) And also along the Shanghai S&TM metro plaza - there was a giant snow dog being walked by a tiny snow man. I WISH I had my camera. Maybe I'll bring it to the office with me tomorrow and take a lunchtime tour of the snow-office-park that our neighbors have created.

February 1, 2008

Zhege tianqi shi bu hao!

Sometime this morning it started snowing again - it did so for a couple hours and then it turned into freezing rain. With temperatures at exactly freezing right now, that means tomorrow morning, trying to catch a cab should be a breeze.

A breeze of ICE!

ha ha ha.

Actually it's quite fun watching the snow -- it's just no fun being IN it. I must confess - my fond memories of snow come from my school days in Maryland, where snow raised the question of school being cancelled. (The popular theory was that school was cancelled iff. the principal couldn't get out of his driveway.) I never really had to walk around in it - I just sort of stayed home and prevailed upon my parents (hi guys!) to drive me somewhere to go sledding, hang out at a friend's house, make me hot chocolate, etc. But most of all I just liked the look of fresh-fallen, undisturbed snow. I enjoyed tromping around in it, too. My dad would take me to the parking lot of the local warehouse store, where the snowplows had piled up the snow around all the lightposts, and I'd climb up on those piles as high as I could. I also have fond memories of sledding down the hill in our backyard and also this ginormous hill behind the local Hechinger.


But dealing with this snow in Shanghai is far more annoying. I have no car, so I must walk through the slushy ... er, slush everywhere I go. Taking a cab is an option -- if you can get one. I must confess, the whole reason behind this post is that I just spent close to 45 minutes wandering north on Huaihai Zhong Lu after missing the last metro train at the Changshu Lu metro station. Finally I scored a cab, and the driver tried to play ignorant when I said Shanghai keji guan (Shanghai Science & Technology Museum). Or he might not have been playing - I hear the Puxi cab drivers don't like to go out to Pudong, and vice versa. And there was some girl, I think, standing at his window trying to convince him to kick me out of the cab. But I just kept repeating "Shanghai keji guan -- Shiji Dadao, nan" and playing the ignorant foreigner. He was talking to her and I got the impression he was saying "Sorry, I have this guy here who wants to go to Pudong. I don't like it any more than you do, but how am I supposed to kick him out? He doesn't understand me." Hahaha. Being a lao wai rocks sometimes.

So he takes me to Pudong, and I do a fairly good job of directing him in Chinese. The commands for left, right, straight, and stop are second nature to me now. Knowing those plus the names of the streets can get you (I mean, me) home pretty easily. I live near the Thumb Plaza and the Shanghai Science & Tech Museum -- all cabbies in Pudong will know those landmarks, but again this fella must work mainly in Puxi. So I had to direct him most of the way.

There's a roundabout near the end of Shiji Dadao as you approach the metro station - and I think it confused this guy, haha. I don't blame him - it would confuse me too if it was the first time I saw it. I kept saying "straight, straight" but of course in a roundabout, that means "bear right while turning left and look out for the name of the road you just got off of, which will be on your right." Hahaha. Luckily we made it okay. I was even able to educate him. As we made a left onto Dingxiang Lu, my street, I pointed across the way and told him THAT'S the Shanghai Science & Tech Museum. This is just like the time I educated a taxi driver about where Zhangdong Lu is (that's where my office is, and it's way the hell away from anything else in Pudong).

Anyway, I was out in Puxi having dinner with the guys from Void. They're having a ruckus at The Shelter Saturday night and they invited me to eat some dinner with them tonight. We went to Jishi, which is a really good Shanghainese place just off Huaihai. Getting a taxi from the Hengshan Lu station to the restaurant was pretty tough as well. I was waiting outside for about 10 minutes. One guy stopped, rolled down the window, and was like "Where you going?" I think he was an expat because he had no accent, haha. I told him where and he goes "80 kuai". I was like, uh, NO WAY. Tai gui le. So I waited 3 more minutes and got a non-scam taxi ride for 12 kuai. Haha.

This taxi driver was really crabby. He was brusque and harrumphing when I said okay, not only turn left onto Tianping Lu, but look for 41. I admit it was tough to see the numbers on the sides of the buildings, given the dark and the wind and the snow. But he did. Then he tried to pull the "my card reader's broken" trick. So for those who don't know, in Shanghai you can get a farecard, like a debit card, that works by RFID. You hold it up to scanners on the bus, metro, taxi, etc. and it deducts the proper amount from your card. It's a really kickass system. Except sometimes taxi drivers will say their meter's broken and they can only take cash. I think this is so they can pocket the money from the ride instead of giving the cab company its cut, or something like that.

So, knowing this, I kind of protested, like, no, shua ka, shua ka which means "swipe card." I then switched to mei you le, mei you le ("I don't have it") referring to cash. (Which, I must point out, was a lie.) Still, he refused to budge. So at this point I make as if to get out of the cab, and he grabs my arm and is speaking very angrily at me now. Again, I'm the dumb lao wai -- wo ting bu dong, wo ting bu dong. Hahaha. Finally he flips the card reader down and -- SURPRISE -- it's not broken after all.

Amazing how that works, eh?

So yeah, good times in cabs, man. For real. This weather brings out some crazy people, lol. I'm not even going to write about the cab driver I had from my apartment to the Shanghai S&T just to get to the metro this evening. That was just frustrating. I need to learn the word for "metro station" or something -- because when you say Shanghai keji guan, the cabbies take you to the musem itself -- which is great because you can walk inside, down some stairs, and end up in the metro station. Unless it's nighttime and the museum is closed, so instead of walking through the musem, you have to walk around it which sucks because it's precipitating like mad. Luckily I know a shortcut to the plaza from Yingchun Lu so I had her drop me off there instead of outside the locked doors of the museum. Hahaha.

And just for good measure, I have to complain about Chinese again. I got a text message from a friend today. If you translate all the Chinese words into English, the message reads:
You this weekend have work?
Which of course means:
Do you have to work this weekend?
It's rough going when you (I mean, I) can maybe understand the words people are using but not the phrase they are trying to say. So that's one thing I definitely need to focus on: the order and succession of words when you want to put together sentences. Even when I do hear something correctly, it still takes me several seconds to translate, in my head, from Chinese to English. I'm not really complaining, after all, I haven't even been here a month. I shouldn't expect to be fluent just yet. But still :-)

Okay, that's enough whining, I'm going to bed :-)