March 30, 2008


Last night at dinner I ordered napkins. Yes, when you go out to eat in Shanghai, there are places that do not have napkins there for you. If they do, they are most likely sealed in a plastic pouch. Unbeknownst to you (until now), opening that pouch will cost you 2 kuai (about 28 cents). Anyway, where I went Saturday night, they didn't have napkins, and the meal was a bit messy. (or maybe I'm messy, either way is probably accurate.) I just learned the Chinse word (canjinzhi - sounds kinda like "tsahn jeen jhur" with first, first, and third tones respectively) at my tutoring session on Wednesday. So I was like hey, I can practice ordering napkins here! However it took me like, five minutes to build up the nerve to do it, haha.

That's one interesting thing I have to contend with here - the fear of being misunderstood and thus feeling dumb. Already on Friday night the waitress had trouble understanding me when I ordered a bottle of water. But, I mean, the only way to learn is to speak as much as possible. Plus, although I might speak Chinese only one way -- there'll be tons of different people listening to me. Not all of them are as perceptive and/or able to understand lao wai as I'd like. So you gotta keep trying. And I've only been here three months. I shouldn't expect to be fluent at all, no matter how much I'd like to be :-)

So I built up the nerve to say fuwuyuan, you mei you canjinzhi? (Fuwuyuan is what you say when you want to get a server's attention in a restaurant -- if your server is female, you also can say xiaojie, or "little sister", but colloquially it is equivalent to saying "Miss!" But be careful where you say that, because it can mean something completely different depending on where you are.)

Anyway, she smiles and responds "yi kuai qian!" (One RMB!) So, woohoo, she understood me! I happily pay my 1 kuai, considering it the price for confirming that I know how to say "napkin" in Mandarin. She gave me a cool little pack with like 10 napkins in it. I took the unused ones home with me. C'mon man -- that's 14 cents!! ;-)

You might wonder, and I'll applaud you if you are actually wondering this because it means you're paying way too much attention to this blog, how you can ask a question in Chinese without using ma? The deal is, you mei you literally means "Have don't have". When you say it like that, it becomes like a question: "Do you have ... ?" So you don't need a ma here. Jeremy calls this the "multiple choice" way of asking questions, so I stole that way of thinking about it :-)

But this statement is the equivalent of Mei you ... ma? which also is correct. Either way is fine. One more example:

These two phrases are equivalent:

Neng bu neng ... ?
Neng ... ma?

Neng being the word for "can", as in, "can you speak English?"

You can do this with any verb. Yao bu yao biede? means "Do you want anything else?" Notice again the lack of ma when asking a question. Also notice that bu and mei both negate whatever comes after them. You sorta have to remember when to use which one.

Another interesting thing about Mandarin is that, there's no real way to say "yes" or "no". If somebody asks you Yao bu yao biede, you say either yao ("I want ...") or bu yao ("I don't want ..." ). Notice you're just repeating the verb there, maybe plus a negation word depending on your actual answer. Dui is a very commonly used word, but it's more of a "that's correct" answer than a "Yes". But it can get the point across. Today at Garden Books, the waitress asked me Hai yao yi bei shui ma? "Do you want another glass of water?" I said dui, but I should've said yao. Luckily she understood :-)

Stuff like this is fun.

After dinner I came home and watched Southland Tales. Horrible movie. Don't bother.

Today I went to go read at Garden Books. Going there is great because I get outside, but only to do some reading. So it's a great mix of leaving the house and staying inside all in one activity. Afterwards I walked down Ruijin Road to Taikang Lu. The alley in between Taikang Lu and Jianguo Lu is filled with these narrow little buildings, every one of which is either a 1) art gallery, 2) cafe, or 3) knicknack shop. So I had a lot of fun wandering around there. I normally detest shopping for the sake of it, but Taikang Lu was the first place I've been here that actually made me want to spend money. So at some point I might just go and do that :-) I even saw a bunch of Threadless shirts on the rack in one store, including one I own, which made me laugh. I guess someone is just buying Threadless shirts and reselling them here -- I wonder for how much, because they're already pretty expensive from the web site. Unfortunately they didn't have the one I really want.

I had lunch at this narrow, NARROW cafe called, appropriately enough, Bohemia. The waitress there spoke excellent English, much to my surprise. Normally when a Chinese waitress/waiter talks to me in English, I try to keep it in Chinese -- as much to practice my Chinese as to avoid their non-native speaking and understanding of English. But as soon as this waitress spoke to me, I responded in English automatically, so I kept doing it. It was strange, but nice. Rarely do I compliment people here on their English, but hers was very good, so I told her so. (And no, she is not ABC.)

Side note: I order in Chinese EVERYWHERE I go, including places like Starbucks and the nicer/upscale-er places. These places are packed with lao wai and so the staff is usually halfway good at speaking English. So you can get away with saying "I'd like a grande cup of coffee" at Starbucks. But I insist on saying Qing lai yi da bei ka fei. Every other time I've heard a lao wai order something, it's been in English. I don't know if I'm being annoying by ordering in Chinese or not. I know that the staff probably wants to practice their English. But, I'm the customer, and I want to practice my Chinese, so I win :-) I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, but it's definitely a difference that I notice.

Back to Bohemia -- The food was way overpriced, but it was still probably cheaper than in Xintiandi. Actually Taikang Lu reminded me a lot of Xintiandi -- a lot of hip (read: trendy, expensive, and filled with lao wai) stuff goes on in both places -- but whereas Xintiandi's hipness is a result of extensive planning, security guards to keep out the riffraff, and forced relocation of residents, Taikang Lu's hipness is more organic, as the whole thing kind of sprung up around what's already there, which includes "real Shanghai residents!". At least that's what I gathered from some quick Internet research.

Anyway I'm really glad I went because a) I have a new weekend hangout spot and b) a new place to take visitors. Supposedly there's another cool spot like this on Moganshan Lu. I'll have to go there sometime as well.

March 28, 2008

And now for something completely different ...

The bees were okay-tasting. Not bad, but not something I'd go out of my way to order again (especially not for 78 kuai). They had obviously been soaked in oil of some sort and this gave them a powerful aftertaste which was good at first but stuck around way too long to be really pleasant. They weren't crunchy or anything. A little chewy, maybe.

There was actually some discussion among my friends about whether they actually were bees or not. Justin and Helen broke open several of the little corn-fritter-like pods and discovered just mush inside. "See, no bees!" they said, obviously wanting to ruin this experience for me ;-) But I maintain that a heavy cooking process simply liquefied the bees beyond recognition.

Since I'd built up to the moment for, well, months now, I felt like I had to eat more than I actually would've wanted to had this just been a normal dinner. Honestly, the anticipation and the build-up were way better than actually eating the bees. But hell. It was fun. And that's all that matters :-)

March 27, 2008

A couple things

  • Fates have conspired to keep me from going to Suzhou this weekend :-( Soon, though. Soon. Meanwhile though my tutor showed me photos of her recent visit to Xitang. The place is like Venice, with canals and bridges everywhere. And it's also pretty close to Shanghai. I should go there also :-)
  • You know how when we're taking someone's picture, we say "Cheese!" to get them to smile? Well they do the same thing in China, too -- although, they say qiezi. Phonetically, I can hear the similarity between the two words. They kind of sound alike. But what does qiezi mean, you ask? Certainly not cheese.

    Eggplant. It means eggplant.

    When I heard that, I immediately started laughing like crazy. When I get back to America I'll say that when I take pictures of people.

    "Okay, three, two, one ... EGGPLANT!!!"

    Perfect :-D
  • I need a haircut. Just thought ya'll would like to know . . .

March 26, 2008

Jiaotong Daxue

So the big news today was ... two co-workers and I went to Shanghai Jiaotong University (daxue means "big school") to present on technical writing ... and I gave a little introduction ... in Chinese!! I was really nervous because we had like 40 - 50 students in the room and, well, that's my largest audience yet of non-acquaintances yet. I giggled a bit beforehand and then let it fly. Here's what I said:

Ni hao Shanghai Jiaotong Daxue! Wo jiao Rui an. Ta jiao Make. Ta jiao Steven. Jin tian women jiang yidian dian technical writing. Xianzai, tamen kaishi!

I was gonna translate that for you, but that would lessen the mystique factor and therefore make me feel less special :-) so I'm gonna leave it for ya'll to investigate if you want ;-) Hehehehe.

And when I was done, the students applauded!! Man, it felt so great. I guess that means they understood me :-) When it was my turn to speak, I said some other things in Chinese to introduce myself. w00t :-D

The campus itself is pretty beautiful. Very scenic. It's no wonder, because it's like an hour and some change south of Shanghai in the Minhang district, so it's kind out in the boonies. There's a nice lake right in the middle of it, complete with a giant eagle statue on the grass. If I go back there again I'll definitely take some pictures. My co-worker said there were 40,000 students there. God damn I can't believe that. That's 15k more than at Virginia Tech, and only like 10k less than UT. And the other thing I learned was that Hangzhou's population is like 6 million. That's twice the size of Chicago!! I guess I had assumed that because it wasn't Shanghai, it was some small, quaint hamlet. Nope, no dice. It's a metropolis -- just not a megalopolis like Shanghai is. Sheesh.

The next time I hear someone say "Everything's bigger in Texas!" I will have some choice replies for them, haha.

March 25, 2008

Jen's Blog

A month or so ago I got an email from a friend of mine. Her name's Jen and we've known each other since, well, since I think third grade. We all used to carpool together to Hebrew school and everything, and then she ended up going to my high school. Well it turns out that she's been living in NYC for a couple years, doing the actress thing, and is part of a production of The Sound of Music. Insanely enough they were invited to tour across Asia, so now Jen's in China getting ready to start the first performance. She's got a blog up here, and it's interesting now to see the things she writes about. Many of them are the same, but many are different, as she is here in an entirely different situation than me :-)

They will not be performing in Shanghai, which is a little surprising. But they will be spending five days in Beijing, so that's why I arranged my trip there for the end of April. I plan to catch at least one of their performances (Mei you kan guo The Sound of Music) and then spend the next couple days touring -- maybe if I'm lucky the theater company will let me on their bus, hehe.

Anyhoo go check out her blog if you're interested in a different, but still American, perspective
on this here country we're in.

Speaking of touring, this Saturday I am headed to Suzhou. I'm pretty excited for my first travel adventure within China ... and by myself no less! It will be weird to be in China but not in Shanghai ... Stay tuned for pictures, I hear it's beautiful ...

March 24, 2008

Halfway Home

While walking home tonight I realized something: as of April 4th (next week) I'll have been here for three months. That means my time here is halfway up. Strange.

I reflected back on it a bit. I've done many of the things I came here to do -- and more than a few that were entirely unexpected. I've seen a buttload of great music. I can muddle my way through a conversation in basic Chinese. I even can read a couple characters. I've eaten some amazing food. I've taken almost 4 GB worth of pictures and videos. And pretty soon I'll get to see Suzhou, Hangzhou, Beijing, and Tokyo at the very least. I've had some invaluable experiences at work.

Perhaps understandably, I'm not necessarily super excited about going back to Austin. I think it's more of -- I'm extremely curious to see how I'll feel, what I'll think, what it will be like to interact in a non-textual manner with my friends again, and so on, what it'll be like to sit in a restaurant and understand people's conversations around me. Will anything have changed? I suppose by definition, many things will have. But I don't think any changes will be too drastic -- not even myself. I'm still who I was when I left, at least, if such a measurement can be qualified :-)

Over here, they call this "reverse culture shock." They say I'll notice mainly two things: 1) how fat Americans are, and 2) how many people have blond or red hair. You don't see many fat or blond people in Shanghai, let me tell you . . .

Eating Mexican food, lounging out by Lake Austin, driving down Mopac at sunset -- hell -- driving anywhere, tromping around Red River St. at night, shooting pool -- these are all things that I - well I guess I miss them, but I'm pretty content/fulfilled in Shanghai, so it's more like I see these experiences as "different" as opposed to "irreplaceable". Again, it's more like, I'm curious as to how those things will feel after having spent six months in Shanghai.

Yeah there are some things I don't like about Shanghai, like the friggin' slow-ass Internet everywhere, but on the whole it's been a hugely positive experience. Which is great :-) I don't even miss my car. I never thought that would happen. In fact the only time I interact with a non-taxi vehicle is if I'm dodging one that's about to flatten me, so I think my opinion of cars is now rather negative.

Speaking of which, buses are obviously the biggest vehicles on the road here, so you'd think their drivers would be the most cautious, right? WRONG. Buses don't stop for ANYTHING -- except, er, I suppose to let people on and off. But if you are crossing the street when the light turns red, and a bus is about to make a right hand turn in front of you, YOU better stop -- because the bus will not. Now that I think about it logically (stupid brain) I suppose that's because no one's wearing seat belts and the bus driver doesn't want all his passengers flying forward.

Dang. I figured out a logical reason. So I guess it kind of makes sense. But still - they shouldn't be going that fast in the first place. There, now I feel better :-)

All right, I suppose I'm being disingenuous. There has been talk of extending my stay in Shanghai. For how much longer, who knows, and if it's even a possibility when the time actually comes to decide, I have no idea. We'll see how it goes. It's strange because I don't even know whose decision it is, when these people need to decide, what factors are involved, or if I'll even have a say in it. Well I shouldn't say this is strange, because that's what my life was like for all of 2007. So I'm kind of used to this feeling by now (kind of).

And that's fine -- one of the reasons I took this assignment is because, if there's ever a point in my life where I'll be okay with living in such a state of flux, it's now, and not when I'm like 35 and married with a house and kids or something like that. Now is the time to do these batshit-crazy things, like live in Shanghai for six months and eat fried bees for dinner. Mmm. Speaking of which, I'm going to stop talking about that and fucking do it this Friday night.

So I'm not complaining :-) I'll roll with whatever happens. I mean, it's not like Austin is a cesspool or something that I'd be unwilling to go back to. Far from it. So really, I can't lose either way :-)

What it comes down to is this - I'm not ready to leave yet. So it's a good thing I still have some more time here :-)

But regardless of how long I stay here, I'm pretty sure that I'll be back in Austin at the end of June for at least a couple of weeks. So -- get off the road, because I'll be renting a car ;-) Sheesh, do I even have my driver's license? I think it's around here somewhere . . .

March 23, 2008


That stands for Worldwide Pillow Fight Day, and it consumed the majority of my Saturday afternoon. Pics here, but to really appreciate it check out the video of the first round:

(Yes, YouTube is unblocked in China now. Woohoo!!)

Because of the terrible weather, only like 30 people showed up but it was really fun to watch. Everyone was really into it, swinging the pillows and whomping each other silly. The security guards at the Shanghai Sculpture Space looked rather bemused but did not give us any trouble. Speaking of the venue, you can see a little bit of the sculpture yard in the pictures. I didn't go exploring because it was raining outside, but they looked really cool. I'm going to have to go back sometime, now that I know where it is.

That night Herbert and I went to eat dinner at Chua Chua, a Sichuan (read: spicy) place in Puxi. It truly fit the definition of "hole in the wall." There were maybe 15 seats total in the place, and if I stretched my arms out I probably would have covered half the floor. The meal was absolutely amazing, made even more so by the fact that it was 14 kuai (about $2). The deal is you pick out a number of veggies, noodles, rice, and meats, and then give everything to the kitchen staff to cook as a soup. Honestly, I have no idea what the meats I chose were. They're not labeled, even in Chinese. But who cares, because the meal was awesome.

Before and during the meal, Herbert and I were able to converse with a woman who was sitting next to us. I understood about 80% of everything she said, so between Herbert and me, we all had a complete conversation. It was great, very encouraging, to be able to understand and also be understood. She had no problem understanding my Chinese at all :-)

I can feel myself getting better at understanding Chinese, at filtering out the words I don't know and racking my brain to see if I can think of what it means. I've prescribed myself a semi-regular regimen of watching Chinese TV so I can get more used to parsing sentences. I also make it a point to listen to the talk radio in the taxi in the morning, as most drivers will play this while driving me to work. I still catch maybe one word in 20 or 30 -- not quite enough to even divine contextually what the person is talking about -- but I have hopes that this will improve with time.

Also, speaking Chinese still sounds a bit weird to me -- but I think that's only because I can speak only in short sentences that involve words I know. I am not able to get into the "flow" of a sentence -- the divisions between Chinese and not-Chinese are too close together. I don't feel like I'm speaking Chinese. At the point where I can speak in Chinese for, like, a full 15 - 20 seconds at a clip -- when I reach that point I think I'll feel more "natural" and comfortable with these foreign sounds exiting my mouth :-)

From my tutor I learned, somewhat to my surprise, that there is no way in Chinese to say "have a good day." I mean, there is -- I could put together the characters that formed that sentence, but the sentiment/meaning would not be there. I was really surprised by this notion, actually, so I confirmed it with a co-worker. I joked that I would start a cultural trend by saying "you hao tian" and it would catch on like some phenomenon, haha.

On the opposite end, linguistically speaking, I have taken to unwinding some nights before bed by watching TV. ICS is a new English-language channel in Shanghai, and at 10:30 every night (and most weekend mornings) they broadcast crappy low-budget, made-for-TV movies from the US. It is in this capacity that I've seen such compelling material as Full Ride and Absolute Zero, as well as portions of other movies whose names I can't remember. One of them involved killer ants of some sort. If CCTV 9 is the CNN here, then ICS is like TNT/TBS I suppose. Except they don't show Law & Order six times a day :-(

The last of the three lightbulbs in my 2nd bedroom burned out today, so I went to Carrefour to buy some new ones. I decided to take a shot on some low-energy CFL ones from Phillips, the ones that are bent tubes instead of a single globe. The packaging claims they output 40 watts of light while using only 8 watts. I screwed them in and they're awesome. The lighting in here looks so much nicer. It's white. By contrast, the other rooms here are yellow. I never noticed it before, but it's true, and now the other rooms seem really harshly-lit and dingy.

I would expect everyone to have them, except for one thing -- they're expensive. I think one bulb cost me like 25 kuai. Compared to 2 kuai for a normal incandescent bulb, that's a lot. But the room is so nice now :-)

For lunch today I had stewed pork & tofu. Nothing exceptional there -- but I am able to say "pork" and "tofu" in Chinese so I was able to do more than just point and say "please give me this". I could order the dish by name (almost - I don't know how to say "stewed". I'll have to look that up.) It was pretty exciting.

That's how things are listed here - the English might say "Dumplings stuffed with pork and cabbage" but you would order it by saying zhurou baicai jiaozi - literally, "pork cabbage dumpling" all in a row. They just make it look nice for us lao wai.

Speaking of pork, I was remarking to Jonathan on Friday how pork is served everywhere here. In the States, you mainly get beef or chicken. You can get those here, for sure -- but meats like pork and duck are much more common. Pork doesn't need to advertise itself with hilarious slogans.

Speaking of tofu, I had no idea that it is the same thing as "bean curd" which is how most menus list it here. You learn something new every day :-)

For dinner tonight I had fried dumplings. I buy them frozen from Carrefour and usually just boil them for 5 minutes. It's friggin' great. Tonight though I took the additional step of frying them in some Canola oil. Last time I tried this, the dumplings burned the second I dropped them on the pan. So this time I lowered the heat and was able to fry them for a good 5 or 6 minutes, turning the skin a crispy golden brown. The end result was rather tasty, although I used way too much oil so now, two+ hours after eating, I can still taste it in my mouth. Ick. Next time I'll use much less.

I got the idea of frying the dumplings from Ya Dian Fang, this awesome restaurant at the Thumb Plaza. They serve something "grilled meat turnovers" which essentially are large fried dumplings and they're amazing. Good to know I can replicate the dish at home, now :-)

March 16, 2008

Lao Wai on the Move

  • I kind of can't believe it, but I found a good pair of rollerblades that fit me! I bought them on the spot and spent a couple hours zig-zagging around the S&T Metro plaza, dodging small children and getting my footing back. I have not rollerbladed since high school, so it was a bit surprising that I could get up and move around swiftly without falling at ALL. I suppose it's like riding a bike.
  • I finally got flicker to approximate something resembling normal functionality. I was having serious problems with it all day Saturday, but when I got home from the Live Bar show it was working fine. So I posted a bunch of new pictures, some from this weekend and some from last weekend. Check 'em out if you're so inclined. Here's one from the rock show I went to last night:

    The show was really fun. Everything about the place reminded me of Austin. The venue felt so much like Flamingo Cantina, Beerland, Room 710, or even Emo's that I was instantly transported back to Texas. And the music was really good too. Even the crowd had a bunch of scruffy-haired hipsters drinking cheap beer and kind of wiggling back and forth in an attempt to evince physical appreciation of the music without displaying too much emotion (because that would be uncool). Ah, just like home. However there were some people having fun, because I definitely saw a mini mosh pit get started :-)

    Something else I found amusing was that the lead singer of the first band, The Dropkicks, was definitely Jewish. (I can smell a fellow MoT from a mile away.)

    So that made me happy - a British/Jewish punk rocker in Shanghai. Of course the connection between Judaism and punk rock has been documented before. But I wonder if this guy knew that his band name was a dead rip-off of these guys?
  • I got some sweet videos also, from both Friday and Saturday night, but our favorite Web 2.0 wunderkind YouTube is blocked right now, so I can't upload anything at the moment. SH-ist seems to think it's because of the protests that have been going on across the country (and indeed, the world). If you hadn't heard, Bjork sparked an international incident here a week or so ago when she made some politically sensitive statements at her Shanghai concert. So I think everyone is a little on edge. Meanwhile the upshot is that I can't upload my videos to YouTube. Ah well, c'est la vie.
Meanwhile - I've gotten just two questions. There's still time to send in your questions, if you have any, about Shanghai, China, my experiences here, and so on. Leave a comment :-)

March 12, 2008

Fun With Words

Jin tian zai zhong wen ke ...

I learned how to say "immediately": ma shang

(third tone) meaning "horse"


shang (fourth tone) meaning, in this usage "on" (it's the same shang as in Shanghai, which means "on the sea")

Zhe ge shi hen hao wan!

Just another example of how Chinglish gets around. Speaking of which, remember kids:

Also, I have some Xujiahui pics and Century Park (Shiji Gongyuan) pics for your perusal. Flickr is being stupid though and is refusing to let me upload some pics. Boo.

The weather has been in the 20s (C) and sunny the past couple of days. Tomorrow it's supposed to rain a bit. I hope it tapers off by Saturday and Sunday because I wanna go sightseeing some more in my sweet comfortable shoes :-)

March 11, 2008


  • Looks like I'll have a chance to see baseball in three countries. The China Baseball League just announced their 2008 schedule. I plan to attend a game in Shanghai on April 19th :-)
  • Until yesterday, my feet were killing me after every long walk I took. I could really feel the pavement on the balls of my feet after each step. So this past weekend, I went shoe-hunting, only to get laughed out of two stores at the Thumb for having gigantic lao wai feet. However, I was tuned into this place called Decathlon, a sports/outdoors store, and so yesterday I visited and picked up a rather decent pair of light hiking shoes for just 250 RMB. They are Quechua brand, which I assume is Chinese for "of outstanding quality." (And not, as some might believe, an ancient South American language.) So far they are really nice and my feet feel tons better after a long walking trip.
  • The Decathlon also had rollerblades in size 47, which is one size below what I need. That makes me think that somewhere in this city I might be able to buy a pair of rollerblades and go skating around Century Park or the Shanghai S&T Mueseum metro plaza. The hunt is on!!
  • I discovered the Chinese word for "Jewish" is youtai. Not sure what, if anything, that translates to. (My guess: "Super Awesome".) So now I can say Wo shi Youtairen! There's even a book about us -- unfortunately it's in Chinese. I still should try and find a copy, though.
  • Speaking of Judaism, one of the Chabads over here recently moved to within a 10-minute walk of my apartment. That should make it more likely that I'll go and visit them :-)
  • Last Friday, I attended a technical presentation given by a group manager at work. He gave most of it in English, although there were points where he had to continue in Chinese because he didn't know how to describe the relevant terms in English. And actually, it was the basic stuff that he had trouble with in English. Like correlating a sine wave to the rotation of a coil when wrapped around a wire caught between two opposing magnets. He couldn't find the words in English for that. I thought that was pretty interesting. I can't really explain why I think that. Just -- I dunno. An example of how important language is, I suppose. And how extremely difficult it can be to learn one as your second language. As if I didn't know this already :-)
  • Along these same lines, I was talking to another co-worker today about his English name. It is nothing like his Chinese name, which is Xiangjie. He picked his English name in college. We talked a little bit about whether it felt weird to be called by his English name all the time, at work and such. He said not really, because he was used to it. There are even some people at work that don't have English names - we theorized this might be because some people don't like picking one, but in some cases it might be because their Chinese name is really easy for us foreigners to pronounce. I said it was weird being introduced to a Chinese person and having them say "Hi, I'm Scott" or "Hi, I'm Wendy." Because I immediately want to be like, "Liar!" Hahaha. But I guess not really - because they decide what they call themselves, so it's not like they're lying. I guess I just want them to trust in my ability to remember and pronounce their Chinese name. But of course that will not be the case for all Westerners.
  • I'm sort of in the middle of getting my own Chinese name. The first name is set, and I think it's Rui an. Amazingly enough when you plug the Chinese characters into Google Translate, it spits out "Ryan". Haha. So I think this was pre determined by someone other than myself :-) I don't have a last name yet, but since most Chinese prefer names that have a total of 2 or 3 characters, I'll have to pick a one-character last name. I was thinking gao for tall, so that might be it :-)
  • I was totally going to go to the gym tonight but I unwisely sat down in front of the computer to update my blog first. Now all my motivation's gone -- boo -- and I just feel like making some jiaozi for dinner :-)
  • I got another power bill today ... (dun dun dun ....)

March 9, 2008

Ni you wenti ma?

The next post, I mean, the one after this one, I dedicate to you. Do you have a question for me? Ask me anything -- anything at all (well, hopefully it'll be Shanghai-related) -- and I'll answer your question(s) in the next post. You can ask me by commenting on this post or sending me an email. If you don't know me, and I know there are several people who fit that description reading this, I double-encourage you to ask.

If you're embarrassed to be seen asking how many bunions I have on my feet, let me know and I'll keep your name out of it ;-)

I'll wait a couple days before responding. If I get a good number of questions, I"ll make this a quasi-regular "feature" on this here blog.


Yesterday I visited Xujiahui, an area in southwest Shanghai. In ye olden days it was a Jesuit mission, but today it's the site of Shanghai's only Best Buy, several gigantic mega-malls, and Metro City. It's basically where the gadget hounds go. There wasn't much sightseeing to do there, but I did take the tour of an old Jesuit library, the Biblioteca Zi-Ka-Wei. According to the Lonely Planet guide, it was established in 1847 and has over 560,000 volumes in Greek, Latin, and other languages.

The tour honestly was pretty boring because you just go into the main library (Dashu Fang) and walk from one end to the other along a prescribed path. I understand why they don't let you open the books, and it's not like I'd understand them if I could, but I seeing words like Philosophica and Theoretica and whatnot all over the place just piqued my curiosity. I'd love to show you what I'm talking about, but they don't allow picture taking. Boo.

There was some other cool stuff there, like an old map of what the entire Jesuit mission complex used to look like. I tried to appreciate the atmosphere, but the horn-honking from all the cars out on Caoxi Bei Lu kind of ruined that for me. Oh well.

On the first floor of the library is the Wan Fung art gallery, and I did find some cool paintings here. There were a lot of ones featuring cats and dogs, strangely enough. But they did allow picture taking. I'll post those later.

After that I tried going to a bookstore listed in the guide, but it was apparently closed. It was raining at that point so I decided to go home.

One bright spot was that, in the Xujiahui metro station, there's this woman selling tons of framed art for super-cheap. I'm going to make it a point to go back there and buy some before I leave, because some of it looked pretty cool.

Later that night I watched The Darjeeling Limited with some friends and then went to see Infected Mushroom. Taking a cab over to the club was fun, because I got Wulumiqi Lu and Urumuqi Lu confused. Then I found out they're supposedly the same road, or that Wulumuqi was renamed to Urumuqi or something. I'm sure the taxi driver thought I was nuts when I kept saying "No, I don't want Urumuqi Lu, I want Wulumuqi Lu." Hell, I thought I was nuts. Oh well.

The music was okay, but the club sucked. It was way too small and crowded for such a huge show, and we spent like an hour total just in the coat check line. I spent the rest of the night getting punched and shoved, like I was in a mosh pit, every time some guy decided to move past me, and that was pretty dang often. After the band left the stage I tried to order a bottle of water, and they wanted 35 RMB ($5). I said hell no and got one for 1 RMB at the drug store next door. Sheesh. I'm pretty sure I won't ever go there again.

The taxi ride home was great though, because I totally had a conversation with the driver. I understood most of what he was saying, and vice versa. I felt really proud of myself :-D

When I got home I tried to turn on the light and the lightbulb blew, or there was a surge or something. I saw a flash and heard a bang, then all the lights in my place went out. Dammit, not again! The power had gone out (or so I thought). It was 3 AM so I decided to just tough it out for the night.

This morning my aiyi woke me up around 9:30 because she was trying to get in and I'd locked the deadbolt from the inside. I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but I'm really proud that I understood her on the phone given that I'd had like 6 hours of sleep and had been awake for all of 1 second when she started speaking.

I told her about the light, but we discovered that I still had power (dia, I think she said in Chinese) -- it was just the lights that didn't work. I guess they're on a separate line or something. I called my landlord, he sent someone over (to be fair, he's a really awesome landlord) and that guy showed me where my circuit breaker is. I flipped the switch and presto, back in light. So nice :-)

I showered and got dressed and headed out to Nanjing Xi Lu for lunch with some co-workers. We ate at this pretty nice place on the 12th floor of one of the shopping plazas right there. The food (Shanghainese snacks) was pretty good, and it was nice talking with them.

After that I saw that the sun had come out. I stopped back at my place to pick up my camera, then I stauntered around Century Park for awhile, just watching people and taking pictures. When it's nice out, that place is pretty cool. And it's right next to my house, which is awesome. Some time I'm going to have to ride the cart thing, this toned-down roller coaster that they have there. It was pretty fun.

Then I got a foot massage, stopped for a 2 kuai snack of seasoned bread at a bakery right near my house, and, well, now I'm here typing this :-)


Okay, that's my weekend so far -- now send in those questions!!

March 7, 2008

Ramblin' Man

Now that two months have gone by and I've got my sea legs, so to speak, it's time to get the hell out of Shanghai! Not back to the US, of course -- not just yet ...
  1. First up is Suzhou. I plan to go on April 4th, when we have a day off work, and stay the weekend.
  2. Then there's Hangzhou. Two of my co-workers graduated from Zhejiang University and they return every year to go hiking with tons of alumni, and they invited me along. A perfect time to explore the city :-) I'm not exactly sure when this will be, though.
  3. I just finished booking my ticket for Beijing from April 25th - 29th!!! So excited. I'm gonna stay here, I think. Haha.
  4. Speaking of The Jing (as it's known to hipster expats around here), if you've spoken to me at all in the past year, you'll know that one of my goals for this trip was to go to Dongjing (Tokyo) and see a baseball game. I don't think I ever shut up about wanting to do that, haha. Well on June 6th and 7th, the Chiba Lotte Marines are coming to the Tokyo Dome to play the Yomiuri Giants -- and I hope to be there.
  5. To complete the trifecta of the 'jings, I might catch Nanjing also. (I've been told there is no such thing as Xijing.)
  6. One of my co-workers recommended Wuxi, too.
  7. If I'm feeling really uppity, I might just take a weekend and go to Ulaanbaatar. I have no heartfelt desire to go there, but let's face it -- I'm closer to it than I'll ever be, and Mongolia has a way higher "what the fuck?" factor than even China does. Haha. I dunno if that makes sense to any of you, but that's how I see it, lol. Plus - Genghis Khan!!
  8. On my way back to Austin I plan to spend a couple days, at least, in Sydney. Although I have met a bunch of Aussies here and they are all hyping up Melbourne.
All I can say is -- w00t!

March 4, 2008

I Want a Divorce!!

It all started on Sunday evening when my cell phone decided to jump in the toilet. Immediately I recalled a similar incident in the winter of 2006, when my phone took a dip in the hot tub with me and it took me about a month to get sorted out properly. And that was in America. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, I suppose.

I quickly tried to salvage my little information buddy by separating the battery case, battery, SIM card, and the phone itself on a dry towel and placing this towel directly under a heater running at full blast. I was all ready to go to bed in this situation when I realized that my phone is not only my phone -- it's also my alarm clock. So I had no real way to wake up in the morning. I do have a regular desk clock in my bedroom, but I'd long ago given up on using it as an alarm clock, which is especially disconcerting given that it's a Fungdo brand, which is well-renowned for its quality. (That's a joke, people.)

Luckily, I still have my American cell phone with me, and, for WHATEVER reason, it still gets a signal in China. It's on Digital Roaming, but it can pick up the correct time, which means that I was able to use it as an alarm clock Sunday night.

So all's fine and good. I figure I'll give my phone a couple days to dry out, and if it doesn't, I can pick up a cheap one at Carrefour.

So I came home from work on Monday, all set to check out my phone and see if it's working yet. I walk inside, flick the light switch as usual, and step towards my bedroom door -- and stop.

The light's not on.

I flick the switch a couple times again to be sure. No dice. Oh great, I thought. Somehow, even though the only things using power right now are my laptop in sleep mode and my fridge, I've managed to trip the power again. This does not bode well for the coming months.

I step outside my apartment and go to open the door to where the breaker is.

It's locked.

No, that can't be.

Yes, it can.

Now I'm frantic. My power is off and the only way I know how to get it back on is barred. And I have no cell phone. And I'm, um, in China. And I don't speak or understand Chinese very well.

I find my flashlight (so glad I brought that to China) and my landlord's business card (so glad I kept that out where I can get to it easily). Then I gather up my keys and wallet and head for the gate entrance to my apartment complex. The guards there seem pretty nice and friendly whenever I say hello, so maybe they'll take pity on a poor lao wai.

I'm halfway to the guard station when I think: when's the last time I checked my mail? For those who don't know, in America, I hardly ever check my mail. Ever. The past two years, my roommate was the one who checked it since he worked from home all day. And I so rarely get information via snail mail anyway - what with these new fangled computers and Internet doohickeys.

But maybe, just maybe, there's a power bill sitting unpaid in my mailbox. So I turn around and open it up - and sure enough, amongst a bunch of folded-up fliers and ads for random junk, I see the two distinctive red ovals that mark a fa piao. The only Roman characters on the paper are a symbol for the Beijing Olympics and the words "State Grid". The date reads 2008-2-19.

Oh crap, I think. I'm delinquent. They cut off my power. It's 7 PM at night.

I step out the door again and head for the guard tower. In my mind I'm like, okay: the first words out of my mouth will be Ni hui shuo Yingwen ma? "Do you speak English?" On the off chance that they do, then, good, should be much easier. However, it is 99.99% likely I will have to whip out the Zhongwen. Let's see - what do I want to say here?

I decide on two phrases:

1. Qing bang wo - "Please help me"
2. Wo de jia bu hao - "My house is no good"

(Stop laughing)

That's all I can do. I don't know how to say "light," "door," or "locked" or "My power's off."

This is all in the 15-second walk to the guard house. I walk up to the guard house and, after determining that the guard can speak "a little bit" of English, proceed in order as described above. I punctuate this by pointing at the light in the room. He understands - "Your power is off."

Woohoo! Score one for the American.

He squawks on his walkie-talkie for a bit and calls someone. "You no pay bill" he said (or something to that effect). Then he points to a sheet of paper on the wall - "You call them." Ah, now, time for the "I don't have a phone", or mei you shouji. Wo de shouji bu hao. These I know how to say, so I do. He offers to call them for me on his cell phone, and does. Of course, it's like 7 PM, so nobody answers.


So I call my landlord and explain the situation. Which is tough - he speaks halfway decent English, but I speak to him so rarely that I feel like I have to remind him who I am every time ("Wo shi gao mei guo ren, zai Dingxiang Lu jiu yi ling, we went shopping at Jialefu ..."). It's like a missed connection on Craigslist.

No wait, scratch that -- he speaks quarter-decent English. Maybe, if I'm feeling generous, third-decent English.

I pass the phone off to the guard, who explains things in Chinese. I get the phone back and my landlord re-re-explains the situation to me.

Yes, I'm a delinquent. I'll pay tomorrow -- wo you qian. But is there anything I can do tonight? Jin tian wan shang ma?

He promises to call them and ask. I guess he has some super-secret number that the guard doesn't. He asks for my phone number and again, I bust out with the Wo de shou ji bu hao. Hahaha. I really need to learn how to say "broken." So the guard gives him his cell phone number, and tells me zhe li deng yihuir - ("Wait here a moment.")

After 5-6 minutes, my landlord calls back to report a failure. No dice. I pay tomorrow - tonight I'm without power. He says "You can pay tomorrow. The address of the company is on the bill. Go to the one on Fudian Lu." And we hang up.

I'm pretty proud of how calm I stayed just then. I figured, what the hell. It's certainly not freezing outside. I won't be cold at all. I can go to Carrefour, buy some batteries for my flashlight, eat dinner at the Thumb and just kind of hang out for awhile. At home I've got a fully-charged iPod and an entire season of The Simpsons to watch. Then I can go to bed kind of early.

So that's exactly what I do :-) I also check my cell phone, which has regained 90% of its functionality. It turns on and the numeric keys work -- but the menu navigation buttons do not. Oh well - at least it's a start.

Luckily in the morning, there's enough hot water for a regular-length shower. I don't know how that happened, but it did and I'm thankful. It's light out so I get dressed and leave easily enough without running into things. But today I wake up earlier than usual, because I have to go pay my bill.

Which is part two of the story.

I look at the fa piao. Like I said earlier, there are no useful Roman characters on it - no Pinyin or nothing. However, I have an ace up my sleeve - I know the Chinese character for lu, or road, after having stared at it on the subway maps so much. (To me, it looks like a little man waiting to cross a street while a car passes in front of him, with power lines overhead. Yes, I'm serious.)

So I look for the character, and sure enough, on the back I see lu, in tiny print, about 10 times, along with associated road names and street numbers (which are in Arabic). So my power company has like 10 locations in Shanghai -- beautiful. There are even phone numbers associated with each one.

I can't read these addresses and I don't know how to get anywhere they say. But I know who can do both of these things - taxi drivers. Which, thankfully, are plentiful in this city. Damn, sometimes I really enjoy this whole not-driving thing.

So I have 10 addresses and a way of getting to any one of them. However, I am cursed with a geek's brain and must optimize this problem. It's not enough to go to one of these places - I want to minimize the amount of time it'll take me to get there, pay, and get out - so that I won't be too late for work. I don't want to end up in Hongqiao by accident.

So which address is the closest to me?

This is the query I attempt to pose to the guard at the gate who, obviously, is not the same one from last night. I start out with Wo yao gei ta men qian - "I want to give them money." I flip the paper over and point to the section with the addresses. Wo bu zhidao zai na li yi - "I don't know where." Qing bang wo again.

This line of questioning is, of course, woefully indirect. What I want to say is - "Which of these addresses is closest to here?" I could say, or approximate, every word in that sentence except for "close". And I don't think I could pantomime it, either. So that's why it takes 10 minutes and the assistance of a man in his PJs walking his dog in order for me to hear the words "Fudian Lu".

Ah -- that's right! Fudian Lu - that's what my landlord said! I had forgotten since last night. Now which one of these addresses here says Fudian Lu?

Ahh, he points to Fudian Lu 92 - Fudian Lu jiu er. (If I'd been smarter, I would have noticed that it's the only one listed that has three characters - one each for "Fu", "dian", and "lu" along with the numerals.)

Because I'm supremely happy at this point, I say zai na li - "Where is it?" This wastes precious time, as the nice man proceeds to give me directions to Fudian Lu which, of course, I can't really understand. Nor do I care, because I'm going to hail a taxi anyway. So when he closes with Ni ting dong ma? ("Do you understand?") I respond with.

Ting dong. Ming bai le. Hao de.

("I understand. I see. Good!")

After thanking them both profusely (Tai xie xie le), I hail a taxi, gesture frantically to the address on the fa piao, breathe a sigh of relief when the driver appears to know where it is, and I'm on my way.


In the cab on the ride over, I can't remember how or why I struck up a conversation with the driver or if he struck one up with me - but I said Zhe ga shi wo de fa piao - "this is my receipt." He must have noticed me playing with the bill and looking at it. I hand it to him to look while we're stopped at a light, and of course, he can read it and so he understands my situation. He points to the due date, which is 2008-2-19 if you're still with me, and says something. I don't need an interpreter to realize he's saying "You're late!"

Wo zhidao - "I know". I laugh and try for some comic relief. Zuo tian wan shang bu hao - "Last evening was not good". Which isn't 100% true, but still. Hehe.

It turns out that we're going to Pudian Lu - I have mis-heard everybody up until now. Pu because the street is near the Huangpu river. As we approach, I look up and see blue tile roofs on the houses -- rows and rows of them. Now where have I seen these before? Zai Jin Mao Da Sha ba shi ba lou. On the 88th floor of the Jin Mao tower last week, this very same section of housing caught my eye, because it's a big swath of bright blue in the middle of the area nearby. Now I'm right in the middle of it.

We make it through heavy morning Shanghai traffic and I see the building. The logo on the door matches the logo on my bill. Luckily the pay station is located right in front of the door. I manage to pay the bill with only some mild hilarity that ensues when the teller asks me to wait a minute while she checks my account, only to confirm that I have to pay some late fees. She speaks pretty decent English, so I leave with the full confidence that my power will be restored within three hours.

And so it was.

It takes me about 20 minutes to hail another cab, and another 45 or so to get to work -- only 45 minutes late, natch. As I was relating this story today to my co-workers at lunch, I learned some important facts about Chinese life:
  • You can pay your utility bills at most convenience stores.
  • Wo de jia bu hao is colloquial for "My home life is not good" which is usually what people say when they mean "I want a divorce." So there you go. Now the gate guards think that I'm having domestic problems ;-)
Now -- about that water bill ...

p.s. I must impart that, at any time, I could have called one of my Chinese co-workers, given that I had a working land-line phone and a list of their numbers handy. However, in the midst of everything that was going on, I did not think about this option. But if I had, I might not even have called them, because that would have been way less fun.