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 :-)

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