November 30, 2008

Do I Look Spanish or Something?

I was on the metro last night, standing there minding my own business, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I instinctively turned to my left: it was a Chinese person (duh), someone I didn't know. And she said:

"Ustedes habla Espanol?"

She was halfway through "habla" before I realized what I was hearing. I almost replied with "一点点". But I was able to marshal my long-dormant Spanish brain cells and reply "Un poco." Then she turned away and didn't speak to me again. A couple stops later, I turned and looked for her, but she was gone.

Very strange. If I didn't remember it so clearly, I'd be tempted to think I was making it up!

November 26, 2008


2008 has been, beyond all measures, the most eventful year of my life. So what am I thankful for?
  • Seeing lots of incredible places in China, including (but not limited to) the Great Wall and Mt. Everest
  • Experiencing not only a different culture, but that culture's take on my culture
  • Experiencing everyday/non-tourist life here -- waking up, getting to work, paying bills, eating dinner, buying clothes, going grocery shopping, walking in the rain, learning the layout of the city, etc.
  • Learning a bit of Chinese
  • Phreaktion and Void
  • 2 kuai zhu rou baozi on the street
  • The chance to do something completely different at work
  • Staying in touch with friends & family back home
  • Sichuan food
  • Fried bees, fried scorpions, yak's eyeballs, rabbit, pigeon, duck's blood, spicy duck neck, etc.
  • Baseball (the O's notwithstanding)
  • The Shelter, Garden Books, LoGo, Thumb Plaza, Taikang Lu, Moganshan Lu, Fuzhou Lu, People's Square, Bonbon, Zhongshan Park, and all the other places in Shanghai that help keep me sane
  • Same goes for Big Bamboo in Jing'an
  • All the restaurants and their yummy food
  • Liang Jian
  • My Sony DSC H50 and flickr
  • My Lenovo T61, wireless router, and Google (Blogger, Gmail, GCal, and most importantly, Reader)
  • Facebook,, and Friendfeed
  • My iPod Classic, decent headphones, and iTunes
  • HandBrake
  • My China co-workers and friends and all the help they've been in making sense of this crazy city
  • All the cabbies, barbers, retail workers, watch/bag/DVD salesmen, and others who've complimented my Chinese in one way or another
  • Wii!
  • The Shanghai transportation system -- seriously, it's really really nice
  • Books and movies
  • Music! Oh wait, I already said iTunes.
  • Xiao Xu
  • My immune system -- it's help up amazingly well over here
  • My fleece jacket and scarf (it's cold over here now ...)
There's a lot more that I can't think of at the moment, but this is a pretty good list, I think.

So kids: what are you thankful for?

November 21, 2008

The Orange Bailout

So our office sent around an email on Thursday ... FREE ORANGES for pickup in the HR area at 4 PM Friday. Bring bags. 

What's the deal? I asked my Chinese co-workers, and here's what I found out. 

There was a maggot infestation scare or something with a recent orange crop. This affected only a small percentage, miniscule really, of a certain region's orange crop. Yet it sharply reduced demand for ALL oranges, regardless of origin or proximity to the damaged ones. People weren't buying. Farmers panicked. "We've got shitloads of oranges and no customers!"

So what happened? The government bought them (the good oranges, I mean) for pennies on the dollar (jin on the yuan, I should say) and sold them to other companies nationwide, including ours. I'm not sure if this sale was forced or not, but I wouldn't be surprised. Anyway, the result is that we now have tons of oranges in our office.

Smuggling Oranges

I haven't eaten one.

November 10, 2008

The Ride is Almost Over

What began over a year ago is down to seven weekends. I've planned mini-trips for two of them. One is my birthday weekend (yay!), and one more I'll have a going-away dinner at my place. (On the advice from a friend, it'll be a Chinglish party ...)

Seven weekends. Really?

Yup. Unlike the last time I faced expulsion from China, I'm ready to leave now. (I've really  got to stop wanting to add "... and continuing my life" on the end there, as if this trip in Shanghai was somehow an interruption, a blip, in my life.) I'm pretty excited about going back to Austin. Just now I happened upon the flickr group for said city, and I had to stop myself from looking at it, because I would just get overcome with homesickness at a time when that's already increasing.

Don't think I dislike Shanghai or China -- far far FAR from it. If I knew I was staying another year or two, I would be thrilled. But since I've known for six months now that I'd be coming back in January, the excitement and anxiousness over returning has grown. It's just that, you know -- the US and Austin feels like HOME. (At least it does from over here.) And you can't replace that feeling, no matter how hard you try.

At the same time, I'm really sad about leaving. To say this experience has been amazing would be a understatement of the grossest proportions. To say I've learned new things about myself and others would not even be a fraction of the story. To say ... well, honestly, there's just no way to put it into words. There just isn't. Even if you have read all my blog posts and looked at all my pictures and talked to me on the phone billions of times ... and even if you've visited me ... there's just no way to transmit that experience. I could try, but I could never get it perfectly, and that would be frustrating, so I won't even try. Actually I'm worried about this feeling affecting me when I return. 

I hope I don't sound too elitist here. Each person's life is like this, I suppose -- unable to be perfectly conveyed to others. Chalk that up among the lessons I've learned here ;-)

Ah, I get very meta and grandiose at times like these, so I'm sure that before I leave I'll post one long super rambling post of that nature. But now's not the time :-)

Onto more mundane matters: I got home Saturday night (ok, really, Sunday morning) and realized I'd lost my ATM card!! This was a little disturbing, as it's not like I can go to the bank and withdraw money without it. (I am dependent on CCB ATMs.) But I was pretty sure that I'd left it in the ATM earlier that night when I went to withdraw funds for the night's activities. The bank was closed Sunday, but I called their help line and spoke to a nice woman who said she would alert the bank branch about it. She suggested I alert my own bank for safety reasons -- but I didn't, because I'm lazy and because I was pretty sure that my card was tucked safely inside the ATM. (Unless some unscrupulous ATM tech happened upon it, I suppose.) Probably not the smartest decision (or lack-of-decision) I've ever made, and to be fair, I did check my online balance numerous times to make sure no one had withdrawn my life savings out from under me. But, as I mentioned before, I'm lazy and didn't want to cancel a card that has funds automatically withdrawn from it (for bill-paying purposes) and have to deal with the hassle of asking my bank to, like, overnight me a new card because otherwise I'd have to eat at KFC 3 times a day because they take my Sodexho card that has buttloads of money on it and borrow money from the other Americans here and feel like a doofus. 


So this morning I waltzed in the bank at 9 AM and walked over to the nearest person I saw. She was busy with someone else and told me to wait for a moment while she went in the back room to talk to someone about something else. When she came out, I told her my problem and -- glory of all glories -- she already had my ATM card in her hand!! Lucky me. After a quick inspection of my passport, she handed it over, and I was on my merry way. 

Lesson learned? I dunno :-)

November 9, 2008

November 4, 2008


'nuff said.

The last polls close around 2 PM Shanghai time, so hopefully a winner can be declared before I leave work tomorrow!

November 2, 2008

Tibet Post #6 - Top 10 Pics

I realize ya'll are busy people, so if you haven't had a chance to fully thumb through my Tibet photos, no worries. I've collected the 10 best photos here.

As always, click a pic to view larger sizes.

Norbulingka Garden

A flower garden in Norbulingka.

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace at night.

Yamdrok-Tso Lake

A peaceful scene at Yamdrok-Tso lake atop Mt. Gangbala.


A flower garden at Norbulingka.

Sunset in Potala Square

A sea of clouds fills the air at sunset in Potala Square, Lhasa.

Power Lines Draped in Prayer Flags

A power line draped with prayer flags and scarves.

Mount Everest Base Camp

The four of us at Mount Everest Base Camp, 17,000 feet up.

Mount Everest Base Camp

The tallest mountain in the world.

People Praying Outside the Jokhor Temple

People praying outside the Jokhor Temple in Lhasa.

Potala Palace

Lhasa as seen from the exit of the Potala Palace.

November 1, 2008

Tibet Post #5 - At Altitude

Ah, okay, where were we?

I wanted to post a little bit about my experience with being "at altitude", because many people (including myself) expressed their worries to me, before the trip, about how it would affect me. 

(Okay I just realized that that last sentence implies that I expressed the worries to myself, which basically is true; however, it sounds strange.)

First, the fun stuff:
  • Sometime during the morning of the second day of the train ride, after we left Golmud, we heard a loud popping sound. We all immediately looked around to see what we'd dropped, but there was nothing on the ground that wasn't supposed to be there. Later in the day, we realized what had happened: one of Charles's Doritos bags had been expanding and expanding until the air pressure inside the bag became too much for the flimsy material of which the bag was constructed. I spent a good five minutes laughing about that. Other snack bags became puffed up like blowfish, but none of the other ones popped.
  • At altitude, sodas and beer would fizz immediately upon opening them, no matter how steadily you held them. And if you stuck a straw in the can or bottle, the liquid would immediately start running up the straw and out onto the table. It wasn't a whole lot, just drops really, but it was noticeable, like some invisible person was sucking on the straw. It was kind of freaky to see such self-possessed liquid, like the blood that splashes off the elevator in The Shining, or that oil shit from the X-Files. Plus, it was messy. So although it was hilarious, we didn't use straws.
  • The reverse also happened. When we were in Lhasa packing to go home, I sealed a tupperware container, which had originally carried snacks for the train, with some breakable/smushable souveneirs. When I tried to open the container back at sea level in Shanghai, it was more difficult than normal to pull the lid off. The extremely low air pressure inside the case vs. the higher air pressure outside had created a low-quality vacuum inside the container. Or, to return to a previous similie, it was like someone on the inside of the container sucking inwards (as if with a straw) and pulling the lid back onto the container. That's my understanding anyway. Yay physics!
Now the not-so-fun stuff:
  • At altitude, we definitely noticed difficulty breathing. Not extreme difficulty like, oh my gosh, I'm suffocating -- but heavier-than-normal breathing after, say, walking up a flight of stairs, walking around the city doing extended tourism, or walking 10 minutes, laden with luggage, from the train station to our rented Land Cruiser. The first night in Lhasa, Dan and I climbed the 2 flights of stairs to our hotel room just to see what it'd be like. It was fine, but definitely more difficult than it should have been.
  • It was easier than ever to get pins and needles in a foot or leg. It happened much more quickly than at sea level. I had to watch even for draping my arm backwards over a chair or anything else that would reduce oxygen flow to a limb. Again, it wasn't incapacitating or horrible, but noticeable and therefore interesting.
  • Headaches. Oooh boy that was not fun. I was fine and dandy in Lhasa. But once we set out for Shigatse, which is 1200m higher than Lhasa, I began to get small recurring headaches, especially when we ascended Mt. Gangbala (to see Yamdrok-Tso Lake) and other heights along the road. We hit heights of 5000m on that road before descending to 4700 at Shigatse. I think that the relatively rapid (within 5 hours) string of ascents and descents did not help, either. And it only got worse the next two days when we went to and from Everest. I basically had a headache, and was freezing cold, for two whole days. It was not pleasant -- especially when you throw in mediocre food, the fact that you're sitting in a car for 5 hours a day, and stench-filled open-pit bathrooms -- but like I said, I managed okay. Others in our group did not. In addition to the headaches, some experienced nausea, and more difficulty breathing, and one of them tossed their cookies right outside our tent at Base Camp. I'm really happy that none of that happened to me (and also that we bought some headache medicine in Lhasa), but I felt really bad for them. They spent most of those two days sleeping and having difficulty breathing. They'd wake up at tourist/scenic spots, but other than that, they were just really lethargic. It looked shitty, and I'm sure they did not enjoy those two days, even though those days included Everest. But on the bright side they survived intact :-) So the lesson here is that altitude sickness affects everyone differently. One of our group didn't even have a single headache. So our group ran the gamut from no effect to shitty effects, heh. Luckily everything cleared up on the second-to-last day driving from Shigatse back to Lhasa. I never thought we'd be so happy to see 3700m :-)

Setting a Bad Example

In the US, I try really hard to not eat fast food. It's junky, unhealthy, and doesn't support the local economy. However, in China, I have occasionally had moments of weakness where nothing will do but KFC. Hey, it happens to the best of us. 

So you know how in the US, when you run across a Chinese restaurant in the US and see tons of Chinese people eating there, you think "hey, this place must be good!" I'm afraid that Chinese people who see me in KFC, waiting in line to order 一号餐 (橙汁,薯条), think the same thing. So I feel guilty that I'm accidentally encouraging them to eat KFC. 

Not that KFC needs my help. After all, most times when I go in, the place is packed to the rafters. KFC was the first Western restaurant to establish a foothold in (mainland) China, way back in 1987, and they have done a great job localizing itself to Chinese tastes. As a result, KFC (Kendeji) is uber-popular and has about twice as many locations as McD's (Mai Dang Lao).

Still, though.