Happy birthday to me!

23 Sep

This year I was lucky and got to celebrate my birthday early because my hubby will be out of town today, the day itself.  He organized a perfect afternoon as a birthday treat – and I didn’t have a clue!

We started by heading to Shook! restaurant on the Bund where they have a special lunch menu – with beautiful food.  Even though the day was misty – we got great views of Lujiazui and felt very pampered by the staff.

bday rest IMG_20140919_142822

IMG_20140919_132135 bday main IMG_20140919_143110

After a delightful lunch Li said we had extra time, so we headed across the street to the famous Peace Hotel which has been completely renovated in the last several years.  We wandered through the lobby looking at the photos of all of the famous guests, marveling at the beautiful stained glass ceilings and then eventually treated ourselves to a slice of fruit cake in the coffee shop looking out over East Nanjing Road.  I had never gone into the hotel – even after nearly 7 years in Shanghai, so it felt like we were exploring a new (yet very old) place.

bday tea

Finally we headed to another district and got educated on the colored gem stone industry and my hubby presented me with a very delicate birthday gift – my Chinese zodiac symbol (a monkey) on a necklace.  It is adorable – and something  I will wear a lot, I’m sure.

A lot has changed in the last year – I wonder what my next year will bring!

What is your preferred way to celebrate?  For me, friends, food and something new to see made it perfect.

 

Flying business

20 Sep

As I mentioned before, I have traveled a lot in the last four months.  I’ve been all over – the States three times, South Korea three times, the UK (Britain and Scotland), Australia, Singapore and Indonesia.  All told I was traveling over two thirds of the time from May through the end of August.

Blue skies

Blue skies

With that much travel, I spent a lot of time in airports – on planes, in lounges and in the duty free shops.  I also saw many, many more blue skies than if I had stayed in China.  My status on Delta and its alliance partners has ticked up to the top and I must admit that I’m getting a little spoiled from not standing in line, cutting security queues and having first access to the plane.

In London I got to explore the Virgin Clubhouse lounge which has waiter service, a hair salon, a music studio and a pool table inside.  In San Francisco, Korean Air uses the British Airways lounge where I was the only person in the highest lounge for nearly an hour with a full buffet to myself.  In Shanghai I now know which lounges let you access the plane directly and avoid the scramble around the gate above.  Sydney’s lounges have a full barista set up where I could get a fresh cup of chai and homemade scone.

A buffet for one

A buffet for one

I bought English breakfast tea and Winston Churchill’s caramels in London, kangaroo jerky in Sydney and my ultimate foot lotion socks in Seoul, plus lots of candy and other small gifts as I made my way through the airports.  I completed a survey on the Seoul airport and got a free toothbrush.

The best way to pamper your feet - only found in Korea.  Single use lotion socks that are incredible!

The best way to pamper your feet – only found in Korea. Single use lotion socks that are incredible!

I spent a weekend exploring the area near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I ate traditional Korean food in Seoul and caught up with old friends in Singapore.  My boss bravely tried haggis in Scotland where I marveled that there was whisky on the breakfast buffet.  I met up with a former colleague for a weekend in San Francisco where we had sourdough bread and met people I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years at an actuarial conference.

My visit to Jakarta was punctuated with a breakfast with one of my first friends from Shanghai who was in my Chinese class way back when I was teaching English.  She’s Indonesian and had moved back with her husband a couple of years ago.  One visit to the States I had a rental car and enjoyed driving again with the windows down.

Of course I also met with clients and colleagues and had conference calls at odd hours.  I struggled through jet lag and time differences and not remembering which room was mine at the hotel because I had three different room numbers in a week and none of them stuck in my head.

Will my carry-on fit?  Of course... I am flying business!

Will my carry-on fit? Of course… I am flying business!

It was fun and invigorating and exhausting.

In short, it was business travel.

I’m ready for a break.

Have you ever traveled a lot for business?  What are your favorite memories?

 

Looking down

17 Sep

On a recent weekend I was walking home past the maternity hospital that is close to our apartment complex.  I looked down and at my feet was row after row of characters written across the sidewalk.  They kept going – I could pick out bits and pieces, but wasn’t really able to follow what the context was.  The chalk was different colors and made a striking appearance against the gray sidewalk.

I hypothesized that it could have been a student practicing penmanship as sometimes in the parks I’ll see people doing calligraphy on the ground using a big brush and water.  As I slowed down to look a couple of other people were reading out the lines, but again I couldn’t quite catch what they meant.

So, I took a couple of pictures.

Multicolored characters

Multicolored characters

Poetry or prose?

Poetry or prose?

Later that night, I asked Li what had been written on the sidewalk.  He read it, then looked at me strangely.  His  question was unexpected, “Was anyone else around when you read this?”

I explained just some other folks walking along and reading aloud.

The text of the majority of the sidewalk poetry was about a beggar on the streets of Shanghai and his tale of woe.  He must have written it on the sidewalk and been begging by the side of the hospital.  By the time I passed by he had either moved on or been asked to move on, leaving only his written chalk poem as testament that he had been there.

Noticing details is part of experiencing a culture.  I’m glad I noticed this one, but not so happy as to what the result was.

Have you ever looked down and seen something you didn’t expect?

Happy Mid Autumn Festival!

13 Sep

IMG_20140908_202939

What a difference a year makes!  Last year at this time I was finishing up at my previous employer, looking forward to our upcoming delayed honeymoon to Greece and going to visit my sister-in-law who had just had a new baby.  In the spirit of full disclosure, the holiday was actually at the beginning of the week, but I figured after not posting for four months I should just take the plunge again and not worry about being a few days late.

This year I am almost a year into a great new job and waiting for more big changes of our own before the end of the year.  We celebrated in Shanghai in a very muted fashion as I had a terrible cold, but had to have some moon cakes and of course take a walk to look at the full moon.

The moon cakes this time were the traditional Hong Kong style with the egg yolk in the center – we tried two variations, one the classic and the other with bean paste and egg yolk.  I still prefer the classic one – though the ice cream moon cakes that some companies provide are also pretty yummy.

After an absolutely crazy travel schedule through the end of August, I should be in one place for a while now and will try once again to share my findings and stories of the jumbled life that I live here in Shanghai.  Over the last couple of weeks as I have been walking through the city I’ve noticed things that automatically I’ve thought – that would be a great post!

Now, I’ve taken the time to reactive my account, start transferring some photos and getting myself into that blog mindset.

I hope that once again you will agree and follow me on my journey.

Cheers!

Door to door service

10 May

In the last week I’ve had reason to notice two specific instances of door-to-door service, both of which have caused me a lot of thinking.

The first example was of delivery service.  My husband has registered with a company called Shun Feng which is the Chinese equivalent of UPS or FedEx (and is actually more dependable than both of them in China).  Because his phone number is registered, he only has to call when he has a package and someone automatically comes to our door.

The delivery man will bring the box or envelope you need and any packing material to your door – with a promise of a visit within 2 hours.  This particular time, the delivery man arrived within 20 minutes, padded envelope in hand.  I was truly stunned.

This type of service is only practical in a large city with the density of Shanghai.  I can’t imagine this in a rural area or smaller city, but the convenience just takes my breath away.

The second example was also of door-to-door service, but not quite as favorable.  I was getting ready for bed one night and there was a loud knock on the door.  My husband went to answer it.  At the door were three policemen (two men and a woman) and one of the security guards from our building.  They insisted on seeing my husband’s ID card.  They talked to him for a while and then started asking more questions – who else lives here?

He replied back that his wife lived there as well.  I stayed in the bedroom.  They then started asking for my paperwork.  He showed them my passport, they asked another couple of questions and then left.  It was obvious they were checking in on me – the foreigner – not him.

This kind of thing hasn’t happened in a long time, since right before the Beijing Olympics.  All of my paperwork is correct, there was nothing they could have done – but this door-to-door service just made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.  I don’t want or need visits from the police at my door.

China is a place of contradictions.  One moment I can be enjoying the convenience and the next shivering at the efficiency.  I know that I am welcomed here – to a point, but there are limits.

Have you ever had door to door service?  Was it a positive or a negative?  Any thoughts?

Apologies for the scarcity of posts recently.  More travel and I have been feeling a bit under the weather.  May and June will continue to be busy, but let’s see how much I can fit in!

 

 

 

Dinner with Mr. He

20 Apr

Last weekend we went to dinner with a former colleague of Li’s – the driver of his former boss, Mr. He.  I had never met him and was curious because Li had always said he was a very wise man.

It was a fascinating dinner – his father had fought with Chiang Kai Shek in Jiangsu province and then had moved to Shanghai where Mr. He was born in 1953.   He was unlucky enough to be sent to the countryside with millions of other Shanghai youth and spent 8 years of hard labor in Hebei province in the far north of China.

After coming back to Shanghai in the late 1970s he met his wife and they had a son.  He now lives in the Hongkou district in Shanghai where he is a grandfather and still drives part time for my husband’s former company.   What a story!

He was a wise man, not prone to excess – he wouldn’t eat too much dinner and talked about his experience in a matter of fact way.   He was old enough to be my father and without meaning to I started making comparisons between the two and the luck of one to be born in the US and one in China.

From there I shifted to myself and how lucky I am to be able to make choices – to decide where I live and what I do.  Freedom is sweet.

I am glad we met.  Once I got home I had many more questions than answers.  If you were there, what would you have asked?

My Shanghai – our local hair salon

6 Apr

Since I have grown my hair long, I don’t go to the salon nearly as often as I did before.  My husband, however, goes about once a month to make sure that his cut stays in shape.  Because of that – he actually has a longer running relationship with his salon and stylist than I do.  He has followed her from one salon to another and even (in a moment of weakness) over a year ago, bought a membership card which means he gets 50% off all products and services.

Before Chinese New Year I decided I wanted to get my hair  trimmed and he asked if I wanted to go to his salon, which I gladly accepted.  I enjoyed it so much that recently I went back for another trim when Li went in to get his hair cut.

This salon is more traditional than some which means that they wash your hair while you are sitting in the chair – a dry wash – instead of over the sink.  Because it is done that way they can also simultaneously massage your shoulders and neck – which feels wonderful.  After a rinse they then finish the massage down your arms and hands so by the time the stylist arrives you are in a very pleasing mental state.

Enjoying a "dry shampoo"

Enjoying a “dry shampoo”

The shampoo girls were new arrivals in Shanghai, happy to practice their little bit of English and it made me remember the first time I got my hair cut in Shanghai where I couldn’t understand much more than, “Hello, goodbye, I don’t want that and thank you.”  How much has changed in seven years (I can have a full conversation now and actually am familiar with the different regions where the girls were from) – and how much has stayed the same, the continual change in Shanghai and people coming here to seek their fortune.

The cut itself is a little bit of an afterthought in my case – just a quick trim, but still nice to have someone else cut and style and blow dry.

By the time we walked out over an hour later I felt looser and lighter – all for the cost of 30RMB (less than $5USD).  Maybe I should get my hair trimmed every week?

What is your favorite salon?

Toothbrushes and cultural differences

3 Apr

I’ve used an electric toothbrush for a number of years now – I don’t remember when I switched, but I like the extra clean feeling that I get when I use my Spinbrush.  Unfortunately, dental hygiene is not necessarily top of mind in China (I wrote a post on dental floss and the global supply chain some time ago) and so electric toothbrushes are not yet a standard part of daily life.

To make a long story short – I needed a new head for my electric toothbrush and we couldn’t find one.   While we searched Taobao (the Chinese version of Amazon or eBay) – I switched to a standard, old-fashioned brush.  Since this became a joint effort my husband and I talked a lot about toothbrushes and teeth brushing.  It appears that Chinese children are taught differently than American children about how to brush their teeth.

I remember very clearly that you were supposed to brush in small circles – make sure you get into the back of the mouth and you needed to sing “Happy Birthday” three times to yourself to make sure you brushed long enough.

Li told me that when he was small they were taught to brush up and down – and that was it.  I started asking – but how did you know how long to brush?  Didn’t they teach you that small circles help get the food out better?  Electric toothbrushes get into the gaps better than regular brushes.  They strengthen your gums – didn’t you know?

I didn’t even bother to ask if he was taught to floss – as dental floss has only been available in China for about five to ten years.  It wasn’t even an option when he was small.

But – as far as he remembers – none of what I asked was normal.  He looked at me very strangely during this conversation.

Normal can be very different depending on where you start.  Brushing your teeth is not one of those areas that I expected – but cultural differences are everywhere.

How did you learn to brush your teeth?

 

A visit to Pyongyang – almost

30 Mar

North Korea is still a big mystery to me.  I have read books about its history and peered across the 38th parallel, but that makes me far from an expert.

A couple of weeks ago we met friends for dinner.  As these friends are Chinese, we take turns choosing the restaurant and paying – this time it was their turn.  The night before we were supposed to meet my friend sent me a note asking if Korean food was ok.  We both like Korean food and so agreed to meet at a subway stop and then walk to the restaurant together.

The napkin - in Korean and Chinese

The napkin – in Korean and Chinese

I didn’t recognize all the characters in the name, so didn’t pay much attention, but when we got there we realized it was a North Korean restaurant.  We were in for an interesting night!

Taking in the atmosphere while our friends ordered

Taking in the atmosphere while our friends ordered

The waitresses were all from North Korea and they were dressed in the traditional long formal Korean dress – a combination of a qipao and a kimono.  At the beginning we took a couple of photos but they quickly asked us to put our cameras away.  It appeared that some things are still not free in North Korea – even when you are in China.

Doing some research – it appears that the North Korean government provides the waitresses and they are from families with “good backgrounds” and all college educated – so a step above a typical waitresses in China.  The owner of the restaurant is a Chinese national, but if any of the waitresses “disappears” – then the North Korean government will immediately pull all the waitresses and bankrupt the owner.  Typically they would take 50% of the profit from the endeavor.  Pretty surreal.

The kimchi was among the best I've had and the rice drink in the glass behind was phenomenal.

The kimchi was among the best I’ve had and the rice drink in the glass behind was phenomenal.

The food was similar to food that I have had at many other Korean restaurants.  The kimchi was excellent and they had a special drink that was made of rice.  It was non-alcoholic and reminded me a little bit of Mexican orchata – but a slightly different  flavor profile.  The beef they cooked for you instead of having a grill on the middle of the table which meant that you weren’t overwhelmed by the smoke which was also a nice touch.

Yes - I did wear flowers in my hair, but I did not join the conga line (though our friend did)

Yes – I did wear flowers in my hair, but I did not join the conga line (though our friend did)

After eating – we waited for the highlight of the evening – the performance by the waitresses.  They had changed out of their traditional clothes and were wearing more modern outfits as they serenaded us for a good 30 minutes.  It was a surreal experience – the entire time they performed they had these plastic smiles pasted on their faces and the song choices were random – to say the least.  There were songs in Korean and Chinese and at one point they started passing out flowers and formed a conga line.  I enjoyed it – but it was just plain strange.

The only shot we got of the entertainment - there was an accordion player, electric guitars and singers

The only shot we got of the entertainment – there was an accordion player, electric guitars and singers

At one point as I was clapping Li looked at me and said, “You really shouldn’t clap to this song.”  He then explained that the song was cheering the entry of Chinese soldiers into the Korean War (which meant against the Americans).  I didn’t know, but I did stop for the duration of that event.

Our discussion during dinner was very wide ranging and included the question – “If Mao’s son hadn’t died – would China look like North Korea now?”  It was an interesting question that my friends and Li debated for a long time.  I just listened.

After having some time to digest the meal (mentally and physically) I am not sure if I had known it was a North Korean restaurant that I would have gone, but having had the chance it did give me a glimpse into another world that I would very rarely see.   What do you think?

Would you have gone?

 

 

Bite your tongue!

23 Mar

Last night at dinner I bit my tongue – hard.  It was one of those things where I wasn’t paying attention and instead of eggplant, I caught my own tongue.  Even this morning my tongue feels fat and a little swollen.

Ouch.

As we were walking home after the fact, my husband asked how I was feeling and then said that I  must have not eaten enough at dinner.

I looked at him with skepticism as I had eaten a ton – probably too much – and asked him to explain.

He said in his hometown if you bite your tongue it means that you are still hungry – no matter how much you’ve already eaten – whereas if you bite the inside of your cheek it means you have eaten too much and are full.

I don’t know if this is common throughout China, or specific to where Li grew up but I had not heard of any assumptions that occur with biting your tongue before.

Have you?

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