Archive | July, 2012

You know you’ve gone local when…

31 Jul

Over the last month or so as I’ve re-acclimated to China after a lot of traveling the months prior, I’ve started thinking about how much I have changed since I came here nearly five years ago.  It’s getting harder to remember my five years ago self but every once in a while I do something and I think – “Wow, that is a change in my behavior.”

I started jotting down thoughts in random places and slowly realized that I have enough for a list.  If there are any other China expats who can chime in, I’d love to hear when you realized that you’ve “gone local.”

So, I knew that I’d gone local when…

1) I could use a squat toilet in heels

2) I asked for warm water to drink at a restaurant

3) After a long day traveling when I looked at the room service menu I ordered a bowl of beef noodles

4) I told someone off in the grocery store (See this story for details)

5) I checked “going home” on my entry paperwork at the airport instead of “employment” for the reason I was entering the country – this actually caused some confusion with the customs officer who looked at me and asked, “Are you really going home?”

6) I stopped expecting any restaurants to have napkins or bathrooms to have toilet paper

7) I can give my Chinese friends directions to my favorite restaurants

8) My Notre Dame friends invited me to the Chinese (Mandarin speaking) alumni meeting

Eight is a good (lucky) number in Chinese, so I’ll stop my list there which may be another signal that I’ve gone local.

Any more that you can think of?


Welcome home (上海欢迎我)

29 Jul

Returning to Shanghai on a Saturday afternoon (from yet another trip to Singapore) I happened to look out the window about twenty minutes before landing.

For the first time that I can remember, it was a clear day.  I could see the ocean, the coast, boats going through shipping channels.  There were even puffy clouds.  I was seated by the aisle and didn’t have my camera handy but the contrast to a normal landing at Pudong airport was enough to bring a huge smile to my face.

It was as if Shanghai was welcoming me, had spiffed up, “put on the Ritz” and was glad to have me back.

View from my apartment taken the day after I landed. It is very rare to see the Jin Mao and the World Financial center so clearly – and there are even puffy clouds!

During the taxi ride back to my apartment I kept looking at the blue sky.  From much farther away than normal I could clearly see the Pudong skyline – the Jin Mao Tower, World Financial Center, even the Pearl TV tower.  I shared my awe with my taxi driver and we talked how we didn’t think it had been this clear since the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.  The cab zipped along and before I knew it I was home.

I found out later from Li that it had poured in Shanghai during the three days I was in Singapore.  The rain had likely pulled down the pollution, the gray skies and left the brilliant sunshine and puffy clouds.  Because I had been away, I didn’t experience that part, instead only the welcome.  The wonderful weather lasted for me for several more days until I had to travel again for work to the typhoon zone in Shenzhen and Hong Kong.  That’s another story though.

Where have you been welcomed lately?

(The Chinese next to the title says “Shanghai welcomes me” – it’s a slight riff on the song for the Beijing Olympics – Beijing Welcomes You 北京欢迎你 which I learned after the Olympics for the first annual dinner at my employer that I was in China.  It seemed fitting with the London Games now in process to throw in a veiled reference.)

Exploring – Dai Temple in Tai An, Shandong

26 Jul

Our last day in Shandong we went to the Dai Temple at the foot of Mt. Tai.  Traditionally we should have gone there the first day and paid our respects before we climbed up to the summit.  Since we didn’t know that the first day, we went the last morning before we took the train back to Shanghai.

In retrospect, going there after we had climbed the summit was more interesting because they had a series of photographs taken by a French explorer at the beginning of the last century displayed in one area.  Since we had already climbed those same paths, it was remarkable to see how little things had changed in general.  In addition to that exhibit, there also was an exhibit of paintings from North Korea which was unexpected but lovely.

We went in the early morning before the day got hot and spent over an hour enjoying the courtyards and pavilions and a remarkable painting inside one building about the story of the gods on Mt. Tai and how they came to survey their land.  No photos there to protect the painting.

Behind the back gate after we made it through the entire temple complex we could see Mt. Tai rising in the distance, beckoning us to climb one more time.

The Dai Temple marked the final stop of a great long weekend in Shandong province.  It was a lot of fun and I’d love to go back in a different season to see how the landscape changes.  China has so many more places to see though, I think that there are many others that I’ll try to see first.

Any favorite photos or temples?

Another mandarin milestone

24 Jul

The other evening I turned on the air conditioner in my bedroom.  I decreased the temperature by one degree and I increased the wind speed for the perfect sleeping conditions.  Then I really looked at the air conditioner remote control.

I realized that I could read every character that was on it and I understood the meaning.


Red letter day.

I remember when I first learned the character for “on” – 开; then I remember when I learned “off” – 关.  That was during the first four week intensive Chinese course I took in December of 2007.  I don’t remember where the rest of the characters came from – sometime in the last four years they joined the ever lengthening list in my brain.  I only know that when I moved into this apartment nearly four years ago the only button I was sure of was the on/off one.

I have typically had my mandarin milestones in the fall – October time period, but this year it came a bit early.  Maybe some day I will be fluent in Chinese.

Had any milestones with a language lately or do you remember a major milestone in the past?  I really consider Chinese three different languages, listening/speaking, reading and writing.  This was a big step for me in the middle category.

A musical interlude

22 Jul


I have been craving music and musical theater lately.  I noticed in one of the expat magazines that the BBC orchestra was in town but it was a Thursday performance and I found out about it too late to get a cheap ticket so that wasn’t a good option.  I kept my eyes open though and discovered that Shrek: The Musical was coming and so with Li’s help we got tickets and went on a Saturday.

I had checked the website multiple times that the performance was in English with Chinese subtitles, but still when we got there (to a beautiful performing arts center on South Shanxi Road just south of Fuxing Road that I had never been in before) it still felt strange because there were a lot of little kids there.  I figured the kids probably couldn’t understand the English.  No matter – we experienced a great performance with lots of color, amazing sets and great music – in English.

Getting the opportunity to go to a show reminded me that Shanghai is becoming more and more international.  I’ve got to make sure that I continue to take advantage of these type of events and keep planning ahead.

Have you seen a show recently?  What type of performing arts will get you out of the house?  Did it surprise you that Shrek was in China?

Exploring – Qufu, Shandong Province

19 Jul

It was only after we had come back from Shandong province that I got my copy of the July edition of Time Out Shanghai.  Tucked inside in a special section was a visitor’s guide (in English) to Shandong, including Tai An (home of Mt. Tai) and Qufu (home of Confucius).  A little late, but it did fill in some of the knowledge gaps from our recent trip there.

We went to Qufu the day after we climbed Mt. Tai, too tired to contemplate climbing another section of the mountain.  We took a taxi from the hotel about an hour to there and were dropped off near the entrance to the Confucius cemetery.  Qufu’s three most famous attractions are – the Confucius Temple, the Kong Family Mansion (Kong is the surname of Confucius in Chinese) and the Confucius Cemetery.  Conveniently, they have a ticket that allows entry to all three places which we purchased and entered the cemetery.

Li eavesdropped on the guides who were explaining different things to tour groups and I wandered around, wondering how much of what I was seeing was actually real.  We both believed that this area must have been ransacked pretty well by the Red Guards and so each story, each tablet needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  Monuments aside, the place itself is beautiful with long lines of cyprus trees and pathways that seem to continue into the mist.  There are many, many monuments and a long winding path along the outside.  We elected just to see the highlights as we had more stops planned through the day, but I think it would be an interesting place to perch with a sketch book and a picnic lunch – maybe sketch, maybe write poetry and let the history of so many people soak into my memory.

After the cemetery we went to the temple to see how it would compare to others that we have seen.  It is a grand Confucian temple as you can see by the photos.  To tell you the truth, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me – I think the heat may have had something to do with that.

The last main destination was the Kong Family Mansion.  It was set up like a mini-Forbidden City with lots of waiting rooms and halls, pavilions for important decisions and then in the back 2/3rds of the property the house for the family and beautiful gardens.  The gardens were my favorite part – the rooms were sparsely furnished so it was difficult to see them as a true home, but the gardens you could think of children playing or an elderly gentleman going for a stroll.

Qufu was interesting.  It made me think about China’s past and the Confucian values that used to be the basis for behavior.  Despite the fact that many things on the itinerary were reproductions I still got a feel of the importance of this family with the hometown a day’s journey from Beijing.

What place you have visited really made you think?  Please let me know, I’d like to add some more spots to my must visit list.

More photos from Mt. Tai

17 Jul

My previous post about our trip up Mt. Tai only had photos up the first half of the mountain.  Here is a slide show of the rest of our trip up!

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Note how narrow the steps are.   I got a foot massage the second day after climbing the mountain and the masseuse asked me if my shoes were too small.  I said that no, they’re tennis shoes, really comfortable.  He said that the tips of my toes were bruised – I think it’s because I kept jamming them against the front of the steps as I climbed.  Take it as a warning if you have big feet and decide to climb Mt. Tai.

Which photo is your favorite?  Enjoy!

The fourth quarter update

15 Jul

A year ago I wrote my first post for Zhongguo Jumble – time certainly goes quickly!  I’ve had around 5700 page views in that time and been blessed with lots of comments and friends following my experiences. I’ve stuck to a pretty strict posting schedule of three times a week and used my blog to notice some things that may have slipped past me before.

The last quarter has been a very busy time – lots of travel including Tengchong, Hong Kong, multiple places in the US and my trip to Mt. Tai.

I’d like to call out a few posts from the last quarter.  If you missed them the first time around, please check them out and also let me know if I missed your favorite.

The most popular posts that I had last quarter were:

1) Exploring Shanghai – Red Town Sculpture Garden – This was one of my walking tours in the Shanghai area of a really interesting part of town.  It was a beautiful spring day and I’d highly recommend it if you’re in Shanghai – though you may want to wait until it cools down.

2) Layover at Kunming Airport – Before I went to Tengchong I had a long layover in Kunming.  This post keeps popping up as a search term for my blog and so I’m guessing that lots of other folks also have had a long layover there as well.

3) The Bund At and After Sunset – These beautiful photos taken by my friend David capture Shanghai from truly a special angle.  They are well worth a second look.  I’ve put one of them here again to inspire all of you to visit Shanghai.

The post that merited the most comments over the last quarter was my post about the gala dinner that I attended in Hong Kong. That dinner was a look at a side of China that on the mainland I don’t see very often and it was a global affair with folks from lots of different countries all enjoying the evening.

I also had two recent posts that were more serious and thought provoking than my typical travel posts.  I posted on manners in China, wondering about respect for others and I also posted about my friend who had a second baby (a little sister) in the shadow of the one child policy.

Which post was your favorite?  Did I miss one that you especially liked?  Let me know, your feedback will help Zhongguo Jumble move into its second year.  Thanks again for your support.

A gift – answer

14 Jul

So – what was that gift that Li brought home?

It was a seat cushion.

But not just any seat cushion – a seat cushion with small holes that when you sit on it is cool.  It’s like a mini-airconditioner for your bottom, but without any wires or electricity.

I don’t know how they do it – but I’ve been sitting on it for close to a month now and it makes a huge difference when it is this hot.

Since the box (which I threw away before taking a photo) was entirely in Japanese I am not 100% sure of the intended purpose, but our theory is that it is probably for a car – so that when you sit down on a hot car seat it will be cool.  I don’t have a car in China.  The cushion resides on my couch.

Congrats to David, Mona and Sarah , who all used excellent observation powers to get to the correct answer.

It was a great gift.  The only question is – Why don’t they sell them in China?

Any thoughts?

A gift

12 Jul

A couple of weeks ago Li came home with a gift.  He had gone on a tour of a factory for a course that he is taking and they had given each attendee a gift.

Here it is.

What do you think it is?

When we got it the box was entirely in Japanese – this is not something that is sold directly in China.  The only hint I’ll give is that it should help make the summer a little more comfortable.  When you look and the low temperature for over a week is 80 degrees (about 28 C), you know that whatever helps will be taken advantage of.

I’ll post the answer in the next day or so.

Any guesses?

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