Archive | November, 2012

Buying desks – a charity project in Guizhou with ND Shanghai

29 Nov

This year I have been privileged to participate in the Notre Dame Club of Shanghai’s events and coordination.  Under our able leader, Monica, we have held game watches, Happy Hours, done a clothing donation event, welcomed students and entertained visitors.

As we set out our goals for the year, we wanted to set a consistent schedule of events, support ND football and hopefully support a charity that was connected with education.  As part of the Notre Dame family we feel strongly that all children deserve the opportunity for a good education.  It took us over half a year to find something we felt comfortable with, but we are now in the process of collecting money for Ya Village Primary school in Guizhou province.

The current school

One of our current ND students, Huili Chen is from Guizhou province and she, along with others, determined that the Ya Village primary school was the area where we could make a difference.   I am proud to participate in the fund raising.

Ya Village is 20 square kilometers and is located 14 kilometers from the closest tractor road and 25 kilometers from the closest highway.  It is a farming village of about 1305 acres. People grow tung oil trees (vernicia fordii), rice and corn to make a living. The average annual income for each farmer in 2011 was only 2150 Yuan (less than $350 USD). Due to the side effect of water storage by Long Tan hydropower station, 210 families had farmland that was flooded.

There is only one primary school called Ya Village Primary School in Ya Village. The school also takes students from neighboring villages such as Jiao Suan Village(交算村) and Kang Cun Village(抗村村). The current school is 580 square meters and there are only seven teachers including four substitute teachers.

Students studying in the current school

Our project is buying desks for the school.  The school itself going to be replaced by the government as it has been declared unsafe, but they aren’t doing anything more than the new building.  There are nearly 200 students at the school, so we are collecting for 200 desks and are steadily making our way to the goal – over halfway there as of the time of this post.  Each desk set (including logistics cost as this is not going to be an easy delivery job) is 150 RMB ($25 USD).

Students at their desks during the rainy season

If you are interested in helping us meet our goal, you can contact and we will make sure we get back to you.  In China we have an alipay account (used with taobao) as well as a specific bank account set up that we can provide you the details.

Assuming we can reach our goal, we are planning a trip to Guizhou to visit the school and deliver the desks in the middle of January.  Hopefully if my schedule cooperates, I will be one of the team to go.  If I do, I will definitely let you know.

When you decide to do charitable giving, what tips the balance for you?

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Shanghai

27 Nov

The happy crew

Last Thursday night I celebrated Thanksgiving with a wonderful group of friends that I have met over the last five years in Shanghai.  The twelve of us (some new friends and some old), celebrated with a traditional turkey dinner that had the best turkey most of the table had ever eaten.

I ordered it all – no food preparation in my kitchen at all except for deviled eggs and my friend Marcus who made stuffed tomatoes.  This was predicated by two things – 1) Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, so I had to work on Thursday and 2) my oven decided to break the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  The stress free way, then was delivery!

City Shop, the local supermarket chain has a delivery service and previous years I had had their turkeys as well.  They did not disappoint.

Beautiful bird

One of the joys was that two of my friends brought their kids and so we had four kids under the age of six who were there as well, full of energy and really cute!  It was the first time that three of the four of them had turkey, so I am now part of their cultural history!

Luckily one of my acquaintances had recommended that I print off some Thanksgiving coloring pages to keep them occupied while we ate.  They worked like a charm!  I need to keep that in mind for future events.

Showing off her turkey!

As we were finishing up the main course and before we had a chance to cut the pies that I ordered (my mother’s pie is still hands down better than the pie that was delivered) my parents called!  We were able to use my iPad to connect them to the gathering and share some of our enthusiasm with them.  Technology at its best.

Introducing the crew to mom & dad

Here are a few other photos from our evening.  What a wonderful night!

Monica carving the turkey! She did a great job.

The feast

Li and me

I am thankful for many things including the opportunity to celebrate this holiday here in Shanghai in my new apartment.  It was the first time I had people over and was a resounding success.

I am also thankful for my readers of the blog and your continued support and interest in my Shanghai adventures.  Thank you for your visits and comments.  May Thanksgiving morph from a holiday into a state of mind for us all.

This post is also my response to the Weekly Photo Challenge – Thankful.  If you’d like to see what others are thankful for, you can click here.

Cloud Gate – a night of modern dance

25 Nov

There is a proverb – “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  Since I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the arts in Shanghai, it seems like there are more opportunities of events for me to see.   Last week I was able to go to a modern dance performance by Cloud Gate II, the modern dance arm of the famous Taiwanese dance troupe, Cloud Gate.

Prior to being invited, I had never heard of the group, but after agreeing to go and doing a little research I discovered that they were one of the premier dance groups in Asia.  The theater was also in an area where I had never been before, in the middle of a residential district north of Jingan Temple.  I went in not knowing what to expect and was really impressed by the precision and emotion in the dance performance.

There were four pieces presented – none of which I 100% understood which was hindered by the fact that there was no English at all – in the introduction or the program.  It also highlighted that I really know very little “dance vocabulary” in mandarin.  My friend (who speaks less mandarin than I) was dependent on me to translate the descriptions.  I’d say I’m not ready yet to do simultaneous translation on the purpose of dance pieces.

The music and dance connected in an intriguing way.  I found myself making up back stories, using my limited knowledge from the introduction of the pieces.  In my head I had one story about people going to work and falling in love on their commute, but not making it public.  I had another one about the cultural revolution and people being hungry and walking in lock-step and breaking out from expectations.

Since I really had very little idea what the pieces were supposed to represent I was freed from any preconceived notions.  The dancers were excellent – the athleticism and inspiration they portrayed didn’t require translation.

It was an interesting evening – I met several new friends and tried something new.  Hopefully I’ll have more chance to do that in Shanghai in the future.

Have you ever gone to a performance where you didn’t know what you would be seeing?  Do you like modern dance?

Happy Thanksgiving!

22 Nov

A Thanksgiving gift several years ago – he will be celebrating with me this year as well!

Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated in China, it is still one of my favorite holidays.  In previous years I have been invited over to the house of good friends, but this year they will be in the US visiting their children, so I was forced to come up with a Plan B.

Instead of traveling to places yet unseen (as I discussed in my Cabin Fever post) I instead decided to throw a Thanksgiving party.  Later today, I’ll be having nearly a dozen people over for turkey and all the trimmings and good company.  It will be the first time I’ll have had visitors over to the new place and it seems like a great way to celebrate with friends.

Just about everyone I’ve invited has lived in the US for at least a couple of years, but aside from some of the children who will be running around, I am the only native born American.  Traditionally the US has been welcoming of visitors from other shores, so hopefully my small party will continue in that tradition.

More to come after the fact – Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from China!  May this special time of year serve to remind us how lucky we are and consider those less fortunate than ourselves.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

Playing peekaboo with the Pearl Tower

20 Nov

When I went in search of the Shanghai Postal Museum it was a misty, rainy, foggy day.  Each time I turned a corner or crossed the creek, I had beautiful views of Lujiazui – the financial center of Shanghai – from a point of view that I had never seen before.

The most recognizable shape on the Lujiazui skyline is the Pearl Tower (东方明珠) and it seemed as though it was playing peekaboo with me through the mist.  Here are some of my favorite shots from that afternoon walk.

Which is your favorite?  Have you had the opportunity to see something from a different perspective than the normal?  How long did it take you to notice how neat the new perspective was?

It would be nice to go back on a clear day and see how the skyline looks without the mist.

I’d also like to give a shout out to my dad for celebrating his birthday yesterday.  Happy Birthday!


18 Nov

The last two weeks the temperature in Shanghai has taken a nose dive.  I have gone through and found my winter coats, started looking for socks and even pulled out some of my sweaters.  It is not at the sub-zero stage yet, but at night it will get into the mid to upper 40s and I also have even turned on my heaters at certain points during the day.

Talking to my co-workers and friends, this is colder than it should be this time of year so I’m hoping that we’ll have a mild December to balance it out.

To compound the cold weather outside my hot water heater broke this week.

The original heater, after the leak, before replacement

Living in an apartment, my hot water is “on demand” – there is an instant hot water heater located in my kitchen that will pump the hot water to the correct faucet.  I initially noticed some water on the counter after my cleaning lady left on Monday morning, but didn’t think much of it and wiped it up.

Getting home late Monday night though (after yoga), the water was still there.  I started looking more closely and realized that it was dripping from underneath the hot water heater.  Not what I wanted to find, especially as I hadn’t showered at the yoga studio and was ready to take a shower and relax.

Instead after several calls and a visit from the local maintenance man it was concluded that one of the connections inside the hot water heater had broken and that I was very lucky that it hadn’t exploded.  My landlord said he would get someone to fix it the following day – and I took a cold shower.  Brrrr….

Tuesday morning the landlord changed his mind and said that he would like to buy a new one – it seem that he had fixed the hot water heater before and didn’t want to pay to fix it again.  I had a mid-day trip home to give him the model number and he ordered it – but it wasn’t going to be delivered until Thursday.

I added another yoga class to my schedule (got to stay warm somehow) – more for their shower facilities than my dedication to the sport.

Thursday I worked from home and waited for the new water heater to arrive.  My landlord came as well and supervised the work.  He’s a very nice man – not a penny pincher and I was lucky that he was in town as he tends to travel a lot.

We got into a discussion about product quality, talking about that the former hot water heater was only 5 years old, but they don’t make it or repair it any more.  He asked me how things were done in the US and explained to me why people normally rip everything out of an apartment when they move in is because they can’t trust the quality of what the former owner put in.  The lack of testing and building codes really are going to eventually put a cramp on the Chinese economy.  People are looking for high quality products, but it seems as though they just don’t exist.

Finally – after over an hour, the new heater was in, the old heater was gone and I again have hot water.

The new hot water heater (slightly smaller than the original)

I have had another experience with a broken hot water heater right when I first arrived in China, just over five years ago.  My very first apartment’s water heater didn’t work either.  At the time I couldn’t speak any Chinese and had to use my friend Mike to help translate.  The temporary solution he came up with was that I should go to my landlord’s house to take a shower.  I poked around and found the link to that post (Nov 5, 2007), so take a look at how things have changed over the last five years!

Even though this was an inconvenient event, it does remind me how far I’ve come.  I can now explain a problem and understand the solution in Mandarin – even about something far away from my day to day routine (like plumbing).

So – in this week of Thanksgiving – I hope you all stay warm and would love to hear if you’ve had any “cold spells” recently.

Chinese favorites at home

15 Nov

The happy and colorful trio

I don’t cook very much during the week.  Even though I am doing better balancing work and life – weeknights are still tight.  I have had more time lately though to cook on the weekends.  Typically I cook western style food – pasta, macaroni and cheese, tuna melts, omelets, crepes are all familiar dishes that  I can cook by rote.  Recently I have attempted two free form apple pies and baked muffins and brownies since I now have an oven!

If I eat Chinese at home it’s typically Li playing the chef.   He makes great Chinese style pork ribs and has a shrimp dish that I crave occasionally.  He makes stir fries look easy and so I let him do that part and I am the prep cook.  With all of his travel though, I don’t think he’s actually cooked a full meal at my apartment since I moved in September.

This led me to a weekend night where I didn’t have plans and was craving Chinese food.  I didn’t want to go to a restaurant and so, I dug in and made two favorite dishes – myself (with only one call to Li).

The first dish is the only one that I make regularly – it’s fried eggs and tomatoes – Chinese style.  The ingredients are basic – oil, ginger, garlic, salt, tomatoes, eggs, ketchup and a little chicken bouillon powder.

I learned the hard way that you cook the eggs first to a runny level, then pull them out of the wok, then add the tomatoes, ketchup, bouillon and salt, cook until soupy and then put the eggs back in.  It’s comfort food.

A mini-portion of the eggs and tomatoes – one tomato, two small eggs; luscious the next day as well

The second dish is not one I typically cook myself, but at the supermarket I picked up a “ready meal pack” with pea pods and Chinese sausage included – all ready for frying.  I’ve watched Li do it before, but still called to confirm if I cook the sausage first (you do), then pull it out.  I remembered to add salt and a little more chicken bouillon and just a shot of water to steam the peas.

The luscious green of the pea pods accented by the salty sausage

It was a delicious dinner with lots of leftovers and in honor of my first multiple dish Chinese dinner – I snapped a couple of photos.

Getting ready to chow down.

Have you tried cooking the food of another country after a trip?  Sometimes I try recipes – I remember one quite unfortunate African peanut soup that I attempted a year or so ago.  Wouldn’t recommend that one.  If you’d like more exact recipes on the dishes above let me know and I’ll be happy to share.

Exploring – The Shanghai Postal Museum – almost

13 Nov

A few months ago I read an article on Shanghai’s top 10 museums.  I had already been to over half of them, but there were still a few on the list that I hadn’t heard of or had the chance to explore yet.  On a recent wet Saturday afternoon I decided to cross one off my list – the Shanghai Postal Museum.

The reason why I chose that museum was two-fold.  When I first moved to China the International Channel Shanghai (ICS) sponsored a show called Shanghai Rush that was an Amazing Race type show.  I remember seeing one of the very first episodes where the contestants had to race to the top of the post office museum during one of the challenges.  The open space and grand building has stayed with me over the last several years.

The second reason I chose that museum was because it was the closest and I could take the subway right there.  I didn’t feel like going out to Jiading or Minhang – though I’m sure I will go eventually.

The museum is just on the north side of Suzhou Creek close to the Tiantong subway station on Line 10.  I didn’t think I had ever been in that area before but when I came out of the subway station I was completely surprised.  That area was Qipu Lu – one of the very first places that I went to when I arrived in Shanghai.  It is a huge set of buildings all full of stalls with different types of clothing of dubious origin as well as bags and glasses and scarves all surrounded by different snack stalls where you can find whatever delights you’d like.

The stores were swarming with young people looking for the perfect bargain, but that wasn’t my mission (and I know that the sizes in those places make me feel like a football player)  so I made my way outside and started looking for the museum.

I walked along the creek and eventually saw it – a large building with beautiful columns in the Greek style.  But, when I got there – there was a sign on the front saying that the exhibit halls would be closed to the public at least through the end of November!  That is one risk of reading magazines a couple of months after publication.

First view of the museum (before I knew it was closed)

Tower at the corner of the Postal Museum

A kind security guard told me that I could still go in and look at the working part of the post office which was on the second floor – a huge open space with many people busily posting packages and purchasing stamps.  At one end of the space was a beautiful mural demonstrating all of the different ways that a postal carrier could deliver the mail.  I snapped some great shots of the mural, but the museum itself I’ll have to return – to be safe, probably next year.

Your friendly mail carrier

Even the bird has a letter to mail

Mail of the future (on computers)

Where is your friendly neighborhood post box?

A bicycle mailman – along with a camel. I’m not sure what part of China this is – must be the far west.

A mail truck

It was a disappointment for sure, but I have time to go back.  Have you ever tried to go see something only to find out that it was closed?

Travel theme – bright

11 Nov

I am a bit late to the travel theme this week – been keeping pretty busy (with all of those non-travel activities that I mentioned).  Last week, then, over at Where’s my Backpack the theme was “bright.”  I think that bright and summer and beach all go together and so I started thinking about the trip to Malaysia that we took a couple of years ago.

Time passes so quickly – I can’t believe how much has happened since this trip, but looking through my photos there were definitely several that fit my definition of bright.

Malaysia was the first time that we traveled together internationally and we discovered that our travel personalities and our normal work day personalities are a little different.  When on vacation Li is a go-getter and I’m a more relaxed tourist, while at home it’s normally switched – he is much more easy going than I am.  That said – it was a wonderful and very “bright” trip.

I am still considering the suggestions I received as far as my next destination from my post on Thursday on Cabin Fever.  As soon as I decide I will let you know.

Also – in another update on my mandarin.  I have reached out to my former Chinese teacher to meet up and discuss if I would like to take some more Chinese lessons.  The irony is that she is pretty much fully booked this past week and next week (she’s also sitting for an MBA now), but we’ve got something on the calendar in a couple of weeks.

Looking at the photos from Malaysia made me smile.  If you’d like to see other people’s ideas of “bright” please click the link at the beginning of the post.  I think in November we all need a little sunshine and brightness.

Where do you go for brightness?

Cabin fever

8 Nov

I have been in Shanghai continuously since my trip to Korea at the beginning of September almost two months ago and I have a serious case of cabin fever.

We had debated traveling over the October holiday but with my apartment move and then getting sick, it was just too much at the time.  Personal traveling right now is tough with Li’s work schedule as his business travel schedule is intense.  My business travel has been cut back [cost control before the end of the year]. And now I’m antsy.

It’s not to say that the last two months haven’t been busy and I have a trip back to the US planned for Christmas so in theory I shouldn’t feel like this.  I’ve channeled it into lots of fun things – meetings with friends, more yoga classes (I finally learned how to say “Downward Facing Dog” the other day! 下犬式), concerts, Notre Dame events, trying out my new oven.  But the last couple of weeks the feeling just keeps coming back.

Maybe go to Xiamen for a weekend?  How about I fly to Hong Kong?  Buy tickets to Singapore?  I went to dinner with an acquaintance last week and she was going to Moganshan and I thought about asking her if I could go too – even though it was a group of German expats and I don’t speak German.  I’m even considering just going by myself off for a bit.

I’m trying to take this feeling as a positive note.  Last year I was burned out – the idea of extra travel made me want to dive under the covers and turn off the light (but even so I did go to Shenzhen and Kunming/Dali with Li in November of 2011).  The fact that I have enough energy to be antsy means that I am doing better in balancing my life and work.

Where should I fly?

So – where do you think I should go?  Any travel recommendations?  I’m looking for a two to three day trip that I can fit in between now and Christmas.  I even have Air China and China Eastern miles that I could use to get my tickets.  All suggestions are welcome.

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