Archive | January, 2013

Defrosting in Singapore

31 Jan

Aside from the jeans incident just as I was leaving Singapore, the rest of my trip was absolutely great.  Even though I was in back-to-back meetings with dinners and lunches and conference calls squeezed in, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.

Because it has been so cold in Shanghai, one of the most enjoyable parts of this visit was the warmth.  As I packed I pulled out clothes that I haven’t worn in  four months, trying on sleeveless tops and dresses and searching out my summer shoes.  It took me much longer to pack than it should have since I moved in September – but the anticipation of the warmth made it a great part of the trip.

View from my hotel room over Clarke Quay my last morning in Singapore

View from my hotel room over Clarke Quay my last morning in Singapore

When I have to travel to Singapore in the summer going from hot to hot it doesn’t have the same impact, but this time of year when I land in Changi Airport it’s like a warm hug embracing me.

The second factor that makes Singapore enticing is the food.  Because it is such a mix of cultures I can find anything.  This trip the food was especially diverse.  I had the national dish of Singapore – chicken and rice at a local hawker stand, enjoyed Japanese yakitori while watching the light show in front of Marina Bay Sands and had Italian at a restaurant called “No Menu” with wild boar ravioli and excellent proscuitto and melon.

Another key is my colleagues.  Because I have been meeting and working with many of the team for a long time now, even though we’re talking about very technical projects, the breaks and meals are filled with personal stories and gossip on folks we know and what is going on.  That is the ideal type of business meeting – familiar enough that there is no need to prove myself, instead incredibly productive days that blend into drinks and dinner (and then emails at the hotel until the wee hours of the morning).

In addition to colleagues, I have good friends from Shanghai who just moved to Singapore a couple of weeks ago and was able to meet up for brunch with them before I headed back to the airport.  That personal touch made this trip even more special.

The final pleasure point is the airport itself – I checked in early this time and after purchasing my chocolate quota for the next several months at duty free I wandered.  This time instead of looking at the koi ponds or wandering through the butterfly garden, I got a massage.  My neck was stiff and the masseuse worked through my tight muscles readying me for the plane ride back.  I still had a few minutes before boarding and so had a laksa (seafood spicy noodles with coconut broth) for $4 SGD and relaxed some more.

I arrived back in Shanghai to weather slightly above zero degrees with my head full of puffy clouds and good food.  I need to remember that warmth until things thaw out a bit here.  What a gift to defrost in Singapore in mid- January!

Where have you escaped to in the winter?  My January blahs are firmly behind me as I have Singapore behind me and our upcoming Chinese New Year trip in front of me.  Just need to get through another two weeks!

Be careful next time

29 Jan

Going through security at the airport can be a frustrating experience, even in Asia.  The US still takes the cake for the most obtrusive, but even the Philippines has the umbrella rule (click here for that story) and other islands weigh you before you check in.  Recently in Singapore I also had an interesting experience.

In Singapore, you go through customs first, but don’t go through security until you enter your boarding gate.  I like the system, for the most part as it is more efficient in terms of getting people trapped in the boarding area which means flights board in a timely manner.

This time after I pulled out my computer, iPad, phone and laid each thing on the belt I took half a step the wrong way and bumped into a pole next to the metal detector.  My pants caught on the very sharp edge which was at thigh level and it ripped a pretty large hole in my jeans.

My jeans after the fact - be careful next time!

My jeans after the fact – be careful next time!

I expected an apology or at least some type of excuse, but instead the screener said “You should be careful next time.”  I don’t see how this was my fault and the comment really bothered me.  Why in the world would any airport put a razor sharp pole at thigh level?  If it was a little kid it could be eye level which would have been very dangerous.

I wish I could have thought of a comeback at the time, instead I repacked my bag and entered into the gate holding area.  Recently there was a study globally that said Singaporeans ranked very low on the global happiness index.  The behavior I experienced confirmed that and was something that I would have expected more in mainland China than in Singapore.

Luckily the jeans I was wearing were pretty old, so at least it wasn’t new clothes, but it still bothers me.  What would you have said if it happened to you?

Resolutions and goals for the year of the snake

27 Jan

One book that I have read over the past year that impacted my life was Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project.”  In that book she talked about the importance of taking charge of your own happiness – not waiting for someone else to come and “make you happy.”  That was my core theme for last year, making sure that I didn’t get complacent and still looked for new ways to define what happiness was to me.

I can't "make" him happy either

I can’t “make” him happy either

It’s a little late to do New Year’s Resolutions by the western calendar- which, as I wrote about last year, are not common in China but since the New Year doesn’t start until February 10th (at least the year of the snake), I am actually early.  Last year I had one public resolution where I resolved to keep Zhongguo Jumble updated throughout 2012.  Thanks to your great support I was able to keep that resolution in fine fashion.

This year I am thinking of things in two contexts.  Resolutions are life changes, they are ways of looking at where you want to be and making changes to turn yourself into that person.  Goals are set events, something you can check off your to do list after you finish everything.  To give a concrete example:  A goal would be to run a marathon (something I’m not interested in), but a resolution would be to run for health or to get into shape (something that will never really end).

So, I thought here I’d share a couple of goals for the year.  I will resolve to continue my blog posting, but here are a couple of things that I have on my mind for the goals aspect.

1) A new haircut – I have been growing my hair out for a couple of years now – I’ve gone through more hair styles here than I did in total in the US.  I don’t know what style I will choose but I think it will be interesting.  Here’s a cut I had three years ago now – my short stint with a perm.

One of my many China hairstyles

One of my many China hairstyles

2) Be picked for another demonstration in my yoga class.  Two weeks ago when I went to a class with a new teacher he picked me to do a demonstration.  I’ve never had any teacher ask me to demonstrate a pose before and it made me feel validated that the nearly 100 classes in the last year have paid off.  Continuous practice (which may also be a resolution) should merit another demonstration opportunity.

My poses continue to get better, practice really helps

My poses continue to get better, practice really helps – this is an old photo, I can now see that my hands are not pressed down flat enough in this downward dog

3) Visit at least two new countries – we already have one trip planned for February (which I will keep under wraps for the moment) and I’d like to add another country to my list before the end of the year.  That seems doable.  Last year we went to Boracay, Philippines and I also had my quick jaunt to Korea – both places new to me.

The hotel on the beach in Boracay - where will the next one be?

The hotel on the beach in Boracay – where will the next one be?

And there are other goals (and resolutions) that I am considering that remain private but as they become reality I will be happy to share them with you.

Did you make any resolutions or set any goals this year that you feel comfortable sharing?  What time of year seems to be the most productive?  I still get that feeling in September, the back to school syndrome but a new year also calls for new plans and ideas.  Do you too?

Musk cat coffee anyone?

24 Jan

As I said in my last post, there has been change – progress in my office building.  Restaurants are starting to open up and we now have a coffee shop in our lobby.

And what exactly is a musk cat?

And what exactly is a musk cat?

When I saw the name of our brand new coffee shop, I was curious.  In English – musk and cat put together don’t really remind me of coffee at all, but it seems that our office administration team has gone all out and sought this Indonesian specialty for our lobby.

In Indonesian the coffee is called “Kopi Luwak” and at 200 RMB (about $30 USD) a cup it’s not likely going to be on my breakfast order any time soon.  This is another one of those strange coffee bean delicacies where the coffee actually passes through the intestinal track of a special cat that lives in trees only in Indonesia.  In more basic terms this is cat poo coffee.

As I did research for this post I found many websites talking about the delicate fragrance, the honey taste of the coffee, the foam that forms after it is beaten.  I’m not convinced.

However, the afternoon that it opened and my colleague who I went to lunch with offered to treat, I didn’t know any of this.  But luckily – I ordered a tea!

Bringing it back to the office, several colleagues asked me if I knew what type of coffee I was drinking.  I replied, I was having tea – they all started to laugh.  It turns out that this type of musk cat coffee is the hot thing in China right now.  Our lobby is on the cutting edge of a craze sweeping Shanghai.

According to the rest of the published diagram with future food vendors that will be setting up shop over the next couple of months, a Costa Coffee should be opening soon.  I think I may switch my patronage to that establishment, even though I typically drink very little coffee.  Better safe than sorry.

Have you ever consumed any item that has passed through the intestinal track of another animal?  I’ve eaten lots of interesting things, but this one does not strike me as worth trying.  Please share if you have, I am very curious.

Foiled by the great firewall

22 Jan

I had great plans  for blog posts this weekend.  The ideas were flowing and I even had a photo that would make you laugh.

Instead I spent two hours (or maybe a little more) trying to get that photo to upload.  Which ultimately didn’t work and leaves me with a very busy week at work and not very much time.

The Chinese government has really been cracking down on the Internet lately.  Part of it is likely the change in leadership that happened at the end of last year and part is that the Internet is a voice of truth among the censorship that once open is very difficult to put back in “Pandora’s box.”

It seems to me between the weather, my office construction (more updates to come on that in the future – there has been progress!), and my recent internet issues I have a case of the January blahs.  Luckily I soon have a business trip coming up to the relative warmth and calm of Singapore.  Never have I welcomed two days of training each capped by a five hour flight quite so warmly.

The January blahs are unique to western culture because in China there is still the excitement and family and friends for Chinese New Year to look forward to.  It is quite odd to have the January blahs by yourself, but I’m hoping that will make me overcome them more quickly.  I also don’t remember being hit by them quite this hard last year or the year before, but that may be a selective memory.

So I ask, what do you do to fight the blahs?  I am continuing to do my yoga on a very regular basis, I am staying connected with friends, I am crossing things off my to do list (new pillows from IKEA), cooking some more at home and doing all the “right” things.  Any additional tips?

Please share (and if I’m late in posting the next few days, it’s not me – it’s the firewall).

Weekly photo challenge – illumination

20 Jan
The entrance to the display

The entrance to the display

When we were back in the US for Christmas, we drove through the local light display.  Li had never seen that American tradition and the folks in my hometown really go all out.  It is held at the fair grounds in town which you can drive through at night and marvel at the lights and the Christmas music.  The night we went through it was snowing as well – really turning it into a fairy land.

Santa - the jolly old elf!

Santa – the jolly old elf!

The reindeer lead the way!

The reindeer lead the way!

I haven’t spent a Christmas in China since my very first Christmas when I was teaching English and had to work the day before and after.  I think going home to the twinkling lights hanging from the eaves and Christmas trees peeking through the windows is something that all of the stars hanging from the trees in Xintiandi can’t beat.  Now that I’m back in China and resettled into my routine looking at the lights helps stave off the January blahs.

Rocking cowboy

Rocking cowboy

This post is a response to last week’s Weekly Photo Challenge – Illumination.  If you’d like to see how others illuminated their blogs, please click the link provided.

What illuminates the winter for you?

Baking again…

17 Jan

The Sunday before Thanksgiving my oven died.  I had only been in this apartment a couple of months at that point, but had already made a birthday cake, two attempts at apple pie, muffins, brownies and a baked macaroni and cheese.  That fateful Sunday I was preheating the oven for another batch of muffins when all of a sudden there was a black poof of smoke that came from the top of the oven door and a strong smell of gas.

I turned it off immediately.

What with I had just had the issue with the hot water heater, I decided to wait a couple of days before calling my landlord.

Then, when I got around to it – he was on a business trip.  My landlord is pretty responsible and he wanted to be there when the repairman came, just to make sure everything was fair and above board.

By the time we had coordinated a time with the repairman and the landlord it was already December.

I had never seen an oven installed (or rather, “uninstalled”) previously.  Between the two of them, they slid it out and started looking for the problem.  After a couple of minutes it was obvious to us all – the wires that delivered the heat had shorted out and it was very good that I had turned it off after the “poof.”

The issue - something to do with the wiring (see the small hole in the insulation?

The issue – something to do with the wiring (see the small hole in the insulation?

The oven - on the floor!

The oven – on the floor!

That part required a special order and another couple of weeks of waiting.  The oven was fixed two Sundays before Christmas but at that point I didn’t have time to bake as I was preparing for my trip back to the US.  Still not baking…

But – I finally tried it out again with a lovely batch of corn muffins and it is working great.  In addition I baked pork chops with tomatoes and lemons.  According to my oven thermometer, the temperature still may be a little lower than the control panel, but I’m in business again!

Luscious corn muffins

Luscious corn muffins

What should I bake next?

The sixth quarter update

15 Jan

Zhongguo Jumble has been in existence just over a year and a half now.  Even though I recently published my 2012 Year in Review post, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out some of my favorite posts from the last quarter.

What to write next?  Who knows?

My own favorites?  What to write next? Who knows?

I’d characterize last quarter as being the “quarter of comments.”  I got lots and lots of great feedback from readers and in my opinion that feedback made the posts themselves better and more thought provoking.  I also realized that people feel connected to me and my family and friends via the photos and stories that I publish.  That has been a powerful learning and motivation as well.

Posts that generated a discussion through the comments last quarter were:

Sweet treats and Christmas wishes – this was a post where I noticed the globalization in my local bread store with Christmas specials of different types of bread.

TCKs – putting people into boxes – here I talked about TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and how difficult it can be to grow up in a different culture than your parents.  This was a thought provoking post about slang and language and how it can change.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Shanghai – my first ever Thanksgiving dinner (as hostess) was a resounding success and my readers enjoyed it as well.

In addition I participated in a couple of photo challenges, though fewer than the previous quarter.  The post that was “liked” the most was a photo taken by a good friend during my first Chinese New Year in Shanghai about being foreign.

If you missed any of the above posts, I suggest that you check them out.  Or if I missed one of your favorite posts, please leave me a comment about which post you enjoyed the most.

Over the last 18 months I have published over 230 posts.  Sometimes I get questions from my family as to where I come up with ideas for my posts and whether I ever feel I will run out of ideas.  Ideas come from all kinds of places – some are from blogs or topics posted by others, sometimes it is something crazy that happens at work, or something a colleague or friend says.

To answer the second question – “Yes!  I often feel that I will run out of ideas.”  The last quarter especially has been a tough one.  I didn’t travel at all for work and it felt like my life was getting predictable.  I can’t be sure where the next post will come from, but I do know at least that living in Shanghai isn’t boring as long as  I keep my eyes (and ears and nose) open.

Keep tuned in for 2013 and beyond.

How do you keep your motivation on a long term project?

Globalization via my medicine cabinet

13 Jan

Before I moved to China I asked everyone I knew who had been there before what I should pack.  I got all kinds of advice – in fact that was my very first blog post on my former blog (The Shanghai Chronicle).  I took the advice seriously and pretty much packed it all (and lots more).  In my two suitcases I crammed all matter of things that were used for my first 9 months in China.

Five years on, some of that advice no longer holds.  The number of international stores in Shanghai has blossomed – from a Marks and Spencer where I can buy puff pastry and dresses that actually fit to the chain Watsons (a drugstore) which carries Cetaphil (my face wash).  More and more of what I deem to be “normal” is appearing in the shops – and I’m guessing is also purchased by Chinese customers.

One thing that I remember specifically being warned to pack was dental floss.  I was warned that Chinese people don’t care much about oral hygiene and since it was small, I should tuck it into my bag.  Each time I have gone back to the US, I have continued to purchase a roll or two because it was something just not worth researching.  Unfortunately, this time when I was back in the States, I forgot.  My dental floss ran out only a couple days after I got back.

If I asked someone to mail it to me it would probably cost more in postage than the floss itself so I started looking for alternatives.  My supermarket had some “dental floss picks” – which I bought, but was not very impressed.  I had almost given up when I was in a 7-11 by my office and saw that they had dental floss.  In a convenience store!

I bought a roll and took it home, examining the packaging and opened it up.  It was regular dental floss.  Turning the roll over, I realized that it had been made in Ireland.

The global dental floss

The global dental floss

That is a story of globalization.  Dental floss purchased by an American woman at a convenience store in Shanghai that had been made in Ireland.  It boggles the mind.

So now, I need to hope that American-style deoderant can make that same long trip!

Have you ever marveled at where the most basic of commodities comes from?

Waiting and waiting and…

10 Jan

I try not to rant on this blog very much.  I use it as an avenue to recognize the positive and make sure that I notice the beautiful – whether that beautiful is a great meal, a sunset or just something that makes me smile.

Sometimes though, it is hard to stay positive.

My office building is still under construction.  When I was home for Christmas they made marked progress, taking away most of the scaffolding and in general sprucing things up.  To great fanfare the main doors opened a week ago so an entrance that has been closed for nearly two years is now available.

And yet, that is only the outside appearances that they care about – the Chinese building owner equivalent of “saving face.”  Our office head told me that there is an opening ceremony on January 18th.  There is a long way to go and inside, it is mutiny.

The elevators have been under construction for months and now that they have unveiled the “new look” there is no way to tell which elevator door will open and so you have to scurry towards the door with the rest of the crowd and hope there is still space.  One day two of the four elevators that serve our floor were broken and I waited 15 minutes to go to lunch and then another 10 minutes to come back upstairs after.  I feel like I should be reimbursed for the wasted time.

Our office administrator has joined an action committee with other tenants for the slow moving construction.  There have been construction people during business hours standing on our desks, they have turned out the lights, there are power outages and phone outages.  We have been informed that shortly (though they said it at the beginning of December initially) the bathroom on our floor will be closed and we will have to go to another floor to use the restroom.

Our bathrooms here have been used by the floor below us for nearly two months.  There are only three stalls for probably over 200 women (hence the title of this post).  It makes me want to cry and scream and resort to physical violence – my yoga toned body has given me a pretty strong kicking leg, but who to kick?  There are no other options except I suppose getting dehydrated and not using the facility at all, but my body has not reached that level of self control as of yet, though give me another year and it might.

Coming to work physically makes my stomach turn and emotionally puts me in an extremely negative frame of mind.  I have tried re-framing, I have tried working from home (which I did for a period earlier this year, one day a week), but every time I enter my mood darkens.  What power the place where we spend our time has over our mood and life!

At this point everything the building management says is now met with skepticism by me.  I don’t believe our office committee, the doormen and especially the announcements that the building sends out (unless they are indicating the power is going out – those announcements always seem to be about two hours before).

So what do you do?  What do you do when there is nothing you can do?  I know that I need the courage to accept the things I cannot change, but I lack it, I really do.  How to keep positive?

Any suggestions welcome.  I’m sure I’ll get out of this funk eventually – it has been exaggerated by the fact that I have to work 8 days in a row under China’s lovely annual holiday reorganization plans and I am just over 6 days in.  I would guess that it is also post-holiday let-down as well.  More positive posts to come.

Please share your advice on how to get through this period.

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