Archive | September, 2013

Profiles – The Plant Man

26 Sep

Over two years ago I wrote the post above on the man who came to care for the plants in my office. Two years later he is still there – even though I don’t have an office anymore because we went to an open floor plan over a year ago. We still do have plants all over the floor though and so his services are needed more than ever.

Last week I finally asked him his name – Mr. Lin. It is a fitting name as the character for Lin is two trees put together. We talked about how he had been there a very long time and he said he would leave me his name card on my desk the next time he was on our floor.

The reason I asked his name?

Because I won’t be seeing him anymore. I have decided to take a big step and change jobs. I am sad to think that it took the thought of not seeing him to get to know him a little better.
And so the plant man continues – and now I have his phone number.

Do you have a “plant man” in your life?

中国 Jumble

I have two plants in my office.  I have had two plants in my office for the last three years.  Neither of them has died.

This is actually a fairly unusual situation, as amaryllis bulbs aside, I tend to kill plants. My travel schedule, a tendency to over-water or under-water and the artificial light  all contribute to this conundrum.

Why, may you ask have I not killed these plants?

The Plant Man

Every few days there is an individual who comes to my office early in the morning with a bucket of water.  I do not know his name, but he will smile and nod at me to enter, then quietly water, prune and observe the status of my plants.  Obviously he is an expert at his job – coming even when I am not there to doctor my plants.

He is not my company’s employee because he does not…

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A walk in Hefei’s Circum City Park

24 Sep

Over the mid-autumn festival (which was wedding free!) we spent a lovely day in Hefei visiting Li’s sister and her family.  They have recently moved apartments and are now in the downtown, more developed area and just steps away from a lovely park.

A peaceful day on the river - the water is so clean that you can see the reflection

A peaceful day on the river – the water is so clean that you can see the reflection

In the morning after breakfast I took the opportunity to explore a bit.  The park was lovely because in the middle was a large river with bridges and pavilions spread across.  On one of the pavilions there was a group of senior citizens dancing and the music accompanied me the rest of my time.  There were also people playing cards and chatting on many benches spread on both banks.

The pavilion perched on the river with a tall building in the background

The pavilion perched on the river with a tall building in the background

It was the cleanest park I have been in in China – even though it was full of people you could tell there was a real pride of place there.  Perched close to the edge were also individuals fishing with long rods and the occasional baby being followed by a grandma.

Hefei is a city of transitions – a city the size of Chicago that in China is considered small.  It is a place that is growing – I saw more cranes and construction material there than in Shanghai.  They are in the process of a ten year plan to put in eight subway lines and the traffic is horrendous.  None of that mattered for the morning.

It was a beautiful morning during my favorite time of year in China.

What did you do over the weekend?

The Chinese dream

22 Sep

The sign says “China’s dream, my dream”

In the last year or so the Communist party has had a campaign about “The Chinese Dream.”  From casual comments with my colleagues it really sounds like the stereotypical American dream.

The Chinese dream seems to include:

  1. Education for children
  2. Purchase of a house
  3. A stable job
  4. A better future

All of these things seem reasonable.  Who wouldn’t want these things?

And then you start to look under the surface.  Why is a campaign needed to promote these seemingly basic ideas?

The education system is one that is based purely on rote.  There is no imagination, no teamwork taught – the best students are those with the ability to memorize.  When I first came I constantly had to push my colleagues who went to the very best schools across the country to think for themselves, to push past my request to the next level.  Without the ability to think – what good is an education?

Everyone is getting one though – even my housekeeper’s son is now at university, something that no one could have even dreamed about 50 years ago.  The hope for a better future exists.

Housing purchase – in big cities if you don’t have family there to help, purchasing a house can be beyond the dreams of most individuals.  Right now where I live in Shanghai a 75 square meter apartment (about 1500 square feet) can sell for 3 to 4 million RMB which is over 500,000 USD.  The average monthly income in Shanghai is less than 1000 USD a month.  Is purchasing a house possible?  Or do you purchase a house so far in the suburbs that it takes over two hours each day to commute, by bus or subway?  Is that realistic?

Stability of jobs – most employees of multinational companies stay less than three years.  Job hopping has become acceptable – it is the new normal.  But – with new graduates the employer of choice is once again the government.  The ratio of applicants for the government exam to places was 100 to 1 in some locations.  Stability is wanted, but is it happening?

Everyone wants better for their children

Everyone wants better for their children

A better future – this I think in China is still possible.  The amount of change leads to opportunities that wouldn’t have even been dreams thirty years ago.  People with tenacity and smarts can accomplish a lot.  China is way beyond Deng Xiao Ping’s wishes of a bicycle for everyone.  The best technology in the world and an eager group of folks willing to work for more means that it will never be boring here.

I thought a lot about the Chinese Dream on my recent trip to Anhui province.  As I went further into rural China I could see the small shops and farmers drying rice and the constant changing occurring outside of the big cities.  It made me think that we are all people and whether you call it the Chinese dream or the American dream – it really is the same.  As you move up the ladder, we all want more.  It is difficult to feel satisfied, to say – “Enough is enough.”

Is the Chinese dream flashy lights?  Sometimes it seems so.

Is the Chinese dream flashy lights? Sometimes it seems so.

What is your dream?

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

19 Sep

Today is the full moon, so the official mid-Autumn festival day.  Shortly we will be heading out to Li’s hometown (wedding still TBD).

The weather in Shanghai lately has been absolutely gorgeous – blue skies and cooler nights with some killer sunsets from my office window.  I haven’t been able to stop from snapping photos as I see a blue sky or a building highlighted against it.  Here are several that I have taken in the last week.

The first shots are from an afternoon excursion to Yu Yuan Garden with a friend of my sister.  He happened to be in town for less than 24 hours and said he had already seen the Bund, so I swept him along through Yu Yuan Garden and Xintiandi and we had a grand time.  The blue skies that day made me stand up and notice.

The classic dragon at Yu Yuan Garden

The classic dragon at Yu Yuan Garden

Traditional architecture in the garden highlighted by the sunny sky

Traditional architecture in the garden highlighted by the sunny sky

The second cluster are shots taken while either at work or on my way to a meeting.  I especially paid attention to the Pearl Tower (the TV tower, the round ball thing) which is a symbol of Shanghai because I saw in the paper that after October holidays they are going to renovate it.  I wonder how long it will be under construction and whether this symbol of the city will be dark for a while.

The others – my view will change soon at work and I continue to be amazed at the beauty I see each day.

A snap out of a cab window - the pearl tower with a couple puffy clouds behind

A snap out of a cab window – the pearl tower with a couple puffy clouds behind

Clouds gathering to the north of my office - skies of promise

Clouds gathering to the north of my office – skies of promise

A stunning sunset over Yan An elevated road

A stunning sunset over Yan An elevated road

The final shots are of moon cakes – couldn’t avoid them!  This is a beautiful package that Li’s company gave him with 12 moon cakes in it.  Since I received some as well, this box is currently in transit with us to his hometown.  I like moon cakes, but after two or three, that’s enough.  This package is even more special because from the pictures it looks like the moon cakes are made with precious materials like abalone.  Even more of a reason to share with his family.

Moon cakes in a gold box from the Shanghai Postal service

Moon cakes in a gold box from the Shanghai Postal service

Moon cakes with precious fillings ready to be shared

Moon cakes with precious fillings ready to be shared

I wish all of you a happy, healthy mid-Autumn festival.  May you be surrounded by family and friends during this beautiful time of year to celebrate how you see fit!

On a technical note I may not be able to keep up a regular posting schedule over the next couple of weeks with the different trips we have planned.  Will do my best, but if I miss a post here and there, consider yourselves warned!

One good turn deserves another

17 Sep

I learned another traditional Chinese phrase the other day.  It’s 礼尚往来(Li Shang Wang Lai)translated it is normally “one good turn deserves another” or “courtesy calls for reciprocity.”

In theory then, this should be a similar concept to the English.  However…

Let me share how I came to know the term.

We are going to celebrate the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival in Li’s hometown.  Li’s mom helped us arrange a taxi ride from the train station to their house.  It so happens that the gentleman who is coordinating the driver and car is her neighbor.  Unbeknownst to both of us, this gentleman and his family attended our wedding and gave a gift.   There were over 250 people at our reception – I knew just over 10.  Very possible.

So how are these two events connected?

Nothing – but it so happens that his son/daughter by chance is getting married in Li’s hometown at the same place we had our reception, while we are there.

Li’s family is now convinced that if we don’t go to the wedding he will feel slighted and there will be problems between neighbors later. Because he has coordinated our taxi ride, he now knows we will be in town.

So – “courtesy calls for reciprocity.”

I have problems with this from several angles.

1) We were not invited to the wedding.

2) Neither of us knows this gentleman or his offspring.

3) We were planning on spending time with other members of Li’s family during our short visit which now may have to be skipped.

To my western mind, ignoring your own family to go to the wedding of a neighbor’s kid you’ve never met seems to be showing the wrong kind of courtesy.  But, I am in China.  I tried to explain this point of view to my husband.  At the end of the discussion we agreed to disagree.  Our definitions are different, though the words are the same.

I think (though am not certain) I will be going to a wedding over this Mid-Autumn Festival.  I wonder what my next good turn will be?

Has anything like this happened to you?

Peering through gates – the construction zone that is Fuxing Road

15 Sep
Peering in

Peering in

I don’t remember when I first started to notice the changes.  I don’t walk down that stretch of Fuxing Road every day, but at least once every couple of weeks.

It must have been two years ago – the first signs.  Second story windows were boarded up – the businesses started leaving to be replaced by itinerant watermelon stands or pop-up fur coat sellers.

Then last year – the bricks started to appear.  I now understand that is the beginning of the end for the low apartment blocks that line Shanghai’s streets.  When the bricks appear, the complex is doomed.

The bricks...

The bricks…

Slowly, the street turned from a pretty tree lined home into a ruin.

Six months ago a good friend pulled me into the still living complex at night.  It was a rainy evening and the rain gave an other-worldly feeling about the place.  We wandered and gawked, feeling slightly guilty at intruding into an area which was obviously dying.  Now, things have deteriorated even further.

Tricycles line up each day to cart away the parts of the houses and their contents that still have value.  Sometimes it is foam, wood, even wire.  Men are dwarfed by the enormous loads.

These are small loads on the carts - some can be triple or quadruple this size.

These are small loads on the carts – some can be triple or quadruple this size.

From the street the buildings don’t look inhabitable, but among the wreckage I can sometimes see laundry drying on a line or a bicycle carefully parked by an abandoned doorway.  The final squatters won’t go until the heavy equipment comes in.  How long that will be, I don’t know.

A view on the other side of the fence - would you guess this is Shanghai?

A view on the other side of the fence – would you guess this is Shanghai?

Some people call photos like these “ruin porn” – I can understand why.  It is so difficult to look away and so easy to imagine that that was once your home – now turned into a shell of its former self – soon to disappear forever.

And what will they build?  Likely something like what is across the street – a complex with guards and pretty landscaping and tall buildings.   It looks very nice.  A place with fully functional plumbing, a place that is clean and safe and costs millions of dollars to buy a unit.  The rent for one month could be six months salary for those who originally lived across the street.

The future - a very nice place to live?

The future – a very nice place to live?

Where will those people go?  Where have they gone? Is this progress?


This is my Shanghai.

Planning the next trip

12 Sep

We are planning our next trip for the end of September over the October holidays period.  We finally have booked all of the flights, ferries and hotels and now just need to get on the plane and go.

This trip planning process highlighted several elements I thought were worth calling attention to.

  • Traveling with different passports can be frustrating – especially when one is a Chinese passport

My husband had to explain to the visa authority why a Chinese person is applying for a single visa to romantic honeymoon destination.  He was able to do it – after changing his hukou, providing bank statement details and copies of our marriage certificates, plus a letter from his employer.

I am very glad I have a US passport.

  • Transferring in Moscow may be interesting.

We found conflicting information online as to whether both of us needed transit visas for Moscow.  In our quest to get the cheapest flight, we have a strange transfer there.  After all the research we finally reached out to Aerflot.  They replied that we do not.  If we do I will have a really good story and promise to share it here.

  • Travel apps are really amazing.

We have spent way too much time hotel comparison shopping and planning our route.  The apps and websites really are amazing.  It sucks up time that could be used for other activities.  I have had enough – I am ready to take off and explore, but my husband is still checking and changing plans.

I will leave our upcoming destination unnamed for the moment to build suspense.  Prior to heading out there is still a lot to be finalized, projects to complete, mid-autumn festival to celebrate, friends to welcome and fall to enjoy!

Stay tuned for more…

What have you learned when planning a trip?  Anything that has come in handy later?

Downpours and blue skies

10 Sep

The last couple of weeks as the heat has finally broken, the weather has gotten more erratic.  We have had tremendous thunderstorms followed by blue skies with puffy clouds.

I was at work on a Friday after lunch and looked out the window.  I could see the rain coming towards me from the east.  The skies got blacker and blacked and the wind picked up.  I grabbed my camera and shot a couple of photos.  The difference in the view from the clear summer day that I showed you before was complete.

The storm approaches

The storm approaches

Black clouds waiting for the rain to pour down

Black clouds waiting for the rain to pour down

Later that afternoon I went downstairs to get something to drink.  The glassed in ceiling over level the basement level sounded like war drums were beating – the rain was that hard.  I stood mesmerized, watching the drops bead above me.  I wished I was in my childhood bedroom listening to the rain beat down on the skylight.

The rain drumming on the roof

The rain drumming on the roof


Instead I took some more photos and sat on a bench watching the rain until my conscious pushed me back upstairs to my next deliverable.

The next weekend I was reading by the window at home and happened to look out over my shoulder.

Blue, blue skies...

Blue, blue skies…

The blue skies had returned and the clouds had made a beautiful pattern stretching over the apartment buildings to the south.

Where are the clouds leading?  They remind me of a sea.

Where are the clouds leading? They remind me of a sea.

Depending on my mood – either view can be appropriate – and telling.  My China days continue to happen – but I know that blue skies will return.

Which do you prefer – the pent up burst of the thunderstorm or the ever changing clouds in the blue sky?

Should Zhongguo Jumble be a book?

8 Sep

My mom has put a bug in my ear to turn Zhongguo Jumble into a book.  For my previous blog, The Shanghai Chronicle – I successfully converted the first year of it into a book and gave it to her for Mother’s Day 2012.  It was a limited edition – of one.  I also took a couple months off from work during that period.

So now, the idea is stuck in my head.

I have been a very regular poster on Zhongguo Jumble since I began in July of 2011 – at this point I’m well over 300 posts and lots and lots of different topics.  If each post had its own page that would be over 300 pages.  I’m overwhelmed.

I’ve started thinking about possible ways to attack it  and thus far have come up with the below:

  1. Publish in a serial format – a small book quarter by quarter
  2. Separate posts on China from my travel posts
  3. Do a Shanghai only book
  4. Try a photo book and highlight some of the beautiful pictures
  5. Do things on a calendar year basis
  6. Try to split by topic or category

I’m really not sure which makes the most sense.  So – I am going to you, my readers, to see if you have any ideas.  I need your help.

Please complete the poll below to see what makes the most sense to you.

For my email readers, please make sure you click through to the blog post to vote.  Your votes count too!

After I get your feedback I’ll let you know my decision.  If I do make it real I would assume I will use Blurb again.  Blurb has the ability to “slurp” the blog posts into a basic framework and I was very satisfied with the quality of the printing last time.  However, if anyone has used another set of software I would be interested in knowing about it as well.

Have you ever thought about making your blog a book?  What considerations should I take?  If I did publish one – would any of you be interested in a copy?

Let me know!

Finding peace in Hangzhou

5 Sep
View from my balcony

View from my balcony

This is the third week in a row I have had a long road trip to a second tier city for work.  Two weeks ago it was Yangzhou, last week Changshu and this week Hangzhou.    Hangzhou was an overnight stay and to tell you the truth, not something I was really looking forward to.

Shame on me!  It was an incredible experience and just what I needed to get out of my funk.

The hotel and conference center was enormous in the Qixi wetland park resort.  Each room had a balcony overlooking water and bamboo.  There was even a comfortable sofa outside with a place to put up my feet.

Cleverly the conference organizers allocated enough time at lunch to go back to my room and rest.  I curled up on the sofa and let the peacefulness wash over me.  Nothing disturbed the quiet save an occasional bird.  It was wonderful.

At peace

At peace

I think that is the amazing part of China – even a business trip can turn into a mini-respite as long as I have eyes to see.

Before we left the hotel gave each guest a box of moon cakes.  I haven’t opened mine yet, but it seems an appropriate gift.  I could see myself returning to take a walk under the full moon and enjoy the autumn weather.

How do you celebrate fall?  Where is your escape?  Have you ever found peace in an unexpected place?

Enjoying now

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