Archive | Change RSS feed for this section

Happy Halloween!

5 Nov
Ready for Halloween?

Ready for Halloween?

Halloween is an American holiday.  When I first came to China it was hardly celebrated at all – in fact, the term in Chinese was still even fairly new (万圣节).  Over the last seven years, it has slowly gained in popularity from just an additional night with some special drinks at bars, to being more entwined in the culture.

IMG_20141031_135646

Now there are Halloween parties at schools, costumes available online and in some of the stores and even an office party.  I did have a discussion with a colleague this year as to how it all began, why it was important – and he admitted he still doesn’t see why it is getting popular, but others have embraced it.  The idea of being able to be someone else – whether an ancient Chinese poet, a zombie or a vampire has an attraction that transcends cultures.

IMG_20141031_135700

As I mentioned, this year my company went all out and had a party on Halloween evening with different departments acting as teams and competing for the best skit.  I was assigned to the rag tag team of departments that were too small for their own group – and we really went all out.  I was the pumpkin queen for Super Mario who was spirited away by an evil thief and then had to be rescued from a series of monsters including a masked belly dancer, a tree, a flute playing assassin and an Egyptian pharaoh.  Our chief legal counsel was Mario – and he impressed everyone with his jumps and acting so much that our team wound up in second place!  It was a blast.

Mario rescued his queen!

Mario rescued his queen!

I find it ironic that after making Halloween merchandise for so many years for the rest of the world, the treats and favors are now being used by Chinese people themselves.

mmexport1414751839760

What was your favorite costume of all time?  I still remember a Care Bear costume that I wore in first or second grade.  That was definitely up there – though this year’s pumpkin was pretty good too.

Happy Halloween!

Advertisements

Seven years!

1 Nov

Seven years ago today I arrived in China for the first time.  The date is forever fixed in my memory as I took off on Halloween and the flight attendants were all wearing Halloween costumes on the plane.  I landed the next day at Terminal 1 at Pudong Airport (terminal 2 did not exist yet) and looked for nearly twenty minutes before I found the representative of the English language training school who had been sent to pick me up.  We got on a bus and headed into the wilds of Shanghai.

I was scared and excited, spoke no Chinese, but figured I could do anything for a month if needed because I had booked a round trip ticket (just in case things didn’t work out.)

Wow.

Seven years.

Shanghai has changed a lot in the last seven years.  Four subway lines have sprouted into 16; two airports with one terminal each have become four total terminals; the high speed train now connects many more places – only five hours to Beijing!  Visas are easier (and harder) to get and the amount of English language signage has increased exponentially.

Prices have gone up – this has not been a stagnant economy.  Lunch prices have close to doubled, rent has increased, plane tickets, clothing, necessities of daily living are all significantly more expensive.  However, more things are available now as well – and if I want to pay I can have an organic smoothie or imported milk or laundry detergent from another country.

I have changed as well.

From my first month on the ground, I put in the time with my Mandarin teachers and textbooks and didn’t really stop until nearly four years later.  I slowly got comfortable speaking in different situations – ordering food, bargaining, daily life, work, on the phone, in presentations until I can now state my case and even argue.  Humor still escapes me most of the time, but that has always been the hardest for me because of the cultural overtones and word play.

As I found my “Chinese voice” I became more aggressive, more likely to speak up for myself – physically louder and more confident.  I managed a cross-cultural team and discovered that to survive in business I could not be a perfectionist or I would go crazy. I visited most all of the skyscrapers (new and old) on the Lujiazui side of the river and consulted with their HR on what the future of their benefit plans could mean.

I am proud to say that I am still friends with at least four individuals I met within the first week or two upon arrival and have watched them get married and/or have kids and/or switch careers.  I have done the same, switching jobs, meeting my husband and continuing to morph in this magical city.

So, upon this seven year “China-versary” I wanted to thank you all for following my ride, for looking into my jumbled view of the world and hope you stay around for whatever comes next.

I promise you won’t be bored.

 

The eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth quarter review

22 Oct

I am trying to play catch up with my blog after such a long hiatus, so the content posted in the last nine months was not up to previous standards.  That said – I was reminded by my friend Carissa at Everyday Adventures in Asia that it is not a competition and I should continue to blog for the pleasure of it.

The eleventh quarter (like the last 12 months) was one of lots of travel – I had just finished six months at my new job and was definitely in the swing of things.  Unfortunately, that meant that the time I had to blog was reduced quite dramatically – meaning that I had to cut my post schedule, but I did manage to continue, which is more than I could say for June, July and August!

Even with the reduction in posts there were some fun elements and wanted to take the time to relive a couple of my favorites.  Do you remember either of these?

  • I posted on part of our trip to Greece and taking wedding photos in front of a certain church in “Do you speak English? (A Santorini photo shoot).”  Every time I walk into my apartment I am reminded of that wonderful trip because our “money shot” has been blown up and framed on the wall above our couch.  Believe it or not, I have even more photos from Greece that never made it onto the blog – but at least I was able to give you a sense of the wonder of that honeymoon.  I would go back again in a minute!
The church and the two of us - a perfect pairing - the money shot

The church and the two of us – a perfect pairing – the money shot

  • Replacing things in the new year (part 2) – My saga regarding the main air conditioner in our apartment where I narrowly missed an electrical fire thanks to the circuit breaker flipping.
    Would you use this plug?

    Would you use this plug?

    We have continued to have to replace things in this apartment, but did decide to stay another year when our lease came up in September.  The price is right, the location good and the landlord very responsive.  That said – I will predict now that this is our last year in this place (but I’ve been known to be wrong before.)  The most recent change was we got a new refrigerator at the end of August which we used as part of our negotiations.  It is larger than our old one and does not frost over every other week, so both of us consider it a good trade-up.

The eleventh quarter also contained Chinese New Year – introducing the Year of the Horse and after the official holiday we did slip off for a lovely vacation, so I’ll see if I have the energy to post on that one.  Any guesses where we went?

The twelfth quarter I also managed to get a handful of posts together – though this is when my work travel really started to pick up.  I’ll be posting retroactively on some of my trips (like the Hong Kong post earlier this month) to give you a sense of where I was and what happened – so more to come, but I did want to call out this post on living in Shanghai that I posted in May:

  • Door to door service – talked about the convenience of a big city – the good and the bad.  I’ve had even more things delivered since this post – not having to carry them and getting lower prices is a strong incentive, but luckily I have not had any more visits from the police recently.

I also thought I would leave a teaser – not all my travel in the twelfth quarter was for work.  Li and I managed to slip in a trip to Bali at the end of April that was absolutely phenomenal.  Here are a couple of photos.

A temple - and beautiful blue sky

A temple – and beautiful blue sky

Exotic Indonesian fare

Exotic Indonesian fare

Finally – the thirteenth quarter when I started posting again.

My most popular post was on Taxi Roulette – trying to figure out the best way to get a taxi and get around this city.  I have downloaded a new taxi app recently and am trying it out as well.  We’ll see how the taxi situation continues to evolve here in Shanghai.  Also – as per one of the comments – I have finally seen the new gold taxis on the streets.  They look like London Black Cabs, but they are gold – and since I was in London in June, I have a pretty recent comparison.  I haven’t ridden in one yet and don’t know if they are more expensive or have any special features, so more to come.

There are a couple of posts that continue to rack up the page views – even when I wasn’t posting which I find very interesting and thought I would call them up here as well.

1) Buying a jade bangle – which I did in Hong Kong two years ago AND

2) The pineapple cake wars – my descriptions of the two main competing pineapple cakes in Taipei in the summer of 2013.

I am guessing that somehow these two posts have gotten picked up by one or more search engines and they provide a steady stream of visitors to my blog.  It was definitely strange when I came back to see that traffic had not dropped all that significantly – which could be a good thing or a bad thing!  Folks don’t tend to leave comments on those posts now though – so I really appreciate those of you who stayed with me during the hiatus and your support as I share about my jumbled life.

Now I am (kind of) up to date, so hope to be back here soon with more stories in Shanghai and looking back over the last year.

Did I miss any posts you would have put at the top of your list?

 

Taxi roulette

27 Sep

Since I switched jobs last year I can no longer walk to work.  I miss my daily walks and now really have to make an effort to get out and about more – either walking in the evening, arranging lunches by my apartment when I work from home or taking a walk near the office at lunch.

Getting to the office means that I either have to take the subway (which is about a 40 minute trip) or a taxi (which takes between 20-30 minutes depending on the traffic).  As I don’t go in every day because of the way my schedule works, I have been taking taxis quite a bit recently.  I know that if I get in a cab before 8am it normally means that I’m at the office by 8:20 and ready to start my day.  Rainy days are always tough – but I’ve had some bad taxi karma in the last several weeks where no matter what I try to do – in the morning it can be almost impossible to get a taxi.

I have my preferred corner and know if there is more than one person waiting at that corner it is normally going to be a very long day.   Sometimes you can see lots of taxis but they are all full.  Sometimes you see lots of empty taxis but they don’t stop.  And sometimes, people cut in front of me at the corner and jump into the taxi.

I have tried different tactics – I have a taxi app on my phone which sometimes will work.  I know if I head out before 7:30 my chances go way up – same thing if I go after 10am.  But really – there is no good way to predict if there will be others at that corner at the same time as me.

Once I get a taxi – it doesn’t mean all is well.  Our office is located near the Huangpu River, but right next to a ferry terminal – so very few taxi drivers have heard of it.  I have become an expert on telling the drivers which  tunnel to go through – which way to go if there is  traffic, how to get un-lost when they take a wrong turn when I wasn’t paying attention and even arguing if they take too long and the fare is higher than I expect.

It is funny how getting that taxi can affect my day and my mood.  When it works – my day starts very smoothly – when it doesn’t I can wind up flushed and discombobulated – not the best way to start my first meeting.

Similarly – getting home from work I have the same situation.  My normal tactic is to leave the office slightly early because of my late phone calls – but even that doesn’t guarantee me a smooth trip home.

Each time I put my arm out I am playing a game of taxi roulette – hoping and hoping that taxi will pull over in front of me and will whisk me off to my next destination.  The taxis remain affordable (about $4 USD one way to the office) and the drivers for the most part are polite and professional.

I would say that this is a cultural difference, but I don’t think so – I think it is a big city standard that I managed to avoid for a long time given the location of my apartment and workplace.  We have considered buying a car – but driving in Shanghai strikes me as even more stressful than playing taxi roulette – then I’d have to worry about parking too!

What tactics do you suggest for managing my taxi frustration?  I know it shouldn’t bother me so much – and occasionally I’ll have a week or so where everything will go perfectly – but that is the exception not the rule.  Any tips?

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!

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?

Relearning Shanghai

9 Mar

I’m back.

Three weeks after my last post, I’m taking the plunge again to attempt to capture the joy and confusion and life that is living in China.  Thanks for staying tuned.

Looking at my stats during the time I was away – I have a remarkably loyal core readership – or by this point I’ve posted so much content that the search engines will guarantee a certain readership level even without posting anything new.  I’m not sure how to take it.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately – the entire month of February I was in my own bed for less than a week.  The posts at the beginning of the month were strategically scheduled to make you unaware of my whereabouts.  When I got back to China, my VPN was down, making scaling the Great Firewall impossible  – and I had all of those other “life” things I needed to take care of – food, clean clothes, making the apartment feel like mine again.

And Shanghai continues to change.  In my absence there felt like so many new elements layered on top of life – when in the day-to-day I may not notice, but coming back (especially after the US) they are front and center.

My walk to yoga is now past buildings that have been flattened (but were whole before Chinese New Year).  There is a new foreign supermarket in Times Square (two years after the old one closed) – that has a baking section with muffin cups and unbleached flour.  After reading a website, my husband has clued me in that within a ten minute walk are three of Shanghai’s most famous street food stands – not counting the one we discovered last year – Da Chang Mian.

The way to order a taxi has changed with a competition between two of the most powerful Chinese internet tycoons who are giving rides away for free, making hailing a cab much more challenging.  And my work schedule has shifted very nocturnally with lots and lots of conference calls after 9pm.  Re-entering Shanghai life has taken me a little time.

This past Friday, I met a vendor for lunch at a restaurant I have visited many times before – Din Tai Fung.  I’ve been to their flagship store in Taipei 101 and eaten at multiple locations across Shanghai.  This time, when I sat down, the waitress gave me this card.

This side has directions in Chinese, English and Korean - the reverse French and Japanese.  Eating soup dumplings can be tricky!

This side has directions in Chinese, English and Korean – the reverse French and Japanese. Eating soup dumplings can be tricky!

It details how to eat Xiao Long Bao (steamed soup dumplings) which is the dish the restaurant is the most famous for.  The two sides of the cards have multiple languages making sure whomever visits is clear.  It would have been very handy 7 years ago, but the effect now was it made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I had been in Shanghai a little too long.

My contact arrived and we ordered lunch and enjoyed the views of the Bund and I normalized, heading off to my next meeting and my massage that evening and a great dinner that my husband had prepared.  But I couldn’t get it out of my head – every single time I leave and come back I have to relearn this city.  Yes, my understanding grows deeper, but with that, I notice more changes.  I am no longer superficially connected to this place – it is in my psyche, my pace of living, my taste buds and internal soundtrack.

Shanghai.

Come visit.  I promise – it won’t be boring!

Replacing things in the new year – part 2 (the scary story)

6 Feb

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about needing to replace things.  I also made a comment saying I wondered what else was going to need to be replaced.  Unfortunately, my premonition was correct.

The next thing to break – our main air conditioner/heater.

The air conditioner - estimated to be around 10 years old - which may have been the root of the problem

The air conditioner – estimated to be around 10 years old – which may have been the root of the problem

One Saturday morning I woke up and realized that we had forgotten to turn off the heater in the main room before going to bed.  It sounded a little funny and there was a bit of a strange smell.  I thought that it had quite literally “overheated” and so turned it off and didn’t think much more of it.

Later that day when I turned it on again, I still smelled the funny smell and so told my husband we needed to have the repairman come to check it out.  As loyal readers know – this past summer the air conditioner in our bedroom broke and it required the addition of more coolant so that was my self-diagnosis of what needed to happen again.

Li called the air conditioner hotline to ask a repairman to come – but their advice was that we first needed to clean the inside of the air conditioner to make sure that nothing was stuck inside and that would fix the smell.  After an hour of cleaning out the air conditioner – it was filthy and really needed it, we both thought the smell had disappeared for the most part and agreed to wait to see if it would improve.

The following Monday night we were watching TV together with the heater on and the fumes became overwhelming.  We both agreed that the next day the repairman needed to come.

I was working from home and when the repairman came I explained what I thought was the problem.  He added coolant, tweaked the internal computer and told me that I needed to run the air conditioner full blast with the doors/windows open for the rest of the day to clear the smell and make everything work.  In hindsight, that was not very good advice.

Because the weather was chilly, I bundled up in our small office and shut the door, warm inside the small room.  Simultaneously, I did as prescribed, opening the doors and windows to the main room – getting a good cross breeze – and putting the heat on at full blast.  A couple of hours later after I came out – I realized the air conditioner was no longer on, the smell was even more overwhelming and the circuit breaker had flipped.  I then, for the first time, looked carefully at the plug.

The plug

The plug

The plastic between the plug and the socket had completely melted through.  What I had been smelling the last several days was melting plastic – and we were only saved from fire by the fact that our circuit breaker was set appropriately!

I was scared to pull the plug out and so then had to call the electrician from my complex to come take a look.  He was finally able to get it out and luckily, that was about the time Li came home.  I abdicated responsibility to him as I had a previously scheduled dinner engagement and he had to go out and purchase a new plug, new socket and then get the electrician to replace both.

Would you use this plug?

Would you use this plug?

The source of the smell

The source of the smell

Getting home that evening I saw that all had been replaced, but it took me over a week to get comfortable turning the heater on again.  I still am a little skiddish, but right around Chinese New  Year there was a spate of warm weather – in the 50s – so we didn’t need to use it as much as during a normal January.

Hopefully I am now through replacing things for a while.  I also now know that I need to trust my instincts when there is something wrong and I should have insisted further when the repairman was there.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

What has been the strangest repair you’ve needed to do in your house/apartment?  This one is right up there for me.

Really? I used to live there!

2 Feb

We got into a taxi, like we have many times before.

Please take us to the corner of Hefei Lu and the elevated highway.  There’s a church there.

The cab driver looked back at us and stared.  He confirmed the intersection and we started off.  It was obvious he knew where he was going – getting there takes less than 10 minutes but there are several one way streets so going the wrong way can be annoying.  We relaxed and watched street life in Shanghai whirl by.  I noticed that another block on the way there was being slowly flattened by the ever-present cranes.

He glanced back again and said – “I used to live by there.  There’s no church – I swear.”

We confirmed that there was a church there again, but the taxi driver had it in his head.  He kept thinking aloud – “Maybe it’s the old park?  No, I bet it’s the old Culture Palace (文化宫).”

We pulled up outside and he confirmed it.  “Yep, it’s the Culture Palace – you were right.  It is a church now.”

Then he asked “Do you believe in God?”

Taken aback – I said, “Yes.”

When we got out of the taxi – I asked Li what a Culture Palace was.  He said that in the big cities there were specific places for the party faithful to go have fun – there may be places to play cards or pool – gathering places for true blue collar communists.

Entering the church I looked at it closely.  I am convinced that it’s structure was that of a church originally.  My guess is that it was taken over during the revolution and converted into a place to play.  Then sometime in the last 10 or 15 years it was converted back to the church that it should have been.

I got a history lesson from a cab driver in Shanghai.  I think that I may have taught him something too – obviously he didn’t know there was a church there!

Shanghai continues to pull me in even six years later.  I wonder what else I’ll stumble on?

The Mad Woman in the Attic

stories of a serial expat and solo traveller

Marta lives in China

8+ years and counting!

Foreign Sanctuary

Lead and Live a Life Less Ordinary

Crazy Chinese Family

My crazy Chinese Family I married into...

Writing Between the Lines

Life From a Writer's POV

A Kick In The Butt

Advice on all things FITNESS by Personal Trainer Ariana Dane

China Elevator Stories

Conversations with locals in China

Chasing Sunsets

Current Location: The Daraja Academy; Nanyuki, Kenya