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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?

Door to door service

10 May

In the last week I’ve had reason to notice two specific instances of door-to-door service, both of which have caused me a lot of thinking.

The first example was of delivery service.  My husband has registered with a company called Shun Feng which is the Chinese equivalent of UPS or FedEx (and is actually more dependable than both of them in China).  Because his phone number is registered, he only has to call when he has a package and someone automatically comes to our door.

The delivery man will bring the box or envelope you need and any packing material to your door – with a promise of a visit within 2 hours.  This particular time, the delivery man arrived within 20 minutes, padded envelope in hand.  I was truly stunned.

This type of service is only practical in a large city with the density of Shanghai.  I can’t imagine this in a rural area or smaller city, but the convenience just takes my breath away.

The second example was also of door-to-door service, but not quite as favorable.  I was getting ready for bed one night and there was a loud knock on the door.  My husband went to answer it.  At the door were three policemen (two men and a woman) and one of the security guards from our building.  They insisted on seeing my husband’s ID card.  They talked to him for a while and then started asking more questions – who else lives here?

He replied back that his wife lived there as well.  I stayed in the bedroom.  They then started asking for my paperwork.  He showed them my passport, they asked another couple of questions and then left.  It was obvious they were checking in on me – the foreigner – not him.

This kind of thing hasn’t happened in a long time, since right before the Beijing Olympics.  All of my paperwork is correct, there was nothing they could have done – but this door-to-door service just made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.  I don’t want or need visits from the police at my door.

China is a place of contradictions.  One moment I can be enjoying the convenience and the next shivering at the efficiency.  I know that I am welcomed here – to a point, but there are limits.

Have you ever had door to door service?  Was it a positive or a negative?  Any thoughts?

Apologies for the scarcity of posts recently.  More travel and I have been feeling a bit under the weather.  May and June will continue to be busy, but let’s see how much I can fit in!

 

 

 

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?

Toothbrushes and cultural differences

3 Apr

I’ve used an electric toothbrush for a number of years now – I don’t remember when I switched, but I like the extra clean feeling that I get when I use my Spinbrush.  Unfortunately, dental hygiene is not necessarily top of mind in China (I wrote a post on dental floss and the global supply chain some time ago) and so electric toothbrushes are not yet a standard part of daily life.

To make a long story short – I needed a new head for my electric toothbrush and we couldn’t find one.   While we searched Taobao (the Chinese version of Amazon or eBay) – I switched to a standard, old-fashioned brush.  Since this became a joint effort my husband and I talked a lot about toothbrushes and teeth brushing.  It appears that Chinese children are taught differently than American children about how to brush their teeth.

I remember very clearly that you were supposed to brush in small circles – make sure you get into the back of the mouth and you needed to sing “Happy Birthday” three times to yourself to make sure you brushed long enough.

Li told me that when he was small they were taught to brush up and down – and that was it.  I started asking – but how did you know how long to brush?  Didn’t they teach you that small circles help get the food out better?  Electric toothbrushes get into the gaps better than regular brushes.  They strengthen your gums – didn’t you know?

I didn’t even bother to ask if he was taught to floss – as dental floss has only been available in China for about five to ten years.  It wasn’t even an option when he was small.

But – as far as he remembers – none of what I asked was normal.  He looked at me very strangely during this conversation.

Normal can be very different depending on where you start.  Brushing your teeth is not one of those areas that I expected – but cultural differences are everywhere.

How did you learn to brush your teeth?

 

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.

Things I didn’t do before moving to China

28 Jan
What to write next?  Who knows?

Do you think I look Asian?

This post was inspired by a post by Girl in Florence about how she has changed since moving to Italy.  To check out her post please click here.

China has changed me.  When we got our wedding pictures back people started to say I looked Asian.  I’m not so sure that’s true, but there are certain behaviours that I know are different.  After reading my cousin’s thoughts on moving to China as a newbie, it made me think even more about those changes.  Here are a few.

  1. Drinking hot water – this is a very Chinese thing and something I do now on a regular basis.  I understand now it is actually very healthy to drink warm water, especially in the morning.  This is something I’ll do in warm and cold weather now, much to the surprise of my family.
  2. Wearing my coat when eating – Shanghai does not have central heating and many small restaurants are cold.  I have gotten used to eating wearing my coat in situations like that which never would happen in Chicago or Michigan.  It doesn’t throw me at all.  This is the time of year when it becomes a regular occurrence.
  3. Cooking over a gas flame – growing up and when I moved to Chicago the ranges I cooked on were electric.  No one has an electric range here – how would you use a wok?  It took a while to get the hang of it, but I really enjoy the control it gives me and both western and eastern flavors.
My first independent fried rice - eggs, onion and Taiwanese sausage

My first independent fried rice – eggs, onion and Taiwanese sausage

  1. Using a squat toilet – I had used squat toilets before moving to China, but now I will use them without a second thought.   In train stations, airports, restaurants – sometimes they are the only option and often they are the cleanest option.  A nice clean western style toilet is something I notice now – and am pleasantly surprised when there is toilet paper.  I don’t take it for granted any more.
  2. Working on weekends – Not working overtime – this is the quirk of the Chinese calendar when they reshuffle standard work days and Saturday or Sunday becomes a normal work day.  I understand why they do it to give people more consecutive days off, but this is one change I don’t like.  I do it grudgingly, but I do it.
  3. Being obsessed with blue skies – Regular readers know how I love blue skies.  This started from my first trip back to the US after I lived in China for 9 months and is still going strong.  I have rubbed this off on my coworkers as I post on WeChat sunsets and blue skies – which they are now doing too!
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

Those of you who know me – have you noticed any other changes?  I tried not to pick the obvious answers like speaking in Mandarin or traveling to many Asian countries or eating parts of animals that I had never even heard of.  When you have lived somewhere for a while – how has it changed you?

A new year’s ritual – the company new year’s party

11 Jan

The annual dinner or Nian Hui (年会) happens at almost all Chinese companies this time of year.  They run the gamut – the more traditional being elaborate seated Chinese dinners with masters of ceremonies dressed in formal attire to smaller events at a department level.

All of the annual dinners I have attended to date have involved friendly competition, performances and lucky draw raffle prizes to make sure everyone leaves the event in a good mood.  They all also will involve the new Chinese zodiac animal that is coming into season.  Next year is the year of the horse, so horses featured in the 2014 festivities.

Now that I have switched companies I have had the opportunity to see another style of annual dinner.  We celebrated last week and really had a great time.

Similar to my first year in China, I was asked to participate in one of the show elements – a song choice with back up dancers.  It was the Alison Gold song – “Chinese Food.”  The song was ridiculed in the US press because it is not politically correct, but my colleagues were the ones who suggested it – and given the applause we got, enjoyed by all.

My costume for the Chinese Food performance.  I found out later that this is a traditional garment for unmarried girls in North East China.  It was also very hot with the fur collar!

My costume for the Chinese Food performance. I found out later that this is a traditional garment for unmarried girls in North East China. It was also very hot with the fur collar!

Unlike my previous annual dinner experiences though – this wasn’t a sit down dinner – it was a buffet and then followed by the show – which meant that people paid more close  attention to the performance because they weren’t eating simultaneously.  In addition – this event focused on the management team much more than at my previous company – to the point that a lot of the jokes were at the management teams’ expense.  Luckily I got a little bit of a heads up beforehand!

The event was a spectacular – the theme was “Asian style.”  From our Chinese Food performance, to wishing the team happy new year, to a troop of three belly dancers (normally mild-mannered employees), to a “princess choosing her prince” spectacular involving cross dressing and of course a sweet love song – there were jokes and applause for all.  We also selected over twenty people for gift certificates and other prizes.

The final event though, was the re-enactment by the management team of a scene in one of the hottest soap operas running on Chinese TV.  It was a Qing dynasty event – the scene where one concubine accuses the other of having a baby with the doctor instead of the emperor.  A paternity test is demanded and it is found that the first concubine fixed the results.

None of the management team was aware of what the challenge would be prior to that evening and we were broken into two teams – each to reenact the same scene, then the audience would vote.  To make matters more complicated, I don’t read Chinese well and two of the others didn’t read Chinese at all, so it was an English/Chinese mix, but that added to the humor.  My team decided to switch things up – our emperor was a woman – and the favored concubine was the chief legal counsel (a man).  I never would have guessed their hidden talent at acting – it was hilarious.   We were given period dress to wear as well which helped with the humor.

I’m happy to say that my team prevailed with our twist.  I laughed so hard that my sides hurt.

After the festivities were over, about twenty of us headed across the complex to a karaoke bar and sang into the wee hours of the morning.  It was the perfect capstone to a wonderful evening.  We rocked out to Chinese and English hits and celebrated a birthday with cake.

I won’t forget this annual dinner for a long time.  This is one ritual I will stand behind.

Are companies in the US still doing holiday parties?  I know that with the economic downturn many of these events were stopped – but I think that coming together with colleagues outside of the normal leads to another level of trust which results in superior teams.  When was your favorite holiday party?

A mandarin milestone – traveling and translating

20 Oct

I have been lucky to have had a visitor in town for the last week or so.  Each visitor is a gift – I know that crossing the pond is a big thing and I do everything I can to try to make the trip memorable.

This time, as I have been blessed with some free time I took my guest out of Shanghai to Hangzhou during the middle of the week.  I haven’t had that opportunity for a couple of years as most guests have been in the city while I’ve been working so I can only grab a day or two to  spend with them.

Going to Hangzhou was a revelation – not only because it is a beautiful place but because how I communicated during the trip.

Because my friend doesn’t speak any Chinese – I was on my own in terms of setting the plan, asking questions, ordering food, etc.  I wasn’t with a group of colleagues who let me follow along and I wasn’t with my husband who typically plans our travels within China.  If I didn’t get it right – we weren’t doing it.

I rocked it.

We ate at restaurants where the only menus were listed on the wall.  We successfully navigated the Hangzhou bus system – three times – with me looking at the bus diagrams in characters, choosing the right bus and getting us off at the right stop.  I bargained for gifts and I even chewed out a taxi driver who just didn’t want to take foreigners because they were “too much trouble.”

What I found really interesting was that even outside of my “comfort zone” in Shanghai, I was still able to function – people understood me and helped me and I finally asked questions to make sure things were right.  Sometimes having a guest makes you fearless.  For yourself you can accept certain elements of discomfort – but for your guest – no way!

Over the years I have noticed that this time of year – autumn – tends to be the time when I notice a significant change in my Chinese ability.  I remember my first phone call, my first meeting where I “got it” – my first presentation to a big group in mandarin.  All of those were milestones at the time.  This one was unexpected and very validating.

Have you had a language milestone recently?  Have you ever had others dependent on your translation ability?  It can be stressful – or it can be a gift.  This time, it was a gift.

To read about past mandarin milestones I have had, try the posts below:

Mandarin Milestones

Another Mandarin Milestone

Another Mandarin Milestone (2)

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?

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