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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?

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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Two more awards!

16 Dec
For me?  Thank you!

For me? Thank you!

Awards seem to me a bit like Christmas presents – something that you can enjoy and relive that connects you to other blogs.  Over the last quarter I have been lucky enough to be recognized by two additional bloggers.

Those awards were for the Super Sweet Blogging Award and the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.  I had previous been nominated for the Inspiring Blogger award so this appears to be a step in the right direction.  Actually, since August I have had a marked increase in traffic here at Zhongguo Jumble and that has been an extremely rewarding experience as well.

The blogs that nominated me were The Retiring Sort (back in October) for the Super Sweet Blogging Award and Expatially Mexico (at the beginning of December) for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.  Both awards ask you to put the award into your site (done here) and thank those who nominated me and then answer some questions.  Thank you both for the honor.


The Super Sweet Blogging Award asks a few questions as well:

1) Cookie or cake? I choose cookies (especially Oreos) – or frosted Christmas cookies

2) Chocolate or vanilla? Ice cream – vanilla, most other things – chocolate

3) What is your favorite sweet treat? From the store – Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, from the kitchen – my mom’s pies

4) When do you crave sweet things the most? When I’m bored, or in late afternoon

5) If you had a sweet nickname what would it be?  One of the terms of endearment here in China (though I haven’t been called it) is 小甜瓜 (Xiao tian gua) which translates to Little sweet melon.  I’d choose that nickname.

Sweet banana split at The Parlour in my hometown

Sweet banana split at The Parlour in my hometown

I thought this nomination was interesting because while I do occasionally post on food it is not my only focus, but I do like to eat a lot, so it is fitting.


The Very Inspiring Blogging Award takes a slightly different tactic and asks me to share 7 things about myself. I’ve approached these requests in different ways – last time sharing things that I found inspiring. This time I’d like to share a few things that I am hoping to accomplish in the next year.  It’s a little early for New Year’s resolutions, but still within the right time frame.  I’m sure I’ll think of more, but these three seem to set up next year nicely.

1) Travel to another beach (perhaps Bali?) – I haven’t been to the beach since our wonderful trip at Chinese New Year to the Philippines and am craving sun and sand.

Sunset off Boracay

Sunset off Boracay

2) Have friends over to my apartment for a dinner cooked in my oven (after the oven is fixed).  Unfortunately two months after I moved in, the oven went kaput.  I am still waiting for a replacement part.

My first cake baked in the oven of my new apartment

My first cake baked in the oven of my new apartment

3) Travel to a place in China that is off the beaten path.  One chance may be Guizhou to deliver the desks to the school (we finally hit our goal!), but if that doesn’t work, I’d still like it to happen.

And finally, here are a few of my current reads that I’d like to share with you.  Please do stop by and check them out.

Expat Alien – My favorite part may be her Food Friday posts where she posts on delicious meals from all over the world.

Jots from a Small Apartment (who nominated me for one of my very first awards and still follows and comments today) – Jots writes fiction and poetry as well as shares her view on life.  One of my favorites.

ABC in Shanghai – I am certain we live within a 20 minute walk of each other, but lead very different lives in Shanghai.  We’ve never met, but I can relate to his posting on living here in Shanghai.

Roomaomao – This is another blog about living in Shanghai that has some great images.  Roomaomao also writes great comments on some of my posts, making me feel that I’ve hit a chord.

Thank you for following me this year!  Stay tuned… much more life to come!

Inspiring Blog Award

12 Aug

It seems appropriate that with the Olympics running down I have been recognized for an award from a fellow blogger who has really inspired me over the last several months.  More appropriate in this instance than a gold medal, the award is the “Inspiring Blog Award” and I was nominated by Nicole at the blog “Third Eye Mom.”  It was a nice gift that coincided with the one year anniversary of my blog and was also a validation for me that there are a few folks out there reading my jumbled up tales.

The purpose of this award is to share some additional information about myself as well as share other blogs that inspire me.  I already shared some random information about myself when I was nominated for two other blog awards earlier this year, so I thought that I would write a little about what inspires me and then share a couple of blogs that I follow as well.

A group of ND alumni and students – committed to my great university

I am inspired by people who work hard and commit to a goal that is greater than themselves.

The Family Group by Charles Umlauf taken in Austin, Texas

I am inspired by children and those who keep a child-like view of curiosity towards the world.


The first poppy of the season in northern Michigan’s late spring

I am inspired by blue skies, uplifting music, beautiful flowers and cooking a meal with family and friends.

The following blogs inspire me.  I hope they inspire you as well.

Expatially Mexico – is a delightful blog focusing on being an expat much closer to my home than I am, but still feels very familiar

Stupid Ugly Foreigner – writes on teaching English in Korea and how life can have many different meanings

Fiona Grows Food – follows the life of a garden in the UK

Kelly at Tales from Hebei – has tales of a foreigner in a similar situation as me, but in northern China

What inspires you?  Do you find my blog inspiring – if so, why?

I’ve been nominated for…

26 Apr

Two blog awards!

Over the last month or so I have been privledged to be nominated for two different blog awards.  The first nomination is from Mona who is at Ramblings for the Versatile Blogger award and the second nomination is from Jots from a Small Apartment at Jotsfromasmallapt for the Liebster award.  Thank you both Mona and Jots – knowing that others also enjoy my stories of life in China and Asia has been a very rewarding experience.

It has taken me awhile to figure out how I would like to respond to these two awards because lately I have been traveling quite a lot and although Zhongguo Jumble has now celebrated is 3rd quarter anniversary, I still consider myself a novice in this space.  After having read the background on each award, please find my response below.

The Versatile Blogger award asks for me to share seven things that most people don’t know about me.  I don’t include my family in this “don’t know about me” category as they know me best and the below should not be a surprise.

1) Despite the fact that I’ve lived and worked in China now for nearly 5 years, my first “other language”  was Spanish in Spain.  I lived in Spain for a year at university and my Spanish was better than my Chinese is now.

2) I most miss fresh avocadoes in China.  They sell them here but they are ungodly expensive and often not ripe at all.

3) If money were no object I would go back to university and progressively study different languages – first clean up my Spanish, then come back to Chinese, then German, then maybe Arabic…

4) I played the clarinet in Notre Dame’s orchestra for several concerts in college.

5) When I got my teaching certificate for TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), I volunteered at the Chinese mutual aid society in Chicago.

6) I love to sing and used to sing at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.  When I auditioned for a choir in China though they told me I wasn’t professional enough.  Singing is serious business in China!

7) I was interviewed at the auto show (in Chinese) in Shanghai several years ago and was on the Shanghai equivalent of the 6 o’clock news.  For the record – I’m for electric cars.

The Liebster Blog rules are as follows:

1.Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.

2. Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you.

3. Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.

4. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed.

5. Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment at their blog.

As I’ve already thanked Jots and linked to her above, I’ve completed 1-3.

Actually, both the Versatile Blogger and Liebster ask to nominate my current favorite blog reads, so I’ll combine the two of them together in the below and will nominate them for the Liebster award on their blogs, not sure actually how many followers any of the below blogs have.

I’ve put four favorites below for you to check out.  Each has a different focus – so take a look!

Expat Lingo – I especially enjoy the comments on language learning.

Five and Spice – A great cooking blog that has had me drooling – and wishing for a foreign grocery store.

Everyday Epistle – A blog that keeps me down to earth with great insight and reminders of home in the States.

Sarah in Guangzhou – Guangzhou is a city in south China that I have visited several times for work.  I linked through another of my favorite China blogs, her point of view has me laugh because it is so right!

So thank you again to Mona and Jots for giving me the opportunity to share a little more about me and some of my favorite blogs.

Any other favorites that you have that I should check out?

Profiles – Lei Feng – The Chinese “Good Samaritan”

20 Mar

The traditional picture of this Chinese "Good Samaritan"

Each March 5th in China is a day dedicated to an individual named Lei Feng (pronounced LAY FENG).  Lei Feng was born in 1940 in a small town in Changsha and orphaned when he was young.  He is famous for being featured in a series of campaigns for his acts of ordinary and extraordinary kindness and caring towards others.  There is an official diary that it is said that he kept containing his thoughts and stories of acts of charity and kindness.  Washing his comrades’ clothes, cleaning blackboards at school, giving his seat to the elderly are all included there.   Unfortunately he died in 1962 when a truck he was driving was hit by a telegraph pole.  After his death, Chairman Mao recognized his contributions and ordered all students to “learn from Lei Feng.”

Morality in China is a tricky proposition.  Recently some very scary stories have shocked people into recognizing the low moral standards that plague the general public.  Last year a baby ran into the road and no one bothered to help – video cameras saw over 20 people walked by the injured child before a street cleaner moved her to the side of the road.  There are stories of old people who have tried to extort money from bus drivers – claiming they ran them over.  Fake products – the melamine scandal in infant formula, stories of plastic in the tapioca balls in milk tea, furniture branded as made in Europe with a made in China label.  It seems every day something new.

I think because of that, with the March 5th day of recognition this year corresponding to the National People’s Congress meetings, the newspapers were full of articles and commentary connecting the current state of morality to the story of Lei Feng.  Lei Feng was a real person, but it is pretty obvious that his diary and the photographs were staged and or screenwritten to serve a purpose which then eventually translated into the cult of Mao.  That said – does it matter?

Morality – why do we do the right thing, why do we help others?  In countries with a religious focus there are saints and prophets and holy men and women who serve as examples to us “normal” people.  China doesn’t have that history or those role models – they have Lei Feng instead – a soldier who did good deeds.  One editorial I read said that China shouldn’t need a Lei Feng day – but until the concept of morality becomes the norm, that he will continue to be an important symbol of trying to do better.  Another editorial said China does need Lei Feng and focused on how sad it is that there are not more examples like him.

I feel that Lei Feng is a bit like the Good Samaritan in Christian culture.  He is a representative icon to remind us that we are all human beings and should treat one another with dignity.  Each March 5th, China is reminded – so let’s see what happens through the rest of 2012.

Do you have any personal Lei Feng’s in your life?

Profiles – The Monkey King

26 Feb

Every child in China when they grow up is told the stories of “Journey to the West” – also known as “The Monkey King.”  It’s the story of a buddhist monk who travels from China to India to collect the sacred writings of Buddhism and bring them back.  The monk himself is not that interesting, very pious and always being attacked or imprisoned.  He is accompanied though by different companions that he meets along the way, the most famous being Sun Wu Kong (孙悟空) – the monkey king, who has supernatural powers – he can fly, isn’t afraid of anything and has a magic staff that he keeps in his ear and allows him to attack the bad guys.

The original cartoon version from before the cultural revolution

Sun Wu Kong starts as the ultimate bad boy – abusing his powers, causing chaos and not thinking of the needs of others.  Early in the series he gets imprisoned inside a mountain for 500 years.  After his 500 years to think it over, he eventually converts to the side of good, pledging to protect the monk and helping him complete his mission.  The plot then is basically good vs. evil with good always managing to win.

Each Chinese New Year season Chinese TV networks will show mini-series of Journey to the West.  I’ve now seen three different versions – ranging from a mid-80s one where the fight scenes remind me of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers of my childhood, to the new “updated” version with seamless animation and some pretty scary villains.  It’s a super mini-series, with well over 40 episodes, each coming to a close where our hero is fighting yet another villain.  Every villain is either abusing his power and the people and/or beings who live in his area or has a treasure connected with the Buddha that the monk is trying to collect.

Zhu Ba Jie from the cartoon version with his trusty rake

The show has integrated itself into popular culture so much so that the names of its characters now stand alone.  Another companion an individual who looks like a pig is called Zhu Ba Jie (猪八戒) which is basically lazy pig.  If you want to tease someone you can say that they’re a “Ba Jie” and there’s no need to explain the reference.  The ironic part is though, that over the course of the series, Ba Jie actually becomes more and more loyal, puts himself in danger and really does his best to protect the monk and his other friends.

At the beginning when I watched the show I got confused a lot and that still happens some.  The cow villain looks like the fox villain to me and the wives/girlfriends/mistresses of all of the villains in my eyes are almost identical.  There are villains who live under the sea and villains who live in the clouds.  All mystical creatures have the ability to morph into someone else or disguise themselves as an object.  Sometimes if I’m not paying attention three or four new characters will enter and if I don’t ask for clarification I lose the rest of that particular storyline.  That said, the newest version is much clearer – or perhaps my Chinese is getting a little better?

The human reenactors in a version from the 80s

If you have lived or worked abroad, was there a TV program that you connected with in another language?  Sometimes taste will change from one country to another and what you find interesting or even relatable changes as well.  When I first came to China and was teaching English, I started watching a soap opera – because the plot was basic enough that I could follow only understanding every 10th word.  I still have never seen a soap in the states.  Thoughts?

Profiles – #25, #19, #31…

23 Oct

The ubiquitous membership card – they are all over China.  Restaurants, manicures, gyms, chain stores even banks have gold cards and platinum cards and discount cards and point cards.  Getting the best deal is a matter of paramount importance.  The most important from my viewpoint is the card for my massage place.

I have been loyal to a single store for close to three years now.  It is between my house and my office (and since I walk, that means it is close).  I have tried the foot massages and body massages and my current self prescription is a 90 minute Chinese style massage.

Massages are even better on the beach - Here's me in Thailand during Chinese New Year

The masseuse’s all have numbers – #25, #19, #31…  They also have assigned English names, but in the post massage state it is hard enough to remember anything.  My favorite masseuse of all time was #25 (Alex).  I exclusively used him pretty much biweekly for over a year.  He knew my body inside and out.  From the massage he could tell my mood, how work was going, if I was exercising too much and even if my stomach was bothering me.  A true master at his craft. 

Since we saw each other with such regularity I started to ask questions – he had studied massage officially for a period of time, had been massaging for 10 years now, his girlfriend was also a masseuse…

About four months ago when I tried to book a massage they told me he was “sick.”  I said, ok and suggested another individual.  The next time, “he wasn’t working on the weekend.”  The third time I received the same type of non-committal excuse I finally figured that he had left – jumped to another shop or went back to his hometown.

I miss him, #25.  I’ve gone back since, but less regularly.  It’s more of a gamble – not knowing if my neck will be sore the next day or if my lower back will feel great or just so-so.  I have no way to contact him, but I hope wherever he is, he is still giving massages.  His talent helped balance me during the time we knew each other and for that, I am grateful.

Anyone else get massages regularly?

Profiles – My Housekeeper

25 Sep

One of the luxuries about living in Shanghai is that having a housekeeper is very affordable.  Even though the RMB is strengthening so it is getting more expensive, I can still have someone come to my house for about $2.50/hour.  I have friends who have full time housekeepers – they come every day and also cook meals, but I’m a pretty low maintenance gal.  My housekeeper only comes twice a week for two hours each time, but she is truly a gem.

My current “Ayi” is not a native Shanghainese, she comes from a small town in Jiangsu province.  Her daughter just started university this year in Nanjing and she is so proud of her daughter’s accomplishments – and she keeps me updated on her progress.  She has been my housekeeper for about a year and a half now and she lives very close by my apartment.  I’m her first customer of the morning – on the way to other clients.  She typically comes around 6:30 in the morning, right about the time I roll out of bed and then cleans for about two hours before heading out.  Typical tasks include dishes, laundry, bathrooms, dusting and ironing.  She also takes my drycleaning on her way to her next job.

As we have gotten to know each other she definitely lets me know her mind.  She comments on everything – whether my windows should be open or shut, what type of laundry detergent I use, if I look tired, that I need to buy garbage bags, that my dry cleaning will come back the next day.  She has a big heart and looks after me – I am lucky to have found her.  Those four hours that she comes clears my weekend which means I have time to exercise, or explore or just be lazy if I’d like.

Any thoughts on housekeepers?

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