Tag Archives: cultural differences

The NBA in Shanghai

25 Oct
NBA in Shanghai!

NBA in Shanghai!

A couple of weeks ago we went to an NBA pre-season game in Shanghai between the Brooklyn Nets and the Sacramento Kings.  I had read about it on a website a long time ago and convinced Li to get tickets back in August.  They weren’t cheap – even far up the tickets were over $100 USD, but I figured for once in seven years – why not?

They held the game at Mercedes Benz Arena – the last time I was there was when I went to the Elton John concert a couple of years ago.  This time I realized that the Chinese name is actually Mercedes Benz cultural center (文化中心).  I suppose Elton John and basketball are cultural events – but it’s not a literal translation of arena – that’s for sure.

We got to the game a little early to make sure we were able to soak in the experience.  I wasn’t sure what it would be like – and I haven’t been to an NBA game in over 8 years, but it was pretty much like I remembered.

Li had a great time too!  We sat next to a father and son who spoke Spanish and English the entire time so I got to eavesdrop a little.

Li had a great time too! We sat next to a father and son who spoke Spanish and English the entire time so I got to eavesdrop a little.

Our seats were great – we were right above one of the entrances so nobody was sitting in front of us and we had extra leg room which is always a plus.  I had a hot dog (seemed appropriate, though the chicken sandwiches appeared to be the more popular choices) and some popcorn and we enjoyed the dancers and people warming up the crowd.

Looking up above the big screen, I noticed that there were the Chinese and American flags at the top of the arena.  Basketball is fairly popular in China – Yao Ming is retired now, but he made an appearance court side and still caused a stir.  There were a couple of players who were definitely more well known than others who got huge rounds of applause.

A pair of flags - one in sport

A pair of flags – one in sport

It was obvious that some folks had never been to a western style sporting event before.  They had the “kiss camera” and the first several couples they zoomed in on seemed oblivious.  Finally one couple got the idea and the entire arena erupted into applause.

The game itself was high scoring with the lead changing constantly.  Players rotated throughout to get their minutes and things weren’t decided until the last two minutes or so – which meant everyone stayed until the end.  One highlight that occurred during the fourth quarter was that Shaquille O’Neal showed up as an ambassador for Meng Niu – which is a Chinese dairy company, in a cow print T-shirt to help judge a dance competition.  It was pretty funny and not something I think he would necessarily do in the US.

Enjoying the game

Enjoying the game

After the game was over we made our way slowly back to the subway.  I had never gone to an event there during the day, so we were treated to some nice views of Lujiazui across the river.  Development appears to be continuing in the area (which was the old 2010 World Expo site), but still not very much has happened, considering the Expo ended four year ago.  The Chinese pavilion still seems to be a big tourist draw – I have heard that it is a decent museum, so maybe one of these days we’ll go explore it.

We had a great time and am glad that we planned far enough ahead to enjoy it.  What was the last sporting event you went to?  Have you ever gone to a sporting event in another country where the culture is different?  Any fun stories?




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!




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?


Bite your tongue!

23 Mar

Last night at dinner I bit my tongue – hard.  It was one of those things where I wasn’t paying attention and instead of eggplant, I caught my own tongue.  Even this morning my tongue feels fat and a little swollen.


As we were walking home after the fact, my husband asked how I was feeling and then said that I  must have not eaten enough at dinner.

I looked at him with skepticism as I had eaten a ton – probably too much – and asked him to explain.

He said in his hometown if you bite your tongue it means that you are still hungry – no matter how much you’ve already eaten – whereas if you bite the inside of your cheek it means you have eaten too much and are full.

I don’t know if this is common throughout China, or specific to where Li grew up but I had not heard of any assumptions that occur with biting your tongue before.

Have you?

Do you speak English? (A Santorini photo shoot)

16 Feb

This post is part of our adventures in Greece in the fall of 2013.  To see other posts in the series, please click here.

I'm ready for my close up

I’m ready for my close up

We had spent a pleasant morning in Santorini walking along the old path.  I was dressed in a long white flowing gown that Li had purchased for me that complemented the scenery.  Li wore a blue shirt with a white collar.  We meandered along, looking for the best angles and light.

Along the old path

Along the old path

I felt like a movie star.

We were looking for a certain place that would memorialize our belated honeymoon – a certain view that already had been publicized hundreds of times before.

Looking for the light

Looking for the light

Finally, after asking for directions at multiple places, we found it – the blue roof church with the white bell tower that had appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine many years ago.  The best views are actually taken from a parking lot above the church so you can look down with the Aegean sea behind you and puffy white clouds.

Together under the blue, blue sky - and dressed for the occasion

Together under the blue, blue sky – and dressed for the occasion

In the parking lot were over a dozen Chinese tourists snapping away – posing together and individually – some in casual clothes, others dressed up for the occasion in similar outfits as Li and myself.  We asked a couple of different people to take photos of us  together and hoped that we would have the “money shot” in the bunch that would represent out trip to Greece, our marriage and give us happy memories for the future.

It was a great experience and after we shot those photos we headed back down to the Old Path and started making our way to find a place to have lunch.  Before we got very far, we were stopped by some people eating at one of the many restaurants along the path.  Their table was closest to the path and they looked at me and very timidly asked “Do you speak English?”

Li and I looked at each other and nodded ascent.  They then asked, “Why are there so many Asian women in long white dresses like yours around here taking pictures?  You look beautiful – but we can’t quite understand why there are so many right here.  We’ve been eating lunch and must have seen two dozen women dressed that way over the last hour or so.”

We smiled and explained how the church above the restaurant had turned into something of a Mecca for Chinese tourists because of its fame in the National Geographic photo shoot.  The group who stopped us said they were Canadian but had never heard of that specific photo.  We then shared how the Aegean Sea could be phonetically translated as the Sea of Love in Chinese and how young Chinese couples wanted to get a shot by the church as a memory.  We suggested they climb up the path to take a look.

We talked a little more, sharing where we were from and why we were there and at the end parted company with a smile and good wishes and went on to look for the perfect spot for lunch.

Have you had a random question like this when you have been traveling?  The funny thing is – most of the Asian couples they had seen could probably have spoken English because if you are traveling in Europe without a tour, you need someone who can talk with the hotels.  It was only because I had a non-Asian face that I was asked this question.

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

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?

Guest post – I’m ready to move to China*

7 Jan

*except for that whole “speaking Mandarin” thing

I am pleased to announce that I’m starting the year off with something new on the blog.  My good friend and cousin, Matt came to visit me mid-October and before he left I gave him the idea of doing a guest post.  For my Christmas present he prepared three posts to provide his point of view on the trip.  Sit back, read and enjoy!

Greetings all!

This is Matt, cousin and friend (that’s right, I wear TWO hats!) and recent guest of your favorite Shanghai blogger. And now I’m guest-blogging my perspectives after spending a little over a week in China in October.  My Chinese knowledge upon touching down at Pudong consisted of 1/8 of the Rosetta Stone Mandarin Level 1 CD combined with everything I picked up from the “Learn a Language” games offered by Berlitz in the personal headrest screen on the flight over.  I confidently strode off the plane knowing numbers 1-10 as well as hello, goodbye, thank you, help, sorry, “I don’t know”, and uh, inexplicably “I love you.” (Apparently Berlitz feels this is a common enough travel phrase internationally to include it with the others I listed.)

Over the past several years, G has blogged about a LOT of aspects of China.  It may be difficult for me to mine new territory, so I’ll take the dual approach of both the “first-timer” perspective, with a little “engineer” perspective to boot.

With that said, here are my observations of Shanghai and China:

  • The Chinese do not care for hand-washing.  Or more specifically, using soap. In the various public/restaurant bathrooms I visited during my stay, I saw plenty of sinks but rarely a soap dispenser. Further dissuading hand-washing was the omnipresence of ineffective (uh, American-made) hand dryers.  So watch out for that next handshake!
  • Along the same line of thought: When I packed a couple of pocket tissue packages for potential allergy issues, I didn’t realize I’d be on the cutting edge of culture! Pocket tissue packs are the must-have accessory for the frequent restaurant patron, as apparently many Chinese establishments don’t supply napkins, or charge extra for the convenience. Charging for water or extra bread I can see, but napkins?! Betcha didn’t think of packing tissues on purpose!
  • In the parks of central Shanghai, stray kittens appear to be the Chinese equivalent of squirrels in American parks. They’re all over the place, and they’re not shy about looking for a food handout. I tried to tell one kitten I didn’t have any food in both English and Spanish, but she willfully refused to understand. Berlitz really dropped the ball, not teaching me how to tell a cat that I don’t have food in Mandarin! Maybe I should have told her I loved her instead…
The frisky feline

The frisky feline

  • Also in the parks, I noticed public-use exercise equipment, of the low-aerobic variety. Now, I assume the primary users are those most likely to be in the park during the day: the middle-aged to elderly. But I think that’s good, to give this group an opportunity to exercise for which they might not otherwise have the impetus (or financial wherewithal).  This would be a good idea for city parks States-side.
Ready to move?

Ready to move?

  • G took me to the intersection of Yan’an Rd and Chengdu Rd, and told me the story of how the feng shui expert recommended putting dragons on the primary pillar to ensure the structure would hold up. That entire elevated highway intersection is fascinating: the engineer in me wonders about all the designing and construction that took place in order to make that happen.
Here Thar be Dragons

Here Thar be Dragons

  • I also like the plants along the sides of the elevated roads. The greenery really helps to mitigate the coldness and grey that so often accompanies large concrete structures.
  • Here’s to the power of suggestion! We went to Wujiang Road and had some traditional Chinese desserts. I had durian and green tea ice cream in a cold vanilla broth. The durian initially tasted odd yet unassuming, but then she told me Andrew Zimmerman’s (of Bizarre Foods) thoughts on the infamous fruit, and well, I had a hard time eating much more of it.  It might be a while before I try interacting with durian again.
The durian is the lower of the bowls

The durian is the lower of the bowls

That’s all for now. When I sent the first draft of my writing, she observed it was less of a “blog entry” and more like a “short novel.” I can’t disagree. So my observations have been broken into more time-friendly segments. Until next time!

Any comments or thoughts on Matt’s post?  Please let him (and me) know what you found interesting or new!  All comments welcome.

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?

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?

China days

3 Sep

I have been back in China for coming on two months.  Life has been full – work, personal, financial, friends – all clamoring for my attention after such a long time away.  I finally feel that I am getting resettled and in getting resettled, I once again am getting antsy.

The weather has finally cooled to the point where taking a walk outside does not lead to the immediate need to take a shower.  The nights are getting cooler – more akin to Chicago summers – and the fruits of fall are starting to show up at the corner stands.  I can find apples and plums and am just starting to see persimmons – but still small ones, in a few weeks they will be the size of tomatoes.

I have upcoming travel planned – a work outing to Hangzhou, a trip to Europe over October holidays and likely a trip to Hefei to visit my husband’s sister who is due to give birth any day.  I have visitors lined up – a former boss in September, a cousin in October.  Things are looking interesting with my job – more changes to come, but all good ones.  Friends have stopped by for lunch or dinner and photos and I’ve even started cooking since the kitchen is no longer over 100 degrees.


Shanghai continues to change.

My walk to work now passes a new set of bricked up houses that until a few weeks ago were full of life – small restaurants, laundry hanging out the windows.  On the way to church, entire blocks have started to crumble, the bricked up facades having been attacked by large machinery.  Progress – or is it?

Prices are more expensive – I bounce between wanting to buy dinner at the convenience store for 10 RMB and then spending 70 RMB on lunch.  There are too many foreigners – and then all of a sudden I am the only one.  Shanghai is international and then it is local – all in a 15 minute time frame.

I find myself on edge – the honking horns, the cars who don’t put people first (very unlike Taiwan where even the motorcycles stop at red lights), the spitting, the dirt.  It makes me uncomfortable.

My dreams are not settled – I fall asleep easily but wake up too early.

I call this whiplash my “China days.”  It means that sometimes it is ok to go home and watch bad TV.  It’s ok to go to the foreign supermarket and spend ten dollars on a box of brownie mix.  It’s ok to go to yoga four or even five times in one week, just because it is the only place I can turn off my mind.  I need to accept that this period will pass and be good to myself until it does.

And I hope it passes soon – fall is my favorite season in Shanghai.  I don’t want to miss it.

How do you stay focused on the positive when things just seem a little off?  What tricks and tips do you have for me as I continue to seek ever elusive balance in this city of 20 million people?  How do you face your “China Days?”

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