Tag Archives: guest post

The tenth quarter review

25 Jan

Wow – ten quarters later I am still keeping it up.  This review is slightly delayed, but I wanted to take the time to call out some of my favorites from the last three months.

I was able to share many posts from our trip to Greece – and the post that got the most views was looking out at the Horizons of Chania, Crete.  Even though not as popular as Santorini, Crete really made a strong impression on me and I would go back there in an instant.

Sunset in Chania

I started my new job and made a couple of trips to Beijing which I enjoyed.  Sometimes you need something new to remind you of what’s just around the corner.

Posing with Chairman Mao - note the gray sky

Posing with Chairman Mao

Finally – my new mini-series that I kicked off with posts from my cousin Matt – the I’m ready to move to China series.  His fresh set of eyes were a favorite of readers and mine too – now I just need to convince him to come back so he can write a follow-up series!

Did I miss a post you particularly enjoyed?  Let me know!  Looking forward to the upcoming year of the horse and lots more travel in February.  Come along for the ride!

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Guest post – I’m ready to move to China* – Part 3

21 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.  This is the final segment of the three.  To read segments one and two with his observations, click here.

Greetings all for a third time! We’re rounding the bend for the final lap here, people. Can it be that I’ve finally run out of things to say? That can’t be true: this is the Internet, where people never run of things to say, no matter how stacked the empirical evidence is to the contrary.  Here now is my final set of observations from my visit to China:

  • Friday afternoon is a bad time to visit a popular museum. This should be obvious, but I still got to find out first-hand at the Shanghai Museum. Lots of foreign tourists and well as Chinese tourists. (Just count the group guides with their flags!) And everyone was taking pictures of everything. I know that’s hardly a revelation, but seriously, how many photos of ancient Chinese bronzeware (or celadon vases) does someone need to really capture the essence of the exhibit? Camera use ranged from smart phones to “professional photographer”-quality cameras. My 5-year-old Sony digital was somewhere in between. Yeah, I took pictures too, but few and far between.  …I’ll get off that high horse now.
  • The Saturday before I left became “Inadvertent Movie-Watching Day.” In the morning I went to the Shanghai History Museum, where I spent about 45 minutes watching a film in the entrance hall. And that wasn’t even the whole running time! This film primarily covered the life of turn-of-the-century gangster Du Yuesheng from his early days through the civil war between the Nationalists and Communists through World War II. But the movie inexplicably broke away to also tell the stories of two famous Chinese actresses (Zhou Xuan and Li Xianglan). I felt that movie (which had English subtitles!!) gave me a fantastic look at the history of Shanghai through the first half of the 20th century. I recommend watching it (I don’t know the title), but maybe not while standing in the Shanghai History Museum foyer for an hour.
  • “Inadvertent Movie-Watching Day” was more than one movie! That afternoon at the Postal Museum (My hostess has covered that too well for me to add anything) I found myself watching another movie. This time it was “Romance in Philately” playing on a small TV (with English subtitles) in the 1980’s timeline area. At first I thought it was a simply a short promo for the Chinese Post Office: after flirting with the cute postal carrier, the hero visits multiple friends who by sheer coincidence all have elaborate stamp collections! It’s as if stamps are the coolest things ever in this movie world. But then the movie plot actually deepened: the cute carrier called the hero’s bluff (he tried to pass off his borrowed friends’ stamps as his own collection) and he had to regroup to win her heart. I admit, had I not been at the museum with my friend, I would have stood there and watched that entire movie too. (We ended up watching about 15-20 minutes worth.)
Movie details

Movie details

  • Everybody knows that the Bund-side of the Huangpu River is the best place for panoramic photos, but Suzhou Creek is a hidden jewel that can hold its own, skyline-wise.

Reflections on Shanghai 2 Reflections on Shanghai 7

  • Greta tried explaining to me about the two degrees of spiciness in Chinese food: I’ll paraphrase them as “heat” and “numb.” I couldn’t wrap my head around “numb” until we went out for Sichuan-style food the day before I left for home. (She covered this on her post of her favorite Sichuan restaurant in November.  To see it, click here.) One entrée was some spicy ribs that ended up perfectly encapsulating the “numb” concept: there’s not really any heat-based pain, just a weird buzz on your lips, like you’ve been trying to play the trombone or some other brass instrument. I can’t think of any dish States-side that replicates that feeling, so chalk one up for new experiences in China!
Not during the run to the airport, but to give you a sense of the number of people around

Not during the run to the airport, but to give you a sense of the number of people around

  • I’m notoriously famous for my last minute rushing regarding travel. (In fact, I barely made my initial flight to Shanghai from Chicago! I had to carry-on my large “camping” backpack…) So the Monday morning of my departure I resolved to break the trend. Alas, Fate had other plans. What should have been an easy transfer from Line 9 to Line 2 (and then to the Maglev) became unworkable thanks to crowds for the Line 2 transfer at Century Ave. so dense they came up the stairs from the lower platform! Is that normal at 9:30am? Was there an accident or a delay in the service? I didn’t know and didn’t care to find out. Summoning all the accumulated subway skills of the past week, I transferred to Line 6 instead. I took that to Line 7, and Line 7 to Longyang Rd. and the Maglev. And once again I was hustling for my flight, but at least this time I made it in time to check my bag!
  • At the airport I had 58.5 RMB left in my pocket. So I bought a decorative table mat for 58 RMB from a store next to the security check entrance. No monetary exchange for THIS traveler!

Matt and Greta - Pudong Skyline 1

And that’s it! Thanks for reading all about my Chinese experiences. Thank you both for letting me visit you and Li, and for letting me repeatedly take control of your blog. And best of all, I succeeded in not mentioning my favorite football team, the Chicago Bears, anywhere in these blog posts! No, wait… Aw fiddlesticks!

Matt

Thank you Matt for your posts and fresh view of visiting Shanghai!  If there are any questions for Matt, feel free to leave them in the comments – either he or I will do our best to give you an answer.  Looking at the photos of the Bund and blue skies remind me why I like living in Shanghai so much.  Anyone else want to come visit?

Guest post – I’m ready to move to China* – part 2

14 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.  This is the second segment of the three.  To read segment one with his observations, click here.

Apparently the Chinese Internet Censors are asleep at the switch, because I’m back in the blogosphere! You didn’t think I’d spend over a week in China and only have seven recordable observations, did you? Much thanks to my hostess for allowing me continue my rambling, incoherent jumble of thoughts that I insist is a narrative!

Without further ado, here are some more of my Chinese observations:

  • G and I got foot massages together. I don’t get massages often (or, um, really ever) but I gather that the concept of Chinese massage is sort of a test of endurance. I spent my time straddling the line between relaxation and bearable pain. She taught me “ching e dian” (轻一点lighter) and “jong e dian” (重一点harder). I said “harder” once, held on as long as I could, and then asked for “softer.” Upon leaving, I felt like I had survived, rather than relaxed.  That said, I would definitely go back again (and did, near the end of my visit).
  • Massage sidebar: both of our masseuses agreed that my size 15 feet were the largest they’d ever seen.  My feet barely fit in the pre-massage hot water bucket.  I do like to leave an impression on people!
  • The Shanghai subway system is very easy to learn. Having English signs is a boon, of course, but what really helps are the large arrows on the floor showing where to go to reach your desired train line. I also marvel at the temporary blockades they put up to better control the flow of foot traffic during rush hour. One complaint: you need to know which exit gate to go through, because there’s no second chance. More than once I left through the wrong set of gates, and ended up being forced to go back to street-level from an exit across the street from where I wanted to be.
  • Whether you’re in the shops around Yu Yuan Gardens, or Tiantong Rd., or just off Xizang Rd near Zizhong Rd, or the famed Night Market in Hangzhou, one observation holds true: you’re gonna see a lot of stalls selling the same stuff.  There’ll be differences in types of merchandise from location to location, but within any particular center you’ll find three or four shops selling the same items.  I guess if you’ve got time and can haggle respectably, that means there are deals to be had. If you’re me, it means making a purchase at one shop, then finding a vendor four stalls down offering you the same item for 20 RMB less as a starting offer.  Hmph.
Many stalls around Yu Yuan

Many stalls around Yu Yuan

  • During our first afternoon in Hangzhou, Greta and I ambled down to the West Lake waterfront. Coincidentally we arrived near the water’s edge roughly a minute before a water fountain show was to begin! Some people had arrived early to get available seating for the “Music Fountain,” but we were able to walk up to the first row of “standing room.” The actual show was impressive: a line of rotatable water spouts (plus a circle of spouts to each side) that “danced” in tune with the music being played over loudspeakers. There were three or four songs in total, and the whole spectacle lasted about 15 minutes.
The fountain at work

The fountain at work

I repeatedly came back to two thoughts: what kind of effort went into programming all of those nozzles to perform such elaborate routines, and how much mechanical upkeep is necessary to keep the show running in top condition year round? (Remember, I AM an engineer!) That second thought came from watching one poor spigot without enough water pressure flailing helplessly at the lake’s surface between its functioning brothers.

Hazy view of the fountain

Hazy view of the fountain

  • One of my better accomplishments in China was during our second night in Hangzhou. After parting ways, I wandered back down to the Night Market and successfully pantomimed my way into ordering a delicious grilled squid from one of the many sidewalk food vendors.  The key moments were pointing at the squid, holding up one finger, and mumbling “yi ge.” Baby steps, people!
  • The smaller the diameter of tapioca ball in your milk tea, the longer it takes to finish that tea.
Lingyin Temple

Lingyin Temple

  • The Lingyin temple compound is quite impressive, but it probably spoiled me. Later in the week I visited the Longhua Temple, and found it to be interesting, but underwhelming by comparison. If I was better versed in Buddhism, perhaps I would be able to pick up on the nuances of each temple (and each chamber within the temple). Alas, at this time I can only appreciate them from an artistic (and sometimes architectural) perspective.
Rear of Lingyin Temple

Rear of Lingyin Temple

  • When we got back from Hangzhou, we showed Li our videos of the “Music Fountain.” We wanted to know if he recognized the song being used. Li did not recognize it; he surmised it was some generic composition that Americans tourists would think “sounded Chinese.” He’s probably right.
  • English translations on Chinese restaurant menus can be head-scratchingly hilarious. G and I ate at Yun Se Restaurant in Shanghai, where she spent a lot of time comparing the accuracy of the Chinese names to their English equivalents. Mind you, the food she DID order was delicious, but here are some other options (as seen on the menu): Pepper beer, Basin of hypodermal, Burn the pig feet, Hairtail, The non general perch, and of course, Donald Duck. Bon appetit!

We’ve reached the end of another guest segment. Make sure you stay tuned next week for the final segment. Thank you again for allowing me to write! And thanks to you, the viewer, for boosting both the page views and my own ego. Until next time!

Any engineers out there who want to comment on the pressure in the fountain?  What types of details do you pay attention to when traveling?  Share your thoughts!

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.

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