I Don't Hate China.

December 29th, 2010
Location: Coffee Bean
Time: 3:50 p.m.

Okay, so my life is way cooler than I give it credit.

I feel like this post is way overdue and I should probably write more in this vein, but it’s more fun to make fun of that which I don’t understand (because  I’m ignorant like that) and to whine about everything else.  Basically, these posts are a way to vent, but I don’t want everyone to get the wrong idea.  I don’t hate China.

I don’t.  


I’m definitely not in love, but China has a lot to offer.  First of all, I could literally go an entire week without spending more than 10 bucks and eat like a king. The night life is awesome.  I spent Christmas with about 10 different nationalities.  That is truly awesome.  I am meeting all kinds of people and pretending I’m a grown-up and networking.  I can legally download free music off google.cn/music.  I can buy DVDs for 50 cents. The whiter you are, the better. I get to tell people I live in Shanghai and look all cool and well-traveled and worldly (they don’t need to know the truth).

There is no such thing as a “normal” day by American standards.  People dancing on the street. Old ladies going head to head like it’s defcon1. Street food at 2 in the morning.  It’s a day in the life here in Shanghai and it is always interesting.

I’m going to ruin this glowing ball of praise to bring up a revelation I had the other day.  There’s this pervasive smell at one of the metro stations that reminds me of feces and other dirty unmentionable things.  Yesterday, as I walked past the food carts I encountered the smell again, and that’s when I realized: that smell? That nauseous, nose-wrinkling smell?  It’s made to be eaten.

This is just one more reason to celebrate China.  It’s so outside of my zone of comfort and normalcy that you can’t do much else but embrace it.  But I’m still not eating whatever that smell is. 

Happy New Year!

I Fear the Lady in Yellow

December 20th, 2010
Time: 2:33 p.m.
Location: The Coffee Bean

Watch out, Sarah Palin, you’re not the only one who can go rogue.

For the World Expo, Shanghai decided to “heighten” security in their metro stations by installing these ridiculous x-ray machines, airport style.  Heighten is in quotation marks because these stations are a total joke.  There are usually one or two people sitting behind the machine, charged with the task of rooting out any undesirable materials such as knives, guns, or hair spray.  More often than not they sit there with a glazed over expression on their faces.  My friend Miles told me about a time that these women were struggling to get their bag onto the conveyor, so the man stepped out from behind the screen, loaded the bag and then stayed to help unload it from the other side . . . 

Dear sir, please never apply for a position with TSA.

Usually, to avoid situations such as that one, there is another person sporting a yellow smock whose job it is to make sure people put said bags on the conveyor if he or she so deems it necessary.  Since the end of Expo, these yellow-smockers seem to have let this job lapse.  Now, most of the time I see them chatting to glazed-over screen guy.  

Since I consider this security check a nuisance and complete waste of time, I have ceased to stop and unload my bag.  It has been over a month since anyone has even bothered to make me.

Until this morning.

As usual, I just kept walking right on past the yellow-smocked lady.  Every other morning this has not been a problem.  Today, apparently, it was.  I had my ipod cranked up, but I definitely heard some yelling in Chinese and I figured it was probably directed at me, but I played the  “I’m a white person and have no idea what you’re saying” card and kept going.  Right before I reached the turn styles I felt a tug on the back of my bag and more yelling.  At this point it was just too late to turn around without looking like a total idiot, not to mention I needed to stand by my beliefs (i.e., your x-ray machine can shove it). So, I fumbled in my pocket and prayed that my metro card still had some money on it.   I pushed through and turned to go up the escalator and was met with a pair of very, very angry eyes.

I am genuinely afraid to take the metro tomorrow. Who knows what she could be hiding under that yellow smock? She might hair-spray me to death.

Rolling with the Homies

December 14th, 2010

Location:  My bed under layers of blankets

Time: 7:53 p.m.

I wonder if stuff like this goes down at home but I’m just totally unaware because it’s home and therefore seemingly normal (despite the ubiquitous bumper sticker on the back of every Volvo and Prius; for those of you not in the know:  “Keep Portland weird”):

Chinese people, usually the more senior of the population, walking around clapping.  It keeps the mountain lions away, of course.

Chinese people walking backwards.   While clapping.  I imagine the clapping in this case to be a signal that they are backing up – much like large vehicles with huge blind spots and fork lifts.  Or, it could be to keep those pesky mountain lions at bay. (At this point I’m hoping you’ve got the movie allusion, otherwise it looks like I’m trying way too hard.)

Children as human wrecking balls.  Okay, this might be more of a one-off.  I had (thank God that’s in the past tense) this student and he drove me to child abuse.  He liked to lie on the floor and roll over the other children.  I put him in time-out.  He rolled away.  I tried to have him stand next to me – he flopped to the floor and commenced rolling.  Once he stopped at my feet and so I kicked him.  I mean, it was more like a nudge – a very firm nudge. With my foot. So he rolled away.  On to more children.  That’s about when I gave-up and let him roll and wreck at will.  I didn’t like any of those kids anyway so why should I care if the human wrecking ball annihilated their toes? Or faces?  Um, seriously, faces. He rolled up onto them and forced them to fall over and then he kept rolling over them.

Babies with slit pants.

Babies with slit pants defecating in the middle of the street.

Work-out/dance sessions by uniformed staff in the middle of the sidewalk and/or lobby.  

Chicken carcasses in grocery stores.  I can’t even begin to imagine what they use that for.  I need to start taking more pictures so you can get the whole effect.

Men shaving on the metro. Because pulling out your electric razor on a crowded train is totally normal.

This list could be a lot longer but I think I’ve become desensitized to many things and so I have ceased to notice.  Maybe this means I am becoming one of them. (Because that doesn’t sound racist, Kirsti).
If I come home and start rolling over people, please do something. I do not recommend kicking.

Bowling With My Mom

December 6th, 2010
Location: Corner booth at The Coffee Bean on Wuzhong Lu
Time: 1:13 p.m.

There’s a storm a’brewing in Shanghai and I’ve hunkered down in the nearest coffee shop to escape the treacherous wind. With the four and a half hour gap I have in my daily schedule, I’ve got the time. The office has no wireless internet, so it looks like I’ll get to be even better friends with the Bean’s staff members. They already know what I like to drink.

This past weekend saw highs in the 70s. In December. I guess it was merely the calm before the storm. This weekend also brought about a bowling excursion. It was advertised as “Lady’s Night” in the church bulletin and while we were waiting to sign Sue up for a cell group, we were coerced into signing up for the Friday of fun, laughs, and bowling!

Well, there was definitely bowling.

Friday night rolled around and the 3 of us met at Hengshan Lu from our different corners of Shanghai. We aimed our feet in whatever direction it was where the numbers started getting larger and hoped to be enlightened by a giant bowling pin. It wasn’t a bowling pin, but it was certainly en”light”ening. Huack, huack. The hotel where the bowling was taking place was lit up like the Griswald’s house.

And we walked past it.

After Sue tried unsuccessfully to ask directions and was yelled at by the Chinese traffic monitor, we realized it was probably that giant shining edifice we had just been admiring half a block back.

Upon entering the hotel we were directed towards the basement and after pulling open the door we discovered our fate for the evening: moms and children. What the crap kind-of lady’s night was this? There was even some random dad there. We were all: WTF, mate?

But we handed over our 75 RMB and wrote our names on the sheet; I mean, it’s not like we could have made a graceful exit. Besides, we could still bowl together. Oh, except not. We were divided into our respective teams; I was rocking Team Hope. Ironic, really, since our team had not a hope of winning anything.

A good many of these women had not touched a bowling ball ever or for a good decade plus. I won on my team. My score? 82. And I won by A LOT. The lowest score of the night was also on my team. 24. Ten frames. 24 points. The one conversation I had was with a 13-year-old from Malaysia.

That night was weird.

I also think I may have inadvertently caused an argument. We were served dinner and one drink. But either they failed to mention that we only received one drink, or I just wasn’t listening. Whatever the case, I returned to the bar for a refill of Pepsi and the little skinny Chinese guy in the orange apron reached behind the counter and pulled out an already half-empty bottle. Later, I saw another women attempt to do the same thing and that same Chinese dude started yelling at her and kept saying “Yi! Yi!” while shaking his finger at her. I think I got him in trouble and so his bosses cracked down on him. After all, that half-empty bottle could totally be mixed with soda that isn’t flat later in the week and save the hotel a whopping 5 kwai. Obviously.

I don’t even know what else to say. It was weird. And I still suck at bowling. But at least in Shanghai I’m one of the best in the 35 and older women’s division.

The Things We Take for Granted

November 24th, 2010

Location: My bed

Time: 9:17 p.m.

The temperature has steadily been dropping here in Shanghai and this has led to some serious fall cravings: pumpkin spiced lattes, soccer games wrapped in blankets, crackling fires, and some good old fashioned chili. None of the above can readily be found in China. But, if you look hard and long enough the ingredients for the latter can eventually be attained.


As in, I got a hankering for chili one day and about 3 weeks later it sat bubbling away on my stove top. 3 weeks, 5 trips to different grocery stores, 6 trips to different convenient stores, 2 borrowed knives, 10 texts to neighbors and my roommate, 1 hammer, and 1 nail later I had satisfied at least one fall craving.

The story goes I decided I wanted chili in a big way. But I didn’t want to just go out and buy it; I wanted to make my kitchen official and actually create something. Every once in a while the mood to be all domestic strikes and once I indulge I’m good for at least another six months, give or take a year. This mood required meat, and lots of it, peppers, the spicier the better, and quite the collection of tin cans. After my last debacle with a Chinese grocery store, I realized that they couldn’t offer me much in the way of western demands – at least, I’m pretty sure they don’t, not being able to read Chinese and all, I may be wrong. But, I’m pretty sure I’m not.

So, I hit Carrefoure and did slightly better, but truth be told, not by much. So I journeyed south and ventured into Jing’An’s international market. Other than Italian sausage I managed to cross nearly everything off my list (paprika does not exist in China). Still, despite my burgeoning fridge I wasn’t satisfied with my less than complete list of ingredients. The next day, and *fingers crossed* my last journey to yet another grocery store I stumbled upon Italian sausage all wrapped up in synthetic casing ready to be cooked up in hotdog form. Not necessarily ideal, but it would do. Finally, finally I was going to make me some chili.

I got home, unwound the plastic handles from around my aching fingers, set up my ingredients and got to work. Only to be put to a halt a mere 30 minutes after all my peppers, onions, and celery had been chopped up. The hamburger I had bought smelled disgusting. Utterly disgusting. Guess I should have remembered that I’d accidentally poked a hole in the plastic toting it home a week before. Probably should have also remembered that I’d bought it a week before. No worries, there was that grocery store down the street – the round one with the elevator in the middle – you know, the one entirely in Chinese. I should have remembered that bit too. Because I got there thinking I would recognize ground beef if I saw it, but as far as I could tell, there wasn’t anything in the meat section but pork, pork, and pork, with a little chicken and some fish thrown in on the side. Chinese people love their pork. Thinking maybe I just had the character for beef wrong, I returned home and did a little Google translation. Not keen on the idea of hoofing it all the way back to the store, I popped down to the local grocer – a place I never plan to enter again. They had a lot of pig’s feet but no ground beef. Plan D: text roommate. Fall upon his good graces and his hope for a home cooked meal and salvage the night. Success.

With nothing else to do until Rob returned home I decided to kick back and watch some TV and eat my lunch. Little did I know I should have been employing my time better.

Because eventually Rob did return home with beef in hand, and I fell to my task of chili making. Until I was halted, yet again. Before me sat 8, count ‘em, eight cans of tinned goodess. 8 cans too many. There I was so close to my goal only to be stopped by a flimsy piece of metal. Never again will I take my can opener for granted. I can see it nestled in the drawer beneath the cutting board, tucked away beside knives and other random kitchen paraphernalia. Who knew that such a simple contraption could save hours of work?

Because it can. I would know.

I tried my pocket knife but I decided I’d rather keep my fingers. Went to 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 successive convenient stores. Trekked across the apartment complex (it’s the biggest complex in Shanghai, believe me it’s a trek), went into what my neighbor called a “kitchen store” which was in reality a hodge-podge of well, anything you can imagine jammed into a space the size of my living room – the aisles were literally 12 inches apart, you had to shuffle sideways to get in. Amidst all the junk I found some hooks I needed for my kitchen but no can opener. So, convenient store numbers 4 . . . 5 . . . and 6. By the 6th I decided to actually take a look at the cans in the store and that’s when I finally came to grips with the reality that my situation was hopeless. There are no can openers in China. They don’t need them. Their cans all have a pull tab. All of them. Curse you western cans.

So I pounded on my neighbor’s door and borrowed another knife – a sharp one this time. No, I don’t have knives but that’s a different story. It’s not every day you gambol down the streets wielding a deadly weapon. I felt entirely inconspicuous.

I made it home and attempted to hack into my cans. Failure. Seriously, who knew tin was so resilient? In a last ditch effort, I googled it. I literally put in the words “how to open a tin can without a can opener.” Based on the results, I am not alone in this plight. Solidarity, my can-openerless friends. Solidarity.

So, I didn’t have a can opener and my knives were worth crap. The next best option? 1 hammer, 1 nail, and hours of pounding later, I had my chili. Sort-of. I realized I was short 1 28oz can of diced tomatoes. Shoot me in the face, right now. With nearly 3 pounds of meat in that pot, 28 ounces of tomato was kind-of imperative.

The things I get myself into.

The next day, after finally getting out of work at 6, I returned to the international market and bought that stupid can of tomatoes and returned home to my hammer.

I made that chili and it was delicious. There’s enough to freeze and last me all winter.

I have not stepped foot into a grocery store since.

Totally unrelated, but here's proof of my promise to start seeing more of Shanghai, although I can technically see this from my balcony, it's from a new perspective. Not to mention, it was about time I set foot upon the famous Bund.

And this picture just makes me laugh. Alex, the blurry one, wasn't supposed to be in this shot - just thought he was being sooo funny. Also, came to school this week and discovered that Daniel's once straight as a stick hair is now curly. Same with one of my 5-year-old's. His name is Dennis. Sometimes he has a bow. Uh, Koreans? Explain.

Nope, Still Don't Understand a Lick of Chinese.

November 5th, 2010

2:31 p.m.

Location: My bed

Today was my first real foray into a Chinese supermarket. I’ve been in and out of a few, but usually just to grab a coke or some juice. Today I actually attempted to shop. For those of you doing the math, yes, I’ve been here since late August and yes, I am just now going grocery shopping. No, I have not cooked a single thing since arriving in China – unless you count toast.

Up ‘til now, (and let’s be honest, probably until I learn to read Chinese or get really kitchen savvy) my diet has generally consisted of whatever the office staff orders me at lunch and what I order at Sherpas.com.cn – a courier service designed especially for those expats who cannot or just will not cook – or those scared to enter a Chinese supermarket. It’s a website made especially for me. It’s also utterly destroying my budget and my waistline.

And so, today after my Friday cleaning stint I tucked two shopping bags into my satchel and strolled down to my local grocery store.

The store itself is built into one of the buildings in the apartment complex. It is two levels, round, and features two escalators smack dab in the middle. It also features Cosco-sized oil – olive, ‘maize,’ bean something or other, and sunflower – all in bulk, boxes haphazardly strewn about the aisles, workers in blue smocks, and a pervasive, unidentifiable smell that always makes me slightly nauseas. Something about a place that sells food products and also makes me want to vomit doesn’t seem like such a good combination. Oh, this Chinese supermarket also features a lot of Chinese products – advertised in Chinese characters. I could list the number of Chinese characters that I know using only my ten fingers, and I’m not sure that I’d even need all of them. The only one that pertains to food is coffee.

Still, food is food and labels aren’t entirely important if you know food. Oh, except here’s the thing – I don’t really know food. I mean, I know that I enjoy eating it. But back home when I decided to cook, I mean really cook, not just whip up some eggs or pasta, I had to look up a recipe, go grocery shopping for those exact things, and then follow said recipe to the T. I tell people that I can’t really cook, but I can follow a recipe. People who can cook, really cook, don’t use measurements. They throw a little of this and a little of that and wah la!, goodness in a dish. Those people also know food. And spices. And vegetables. My knowledge of fruit and veg comes from my working days at Rossi Farms. Without those hours ringing up cilantro and carrots and 15 different varieties of potatoes all from sight (not a bar code in the old barn) I’d be totally lost in the produce section.

Now, take away all of the signs that identify what it is you’re buying and if you don’t know the difference between cumin and curry at the bulk bins, guess what? Screwed.

Somehow I still managed to load up my plastic cart with odds and ends and found the check-out. There was some kind-of blocker thing impeding my progress to the actual check-out, but the lady was motioning me forward so I just hopped over it. She then started talking to me in Chinese, to which I shook my head. She looked slightly exasperated and repeated herself. I shook my head again. She repeated herself. Again. This time I didn’t bother shaking my head, I just gave her my classic blank look. I’m getting really good at this look. Lady, I get that I’m in your country and you have every right to expect somebody shopping in a grocery store off the beaten path of tourist central to speak a modicum of Chinese. But guess what? I don’t. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Or maybe it’s moving to a country without knowing the language and attempting to go grocery shopping.

Cross your fingers and throw-up a prayer that the meat I bought is in fact ground beef. Please.

I'm Kind-of a Big Deal

October 14th, 2010

Time: 6:16 p.m.

Location: Waiting room 8, Shanghai Railway Station

Riddle me this China: How does the blondie wai guo ren manage to buy her train ticket in less than 30 seconds from the self-service machine while you people who speak and read Chinese hem and haw and stare at the screen in confusion for 15 minutes?

Sometimes I just have to laugh at this country, its people, and myself. Right now, for instance: I am definitely the only white person in this entire waiting room. At one point this gentleman was turned around in his seat, blatantly staring at me. Usually, I ignore this but this time I decided to acknowledge his boldness with a bit of my own. I stared right back and quirked an eyebrow. I think I scared him because he got this totally bewildered look on his face and turned away.

I laughed. Out loud. I’ve been doing that a lot lately, too. I’ve decided it’s the better approach because I don’t want my face to get stuck in a grimace for life. That wouldn’t be too attractive.

That’d probably get me even more looks.

But I’m pretty sure that even if I looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame, I wouldn’t get more looks that my friend Ellyse. We decided to head on over to the World Expo on Tuesday night. See the sights. In the rain. It was great. And soggy. I think the highlight was when a woman stopped me, gesturing towards her husband and his camera. Naturally, I assumed she was asking me to take their picture. Ellyse just laughed. This was old hat for her. You see, Ellyse is black and has this gorgeous main of curly black hair. Sometimes people argue over whether it’s real. Suffice it to say, Ellyse gets a lot of attention. She’s kind-of famous even though nobody knows who she is. And when people come up to her with a camera they don’t want her holding it, they want her on the other side of it – with them. So now, I’m a part of some Chinese couples’ photo album. I can just see them inviting guests to pour over the pictures of their exciting trip to the Big City and there I’ll be, plastered into the page featuring the Caribbean Pavilion, smiling out at some strangers making the obligatory oohs and awws.

Oh, China, you make me laugh.

What I didn't have to wait in. The weekends at the Expo are ridiculous.