Minesweeper Champion

April 25th, 2011
Location: The Bulldog
Time: 8:10 pm

I have discovered that I have a special skill.  Despite never liking the game, I apparently have a knack for Minesweeper – or so my real life seems to suggest. If you’ve read any of this blog before, you’ll know that I have a tendency to get lost.  But it’s never this mind-boggling, how did I end up on the opposite side of town? lost.  I think it might be a little more frustrating than that.  Because if you’re going to get lost, you may as well get good and lost and in the process discover a new piece of road or a funky hole in the wall you otherwise never would have stumbled upon.

My kind of lost is all those little flags round about the bomb without ever actually quite hitting it.
Last Thursday I was on my way to work and engrossed in a rousing game of Sudoku I missed my usual Metro stop and so I decided to carry on to another station 3 stops away.  Although I’d never taken this route, I knew that I could take Bus 759 and reach my destination with time to spare. 

Alighting from the train and seeking an information sign, I discovered which exit would take me to my bus stop.  After descending the stairs I encountered a huge blue sign that said some stuff in Chinese and featured a bold, white “759” and an arrow pointing to the left.  Despite there being a bus terminus directly in front of me, I trusted my infallible logic that those numbers probably represented my bus.

So, I turned left.  

A little down the way I saw another sign indicating that I should cross the street.  And then, I’m almost next to positive another sign told me to cross another road and continue left.

I have to say almost positive, but now I’m pretty sure I was just entirely confused or seeing things.  As it is, I went left and ventured off into the hinterlands of Minhang.  At about 5 minutes in I figured I probably should turn around but I kind-of have this thing about retracing my steps.  I hate doing it.  It makes me look like a total idiot who doesn’t know her way around.  Never mind the fact that continuing on when you know you’re going the wrong direction is even more ridiculous and inane.  Pride leaves room for naught else.  And I needed stuff to write about anyway.

So, there I was in the middle of God knows where – some neighborhood where I was getting a lot of inquisitive glances.  At this point, class was slated to start in 10 minutes.  I resigned myself to ridicule and called Rosa, having to shout a good three times over the traffic that I was lost.

Oh. The. Shame.

She directed me to our school’s administrator and after a couple of text messages and phone calls, I was told that those weird orange taxis were legitimate and I could take one – this was heartening news since those were the only taxis I could see. Apparently, they don’t leave the district and basically have the Minhang market cornered. 
After I hailed one of those suckers down and climbed aboard I settled in to watch the passing scenery.  Two minutes into our journey, we rounded a corner and I realized we were on Lianhua Lu – blocks from the school.  Seriously, I could have walked there.

I paid the good man, ran inside and met my patiently waiting student.

The lesson topic? How to apologize properly. The example?  Being late.

Oh. The. Shame.

You Will Not Defeat Me.

April 20th, 2011
Location: Wagas Jing’An
Time: 1:38 p.m.

My life in China is one of trial and error. The trials are usually a result of my own errors.  The attempts at ciphering Chinese usually turn out to be fatal blunders. Trying to take shortcuts or unknown bus routes don’t tend to my favor either. And trying to work out problems by surmounting the Great Wall of the Chinese language all by my lonesome often leaves me in a Humpty Dumpty predicament. But I was raised on the stuff of The Little Engine That Could and so I haven’t given up on this country yet.  I can’t say if it can say the same for me.  

I’ll give you an example.  I shall call it The Great Internet Debacle of 2011. 

It all started with a conversation with my roommate about the state of our internet’s speed.  It sucked.  We didn’t think it had always been this slow, so we came to the conclusion that someone was probably hopping on board and riding our broadband wave. We were protected but with a password that I know at least 2 other people have as their password, it’s entirely possible someone had cracked that impenetrable code. So, I decided to try and change it – on the website that is devoted to Chinese characters. With a little help from Google translator I managed to change a password.  Was it the password to connect to the internet?  That would be a big negatory.  Seeing it as an exercise in futility I moved onto other activities and soon tucked myself in.  Come morning I opened my netbook to check my email and discovered an obnoxious yellow exclamation mark beside my internet icon.  That evening it was still there. And the next day. And the next.

3 weeks it went on like this: me not finding the time to contact my internet provider and my roommate seemingly oblivious.

Finally, I made it home during my 4.5 “lunch” break and headed on over to the office of the Great Wall Broadband service with my phone clutched in my hand in case I needed language back-up. Situated in the midst of my apartment complex, it’s a wonder I hadn’t made my way over there sooner.  Little did I know I would soon be able to travel the path to this office with my eyes closed.
I stepped through the doors and asked whether anyone spoke English and a young girl with a low pony tail nodded and held her hand out to receive the pink slip I held.  I explained to her that my internet connection had been down for at least 3 weeks now.  She asked when would be a good time to send someone over, and after checking with my roommate we settled on a time and I gave the kind lady Rob’s mobile number.

I trotted off, thinking how easy that had been – too easy, in fact.  I wouldn’t be available in the evening but Rob was waiting in the apartment for the internet man. 6 o’clock came and went. 7 flew past. Then it was 8 and Rob was off to Ultimate. No internet for us.

The next day I once again walked into the office. This time the English speaking girl was heading out as I was walking in. The two other people behind the desk studiously ignored me for a solid 5 minutes until I rapped on the desk.  Then I pulled out my phone and called Rosa for some translation.  She explained to them that no one had shown up, and then translated their reply that they would definitely send someone over that evening.  About this time English lady showed up and I explained to her that if for whatever reason he couldn’t make it that evening I would be available the following day from 1 to 3 in the afternoon and could they please call if nobody was going to appear.  No problem was the reply.

You can probably guess where this is going. Not a knock or a doorbell ring all night. The next afternoon found me waiting around for not a soul.

Thursday afternoon I huffed and stomped myself into the internet office.  The English-speaking girl was again sitting behind the desk and she gave me a blank look – pretending in vain she didn’t recognize me. – because blondes walk into that office every day, I’m sure.  She probably knew what was coming and she was right in trying to extricate herself from the onslaught of my rage.  I told them nobody had shown up again, that this was the worst service I had ever experienced and that they should be ashamed of themselves. Then I folded my arms across my chest and asked what she was going to do about it.

She sent someone over within 15 minutes.

I think I can. I think I can. I think China has no idea what it’s up against. I think I’ll forward it a copy of The Little Engine That Could.

Travel Fever

April 8th, 2011
Location: Wagas, Jing’An
Time: 6:17

I have been bit by the travel bug and it’s attempting to ravage my bank account.  It seems a bit ironic considering to some I might seem to be suspended in travel mode.  But living abroad really isn’t all that different from living at home.  I might be surrounded by smelly tofu and unintelligible Chinese but I am, for all intents and purposes, living. I wake-up, go to work, do course work, and hang out in coffee shops.  Take away the picture of that little Chinese woman pulling a cart 25 times her weight through the middle of the street and I might as well be home. 

But there’s something about being in Shanghai that makes you want to get out of it, as often as possible.  Maybe it’s the people, the noise, or the dirt.  Or maybe it’s the idea that I’m on a hiatus from “real” life and so going on weekend trips is what you do when on vacation. I recognize that this last statement is incongruous with my previous paragraph but isn’t life full of paradoxes? 
Let’s put it this way: I’m living real life.  I’m not on a beach in the Caribbean somewhere knocking back mai tais.  This very obvious truth hits me in the face every day as I walk to the metro.  And this reality really, really makes me want to travel.  And the very fact that I am living in the uncomfortable environment of a far, far away country makes the idea of traveling seem like puddle jumping and not some giant chasm that you plan to leap with months and months of planning.  Hopping a plane to Hong Kong for the weekend when you’re already living in a foreign country is just normal behavior here. It’s a vacation from my surreal life.  And so, that’s what I do.

Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong

Victoria Harbor

Victoria Harbor

From Victoria Peak - kicked an old man out of the way for this shot

A view from my walk down - on the unlit path. By myself.

Star Ferry

Escalator type things

Longest stretch of escalators
West Lake, Hangzhou

I was warned it would be crowded . ..

Phyllis and these 2 men who were enamored by our conversation


The lighting was AH-mazing. And I love these ladies :0)

Beware of the Flat Face

March 17th, 2011
Location: My couch
Time: 11:40 pm

Last week I was kissed.

He was tall. And dark. And Oh, sweet baby Jesus. 



It was a pleasant, sunny afternoon that smelled of spring and blooming flowers and I was contentedly listening to The Swan Thieves on my ipod. Even the fact that I was headed across town in a 2-hour round-trip commute for a 1-hour teaching commitment wasn’t marring the beauty of the day.
As I stood waiting for the doors of the train to open, I felt something brush against my backside.  Given the relative crowd around me, I chalked it up to the general bumping that occurs in such situations.  As the mass of bodies herded onto the car I felt the gentle brush yet again.  With the doors just coming to a beeping close and bodies around me still settling into position, I assumed it had to be someone’s bag slung from a shoulder. When it happened a third time I abruptly turned around and sized-up the two men directly in front of me.  

One studiously ignored me while the guy with a laptop bag hanging just about right to hit my rear gave me an inquisitive glance. Both seemed innocuous enough – no crazy eyes or bad smells emanating from either.  Just typical Chinese men traveling across the city.

With my back now firmly against the doors, I felt comfortable enough to resume listening and I allowed the sway of the train to pull me into a lazy afternoon trance.  My eyes slowly closed and I was concentrating on the story when I felt two dry lips press into my forehead.  Holy! What the? My eyes snapped open and I muttered some kind-of oath.  I looked up at the face hovering over mine. 
It was entirely flat.  Nondescript.  Impassive.  There was not a thing to recommend it to memory .  Dark hair. Dark eyes. Average flat nose. Average flat lips.  And eyes that held no spark of life.  No expression.  Not a hint of triumph, remorse, guilt, abashment.  Nothing.


Again I said something – some sort of mumbled confusion and shifted myself to the further corner near the door.  The man took up residence in the space directly opposite and others filled the space between.  I mentioned to no one in particular that what had just occurred was rather creepy and my gaze swept across the sea of Chinese faces to see if anyone had witnessed the event.

A young woman with a large traveling suitcase glanced from the man to me, and then back again.  She then looked up into my face and asked politely if I spoke Chinese.  As I shook my head no, she mustered up her English and questioned whether that guy, pointing with her eyes, was my boyfriend?
 No! I cried, grateful in my desperation to be able to share this crazed moment with another soul.  I don’t know him! She kind-of nodded, as though affirming her suspicions and then changed the subject.  Asking the general questions of strangers meeting on train – how long had I been here? What did I do? I suppose if nothing else, maybe she thought she could distract me from the awkwardness of having a would-be stalker standing but a yard away.

As we neared my stop, I turned away from her to face the doors.  The young man also made a move to exit, and right as the doors opened he made a grab for my butt.  As the press of people pushed us forward and out of the car, I yelled in horror and shoved the man in his chest.  I glanced back at the girl whose eyes were the size of saucers, mouth in a silent O of astonishment, my own expression probably matching hers and for one brief second we shared a what the hell just happened? moment.
Then I kicked it into high gear, darting between bodies, out the turnstiles and under the station to the bus terminal.  I boarded bus 13 slightly out of breath and pulled out my phone to text the story to a friend.  Just as I pressed send I looked up and Holy. F.
THERE HE WAS! Flat facey was holding onto overhanging yellow pole staring straight at me.
I edged a little closer to the window and updated the story via text message.  I asked John, what do I do if gets off the bus and follows me?

John’s advice:

After years of spy/stalker/slasher movies – or basically any movie that has a creepy person following the hero or heroine, I’ve picked up a trick or two.  So, taking one from the play book, I kept to my seat and pretended not to notice the guy.  Then, right before the doors shut at my stop I popped out of my seat and squeaked through the closing doors.  I glanced over my shoulder and saw the man safely trapped on the moving bus. Sweet freedom. Well, for me at least.  I don’t know about any other poor unsuspecting women on the bus with him.

Because while the drama may be over for me for, it would seem not all are safe.  My friend Dennis works for a call center, and in going through the logs he has discovered five or six similar incidents reported in the last few weeks.  

And so I say with the greatest gravity, women of Shanghai, avoid any and all flat-faced men.  Good luck and if you need it, God speed.

(As a side note:  no, he was not attractive. Do you people really think I’m so hard up I’d accept a kiss from a creeper on the metro just because he was good looking?  Freaks.