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Preview: The Shanghai Cafe

The Shanghai Cafe



In which the Brewsters describe every ennui of their daily lives in Shanghai.



Updated: 2014-10-03T12:06:59.329+08:00

 



The Shanghai Diaries - Goodbye

2008-09-17T04:30:28.097+08:00

Well, I finally wrote my last diary. I really did mean to keep up with it more, but I simply didn't. I think I shall tell some of those stories in various ways. This will be my last post to this blog. So goodbye.



The Shanghai Diaries - A Trip to Earthquake torn Sichuan

2008-08-14T02:05:11.187+08:00

The little girl, all of ten years old, fidgets in her bed like all little girls her age made to sit still for too long. She smiles shyly as her mother proudly tells her story — of how she was trapped in a collapsed building, unable to move, for days until the army finally was able to dig her out. As they are speaking Chinese I understand nothing, but stand politely and try give a look of concern, and hope. The girl smiles at me and laughs like all little girls should laugh. It is a good ten minutes we are standing there before I notice a bandage on her left leg, just below the knee. Below the bandage is nothing, for her leg was amputated but days before. On May 12, 2008 an 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Sichuan Province in western China. It was felt as far away as Beijing and Tokyo. It killed over 69,000 people, injured as many as 370,000 and left approximately 5 million homeless. The effects were devastating and it will be lifetimes before China recovers. Recently I was able to visit some of the affected areas and meet with some of the people there. I will never be the same. I traveled with my newfound friend, and instigator of the trip, Vivian. She is native Chinese and had the entire trip planned. There were three goals of the trip: to meet people affected by the earthquake and help them in any way we could, to act as reporters and deliver first hand accounts to various groups in the US who would like to help, and to meet with Chinese government officials about building an orphanage. We arrived in Chengdu, the capitol of Sichuan Province, and our base of operations on Monday afternoon. After dropping off our bags we met with one of Vivian's friends and headed straight towards the local hospital where many survivors were receiving treatment. Zhi is probably in her early 50s, about medium height and plump from happier times. Her knees and hands are scarred and scabbed over. She is sleeping when we first come in but her husband quickly wakes her up and immediately she smiles at us, not knowing who we are but seeing we come as friends. She sits up tall, fusses with her hair and tries to look her best while her husband tells her story. Like so many others her home was destroyed by the earthquake. She got out relatively unscathed, just a bump on her head and the fear that gripped them all. The army was quick to mobilize and sent out scores of convoys to pick up the survivors and take them to hospital. As she walked towards one such convoy, her head swam with dizziness from her wound and she fell, knocking herself unconscious. By the time she awoke, the convoy was long gone. So she walked. For over twenty days and nights she walked – and crawled – her way to the city and help. She ate what she could find, a few wild berries, and some animals left dead in the grass. For nearly three weeks she teetered on the edge of death hoping for someone, anyone, to find her. No one did. With unfailing persistence she helped herself – eventually crawling her way to the city where there was a hospital and doctors. She can no longer walk as her legs are almost assuredly permanently damaged, and she will remain in hospital for quite some time. But she is alive, and thankful for that. We met her, and so many others, at the hospital in Chengdu where many of survivors with urgent needs were taken along with hundreds in need of amputation. We talked with several, and observed many more trying to get a feel for what the people had experienced. I was struck by the strength of character seen in almost all of the patients. These people have come to know what suffering really means. They have lost family and friends and nearly their lives and yet are still grateful for what they do have. Everywhere we went people were smiling and laughing, happy to tell their stories. Happy to have survived. We chatted with them, took pictures with them, and obtained their addresses and phone numbers. Later we brought them the developed pictures – now the only pictures they have of themselves since all others were lost i[...]



I've Packed My Bags, I'm Ready to Go

2008-07-23T13:30:53.061+08:00

We fly to Vancouver tomorrow at 3:30 in the afternoon. Interestingly enough we will arrive in Vancouver at about 11:00 in the AM. For those keep score that's 4 and a half hours before we left. Gotta love the international date line. To try to keep jet lag down my goal is to stay up until 9 PM that day. That is an insane amount of hours to stay up for a person my age, but I'm gonna try. What it really means is I'm gonna try to sleep on the plane. I've never slept on a plane, and I'm not sure if I'm going to this time, but I will try.

This week has been very hectic, what with the packing, the shipping, the cleaning and the stress. We came to China with four suitcases and two carry-ons. Plus we shipped one box full of winter clothes. Leaving China we have the same bags, but they are more full and we have now shipped three boxes. One box was souvenirs, but the others are mainly clothes. Man, clothes were cheap here so we bought lots.

The suitcases are now packed except for a few things I just washed. Once they dry we'll pack them and then do the weighing again. We weighed yesterday and got everything to the right amount, but we'll do it again today just to double check. What stinks is that if we wind up paying for extra weight here, we'll have to do the same in Vancouver.

Oh well, it is only money, I guess.



The Shanghai Diaries: Beijing and the Great Wall

2008-07-04T08:00:17.119+08:00

I finally got around to writing another Shanghai Diaries. This time it is about our trip to Beijing. The Internet has been acting screwy so I'm just gonna link to it over at blogcritics. I hope you like it.

We're leaving for Bangkok in a few hours and we will be traveling in Cambodia and Thailand for about two weeks. I'm fairly certain some of the places will have Internet access, but I can't say that I'll be doing any writing.

Until then...




A General Itenerary

2008-07-03T13:02:07.668+08:00

I wanted to give everyone our general plans for the next few weeks.

Tomorrow (Friday) we will be flying to Bangkok where we will stay the night. Saturday we will fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We will stay there about two days to look at the Angkor Watt ruins. These are supposed to be absolutely phenomenal and we are very excited about it. Then we are taking a boat trip to Phenom Phen where we will stay a couple of more days. While there we will visit one of the "Killing Fields" where so many Cambodians were massacred during Pol Pot's reign. After that we are flying to Thailand for some relaxing on the beach. We will stay there until the 17th.

We might travel Thailand a bit besides the beach, but we're playing that by ear. We fly to Vancouver on the 24th and we will celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary there. On the 27th we will be flying to Tulsa.

A busy last few weeks, but they should be fun.



In Exactly One Month, I Will Be In Oklahoma

2008-06-27T09:31:43.587+08:00

How crazy is that? We'll actually be leaving Shanghai a few days before then to stay in Vancouver, but it is one month to the day that we'll be home. I'm excited, and sad, and a little nervous.

Anybody got a job for me?






I'm Too Young for this...

2008-06-11T16:19:04.088+08:00

We went to Beijing this weekend and while there are many stories to tell and pictures to share, I wanted to say this now, as I am terribly busy this week and those other things won't see light for a while.

Not once, not twice, but three times I was asked if Sara, our friend and companion on the trip who is in her mid-twenties, was my daughter! I would have had to have her when I was like 6!

And she doesn't look that young either. I mean she looks like she's in her twenties, not in her early teens like some girls. Twice these horrid, terrible things happenned in taxi cabs. Normally cab drivers don't speak english, but for whatever reason this weekend we found two who spoke fairly well and both times they pointed to my wife and Sara asking if they were family. Then the specifically pointed out Sara and asked if she was my daughter.

I know I'm balding. I know my beard has lots of gray. I know I am not young anymore. But that....that accusation...that was just painful.



Beijing Bound, Plus our Future Plans

2008-06-02T14:41:05.595+08:00

We're headed to Beijing on Thursday and then will return home on Monday night. I'd say please excuse my absence to this blog, but as I write so rarely, I doubt anyone will notice.

We also bought our tickets home. We will be flying out of Shanghai on July 24. We'll actually be staying in Vancouver a couple of days for our anniversary and will be back in Oklahoma on July 28. Yeah.

We still aren't sure where we're going for our last trip. I really wanted to go to Cambodia/Vietnam but I think it will be too hot for us. Right now things are looking like Mongolia and maybe South Korea. But we'll see.



Gross...Just Groww

2008-06-02T14:25:17.851+08:00

The other day I walk out of my apartment and into the stairwell. Immediately I can hear a mother and daughter-child talking. That's the thing about our stairwell it is like a giant beacon and that amplified every sound...very obnoxious when you are in the living room, though thank goodness it gets drowned out by the time you reach our bedroom.

Anyway, I slow my walk down as I hate to run into people in the stairwell, especially people with kids as it makes for an awkward movement as I try to pass. I slow down enough that they are outside when I make it to the door. I then open the door and realize I should have hurried up.

The kid, who is maybe 5 years old is just below the stairs, right in the middle of the sidewalk where I'll have to walk, taking a squat...literally.

I don't know how much I've mentioned the Chinese love of the squat, but it is how they tend to use the rest room, and most assuredly how the kids are trained. So there the girl is squatting where I need to walk with a big puddle below her and a stream still flowing.

Dang it.

I know I've been in China for too long because my first thought it not why this little girl didn't go to her apartment where I know she has a real toilet, but why she couldn't just take a squat a few feet over where their is grass and no walking path.

The mom paid no mind, just got her keys out for the car.

This is why I always take my shoes off when I come into my house.



Shanghai Diaries - Olympic Fever

2008-05-30T07:54:34.060+08:00

I have written another diaries. This time it is all about the olympics.



The Shanghai Diaries - Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

2008-05-21T08:20:55.563+08:00

When my wife and I moved to Shanghai some nine months ago, we knew we would eventually move back to the States. The plan was to stay for one, maybe two years with the possibility of extending that for another year or two. After that we knew we would have to come home.

As anyone who has spent an extended time in a foreign land can tell you, there are good days and bad. The good days are clear and beautiful. They make like home. The bad days roll up on you like rain and make me wish I was anywhere but this strange land where everything is different and nobody understands.

Having lived on foreign soil before, I knew all about both types of days before we left and as such promised myself not to make any final decisions on how long we would stay for at least six months. Even so there days when I was sure I wanted to live in China, and days when I wanted nothing more than to catch the next plane out.

We have been thinking it over these last couple of months and we have now decided to head back home and start fresh. It was a hard decision, but this seems like the best option for now.

There are a great many things I love about China and those things make me want to stay. Shanghai is an interesting and incredible city. We have seen and visited many fascinating places and it will be hard to go back to what will surely feel like the terribly mundane back in the States.

Money is a great pull as well. We now make far less money than we did in the States, and yet it goes a lot farther. Half of my wife’s check (and she is assuredly the breadwinner in China) goes to an account in Hong Kong which we do not touch. Yet we still live quite large.

We dine out nearly every night, we travel primarily by taxi everywhere, and we continue to buy all sorts of crap from DVDs to fabric to footwear without giving it a second thought. We travel all the time and we are still saving thousands of dollars.

That’s a hard thing to walk away from.

I also really love the people here. I’ve mentioned before that we live in something of an ex-pat compound, and it is something like summer camp, if not paradise. Culture shock is eased by the familiarity of western faces. Friends abound. I can’t leave my home and walk to the corner store without seeing someone I know and having a friendly chat. I have made many friends among the Chinese as well and everyone is always exceedingly friendly.

Like I said, it was a hard decision to make.

I am not a man of great ambitions, but I do hold a few small dreams. For as long as I can remember I have longed to own a modest house on a small piece of land. I want to grow flowers and potatoes. I want to sit on my front porch, sipping freshly made iced tea, while I watch my kids grow old. I want to sit there with my wife, whom I love more than life and watch the sun set over the horizon. It isn’t much of a dream, but it is mine.

Truth is I continue to get older, but the dream seems to get farther away. I simply can’t see how China gets me any closer to it. So, we’re going home on July 28. We’re not sure what we’ll do once we get there, I can only hope. And dream.
Fear not, gentle readers. I still have just over two months left in Shanghai and there are still many stories to tell. The diaries will continue on for that time and I hope you will continue to read.



Night of the Living Mosquitoes

2008-05-20T12:40:15.114+08:00

We live on the third floor and are generally pretty bug free. Alas, last night was not ours. I hit the sack about 11:30 and within a few minutes my wife was groaning and yelling about mosquitoes. A moment later I could hear one.

BZZZZZZ.

In my sleepy state my mind imagined it way over by my wife (even though of course my ears would never be able to pick up their sound from feet away.) Then I imagine that it must have flown in front of me and I swat above my mid-section. Why I think this I don't know but as soon as I swat I realize how dumb my swat was.

Nothing. Quiet. I try to sleep. The wife groans again and swats.

BZZZZZ.

This time thinking clearly I swat against my face. It must be near my ear for I can hear it and I'm not in the position to clap so I must squish him against my face.

Gross. Maybe I'm not thinking so clearly.

More trying to sleep. More buzzing. More swatting.

Nothing works. After a good swat they stay quiet for a bit. Just long enough to get comfortable really then it starts up again.

Eventually I turn on the light and find the sucker on the wall. Swat. Squish. Dead.

At last, now we can sleep.

BZZZZZ.

Dang, another one. I turn on the light, find two on the wall and they go squish.

Lights out. Almost sleep. Buzz, lights, squish.

On this goes for an hour. I search the house looking for an entry point. The windows have been open all day but we have screens. I check them searching for small openings and find none. The bathroom screen had been up but Amy shut it yesterday afternoon.

I turn on a light in the kitchen hoping to move them in there. Then I shut the door. Then I shut out window and turn on the air.

We had been in sheets, but with the air conditioning we need a cover. Turn on the air and have to cover up. How's that for efficiency?

More buzzing. This last one is sneaky. He buzzes but when I get the light on he's not on the wall like the rest. I don't believe I ever got him, but about 1:30 I found sleep.

I woke up with several bug bits on my arm.



Dancing the Night Away

2008-05-20T11:05:23.967+08:00

The other night we went to a little Korean place down the way for supper. As we rode down the road in the taxi, a couple of blocks before we hit the restaurant we noticed a large group of Chinese folks doing something that looked like Tai Chi in a large square. Curious we decided to take a better look after supper.

If you go to any large open spaces in the mornings just about anywhere in China you will see people out doing some variation of yoga. When I spent the night at the aquarium we found scores of people doing these little exercises all over the grounds when we awoke. It is just something you do.

Well, apparently they do something a little different of an evening. What appeared from a distance to be more of the same sort of morning stretches, turned out to be more like a Chinese version of a country line dance. They were located in what appeared to be some sort of outdoor community space. There was a large concrete slab in the middle where one could hold a variety of events from concerts to a small fair. There were a smattering of small stands located at the edges for people to sit, and to one side was a gazebo, with a smaller slab of concrete next to it.

Inside both slabs were gobs of people. At the gazebo they were playing fast-ish music with a slinky sort of swing beat. Couples were gathered and while not exactly swinging they were twirling and two-stepping with all their might. Interestingly most of the couples were women with their men gathered about the floor watching curiously.

In the main square a different sort of music was being played. It was slower, and more rhythmic. The people were all lined up in a grid and doing these fancy step moves. It really was very line dance-esque and completely fascinating to me. The wife, my friend, and I moved to the edges and tried a few moves. Most of the steps weren't too complicated so we picked up some of it pretty quick.

The problem was that each song only lasted a couple of minutes and with each new song there was a new dance. Just as I would learn one step, a new one would appear. A kindly older man eventually came over to us and began teaching us the steps.

It was so much fun I gathered up more friends a few nights later and we tried it again.

I've mentioned before how we live sort of a sheltered life. Shanghai is a very westernized city and our little compound feels like a little expat oasis. It has been such a joy to go out these few times and experience a little real China.

I can't wait to go back.



Drip, Drip

2008-05-14T22:40:21.800+08:00

Since living here we have had at least three different leaks. The pipes leading to the water heater leaked, the pipes under the sink leaked, and the pipes behind the toilet leaked. Now we have another one. This time it is the big PVC pipe in the ceiling above our bathroom.

The good news: the drip falls directly into our toilet, leaving no mess.

The bad news: the drip falls directly into our toilet, and thus my ownself when I'm using said toilet. I don't even want to think about where this water is coming from, like where it has been or what it contains.

I talked to maintenance yesterday. This morning they sent one guy up who looked confused. Normally maintenance puts little plastic booties on over their shoes when they enter. This guy seemed to have none and looked at me sheepishly when he knocked like he wasn't gonna come in. I told him to anyways and showed him the problem. He had a bag full of metal pipes which were worthless on the PVC. Then he showed me two work orders. One was for the floor above me, and one was us. He showed me both and said something I couldn't understand then split.

Later two men came in and took a look. They stayed a minute then motioned upstairs. I assume they went up to the floor above to investigate the leak. Moments later they came back down and said something or other. I assume the people weren't home.

They don't seem to be willing to go into others apartments when the owners aren't there, here. I guess we'll wait until tomorrow. Or something.

Until then if you see me with a wet back, don't ask.



Earthquake

2008-05-12T22:20:50.440+08:00

I've already gotten some questions about it, so I wanted to update my readers. We are fine. I didn't know there even was an earthquake until well after it happened.

I tutor a couple of kids every afternoon and as I was leaving I ran into their mom as she was coming home for work. She speaks a little English, but not a lot and so our conversations are always a little funny. Today was no different.

"Hello, are you ok from the RQ?"

"The what?"

"The RQ...RQ...today?

"I'm sorry, what is that?"

She yells at her boy and he says that yes, RQ is right. I still haven't the slightest idea what she is talking about, but her girl finally comes down and explains it was an earthquake. She then tells me her office all went to the streets where everyone was out walking about looking scared. It was an odd feeling to hear of a quake like that. Like I wasn't sure if I was understanding correctly, and wondering if everyone was OK.

Turns out it was a big quake, but way south of here. Though they say some people felt it here, and the big skyscrapers were evacuated. I didn't feel a darn thing. the death toll keeps rising so keep everyone in your thoughts.

--

This has been a weird week for disasters. Mom tells me over the weekend the little town where I used to work was wiped out by a tornado. There wasn't much left of the town anyways as it was mostly cleared out after the mining left, but man its weird to see pictures of places I used to hang out at everyday destroyed.

Keep all that in your thoughts, too.



Pictures of Yangshuo

2008-04-21T13:05:21.048+08:00

(image)
Yangshuo



0 Comments

2008-04-19T11:37:10.154+08:00

Massages are all the rage here in Shanghai. There are parlors just about everywhere. You can get a massage in your motels, theres a place here in our compound and you can even get a masseuse delivered to your home. Everybody loves them, or so it seems.

Amy is a long time massage fan so she often goes and gets them. I've never really had a desire for one and have up until last night declined all offers for them. Last night our friends Laura and Thomas called wanting to get one. Amy agreed immediately, but I said no. Then Thomas brow-beated me and I reluctantly said "yes."

We went to a little shop down the road and contemplated which kind to get. They had full body massages, full body with oil, foot massages, head massages and all sorts of other things. I decided I would go all out and get a full body with oil.

It was a little weird at first stripping down to some little shorts they gave me and getting rubbed by a stranger, but it was ultimately nice. Very relaxing and invigorating even if the ladies thumbs were a little harsh.

Today though my back aches, and there are big bruises running up and down my shoulders.

Ouch.



The Things You See On the Road

2008-04-18T11:23:54.488+08:00

Most mornings I take a walk around our big apartment complex. It isn't a marathon, but it is a nice little walk. Along the way I often see some odd little things, and I thought I'd do a little writing about it.Parking, must like the general traffic is a bit of a mess around here. I'm sure somewhere there are like big parking lots, and suchlike, but I've ever seen them. Mostly you just see cars parked about everywhere. Shanghai actually does a great job of making bike lanes for the legions of two-wheeled people, but of course lots of the cars wind up parking there. Sidewalks too for that matter.Anyways, the other day I am out on my walk and as usual there is a bit van parked on the sidewalk and I do the walk-around away from the street. On the sidewalk, next to the van is a big puddle of liquid. I look for a second to see what it is...no, it's not that...yep it is.Urine.Gross. You can tell by where it is that they van guy parked it, then stood next to the van to hide himself from traffic and let it flow. Now on my walks I often see public urinators. It isn't all that uncommon to see a taxi driver pull of the side of the road and go in the bushes. Their cab drivers so they spend their days in a car not near a bathroom, so I figure 'whatever' and never pay them much mind. But they go in the bushes. Not on the sidewalk.Everyday I see the same group of workers messing with the sidewalks. The sidewalks are not straight concrete, but made up of these little 10 inch x 10 inch bricks. Next to the sidewalk, away from the road and in between the walls to our complex are various shrubs and flowers and grasses. Periodically around the sidewalk are trees too.These workers are always doing something around there. Sometimes they are pulling weeds. Once they dug a little trench around the shrubs. Most often they are taking a little puddy knives and cleaning out the gunk between the individual bricks.I have the most manicured sidewalks I have ever seen. None of the work they do really needs to be done, but there they are ever single day. That's actually slightly common in China. Whenever you go to a market or a restaurant or any store really it will always be over staffed. I've seen small kiosks in the mall filled with half a dozen workers.At the corner market there are always 6 or more people working even though there really isn't much to do. Half of them sit around yacking to each other. I always assume it is some sort of government thing to make companies over hire. Like the population is so enormous that companies are asked to hire more people than they need so the unemployment rates won't be so high. Sometimes it is annoying because there are too many workers and they get in the way, but I think I'll take that over having the stores under staffed like you see so often in the States.A few weeks ago on my walk I nearly saw an accident. I was next to a two lane highway that is quite heavily trafficked. The road has a very large shoulder where the buses pull off to make their pick ups, and on this road where bikers ride.One of the buses pulled over to make a stop and then jammed itself back into traffic. Like I said it is a busy road and there were a couple of taxis speeding down the road just behind the bus. This bus, full of people and assuredly not a fast vehicle pulls right out in front of the taxis nearly taking them out. The first taxi instead of jamming his breaks, pulls to the left into oncoming traffic. Cars coming that way have to fling to the side of the road to not get hit.Taxi #1 realizes the oncoming traffic [...]



The Shanghai Diaries - The Madness of Crowds

2008-04-15T14:31:47.943+08:00

My wife and I have decided to move back to the States for good in July. There are many reasons for this decision ranging from my lack of real career options to my wife's need to be somewhere where she'll actually finish her dissertation. It was a hard decision in some ways, but I must admit I'm really rather thrilled to be headed back. As we've now made the decision, I find myself looking forward to many of the conveniences that we'll have in the US, and being more irritated with things here in Shanghai. One of these annoyances is with the people. No, not the individual people. I've found most of the Chinese to be pleasant, friendly, and kind. I've made many Chinese friends and I will miss them dearly. The people themselves are as interesting and varied as any people you'll find. It is not the individual people that bother me, but the collective – the en masse that proves bothersome. There are just so darn many of them. I grew up in rural Oklahoma, in a town with fewer than 20,00 people. Since moving out I have lived in larger cities such as Joplin, Missouri; Montgomery, Alabama; and the whopping metropolis of Strasbourg, France (population 500,000.) That's a far cry from the 18 million odd people who live in Shanghai. Maybe those who live in places like New York or Chicago can grasp just how many people that is, but for this poor boy from Oklahoma it has been nothing less than eye-opening. The masses are a bit like ants in a colony just after some kid has blown it to bits with an M-60. People are constantly moving in every direction. There might be some order buried in the chaos, but to an outsider it looks like crazed madness. I live in the relative peace and quiet of the suburbs. The outer limits of the suburbs actually, and it is still overwhelming. There is never a time when there aren't hoards of people about. Shopping is the worst. We frequent Carefour a French-owned grocery store not too far from here and it is always "busting at the seams" crowded. Think about Wal-Mart on a Saturday or your favorite mall around the holidays, then triple it, and you have some idea - and that's during the off hours. Shopping is a nightmare to me in the best of scenarios, and here it is always just shy of completely awful. Carefour has two main aisles running perpendicular to each other through the middle of the store. There is plenty of room in these aisles for loads of people. Still I always find myself behind some lolly-gaggers doing the Chinese stroll. They have a particular knack for slow, meandering walks that never fail to get in my way. In the big aisles I'll get behind one of these strollers walking so slow grass is growing up under the feet. I try to pass but am thwarted on both sides – to the left, cart after cart of people going the other way rush by cutting off my every movie. To the right, people behind me rush to make a pass and zip in ahead of me. When I finally get a free space and make my move, the mad stroller inevitably performs a wobbly turn in that same direction and keeps me from moving. Eventually I get serious and butt my cart in and pass only to be quickly blocked by some other meanderer. In small aisles there is always someone with a cart parked right in the middle blocking the other side with their bodies as they look over whatever consumer goods are on display. While there, some friend or acquaintance or talkative stranger stops by to chat, completely blocking the entire aisle, oblivious to the forming line behind them. Speaking of lines, the Chinese don't seem to believe or at least under[...]



The Shanghai Diaries - Field Trips

2008-04-15T08:19:07.568+08:00

It has been five weeks since my last diary. Five. Freaking. Weeks. When I started this column my intentions were to write a post every week. That rarely ever happened but I was knocking out about 3 a month. Yet here I am with more than a month between now and my last word on my experiences in China. What happened? As usual, it was several things. A lot of it is what I'll call the French equation. My wife and I lived in Strasbourg, France for about 10 months in 2003-4. Blogging came into existence for me in the form of journaling my daily life there. For many months I was writing everyday about the differences in culture, food, and lifestyles between the French and the United States, as well as chronicling my every day experiences. As with all things, though, what was once interesting became mundane. What was exciting was then boring. In France I then turned to movie reviews and my life as something of a “real” writer began. We're now in the boring stage of my Shanghai adventure. I've written about most of the things that effect my life at this point, and the day to day just isn't exciting enough to merit articles. Thus a lull. That and I'm lazy. Seriously, there are things I have to write. There are stories to tell, and everyday I tell myself to write them, but first I have to check my e-mail and wash the dishes and do a little reading and watch another movie. Then the wife comes home and the night washes on, and no words have been written. I'd like to say I'll do better. I'd like to say I'll write more and the diaries will shine on. I'd like to say those things, but I won't. I know better than that. -- As my life as a tutor and substitute don't keep me exactly full-scheduled and busy, and as my wife is a teacher, and my sister is a teacher, and everyone I know is a teacher, I am often called upon to help out with school activities. Sometimes this entails chaperoning field trips. A few weeks ago I accompanied my sister's 10th grade history class to the Shanghai Museum. As with pretty much everything in Shanghai, the museum was a good ride away. The school my sister works for does not own their own school buses - there are no big yellow behemoths around these parts. Instead they rent buses from a local company. These look a bit like run-down Greyhounds, but they do the job. More or less. We loaded into two of these buses and headed off for our destination. The streets of Shanghai are a terrifying experience in the best of vehicles, but in a large, dilapidated bus it quickly becomes close your eyes and pray time. The big beasts lunged to and fro through traffic, horns a-blazing, weaving between taxis and scooters all the while narrowly missing pedestrians.After about 4 kilometers the bus pulled over to the side of the road, stopped and cut its engine. We were no where near the museum. There was no explanation of what we were doing. The bus driver exited and went to talk to the driver of the second bus. Phone calls were made and still no explanation. After several long minutes we were finally told that the bus we were on had broken down. Four kilometers from home, after 10 minutes of driving, the bus was dead. You would think they might do a little maintenance checking before they started lugging a large group of kids through the streets of one of the worlds biggest cities, but no. You would be wrong for thinking such things. Another, much smaller bus was nearby and it quickly came to pick up our kids. All but about ten kids were loaded and the two working busses took off, leaving m[...]



Crooked Rain

2008-04-09T15:32:27.748+08:00

Here's a run down of what I've been doing since my last post.The weekend before last we went to Hangzhou with our friends Laura and Thomas. Hangzhou is something of a sister city to Suzhou which is the city we went to a couple of months back. Both cities are highly recommended and are supposedly some of the most beautiful country in this country. Both were a bit of a let down.For Suzhou we arrived to early, like in the winter, and none of the fine scenery had blossomed or bloomed. In Hangzhou the flowers had somewhat bloomed, but it rained the entire time.We went to Hangzhou kind of spur of the moment as Thomas had to be there during the week for work, and Laura asked if we wanted to make a weekend of it. We did and we went. The focus of the city is a large man-made lake and several islands that float about in it. It was very beautiful, though quite soggy.We took a boat tour of the island and the trees had blossomed and it was nice. Raining pretty solidly on Sunday we went to KTV (karaoke) and made an afternoon of it. Karaoke is much different in Asia than in the States to say the least. It is quite the ordeal here. An entire building was decked out for our pleasure. I consisted of dozens of small private rooms for which to sing and a large central room full of buffet style food. They had plenty of American songs and we had lots of fun.This past weekend we went to Yangshuo. This is a little village that my sister has been to many times and absolutely adores. It is basically a tourist trap, but the views are so spectacular it is worth it. It is located right on a river, and the mountains look like some crazy prehistoric animals back. Again it was rainy and overcast and thus our views were less spectacular than I had hoped, but this place is so amazing that it didn't matter so much.One of the rainy days we decided to go caving to get out of the wetness. We were the only white people there and we got many a stare from the Chinese. To get into the cave we had to take a small boat into a cavern. The entrance was so small we had to duck down into the boat and pray that we didn't get knocked over.I've been to a few caves in the US and am generally underwhelmed. For safety reasons they have to be made so sanitary and generic that they usually aren't a lot of fun. China seems a little more lax with that and thus the cave was much more interesting. Besides nearly getting knocked over coming into the cave there were several moment where we had to nearly crawl through passages, step on slippery rocks to get across creeks and generally access areas a bit more dangerous than would ever be allowed into the states.It wasn't terribly risky mind you, it was just so much more so than you'd ever see in the States. The highlight was the mud pool which me and Amy and our friend Sara climbed into. Basically it is a small reservoir of water which is very muddy at the bottom. Tourists love to jump in and get covered in filthy cave mud. We were one of those and we got nasty. The water was actually freezing cold so it took a moment to warm up to, but after that we slung and wrestled and had a blast. Again we were the only ones in the pool and all the Chinese stared at the crazy Americans. They actually had a photo set up going on so that one of the tour guides took pictures of us, then uploaded it onto his computer. They had everything set up there so that we could look at our pictures right there in the cave and have it printed out for us as we toured the [...]



I'm Back, For Good (Maybe)

2008-03-26T10:05:51.267+08:00

It has been almost a month since I last posted. I want to blame our lack of decent internet service, but that's just a lame excuse as I kept my other blog up to date.

We were without decent internet for nearly three weeks. One day it just went down. On the Dell, where we are connected to a cable, we couldn't get it at all, on the Mac, where we have wireless it was incredibly slow and often would go down without warning.

A little disclaimer here: We have a wireless network, and several others in our little complex do as well. Truth be told, I'm not really sure which one is ours and which ones are theirs. Most of the networks are password protected but there are a couple that aren't and I get confused as to whether or not I am on my own network, or stealing someone elses.

After waiting and hoping it would fix itself we finally had one of our Chinese friends call the company to complain. Turns out we were behind on our bill. Two months late in fact. Now before you roll your eyes and call me a deadbeat, let me explain.

The bill is in Chinese. I can't tell what the heck it is saying for the most part. There are a variety of number on the bill, all of which look like amounts of money and none of which say anything in English telling me how much to pay. The one bit of English on the bill says "prepay" and I always assumed that meant we had paid ahead. I thought this because prepay generally means that you have paid ahead, and because each time we have paid our bill we've had to pay at least a month in advance.

The only way we know how to pay the bill is to the person from the internet company comes to our living quarters. She comes every Sunday in the afternoon. Every Sunday in the afternoon we also have a meeting. Remembering to go to internet lady before the meeting is difficult.

We also got no warning that we were behind. We had heard that if you don't pay a bill then you get items in the mail reminding you to pay. We got none.

Time slipped by and we didn't pay and we got shut off. So we paid and now we're cooking.

--

My birthday was yesterday. It was a pretty good day. We actually celebrated last Friday by having some friends over and playing games. I made a great big batch of nachos which were delicious.

My brother-in-laws birthday was Sunday and we celebrated by going to the Naked Cow on Saturday night. This is a big western style restaurant. Us men folk had meat. Lots of meat. We had lamb shanks and a pork shoulder and a full chicken and several other dishes. It was delicious and it tore me up most of Sunday.

Tuesday night we met with some more friends and had dinner at a place that gives teachers half on on Tuesdays.

I'm glad I've stayed alive another year.



The Shanghai Diaries - Japanese Edition, Part 3: Kyoto, Osaka, and Home

2008-03-04T08:15:28.031+08:00

From Osaka we trained to Nara, an old city that was also the capital of Japan at one time. We visited more temples there, but having rested from them in Osaka, I was once again fascinated by them. Like Miyajima, there were tame deer roaming through parts of the city. There were many schoolchildren feeding the deer only to realize that once one deer sees food, the whole lot of them sense it and quickly surround the food bearer. In the park side, two bucks began fighting over something. I, like many others, rushed in to take photographs. The battle raged for a few minutes until the two bucks separated a bit. Still filled with anger, one buck made a mighty sneer at my brother-in-law and then proceeded to headbutt an older lady who had bent down to tie her shoes. He got her right in the back with a thunderous bang. The women fell and the crowd gasped. To both my brother-in-law's and my own credit, we both rushed in and stood between the deer and the woman. It was then I realized the buck's head was about the same height of my midsection. I cringed at the thought of losing my reproductive powers by a deer in the middle of Japan. Luckily, no more bucking occurred and we all got the crap out of there. Nearby was the largest wooden structure in Japan (another temple like structure), which was awesome, but lost a little bit of its lure with me still being hyped up from the attack of the deer. It was then towards Tokyo that we once again headed. On our way we hoped to make a pit stop to see Mt. Fuji in the distance, but it had begun to snow again and those plans were abandoned. We saw a bit more of the city this time, including some crazy cheap electronic markets, the atrociously ugly Tokyo Tower, a gaggle of Cosplay kids dressed like sleazy nurses, Goth rockers, and a variety of other anime characters. Japan was amazing, but we were all quite ready for home and its comforts. Due to some communication errors (and a national holiday), we were unable to pick up our new tickets until the day we were to leave. We awoke quite early and headed to one side of Tokyo to pick up the tickets so we would have time to make it to the other side of the city and the airport. We made it to the ticket office just as it opened, only to find out they had sent a messenger to take the tickets to the airport. A couple of hours later we were in the airport standing in line behind a group of sumo wrestlers. It was quite a hoot to watch all of the various people walk in through the door to be surprised and excited over the sumos. I would have expected the wrestlers to be old hat to most of the Japanese, but even they went crazy for them. Eventually we made it to the front counter and asked for our tickets. We paid our money and then were surprised to see only one ticket for my wife, but none for me. We asked about this and were assured they would find mine. A few calls later and we were told there was no ticket, nor any record that I had applied for a lost ticket. They apologized, but told me I would have to buy a new ticket to the tune of $900. For the record, that's more than we paid for two tickets in the first place. They did upgrade us to Business class, but I took note that I was still sitting next to the wife, which, of course, means I paid for my seat twice. I paid my way, and took it from behind like a good little boy. I'd like to say we got to China and the airline treated me right with some sort of refund, but three weeks la[...]



slow connect

2008-03-03T21:02:03.322+08:00

My internet connection in Shanghai has always been a bit peculiar. Technically we get DSL speeds, but that's only on paper. When all the planets are aligned properly we do get high speeds and everything is good under the sun. Periodically, and seemingly quite randomly things go off and then my connection is anywhere from pretty OK to crap, actually.

Sometimes it is easy to figure out. During the early evening it is easy to understand why things slow down - 18 million people get home and log on. Other times though, it just happens. Sometimes it will go completely down for a few hours or even a day. This week, it has just stunk.

I am averaging about 1 bar on my wi-fi, but it fluctuates. Sometimes it goes up to a two or a three, and often it will go out completely. There is no rhyme nor reason, nor even a bit of prose for the whys. It just is. It is just driving me crazy.

My first internet was connected on a 8 bit modem. When we finally moved up to 11.1 speed we thought it couldn't get any better. Now I don't know how anyone could use a dial-up modem, and while even at a 1 bar I can still surf everything, download and upload at a reasonable rate, I'm ready to throw my computer across the room.

I would say this is why I have not been posting much lately, but well I hate to lie to my readership (today, at least.) Truth is I've been in a funk for the last week. I'm working on getting it un-funked, but with this lousy connection even an un-funked writer is not one that can post very often.