Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Week 10

Christmas 2010 has now come and gone, and we hope everyone had (and is still having) a great holiday with your family and friends. It was nice to talk with a lot of you over Skype! We are very jealous of the scrumptious-looking food in your mouths!! (We are accepting leftovers, if you fell like freeze-dryng and overnighting them to us, haha)

Our Christmas was good on this side of the world. We started off Christmas Day by going to church at the International Church on Hengshan Road. Normally the church has two services on Sundays, but for Christmas Day there was only one, so it was packed with people. We had to bring our passports with us because only foreigners are allowed to worship there (i.e., the government doesn't allow Chinese nationals to attend these services), but on Christmas no one asked to see them. I haven't said prayers inside a church for quite a while so, for me, the experience felt good.

After church we came back home to exchange our gifts. This was our sixth Christmas gift exchange and it was different in so many ways. For one thing, searching for the right gift to give was a lot harder than in previous years. There was one thing I really wanted to get for Tiff (which shall remain nameless for the moment), but I ultimately couldn't locate stores that had the item I wanted. To be fair, I waited until a week before Christmas to start looking, whatever. The other challenge was finding places that offer gift certificates. I urge all of you to try and explain a gift certificate to someone who either 1) doesn't understand you, or 2) isn't familiar with the concept. It was a hoot. Anyways, I ended up giving the best gift of all: cold hard cash, baby! My wonderful girlfriend got me one of the best gifts ever: NFL Game Pass!!! This little treasure is only offered to viewers outside of the U.S., and it is an online subscription to every NFL game from 2009 and 2010, AND it includes the 2010 Playoffs AND the Super Bowl. I have been up for two straight nights trying to catch up on Playoff contenders, and I love my girlfriend.

Mike and I spent the rest of the day with Mike, Belle and their dog Bingo.  Mike and Belle live in the "suburbs" of Shanghai which we were excited to see. When we got there, they took us to a Wet Market, the Chinese version of a Farmers Market.  However, as you can tell from the photos below, this market is very different from the trendy, hippie-filled South Pasadena Farmers Market (we love hippies, please take no offense).  This real "working" market is open daily and growers bring in fresh fruits, veggies, sauces, spices, and meats twice a day. After showing us around and purchasing some food for Christmas Dinner, we went back to their brand new, beautiful condo where Mike and Belle proceeded to cook us the most amazing dinner.  Mike and I want to give a special thanks to our hosts for making our first Christmas in Shanghai absolutely beautiful and amazing.

 Aisles upon aisles of amazing looking fruits and vegetables!
 Mike had to specifically ask for a special cut of meat, since Pork Tenderloin is not a typical Chinese cut.
 Chef Mike and his wonderful Sous Chef, Belle, cooking us an amazing Christmas Dinner. (Bingo taking a sniff)
 Pork Tenderloin, Mushroom Risotto, Bacon wrapped Enoki Mushrooms, Holland Beans & Carrots

Mike, me, and Bingo

As you can all tell from the pictures, our Christmas Day ended up being pretty awesome. Thanks again to Chef Mike, Belle, and Bingo for the entertainment (I will not post pictures of the entertainment because this is a family blog, haha!)

Last week I talked about our trip to Pudong. Instead of paying the 45RMB to walk the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, we decided to take the subway. We thought it would be a good idea because Pudong is only one Metro station from the Bund. It was, to say the least, not exactly the comfortable ride we expected. I want to include the video this week in case anyone is coming to Shanghai and thinking about making the same mistake. I hope this will give everyone an idea of what it's like riding a busy subway in Shanghai.
We are on the brink of 2011, and hopefully it is a year that brings lots of health, prosperity and happiness to all of you who read this blog. Best of luck to those who don't, haha. Hope everyone has a great New Years Eve. Be safe, but have a lot of fun, we'll try to do the same on this side of the world!

Things To Do in Shanghai: 

6.  Visit the Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market 

Located at 399 Lujiabang Lu, (or 陆家浜路399 if you’re taking a taxi).  Three floors of shops selling just about anything you could desire, all custom made.  Suits, shirts, jackets, jeans, leather coats, scarves, robes, etc., are all sold here, but most shops specialize in one or two types of items.  However, bargaining skills are a must or you WILL be duped!  Three piece suits (Pants, Jacket, Shirt) go for between 300-600rmb and Coats seem to go for about 400-600rmb. So much fun and such an amazing experience: A must see in Shanghai!

Maybe It's Just Me

I have an idea for "Things To Do in Shanghai": Don't take the subway during rush hour. If any of you has ever lived life on the edge, then you know what it feels like to ride the subway in certain parts of Shanghai. These trips can be a chaotic free-for-all where someone will throw elbows to get on and secure one square foot of space, and stand on one leg if necessary. And when people are trying to get off the train? I would say it's like watching Bruce Lee fight Chuck Norris. The crowd can be overwhelming, and getting through it is a testament to "survival of the fittest". Even after you've confirmed that you still have your wallet, you still need to make sure that all of your limbs make it into the train before the door closes on you. Some Chinese people simply don't care, and want to get on the train anyways, which is scary because these nomads have nothing to lose. Maybe it's just me, but why risk your life and limbs for an extra 3 minutes of your time? It's unbelievable.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Week 9

Week 9 started off with our first snowfall in Shanghai!! In the morning, it fell lightly and melted fast, but by mid-afternoon it was coming down heavily. I took the scooter down to Starbucks to get my morning cup of joe. I soon learned that I should have walked instead, because I got pelted in the face with snow and was freezing my hands off. The snow lasted until about 9pm, when it finally stopped coming down, but most of it stuck around for the next day or so. I was happy to see snow for the first time in a long while, hopefully more snow days to come!

The Shanghai fashion scene is becoming an insatiable part of life here. There are clothing boutiques/shops on many, many streets and corners all over the city, all of which seem to have the latest trends hanging on their racks. I suppose it's partly because artists are plentiful, and partly because clothing can be made cheaply; not to mention it is one of the biggest metropolitan markets with locals and expats from around the world. Nevertheless, Shanghai is definitely a great place to see budding fashion designers and their latest clothing lines, which you probably won't find on display at your local GAP.

The building where Tiffany works hosted a fashion show last week for three up-and-coming designers based here in Shanghai. We were lucky enough to get invited and sat in the front row for Frau-Ana's show, a talented young designer originally from Germany. Frau-Ana's theme was Pink Rocks. Her inspiration for clothing design stretches back to the pop-culture of her childhood, stuff like Knight Rider with David Hasselhoff, Game Boy, and comic books idealizing superheros that can do anything. Her inspiration explains a lot, because the colors used in her clothing line run counter to conventional attitudes for wearing certain colors. Getting people to drop these adverse attitudes, and to start wearing colors, is what gives rise to her theme of Pink Rocks. Her presentation featured a young lady who wants to go out but is trying to decide what to wear. The energy in the room was buzzing with a sort of soothing chaos that supplemented what seemed to be planned disorganization. People were anxious to see Frau-Ana's line, and she did not disappoint.

Again, special thanks to Frau-Ana for being so nice to Tiffany and I when we were there, and for the great bags she gave us! If anyone is interested in seeing more of her clothing line and where to find her clothes, please visit her website at: http://www.frau-ana.com/. Currently two stores here in Shanghai, and another in Singapore, offer her clothes, but I'm sure many of you in the U.S. will be hearing the name of this promising artist in the near future.

As I was saying earlier, driving the scooter in the elements was horrendous. It is ridiculously cold, and hard to drive when snow and rain pelts one in the face. However, Tiffany mentioned something to me the other day when we were on the scooter that struck a note. So I thought it would be nice for her to share the comment with you, too:

Coming from LA, where practically everyone has their own car and often drives by themselves, not having a car in Shanghai has been quite a change. Instead of a car, we are utilizing public transportation, our scooter, taxis, and of course our own two feet to get around. But we hardly ever use taxis, so while walking and even on our scooter, we've been forced to slow down a little bit and really start to interact with the people, the street, and the city. I feel like we are becoming active participants in the city, instead of being shut out from the human interaction that results from being in a vehicle flying down the road in the sea of cars.  Here, we hear the sounds of the traffic, feel the bump of a passerby, and sometimes, unfortunately, smell the smells of the city. By becoming walkers and public transportation users, we end up running into amazing happenings and events that we would probably miss if we were flying down the freeway at 90mph! One of these such events we happened to run into the other day on our way to the Bund.

After we had a chance to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, we made our way across Huangpu River to take a closer look at the awesome skyline that everyone sees in pictures of Shanghai. We have been down to the Bund a couple times since we've been here, but we've never actually been across the river to the east Pudong area (mostly because it's never been a clear enough day for us to get good pictures). Pudong is a newly developed area of Shanghai where most of the financial action happens. The Shanghai Stock Exchange, World Financial Center, and many large financial firms that do business in Asia, are situated in Pudong. The signature of Shanghai's skyline is the famous Oriental Pearl Tower, which looks spectacular in clear weather.

Christmas is coming up this week and I'm sure everyone is getting very excited for the holiday. We want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. We sure are sad to miss out this year, but hopefully all of you will be lucky enough to enjoy being together and cherish celebrating with friends and family. If you've been good, I'm sure you will get everything you asked of Santa. If not, well, there's always next year. : ) Merry Christmas everyone!!

Things To Do in Shanghai

5. Eat dumplings.

Shanghai offers a variety of types of dumplings from all over China. Jiaozi 餃子 are extremely popular in Shanghai and can be found just about everywhere. They are the meat (typically pork) or veggie filled wrappers that are boiled.  Other types of dumplings are fried, steamed, and/or come in soup, with a large variety of ingredients. However, we have found some of the best dumplings in the Former French Concession at Shandong Shougong Dumpling Restaurant (14号 Yanqing Road).  This little dumpling shop is extremely popular at lunchtime and offers a very small menu that includes: pork dumplings, pork and leak dumplings, pork and celery dumplings, pork and cabbage dumplings and pork wonton soup.  All of which is delicious. Plates of dumplings go for around 10RMB ($1.50), which is plenty for one person at lunch. Address:

Maybe It's Just Me

I have talked in earlier posts about the frenzy of driving on the roads of Shanghai. I have heard from multiple people here that the number one reason expats are forced to leave the country is due to traffic accidents. Not to further scare my worry-wort mother but, according to government statistics, there was over 46,000 traffic accidents in China during the first quarter of 2010, which is roughly 500 accidents per day. And this isn't just scary for drivers, because that number includes pedestrians, too. Having observed and participated in the system for a couple of months now, I am not surprised and would think the estimate might actually be a little low. Maybe it's just me, and I need to pay more attention while I'm driving or walking. Then again, when I see people frequently driving on the wrong side of the road, using the sidewalks as a third lane, and disregarding all notions of common sense on the road, I have to say, maybe it's just them...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Week 8

We've hit the two month mark of our journey and, so far, we have been having a blast in China. One of the major things we're missing by living here, however, is the holiday season in the U.S. The spirit of the holidays is something we both love, and it seems to be lacking here in China, so that's one thing we're sad to miss. On the other hand, Chinese New Year is coming up in a couple of months, so maybe we can feel the holiday spirit during that time.

Anyone who comes to China on a one-year tourist visa is required to leave the country every 60 days. If someone does not make this mandatory trip, they would be subject to a penalty of 500RMB (approx. $75) for every day past 60 days. So, that means that every two months we are forced to take a vacation (sigh) outside of China, which includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. We hope to use these trips to see more places in the region, but this time we headed for Hong Kong.

The city of Shenzhen is part of the Guangdong Province in mainland China, but it borders Hong Kong to the north. We decided it would be a little cheaper, and a lot more fun, if we took a plane to Shenzhen and then ride the train down to Hong Kong. We had a friend of ours book a hotel for one night. Since she speaks Chinese, we think she might have gotten us a better deal than if we had tried to book it ourselves. When we arrived in Shenzhen, we had a few hours to look around and walk the streets. As one of the designated Special Economic Zones in China, it is a big-business city that only started "developing" in the late 1980's, yet it is clearly still on the rise. With an estimated population of over 10 million and a recorded 2009 GDP of over $120 billion, I think Shenzhen is the type of city that China will become known for in the 21st century.

After we walked around for a while, we started getting hungry. We looked around and stopped in a couple restaurants, but none had English menus or pictures that looked appetizing (to put it politely). Then Tiffany looked up and found a gem. We had dinner atop the Shenzhen International Trade Center, which has a 360-degree revolving restaurant!! I'm happy to report that they had an English menu, and that the tab came to a very reasonable $50!! Great food, phenomenal view.

We got up the next day and headed for Hong Kong. Our friend booked us a place there, too. We had asked her to book a room for two, but the place looked more like it was meant to accommodate one-half of a person. It was approximately 5 feet wide, 10 feet long, and the toilet was inside the shower stall. The "double" bed looked more like a toddler's crib without rails. Needless to say, the room was authentic Hong Kong -- small. So, we decided it would be best to spend as little time in the room as possible.
It was Tiffany's first time in Hong Kong, so I thought you guys might like to hear her first impressions:

We emerged from the Metro onto Nathan Street in Kowloon and I found myself completely breathless.  The only thing you could see on the streets were people, cars, and advertisements.  Every few steps we took there was a new person vying for attention, shouting “Lady: Tailor-made suits, hand bags, watches?”  Honking horns, shouting people, and loud music streamed from every direction.   In my head I thought, “Now, this is China.”  I felt like I had finally found what I always pictured China to be like. Amazing.  Kowloon, the area across the river from Hong Kong Province, is a hustling area full of eastern medicine pharmacies, fake markets, hostels, and Indian food.  

As we made our way through the throngs of people over to the bund, the skyline started to appear.  We stood on the Kowloon side of the river enjoying the view of the skyline in every direction.  It seems like the tall buildings go on forever.  Taking the boat over to Hong Kong Province, the glitter and beauty of Hong Kong became more apparent.  Hong Kong has a Prada, Gucci, Tiffany’s, or Coach-type store on just about every block.  The entire area is filled with beautiful buildings, shops, and cars. Hong Kong Province shines just like the Swarovski
crystal Christmas tree in the center of town. It’s beautiful.

The highlight of our trip was our first time at the Hong Kong Disneyland. Now, in general, many Chinese people have no shame about cutting in line. And normally I wouldn't care if a couple people in the grocery store want to cut in line and pretend like they're talking on their cell phone. But at Disneyland, REALLY?!? Anyways, I was surprised at how many people did nothing about others cutting in front of them.

A few years ago, when Tiffany and I were both at SC and had time between our classes, we would go to Disneyland every Tuesday. We went countless times using our annual passes. But, even though we've been many times, I have to say, it never gets old.

Part 1
Part 2

As always, Disneyland was magical. But we were exhausted after being on our feet and standing in lines. At the end of the day, Tiffany told me that she wanted to sit down, relax, and take a shower. Luckily, we had a room where she could do all three things at the same time.

Things To Do in Shanghai

4.  Pick out a fish, frog, turtle, etc. to have killed for your dinner!   
Restaurants all over Shanghai have your food fresh (i.e., still alive) and ready to be picked out and eaten!  The other night we visited a delicious fish hot pot restaurant that allowed you to pick out your own fish to be made into fish balls and cooked in your hot pot.  The fish’s head was served on the side with noodles. Quite delish and about as fresh as you can get.  Poor Guy…

Maybe It's Just Me

For those of you who don't already know, smoking is rampant in Asia. Coming from the smoke-free-in-public-places state of California, I have been reminded of how uncomfortable one can get in a restaurant where people can smoke freely. Without dismissing the global health problem of smoking, it seems like people here smoke unbelievable amounts of tobacco. But as we were walking home from dinner in Shenzhen, we saw something that explains a lot:

Have any of you ever played the classic arcade game where you try and scoop up your favorite stuffed animal with a mechanical claw? Well, how much fun would it be to have the same game with different brands of cigarettes as the prize, right kids?! Maybe it's just me but, what's next, Monkey Bars made out of Cuban cigars? Perhaps blowing smoke rings for show and tell?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Week 7

I wanted to start this week's post by thanking all of you who read our blog each week. We have been getting a lot of people viewing our blog from around the world in countries like Vietnam, India, China, UK, Canada, Iran, France, Nepal, Romania, and Mauritius (among others), so we greatly appreciate people in those parts of the world who are interested in hearing about our journey. Please feel free to leave any (PG-13) comments!

We spent last week in Ningbo, a much smaller city than Shanghai. And even though I say "smaller", it still has a population of over 2 million. Some of you might recognize the Ningbo name, as the city is making news headlines as part of the WikiLeaks scandal -- the port is apparently mentioned in the report as a "critical" U.S. site. However, as Tiffany eluded to last week in her portion of the blog, Ningbo doesn't seem to have the large, diverse Expat population that Shanghai offers. But the people are just as friendly, and welcome, if not embrace, foreigners into their restaurants and markets. A lot of the locals are eager to practice their English skills and give directions when needed, which was very helpful for us. We found that even though many restaurants didn't have English menus, they put up pictures for people to look and point. We took advantage of that option often, haha.

While the city was good to us, the apartment that we got put up in was, hmmm, not as quaint. In addition to the roommate that we were scheduled to live with, we soon found out that we had many, many other roommates -- cockroaches and what appeared to be extremely large ants that could have eaten whole pieces of fruit. The shower stall, as we painfully learned the next day, allowed us to take five-minute prison showers (including time to let the water warm up). Why? Oh, because the drain doesn't work until you stop running the water. The couch we were provided was more like a park bench, and the bed frames we slept on felt like we were sleeping on a wooden pallet, probably because they were literally wooden pallets! And don't get me started on the layout of the kitchen-restroom (please read my Maybe It's Just Me segment for that doozy).

Despite all of the issues with the living arrangement, we were able to see some great things in Ningbo before we decided to move back to Shanghai for the comfort of our own apartment. Even though Ningbo isn't as Expat-diverse as Shanghai, it is one of China's oldest cities and has fantastic cultural sites. The first one on our list was the Tianyi Ge Library, which is the oldest library in all of China and possibly all of Asia. The founder, Fan Qin, began construction during the Ming Dynasty and it was cared for by his descendants for centuries. The library collection includes original lists of the successful candidates of the Imperial Examination, stone printing presses, and hand-written copies of Confucian classics. For a history nerd like myself, the place is absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend the Tianyi Ge Library as a place to visit if you are anywhere near Ningbo. Please check out the two videos below for a look at the grounds.
Part 1

Part 2

After we spent a few hours checking out the library, we decided to head down to the 1400 year-old Moon Lake. The area that surrounds Moon Lake is an awesome place to be in Ningbo on a beautiful afternoon, as we were lucky enough to have been. There are many different paths to walk on and places to sit and chill. We were there on a day that included lots of music and dancing, so we had fun watching that stuff. Please read Tiffany's Things To Do in Ningbo for more on the dancing (which I didn't participate in, haha). We also took a little trip around the lake on paddle boats!!
Even though we're back in Shanghai, Tiffany is still working on the Universal City project at work and she is really enjoying it --> The Ningbo Project is turning out to be a lot of fun to work on. The programs include the largest indoor theme park in Asia, an outdoor theme park, a shopping village, a department store, a hotel, a large restaurant, a theater, an arcade, and a grocery store! It's such a large and exciting project to be a part of.  I'm currently in charge of designing the landscape, which is super fun because the programs are largely about entertainment and shopping. So we get to do some really neat stuff like crazy paving patterns with lights, grass, water, and pretty much anything we can think of, incorporated into the paving! We're also getting to design a skyscreen (Like the one on Fremont Street in Vegas). I've enjoyed getting to design so much of the project and I'm excited to see how it turns out in a few years! Hopefully we'll be able to visit after it opens!

On Thursday, we leave for the first of our mandatory out-of-the-country trips as part of our visa requirements. Partly because convenience, and partly because Tiffany has a personal goal of getting to every Disneyland in the world (don't ask me), we are going to Hong Kong. We have a one-night stop in the Guangdong Province City of Shenzhen, which neither of us have ever been to, and then we take a short train ride to the former British colony. It should be a lot of fun, and we'll definitely be writing about it next week!

Things To Do in Ningbo

1. Go Dancing near Moon Lake
Moon Lake is a large, crescent-shaped lake in Ningbo with a park surrounding it that has lots of recreational activities. You can paddle boat on the lake (as we did), have a picnic on one of the many grassy knolls, or do your laundry in the lake (as we witnessed others doing). One really cool activity is line dancing -- not the country western type. In the evening, as it was just starting to get dark, dancers started appearing and dancing to a variety of Chinese music blasting out of speakers.  Most of the dancers, being women, know all the dances and of course socialize in between every dance.  They'll be happy to help you out by showing you all the steps and encouraging your dancing skills. However, beware of warring dance groups, as there may be more than one group dancing in the same area.

Maybe It's Just Me

When we arrived at our apartment in Ningbo, we took one look around and knew instantly that it was going to be an awkward living arrangment, especially because we were expecting another roommate. The main thing that tipped us off was the design of the kitchen-restroom. Take a look at the next photo.

The "kitchen" is on the right, and the "restroom" is on the left. If you were standing in either room, you might not be able to tell the difference, because there is a transparent GLASS WINDOW that separates the two areas!! I can't imagine what the architect of this place was thinking when they thought up this doozy. Maybe it's just me, but I figure it's fairly universal to expect a little privacy in the restroom. I mean seriously, what's the point of this glass wall, so you can keep an eye on your eggs while taking care of your, other, business?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Week 6

Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving, it was nice talking with some of you over Skype. By the way, anyone who does not have Skype should really think about getting a webcam and downloading it. It's such a great way to keep in touch and is much cooler way to talk than a normal phone call.

Our Thanksgiving ended up being one to remember. Despite my worries that our dinner would consist of noodles and dumplings, we found a great South Texas restaurant on Shaanxi Lu, named Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse (they also have a location in San Dimas, CA), that served a full Thanksgiving dinner complete with real sliced turkey and all the trimmings. They served it up in large portions, too. We were also very lucky to have spent the holiday with some good friends, Mike and Belle. It was a really nice evening that did NOT end with any of us riding the mechanical bull in the middle of the floor, haha. Having great food with awesome company really made missing Thanksgiving (and American Football games) at home a lot easier.

Before we left Shanghai last week, I met up with my friend Mike for lunch near his office. One of the things that we got to talking about was the lack of pronounced historical sites for tourists to see, but that some really interesting Chinese history actually lies hidden in plain sight. For example, you might not see it on a tourist map, but the building he currently works in was once used to fortify Chinese troops during the Sino-Japanese Wars of the early 20th century. Yet today it stands transformed into a very modern-looking, artistic building. Mike was very gracious to let me take a video of him describing the history and renovation of his building. Here is the first of a two-part interview:

 Part 1

Part 2

We arrived in Ningbo safely after an extremely uncomfortable bus ride. We originally thought we'd be taking the high-speed train from Shanghai to Ningbo. That didn't end up happening, because the people we went down with from Tiffany's firm decided that it would be better to take a 2.5-hour bus ride. Needless to say, this mode of transportation was not ideal - cramped, stuffy, smoggy, and remarkably uncomfortable. We couldn't help but laugh and take a video for all of you sitting in your comfortable chairs at home!
After we arrived at the Ningbo bus depot we were led to the now infamous Ningbo taxi line, where patience turns into fervent irritation. Not exactly sure why, but we stood in this line for over an hour waiting for a taxi to take us a mile and a half down the road, where we were meeting the rest of Tiffany's work crew before dinner. Part of the reason that we waited so long is because people kept grabbing taxis that were meant to come to the front of the line!! They knew they were cutting in line, which was the beginning of our frustration. The other thing is that the taxi line is covered and enclosed in some parts, and is also along a main road, so smog gets trapped inside the enclosures. It is an absolutely terrible place to stand for over an hour. For those of you thinking about traveling to Ningbo, I have two lessons: 1) Don't take a bus; and 2) if you didn't heed the advice in lesson 1 and need a taxi, do not stand in the taxi line outside the Ningbo bus depot. Instead, take your luggage, walk a few blocks outside the train station, and hail a cab. I'm telling you, it is definitely worth the two or three block walk. 

We eventually ended up meeting with Tiffany's co-workers for dinner, which was very nice after the bus ride. It was a fantastic Chinese dinner with many different dishes and tasty Chinese wine. I took a picture of what was left after we all feasted. 
Tiffany's first day at the new office was yesterday and, so far, she likes the surroundings. But there are some things that make her feel like an outsider:

Working in Ningbo has been such a huge change for me.  Our new office is located on the 20th floor of a highrise building in a new office park designed by Mada. As far as I know, I am the only foreigner in the whole office building (and it feels like one of the two only foreigners in all of Ningbo!!) The building serves a traditional Chinese lunch, as there are no restaurants located in the area yet.  The first day, at lunch, I was told by my coworkers that I would get stared at a lot in Ningbo since it is not as international as Shanghai and there are less foreigners.  Since we live in an expat area in Shanghai, and are used to seeing people from all over the world, its going to be strange to be one of only a few foreigners in the city.

Our apartment situation is still getting worked out, not sure what is going to happen but I'll update everyone in next week's post. We don't have internet yet so unfortunately I'm not sure if I can check email or post pictures of the day regularly. As it is, I'm in a place with wireless internet to post this week's entry of the blog...Ningbo is definitely not as internet-friendly as Shanghai! Take it easy everyone!

Things To Do in Shanghai

3. Visit the Bund
The Bund in Shanghai runs next to the Huangpu River, facing the picturesque Shanghai Skyline on the opposite side of the river. This area consists of dozens of historical buildings that look like they came strait out of Europe! The buildings on the Bund side of the river are historical and much shorter than the skyscrapers on the other side of the river. This area is a huge tourist attraction.  However, good luck picking a day to go see the Bund, as most days the smog is so bad that the other side of the river is barely visible.

Maybe It's Just Me

I am happy to report that we finally have a kitchen knife for our apartment in Shanghai. The reason it took so long for us to get one is because many stores were not selling them until mid-November. The reason, you might ask? We were told that the government was not allowing widespread sales of knives during the World Expo for public safety. So until mid-November, one of the only places we knew to get a knife from was IKEA, and they kept them in a back room that you could only get to by showing your passport. As some of you may have heard, there was fire a couple weeks ago that killed 50+ people and was caused by unlicensed electrical workers!! Now, maybe it's just me, but is there a serious misalignment of priorities when it comes to achieving public safety goals?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Week 5

How's it going everyone? It is the start of week 5, November 22, 2010, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner for you folks back in the U.S. We are VERY jealous of all of you who will be eating large amounts of turkey and sleeping afterward during (sigh) a football game. Our Thanksgiving dinner will likely consist of noodles and Chinese dumpings; If we decide to splurge, we may order some fried rice and pretend it tastes like stuffing, we'll see.

Continuing from where I left off on last week's post, I am happy to report that I picked up my suit and shirt from the Fabric Market this weekend and everything fits great! The stitching seems well done, I really like the way the jacket was cut, and the material feels nice to the touch. I have no complaints, especially since I only paid $94 for everything! After that, we couldn't help ourselves so we started looking around a bit more. We found a couple of other shops/booths that do very nice tailored coats, so we ended up buying a coat for each of us. Like the suit, we got to pick the design, fabric, and lining for each coat. We paid about $150 total for both, and they are going to be handy as the weather starts to get a lot colder. We pick them both up on Friday before we move (foreshadowing, keep reading). As we were leaving, despite my begging her to keep walking before we spent whatever is left in our bank accounts, Tiffany saw a couple of other items that she wanted to bargain for. I thought some people might be interested to see a negotiation take place, for whatever reason, so I shot a quick video to give everyone an idea of what it's like to Make a Deal at the Shanghai Fabric Market!

Tiffany ended up getting the silk robe (as seen in the video) and an orange Cashmere scarf for about $30 total (which I thought was a little too much but, whateves, she likes them). However, for all of you taking notes at home, the lesson here is: Americans always get their way, even if it means overpaying by two or three times what it's worth. We insist.

Earlier this week we also got a chance to go to The People's Square, which is a large park/area in the thick of Shanghai's business district. It is a tranquil place in the middle of the city that has lots of places for people to picnic, play board games, exercise, sit on benches, and otherwise relax. People's Square also has many paths for walking among the trees and landscape, which is what we did while we were there. It is a big tourist draw so we had to check it out.

As we were walking through there was this music coming through the trees but we couldn't figure out where it was coming from. So like a couple of gumshoes hot on the case, we decided to hunt down the source and capture it on camera.

Tiffany is starting to adapt to the many quirks that a Chinese firm presents, one of which is pretty interesting so I thought she should share it with you: 

One of the interesting things about practicing architecture in China, or pretty much anywhere else except for the United States, is relearning how to use the metric system.  Getting used to designing in a completely different system of measurement has actually been a much easier transition than I expected.  At first, I would look at drawings that had a dimension of 10,000 on them and think to myself (while self-consciously looking around to see if anyone realized that I have no idea what that number meant, haha) “10,000 WHAT? 10,000 millimeters, centimeters, meters!”  However, I’m finally starting to remember that doors are 2.1 meters tall versus 7 feet and that people talk in millimeters (still not sure why though)!!  The metric system is so much easier in practice than the imperial system, and I’m beginning to question why the United States does not switch!  Being able to divide and/or multiply by 10s is just so much easier than trying to figure out how many inches are in a number of feet, yards, or even miles.  

Because Tiffany loathes writing for our blog (and in general, haha), I will share some really good news regarding her and MADA s.p.a.m. Tiffany has been asked by her supervisors to join a team of 10 designers that will be moving to Ningbo, China, for the next month or two (maybe longer, maybe shorter) to work on the firm's biggest project - Universal City Amusement Park!! Ningbo is about a 2.5-hour drive south of Shanghai. She will be designing some large areas of the park and will gain valuable experience in yet another city in China!! Her supervisors were nice enough to put her up in an apartment that I can also stay in, so I will be tagging along. We leave this Sunday, November 28, and don't really know when we will be back in Shanghai. Probably sometime after the first of the year, although she may be making trips back and forth for meetings or whatever. Very exciting stuff, and it looks like her slave labor is starting to yield some very positive results for her career.

So our next post will be from Ningbo, as long as we have internet (keep your fingers crossed)!! In the meantime, here is another idea for Things To Do in Shanghai, as well as a quick story from yours truly. We want to wish everyone back in the U.S. a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, we wish we were there to celebrate with all of you. Please send us some pictures or post them as comments, we would love to see our friends during the holidays (even if virtually)! Happy Thanksgiving!!

Things To Do in Shanghai

2.  Take a journey to one of Shanghai’s Fake Markets. 
Located at 580 Nanjing, this three story fake mall has pretty much anything one could desire. Technology, clothing, and souvenirs can all be found under one fake roof.  The quality of items varies and be careful not to fall for the outrageous prices. I figure some of you out there are newbies to the China Bargaining Business so I thought I would throw in some translations to help:

Friend Price: The price I give to anyone who walks by my shop or even walks into the building or visited Shanghai at some point in the last six months.
Last price: Trust me, I will go lower.
Happy Price: I am VERY happy to sell you my product at this price.
Last, Last Price: Ok, You’re playing hardball so I’ll go down a little more for you (Helpful tip: At this point, bring out a wad of cash and hand them what you’re offering and they will take your offer, guaranteed).

Maybe It's Just Me

When we first moved into the apartment, we noticed that there were only three burners on the stove, two of which are gas burners (the other is electric). The landlord mentioned that one of the gas burners doesn't work, and that she would have someone come out to take a look. A few days later, the handy men showed up. When they tried to turn the broken burner on, gas started seeping out but the flame didn't ignite. Since it wasn't lighting, they thought it would be a good idea to turn the gas UP. All of the sudden (and I wish I could show a video, but I was standing very far away and didn't have the courage to shoot a movie), the flame burst and the two men jumped back before their hair lit on fire and started yelling at each other in Chinese. They determined that the burner was broken. They did us a favor, however, and put a nice strong piece of duct tape on the knob and told us not to use it. Thanks guys! Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the appropriate thing to do after an EXPLOSION in our kitchen would be to FIX IT!!! If not for our hapless American lives, then how about for the people who live around us?!?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Week 4

Wow, I can't believe we've already been here for a month!! It's almost Thanksgiving and it doesn't even feel like it, except for all of the leaves falling off the trees and increasingly cold weather. I have to say, living in Southern California for the last 10 years has made me forget how much I love the foliage that autumn brings.

Our stay in Shanghai is now four weeks old and all is well. Last weekend (Nov. 6), we went to Qibao Town, which was built over a thousand years ago during the Five Dynasty Period. Qibao is what you might picture when you think of China: old buildings with peaked roofs, cobble-stone streets, water canals, etc. The area is a great site to see; take a look at some of the photos below.

Despite the charm of this place, it isn't a good indicator of what most of Shanghai looks like. Since Tiffany is The Architect, I thought she would be a better person to give an opinion on the city's infrastructure and layout.

Shanghai is a bustling place.  It feels like so many different cities all wrapped up into one. It seems like Paris with lots of small shops, cafes, and bakeries; walkable and enjoyable streets; fashion everywhere you look; and small, well-kept urban parks. The subway system, tall apartment buildings instead of individual homes, and the workaholic nature seems similar to New York City. And the urban sprawl with 24-hour traffic reminds me of Los Angeles. Everything seems new: tourist activities are kind of limited to shopping, and we haven't found a lot of historic sites to see so far. It almost feels like the city appeared out of nowhere. But the buildings here seem to be free to express the attitudes of today without feeling restrained by the culture of yesterday. I'm finding that the bipolar-ness of the city is starting to show itself to me and I'm excited to see what other personalities it has in store.

I told her the second to last sentence is a gem, and that she should really do something with that thought. Fast-forward to this past weekend (Nov. 13), when we had a full weekend planned of sight-seeing. We decided to check out what some people have referred to as the "Fake Mall". As the name might suggest to you, everything in it is a knock-off. Computer software, shoes, backpacks, artwork, grandma's casserole, it's all "fake". But, to beat back the raised eyebrows of all you fashion snobs, this stuff is practically identical to the "real" thing. The brands are all the same (i.e., Nike is Nike, North Face is North Face, etc.), and the material is perfect to the feel. In fact, as one shopkeeper put it, "these shoes are made on the same machine as the ones sold in the U.S." We spent almost the whole day shopping, and I spent no more than $150 for three pairs of "brand name" jeans, two pairs of "brand name" shoes, a leather belt, and Rosetta Stone software. A part of me feels bad for participating in the piracy of software and peddling of brand names, but I should be able to cover it up with my brand new jeans and sports coat. Don't judge people, it's not healthy for you.

I wasn't inclined to put the next video on the blog because it isn't really all that eventful - it has to do with us buying more minutes for our cell phones. However, after I got done shooting the piece, Tiffany pointed something out to me and I was very happy to have inadvertently got it on camera. So, just to set it up, we bought temporary cell phones until we can get our iPhones to work in China. We had to buy the cell phones along with a SIM card, separately, which has a pre-paid monetary value for use of minutes and texts. We chose a phone number to be assigned to the SIM card, and we can keep the same number as long as we keep adding money to it. Money is added to the SIM by purchasing phone cards -- buy a phone card at any newspaper stand, call the phone number on the back, and enter the PIN number that is obtained when you scratch off the gray, latex ink stuff on the back of the card. This is what we went to do on Saturday. It's actually a great system because you can eliminate overage charges and don't have to be locked into a contract. There are, however, some troubling loopholes with this system that need to be closed:

As you can see from the video, the customer service here was great. In the event that we lose the PIN number for our cell phone minutes, we know the boy will be able to recite it for us. Oh, by the way, if one of our calls to you gets cut short because we ran out of minutes sooner than we planned, no worries, we'll just go back to his dad's stand and buy more.

After we got our cell phones squared away, we had plans to go to the large South Bund Fabric Market. Many people know that you can get stuff made cheap in China, and one of the big tourist attractions is going to get clothes tailor-made at this large, mall-like warehouse. When I was in Southeast Asia a couple of years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was go and get a suit made. At the time, my buddy and I thought we were going to get suits tailored for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately things were a lot more expensive than we thought. So when some friends of ours told us about this place, I was very curious about the prices and what it was going to be like.

This place was awesome; you could get just about anything made for yourself: suits, leather jackets, dresses, scarfs, blouses, sweaters, jeans and, yes, even earmuffs. Not only that, but you can choose from so many different materials and styles. I made some of the most ridiculous specifications after I was fitted. The salesman steered me to the choice material (Cashmere wool), and started at 1350RMB for a two-piece suit that did not include a fitted shirt. I ended up getting a silk-lined two-piece (with tailored shirt) for 630RMB (approx. $94). I am super excited about it and can't wait to pick it up next Sunday!!!

Tiffany wanted to join the ranks of The Great Ones and do a segment of her own on our blog. She wants to start a running list of "Things To Do" for people interested in coming to Shanghai. Each week will be a new activity that we have either done or would like to do in the future. That will be followed by my clearly-outdone blog segment "Maybe It's Just Me".

Things To Do in Shanghai 

1. Enjoy the French Concession (in your Pajamas)
The Former French Concession, the area we currently live in, is a quaint part of town with tree lined streets, small cafes, shops and lots of fashion everywhere you look. (Well, except that it seems to be very popular to go all over town, run errands, go out for a drink, etc in your PAJAMAS and SLIPPERS - Picture to come soon on "Picture of the Day," Watch for it!).  FFC is a very beautiful area with lots of expats and reminds me of Europe with its many international restaurants and new fashion designers opening up shop on every street.  With a croissant in one hand and a pair of slippers on your feet, enjoy a stroll down Huaihai or Fuxing Lu. 

Maybe It's Just Me

On our first day in Shanghai we got a glimpse of something that is starting to become rather noticeable. As we were driving from the airport to our hotel, there was a car stopped well ahead of us with its hazard lights turned on. The driver was standing out in front of the car and appeared to be waiting for a tow truck. But, as we got closer, we saw that driver had actually stopped to urinate. It seemed to me like a dangerous place to pull over for relief, especially since it was on the shoulder of a major freeway.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Week 3

Just want to start by thanking everyone for checking out our blog last week and all of your comments! So far, we have a total of 8 followers, hopefully more to come! I also wanted to thank all of you USC haters (you know who you are) for giving me the outcome of Saturday night's game against the Ducks. I'll remember your snide remarks when the Trojans get back on top..........

In response to some of your comments: James, I'll pass on the case law; I'm bored, but not THAT bored, thanks. To my old friend Bob, thanks for the compliment; I'll work on the book thing, although I don't know how many people would be interested in hearing my ramblings. Uncle Brian, I can't get into the engine of the scooter, but if I find a way in I will definitely take the gov off and let her rip. Sid, Tiffany and I are thinking about a trip to India for one of our mandatory "tourist" vacations, any chance you are going back next year sometime to visit the fam? Nadia, needless to say, Tiff and I miss you and JB too, hope you guys had a good Halloween without us, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

It's our third week in Shanghai and life is starting to feel somewhat normal. Getting daily necessities doesn't seem to be as difficult as it was a few weeks ago, watching (English) TV on our laptop is a big plus, and we have started using at least one of our two burners to cook some meals at home. The scooter has been really helpful for us getting around and, seriously, it is a lot of fun to drive (even if we have to push it up hills because it can't make it up them on its own)!

This past Sunday we went shopping for some winter clothes and we took the scooter. It got us around to a bunch of places in the city that we probably wouldn't have found if on foot, but it is much harder navigating through a sea of people than one might think. After riding for about 10 minutes, which only got us about 100 feet from where we started, we decided to start taking a video to document the challenge.

 After looking for a way across, we finally decided that we didn't need to get across the road that bad and instead went to get something to eat. But, Tiffany did get some good winter clothes, and I got some great tea! I drink tea from time to time, but I like coffee better. However, the tea I got the other day is, without doubt, the best tea I have ever had, so I bought 50 grams. It actually isn't that much, but the lady wouldn't give me a better deal if I bought more, so I decided to buy the small amount and play hardball by walking out. I expected her to come running frantically after me to try and sell me the larger quantity. But she didn't, and now I wish I would have bought more tea. She drove a hard bargain, and I probably shouldn't have told her it was the best tea I ever had. Anyways, we are trying to come up with a name for our scooter and want to see if anyone would like to offer up a suggestion...

After we couldn't get across the street, we decided to get something to eat. So we drove around and found a neighborhood that had some great little restaurants. We settled on getting hot pot for dinner. These restaurants are all over the place, and getting a hot pot dinner is a lot of fun because it's more involved than a normal dining experience. They have these places in the US, too. But the way it works is you get a pot of boiling water that has coals inside a metal cylinder in the middle of the pot that keeps the water boiling. You order a whole bunch of side dishes (i.e., meats, vegetables, noodles, sauces, etc.) that come out raw. Then you start putting stuff in the boiling water to cook/flavor it and take it out to eat. So good. The street we went down had a ton of hot pot places, so I shot a quick video to show everyone the choices we had.

Now, I know what some of you are probably thinking: 'that doesn't look sanitary'; 'how can that be safe?'; etc. But, having worked in the restaurant business for 10+ years, I can tell you that I have seen much, much worse. Moreover, have any of you ever eaten at a County Fair, or possibly a food truck, lately? Think about it people...

Tiffany is doing well, and I know a lot of you want to know how things are going with her. So, without further ado, here she is:  I'm really loving Shanghai. Its such a fast-paced, exciting city.  Los Angeles feels very slow in comparison after being here for just a few weeks.  I'm loving my new job, even with the crazy hours.  I've gotten to work on and design some very fun projects. The hospital project is now over and I am very excited to see how it turns out.  Hopefully soon I will be able to send out pictures of it.  I've been learning to eat a lot of new foods while I've been here in Shanghai.  My office serves breakfast and a afternoon snack everyday.  So I've gotten to try a lot of new foods just being at work.  Michael and I have also been going out to lots of different restaurants to try new foods.  So far we've had Indian, Italian, American, Shanghainese, Hot Pot,Vietnamese and others. However, I still can't eat turtle or frog.  I just can't bring myself to pick a frog or turtle out of a cage to have killed so I can eat it.  I would rather take it home and keep it as a pet.  So, I'm excited to see what the future has in store for us.  I can't wait.

I wanted to follow up and show everyone the design that she worked on over the last few weeks and is finished. She isn't mentioning it, but her supervisor and other people in the firm have been giving her lots of compliments on her renderings. For those of you who don't know what a rendering looks like, I was able to sit down for an exclusive interview with The Architect to tell/show everyone about it:

I am still looking for a good activity to keep me busy, but in the meantime I have spent time venturing out in the city (but still not "sightseeing") and writing about my experiences. I thought I would share a couple of observations. First off, I should let you know that one of my favorite things to do is people watch (though not in a creepy way), and one of my goals while over here is to compare life here and in the U.S. One thing I have seen a lot of is people, particularly couples, taking long, slow walks along the streets that don't seem to be intended for exercise. I'm not saying people/couples don't take walks in the States, but I didn't see it very often while living in Los Angeles. It's really interesting, and if I spoke Chinese well enough, I might go up to a couple and ask them where they're going next time. The other thing I have been intrigued by is this little old lady that lives in a building about block away. Because we have a nice view from our apartment with windows that open up, I often lean on the railing and look out. Almost everyday, I see the same lady sitting with her chin on folded arms looking out at a plant that she puts on the air-conditioner just outside of her window. She puts it out in the morning, stares at it for hours (sometimes hanging her laundry right beside it), and then takes it in at night. It happens almost everyday, and I am very curious to know what she finds so interesting about that plant.

That's what we have been up to for the last week. Hope everyone had a good Halloween and enjoyed a happy election day! I have a friend who told me just before we left that, as a small business owner, he wanted the election to produce congressional gridlock so that nothing gets done and his business wouldn't have to deal with the uncertainty of new laws, regulations, etc. So, Eric VZ, I'm glad you got your wish.

Please follow our blog and keep the comments coming, we love hearing from everyone! As I mentioned last week, I will do a short segment at the end of the blog called 'Maybe It's Just Me' to tell a quick story that could only happen in China.

Maybe It's Just Me

A couple of Friday's ago, Tiffany and I were walking home from a responsible night at an Irish pub down the street. As we were walking home, we noticed there was a sobriety checkpoint at the intersection closest to our apartment. Being the Lookie Loos that we are, we stopped to see if anyone would get pulled over. Sure enough, five minutes later two guys in a jeep got pulled over after blowing into a breathalyzer. When the driver got out of the car, we could visibly see how drunk he was and hear him slurring his words (despite the fact that I couldn't understand him in the first place). The interesting part about this story isn't that the cop refused a wad of cash the guy pulled out of his pocket in front of a very busy intersection and crowd of people watching. Rather, the interesting part happened when the cop pulled the guy over to the side, wrote him a ticket, and let him stumble through traffic back to his car and drive away. Maybe it's just me, but I thought the point of a sobriety checkpoint is to make the road safer by getting drunk drivers OFF the road?!?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Week 2

It's the beginning of week 2, on Monday, and I have already missed two full weeks of the NFL season, with the exception of the (shortened) week 6 Redskins vs. Colts game that was completely commentated on in Chinese. Not ideal, but I'll take it where I can get it.

I wanted to pick up on some of the things people were asking about since my last post (see "Week 1"). We got a great place near the former French Concession area, which is apparently a "happening" part of town frequented by Expats. We live on the 12th floor and the view is awesome!! To give you guys an idea of what it looks like from inside, I took a video of the real estate agent showing us the apartment. Turn up your volume, put it on full screen (Click the button in the lower, right-hand corner of the video, Mom) and enjoy!

We liked the place as soon as we found it. The World Expo is still going on (until the end of October), so we were lucky to find it that quickly because housing and hotels are all full. We only had our original hotel booked for two nights, which meant we would have been homeless (or paying really high rates for a hotel) if we couldn't find a place right away. We're got it for approx. $750/month, which is probably more than what a one-bedroom will go for after the Expo. We only signed up for a three-month lease and can always move after that if we find something better. I will say, though, that doing dishes is definitely a minus:

Everyone wants to know how Tiffany's first day at work went. Here is her rendition of that infamous day: "I was very nervous for my first day at work. I had lots of questions of what it was going to be like.  Was I going to know anyone? Was anyone going to speak English? What work was I going to be working on? Am I going to know how to do what I am assigned to work on? etc. Pretty normal first day worries except with the added pressure of being in China! Once I got to work, I started to realize it was pretty similar to any other office or workplace. (Other than we get to wear jeans every day!) The first day went like any first day at a new job pretty much. I toured the office and met everyone. Was told all the policies and rules of the office, etc. and then I met my new mentor (supervisor) and started working on the design for some "luxury" hospital bathrooms. I even had to work late on my first day, which was definitely a sign of things to come." Since she has put me in charge of doing the blog, I thought I would share the video I took of her on the morning of her first day.

Despite the veracity of that video, she is really starting to like her position at MADA s.p.a.m. She was a bit overwhelmed at first but the firm is letting her do actual design work -- which is apparently not a responsibility that architecture firms normally give to their interns. The hospital wing she is currently designing is designated specifically to acupuncture patients. One of the things she wanted to do while working for MADA was learn how the Chinese culture affects their architecture, so this project has been a really good start for her. The design she came up with looks terrific and, best of all, it will likely get built. Very exciting! She is also starting to use more Chinese phrases at work, like when she told her boss: xie xie (thank you), to which her boss replied in English: "Tiffany, I'm Japanese."

We have also started learning our way around the city, using the subway system and walking. Just recently, we also bought a little scooter! As you can see from the next photo, it commands complete and total respect on the road.

If I lay on the throttle for a minute and a half, which is when it finally gets up to full speed, I can get it going 18 miles per hour. It almost feels like jogging when it gets going that fast, just imagine feeling the wind in your hair. We bought it from a store here called Carrefour, which is sort of like Walmart, and it only cost us about $325!! Totally great deal, and so much fun to drive around!! Being on the road, however, is complete chaos when many people do not pay attention to signs or traffic lights. I've taken Tiffany to and from work twice now, and so far I've learned that 1) it is normal to drive on the sidewalk, and 2) traffic lights are for the weak. Even with the beast of a machine that we have, we're still trying to muster up the strength to drive like locals.

My activities over the last week have been limited to taking care of things at the apartment and online, and taking some time off. Not having a job is not all it's cracked up to be, for those of you who wish you didn't have to go to work tomorrow. Being at home for most of the day, everyday, is starting to make me restless. TV is no good, since it's all in Chinese, and I don't really want to go sightseeing without Tiff. I saw a Yoga studio across the street from our apartment, I'm thinking about checking into a class but I'm not sure if I can be that flexible. I also tried looking for gyms around the area, but there aren't many to choose from online, and hardly any of their websites are in English. There is a group of women that sit in our lobby knitting and talking shop, I might join them if I don't find something else to do with myself. Any suggestions, people?

Finally, I wanted to introduce a segment that I am going to start including in every post of our blog (whenever I'm writing it), because certain aspects of daily life here in China are beginning to make me wonder about myself. I am calling this segment "Maybe It's Just Me", and it is intended to give everyone a brief look at parts of our day that make us feel, well, like we're in China.

Maybe It's Just Me

We've been out to eat several times since arriving almost two weeks ago. One time, we sat down at a nice, cozy little dump. The restaurant wasn't that big, maybe ten tables total. Shortly after we sat down a waiter brought us one menu and stood there. I tried to give him the gesture for "Give us one minute", but he continued to stand over us with his pen to an order pad. After a moment of trying to tell him we needed a minute (picture me mouthing in English, "one minute", with one finger in the air) he walked away and came back immediately with another person who was apparently a better English speaker. I tried to tell the second person we just needed a minute to order when a third person, who appeared to be the manager, walked up to find out what was going on at our table. And so with three people standing over us, not to mention most of the restaurant who had stopped eating to look over, I put my head down to the menu and thought to myself, "Maybe it's just me".