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?!?