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.


  1. Seriously?! Gross! Though I admit I did see a 7 or 8 year old boy take a "nature pee" in Riverside Park the other day. His dad was helping run interference so that he'd have an ounce of privacy, but he was still on the street side of the park. It was weird, but not gross because he was so young that you had to figure that nature called and he just couldn't hold it. But in your case, woooah! It's not just you. That's weird!

  2. Hey Mikey,

    I just came across your blog on facebook, and it looks like I have a lot of catch up reading to do! I can't believe it's been 6 months now and it looks like you have a brand new life in China!! Soooo cool! How long are you guys staying? How's life with limited English TV? Last time we talked and I mentioned that we don't even have a TV, you asked "then what do you do??" Now it looks like you are having so many adventures without TV :). Your blog is really shedding an interesting light on life outside the US, so keep it up, and I will be sure to keep reading! Say hi to Tiffany for me!

    Maria Valcu (Greasy)