Monday, February 28, 2011

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 26, 2011

In Japan, it has become customary during Valentine's Day that the woman buys the man a gift, and not the other way around as in the U.S. But the reason is because one month after Valentine's Day on March 14, there is another holiday called White Day, and the man is supposed to reciprocate. As a result, Valentine's Day can be very stressful for many young women, since they are essentially setting the tone for the gift exchange and trying to find a gift that is just right (i.e., expensive or not expensive?, If expensive, how much is too much?, and so on). Expensive chocolates are a popular choice for gifts, so here is a picture of a chocolate market in Nagoya one day before Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Week 18 in Japan

Hello everyone, hope this message finds you well in your part of the world! The last couple of weeks for us have been hectic, busy, and filled with lots of great traveling. As some of you know, we just returned to Shanghai from our mandatory visa leave, during which we spent nine days in different parts of Japan. Neither of us had been to Japan before, so it was great to share the experience together. If it were possible to sum the entire trip up in one word, it would be awesome. In fact, totally awesome. A big reason that our trip was so enjoyable is that we had a couple of friends show us around, which allowed us to do and see more than if we had been on our own. Knowing how to get around, what attractions to see, and finding good places to eat would have taken up a lot of our time, so having a personal guide really made things easier and less stressful. We want to give a big thanks to Frank and Debbie for all of their gracious hospitality, we can't wait to reciprocate the gesture when you come to Shanghai.

One of the best parts of the whole trip was being around some of the most kind, polite, and hospitable people in the world -- the Japanese. Within a few hours after landing in Nagoya, we had an experience that summed it all up. We were standing in line waiting to buy a ticket for the subway. When we got up to the kiosk to purchase our ticket, we were having a bit of trouble learning the new system, though we were trying hard to act like locals, haha. Just when we were about out of ideas on how to buy a ticket, a guy who was patiently waiting behind us (picking up on our confused and disoriented button-pushing) asked in a soft voice if he could possibly help. Luckily, we found the correct route just as he was asking, but the gesture was a stark contrast from what we have become used to in the past four months -- since that guy would have cut in front of us and been on the train already if we were in China.

There were other pleasing differences, too. For example, smoking is highly restricted in Japan, and even outside on the streets there are designated smoking areas (i.e., in many places you cannot walk down a public street smoking a cigarette). People are also very orderly and, for the most part, heed traffic, pedestrian, and subway rules. We were in Tokyo's most famous intersection in Shibuya, which is similar to Manhattan's Times Square, and it was really interesting to see people flood the intersection when the light turned green. Yet, when the light turned red, no one crossed. Another major difference we noticed was that Japanese people, much like Americans, respect one's personal space, and don't insist on shoving and cramming themselves against each other. Not only did this come in handy when we were standing in lines for the subway, but when we got on it seemed like people would rather wait for the next train than force themselves into a full car.

Lastly, and I hope this doesn't sound too wonky, but I was really impressed with how efficient things are in Japan. I've always heard that the Japanese are legendary for their efficiency (i.e., automobiles, living spaces, work productivity, etc.), but watching people throw away their trash was a real eye-opener for someone who's been in China for the last few months. There are many different types of trash containers put out in public places, and some of the categories include: plastic -- which can be further classified into cups, bottles, and "pet" (which are odd plastic shapes), glass, burnable, non-burnable trash, and "other". It wasn't the different types of disposable containers that impressed me, but rather it was seeing people take the time to separate their trash into these bins while rushing to catch the subway. Someone running out of Starbucks would dump their remaining iced coffee in one bin, put their cup in a second bin, plastic fork in a third bin, and then napkins in the burnable bin!

Our first stop was in Nagoya, a city in central Japan. Shortly after unloading our bags we were treated to a Yakiniku dinner, which is the Japanese term for "grilled meat". Some of you may have heard good things about Japanese beef and, let me just confirm, all of the rumors are true. The meat was unbelievably tasty, and being able to grill it ourselves at the table was a lot of fun. Definitely a great way to start off our trip. While in Nagoya, we had a chance to check out some of the city's featured tourist venues, such as the Toyota Automobile Museum and Nagoya Castle. Nagoya Castle was pretty sweet, because it was constructed in 1612 for the brother of a Tokugawa Shogun. Our friend Frank knows a great deal about the Tokugawa Shoguns so it was a pleasure to have him along to help explain things. The castle has a long history but, in addition to serving as a residence, it also secured an important position along the Tokaido Highway. The Toyota Automobile Museum was another cool experience, although we didn't really have much time to go through the museum. If I had a chance to go back to Nagoya, however, I would definitely want to spend more time there.

Because it's so close to Nagoya, we decided to spend a day in Kyoto. Truth be told, I wished we would have spent much more time there. As the former Imperial Capital (i.e., home to the Japanese Emperor), Kyoto's history runs deep and it is considered as the center of Japanese culture. It was cold the day we went, but that actually turned out to be a blessing because we were able to see some of the most spectacular sites under a blanket of snow. Throughout the day we were able to see a few really great attractions, most notably the Golden Pavilion, Kiyomizu-dera Temple (adopted by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage List), and Nijo Castle. Nijo Castle was the most fascinating for me, because I was walking around the palace grounds imagining the Shogun's Samurai fighting with swords and stuff. Anyways, Kyoto is definitely a place that I plan to visit at least once more in my lifetime.

Tiffany wanted to say a little more about the train we took from Kyoto to Tokyo: The Japan bullet train, otherwise known as the Shinkansen, is famous all over the world.  Many countries, including the United States, have completed or are trying to copy Japan’s train system and technology.  The Shinkansen runs to all the major cities and is still expanding to reach more areas of Japan.  The train runs up to 10 times per hour between Osaka and Tokyo, and carries around 151 million people per year.  So we were so excited to get an opportunity to ride the train quite a few times while we were in Japan.  We used the Shinkansen for transportation between Nagoya, Kyoto, and Tokyo, but the train ride between Nagoya and Tokyo was the one we were most excited about.  The two cities are around five hours apart by car. However, by train we were able to make in there in less than two hours (while sleeping almost the whole way!).  The trains are really clean inside and the seats are unbelievably comfortable, as compared to just about any other mode of transportation. Throughout our ride I was very excited to not only be riding the famous bullet train and going to Tokyo, but most of all: Going to Disneyland!  Tokyo Disneyland was the last Disney Park in the world I had not been to and the anticipation was incredible.  When we finally got there, let’s just say, it lived up to all the hype and even more. We had such an amazing time.

So now we're back in China and settling into things here. Just a quick update on our electric bill, since Tiffany talked about it a couple weeks ago. To recap, our bill for the first couple of months was around 150-250RMB ($20-$35). In January, however, we received a bill for 600RMB, and then started wondering if one of our neighbors might be borrowing some of our electricity; you know, like borrowing a cup of sugar. Well, we just got a new bill for February, and it was over 1000RMB, even though we've consumed pretty much the same amount of electricity since we got here!!! To add something new to the equation, Tiffany has a couple of potted plants that she keeps outside of our front door. When we returned from Japan, we noticed that one of our plants was missing the bottom piece from it's pot. Seeing that our closest neighbor has a few plants on their stoop, we went over to see if they had accidentally reached into our locked gate and picked up the bottom piece of our pot. Sure enough, it was under one of their plants (it's a noticeable piece, definitely ours). Hmmm, I'll keep you all posted as the electric bill saga unfolds. Until next week, take care!

Things To Do in Shanghai

Get your Hair Dyed Gray
A blonde friend of mine recently went to the hair salon to get her hair re-dyed as her roots were starting to show a bit. Being a new expat, she wasn’t sure where to go so she walked the streets until she found a salon where she saw other blondes getting their hair done. At this point, she happily made an appointment for the next day.  When she returned to get her hair done the next day she explained to the hairdresser what she wanted done.  When the hairdresser was done, he turned her around in the mirror and she had bright orange hair. The hairdresser realized his mistake and tried it again. However, the second time it came out very fakey blonde yellow. At this point, my friend told them to just make it look natural. So he died it one more time adding “brown”.  As he turned her around the third time, they both realized a big mistake had been made, her hair was GRAY!

The moral of the story is: Ladies, if you’re going to get your hair died in Shanghai, do some research first.  A good place to start is:  Here you can find tips, advice, and great places to go for all the things ladies need: hairdos, waxing, mannies and peddies, etc.

Maybe It's Just Me

I've got a piece of advice for anyone thinking of going to Tokyo, particularly if you want to eat: Save your money! If any of you has ever bought food at a theme park, concert, theater, or sporting event, you understand what's it's like to feel the sharp pain of being gouged at every food stand you visit. I've been to Dodger Stadium enough times to know (and willingly accept) that I'm being used when I pay $10 for the "foot-long" Dodger dog that comes on a soggy bun (right, Nads and Jbeck?). But seriously, after spending four days in Tokyo, I feel about as used as an '89 Honda.

The night we arrived in Tokyo we decided to have a nice dinner at a swanky little joint in the Ginza District (shout out to Gary, because it was swanky). The prices were a bit high, so we decided to order a couple of pasta dishes and salads to share. I ordered the Ravioli, which cost about $15-$20. Because we were sharing, the chef was nice enough to put the order on two plates for us. When it came out, there were three Raviolis (1 square inch in size) on each of our plates. I looked at the plate and started laughing, just before I thought about going to McDonald's after we were finished.

A couple nights later, we were tired after a long day at Disneyland, so we decided to try our luck and go out to dinner in a different part of town. We settled on a chain called Pronto, and started off by ordering a cheese plate (one of our favorite things to eat and is not easily found in China). When it came to our table, the plate had six chunks of exotic cheese, and six tiny Saltine crackers as a pairing. I thought it was a little odd that they would serve nice cheese with Saltine crackers, but I thought it was even odder that they only brought six. I asked for more crackers and the waitress, who didn't speak great English, walked away and started a discussion with three of her co-workers. She came back and showed me a text message from her iPhone which read, "crackers alone cannot be done." After Tiffany said, "No, really, it can be done", she told us it would cost us $2 for her to bring us more. After she brought us six more small crackers, I seriously considered walking to the 7-11 next door (maybe 30' away) to purchase an entire box of crackers. Instead, I took a second look at our $15 cheese plate and silently asked myself, "Is it just me, or do people here really eat like this?"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 22, 2011

Chunyun occurs every year before Chinese New Year, and it refers to the
mass exodus of people from the city who go home for the new year celebration.
Due to Chunyun, Shanghai has the largest annual migration of people on earth. It can be a very stressful time for many, since getting a train ticket can be difficult. This is a line at Shanghai Railway Station during Chunyun.

Picture of the Day - February 21, 2011

A close look at the Exquisite Jade Rock at the Yuyuan Gardens.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 20, 2011

A door frame from the Zhuge Village. They sure don't make 'em like they used to...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 19, 2011

The Yuyuan Gardens Bizarre the day after Chinese New Year.
Beautiful place to be with local people on vacation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 17, 2011

Today is the last day of the Chinese New Year.
This year will be the year of the Rabbit, hope everyone has great luck this year!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Week 17

Hello again everyone! We are in Week 17 of our trip to China, which means our next mandatory visa leave is upon us. For those of you who don't know, everyone on a tourist visa to China must leave the country every 60 days to maintain tourist status. If you don't leave, your visa may be revoked and you will owe the Chinese government a lot of yuan. Not fun. So, instead of going down that road, we are on vacation in Japan!! Haha. It seems like we just went to Hong Kong (our last visa-leave destination) a few weeks ago, and now we're back on the road again. With all that has been going on with Chinese New Year, we neglected to plan our Japan trip, except that we knew we were going to Disneyland Tokyo. We'll give you guys the low-down on what's good in Japan next week.

A couple weeks ago we had a chance to go down to Yuyuan Gardens, a classic tourist venue here in Shanghai. Since all of our tourist books have this place listed, we knew this would be a great place to check out. We headed down there the day after Chinese New Year. Apparently there is always a crowd at the Yuyuan Gardens because there is, in addition to the Gardens, a bizarre outside and it's where a lot of people go to shop. Although it's not as popular as the Gardens, the bizarre and market outside is just as much of an attraction in our opinion. There are so many little trinkets to look at that one could spend all day walking around outside. Clothing, musical instruments, antiques, furniture, and other random stuff. Getting through the crowd at the bizarre is definitely a cool Shanghai experience, so we took some video so you guys could see for yourselves.

Once we were able to get through the sea of humanity outside, we finally arrived at Yuyuan Gardens. If you haven't had a chance to come to Shanghai, but are thinking about coming, we definitely recommend checking this place out. Established sometime in the mid-1500's, the Yuyuan Gardens was built by the son of a government official of the Ming Dynasty for his parents. He wanted a place for them to be able to enjoy their old age, which is partly how it got it's name: One of the older meanings of "Yu" in Chinese is pleasing or satisfying. If you were able to see this place in your mind without all of the tourists roaming about, you might be able to imagine how peaceful it would have been 400 years ago. There are many old trees and rockery, ponds to sit by, and details on the structures and grounds that make you wonder how long they must have spent building. Each hall still has a lot of furniture from the Ming Dynasty period, and it is set up to mirror what it would have looked like back then. The Crown Jewel of Yuyuan Gardens is the Exquisite Jade Rock, which you can see in the next video.

In the next few days we will be finishing our trip with a stop in Tokyo. Look forward to seeing pictures and video in next week's post. We just want to thank all you for reading our blog and taking an interest in our trip, we hope you continue to enjoy it. We'll see you (virtually) next week.

Maybe It's Just Me

I finished up my temporary job last week at the web development company, and really enjoyed being able to see what it's like to work in China. One amusing part of my day was riding the subway with people who push and shove. I understand that people need to get where they are going, but one incident last week made me think that people here just simply like to be close to each other.

Like any normal morning, I was moseying to the headache that we call a subway with my morning cup of Starbucks (not to be confused with my afternoon cup of Starbucks). As the train pulls up, people start crowding around the door, shoving other people out of the way and getting one step closer to a train that everyone is going to get on anyways. When the doors open, I was standing in front of a couple of guys who looked up at me confused, because I let them go ahead of me. So we all get on the train and I walk over to the aisle where it's less crowded; I had my cup of joe and didn't want to spill it. I was a little curious why most people crammed themselves next to the door just inside the train, since there was plenty of room in the aisle ways where I was standing. They were bunched so close together that one guy was holding his briefcase above his head. I just thought they might be standing by the door so they could get off at the next stop, but no one did. In fact, a second group of people, waiting at the next stop, got in the train and started pushing people out of the way so that they could stand next to the door. The guy with the briefcase accidentally hit a woman on the head and she pushed him for it, which then forced the guy in the aisle where there was much more room. Of course, the guy was pretty mad, since this woman just totally disrespected him in front of everyone. So what does he do? He walks right up, presses himself against the crowd standing next to the door, and then gets off 4 stops later. As I'm sipping my coffee and enjoying my elbow room, I couldn't help but laugh and think to myself, maybe it's just me.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 11, 2011

A photo from the Zhuge Village, an amazing place off the normal tourist map.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Week 16 - Chinese New Year

The last week in Shanghai has been one of the best since we arrived. As many of you probably know, Chinese New Year began February 3, 2011, and the Spring Festival goes through the 15th night of the lunar calendar (February 17th) when the Lantern Festival is held. It has been so much fun seeing the city and interacting with the people during this time, since so much of the Chinese culture is on display.

There are roughly 25 million people living in Shanghai. Just before every Chinese New Year begins, it is estimated that between 5-10 million people leave the city to go back home to celebrate with their families. This mass exodus of people from the city is known as Chunyun, and it is the largest annual migration of people on earth. The hardships that people go through to get home can be overwhelming. It is extremely difficult for people to arrange for transportation because bus and train tickets are hard to come by, and plane tickets are out of financial reach for many people. Making matters worse, even if someone is able to get a bus or train ticket, there is a good chance it will not be a seated ticket. My assistant told me that her train ride home took 30 hours, in addition to a 3-hour bus ride from the train station. She was lucky to get a seat for most of the train ride, but had to stand all three hours on the bus. Our plane ride from Los Angeles to Shanghai was about 18 hours, and if I had to stand up for the duration of that flight, I think I would have gone crazy. The hardships people go through during Chunyun go to show how important it is to be with family for the Chinese New Year.
2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, and it should bring good fortune because the Rabbit is a symbol of luck. Because the Year of the Rabbit comes between the Year of the Tiger (2010) and the Year of the Dragon (2012), it is supposed to be a mellow year and a great time for compromise and negotiation. This is also Tiffany's year, since she was born in the Year of the Rabbit. So this should be a great year for her!

Perhaps the main reason that people light fireworks during Spring Festival is because there is a belief that they help ward off evil spirits and dispel any bad luck or misfortune prior to the new year. Before we came to China, one of the things I was looking forward to most was seeing the amazing display of fireworks throughout the Spring Festival. So far, the first and fifth nights rank as the best, they were spectacular and going off everywhere. At one point, when we were down at the Bund, you could do a 360-degree turn and see fireworks in every direction around the city. Unfortunately, we will be in Japan for the Lantern Festival on the 15th day, which might be the best day for seeing fireworks. We have already seen our fair share, however, and many of them have been so close to our apartment that debris from the blast hits the windows. It's not the most ideal situation, considering how many fires are caused by people who light firecrackers right next to large apartment complexes. Having said that, I don't believe there is a place on earth I would have rather been for the last week of my life. 

To celebrate the new year, we decided to join some friends on a two-day mini-vacation last weekend. We hopped on a bus early Saturday morning and headed for a hot spring resort. Tiffany was really excited about this part of our trip: 

This week was a very exciting time for us, spending our first Chinese New Year in Shanghai. We tried to get out and participate in as many of the festivities of the holiday as possible. One of my favorite things
that we did during our week-long break was visit a Chinese Hot Spring. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to go to a hot spring in Costa Rica and Colorado.  I absolutely love the hot spring experience and was so excited to see what it would be like in China! Apparently, Chinese New Year is a very popular time to soak in the hot springs here. It was extremely crowded and it appeared that almost all of China was there during their vacation from work.  The weather was chilly but not cold and it was a perfect, sunny day for soaking in some warm water. When we arrived, I noticed, this hot springs was very different than any other I’ve ever been to. It appeared to be more like a water park with slides, a lazy river (which wasn’t working when we went), a wave pool, and even an in-water bar.  We had a wonderful time, soaking, swimming, and just having a relaxing day at the hot springs. It was a great way to spend part of Chinese New Year!

After spending the day at the hot spring, we went back to a small town nearby -- it took us about an hour to get there by bus. There wasn't much for restaurants in this town, so we had a fantastic meal at a street vendor. Though it isn't for everyone, street food is one place that you will find some of the most authentic Chinese food.

The next morning we were very excited about our next destination: the Zhuge Village in Zhejiang Province. The buildings of this village are at least 500-600 years old, and most of the people who live here are descendants of Zhuge Liange (181-234a.d.), a Chinese hero from the Three Kingdoms Period. A couple of interesting points about this place. First, during the Sino-Japanese Wars, this village was not harmed or damaged in any way. For that reason, it's buildings and living spaces remain largely in tact. Second, you will see in the videos that there are many decorative artworks and calligraphic depictions on the walls. During the Cultural Revolution, mud and debris was deliberately put over a lot of these areas to hide them and make sure they were not destroyed along with the other Chinese Art that was erased during that period. Probably the most interesting thing about this place is the village's layout. If you were to see this place from a bird's eye, you would see that the entire village is laid out around a Yin-Yang symbol, in which one half of the Yin-Yang is water, and the other half is land. All other houses and buildings sprawl from it's circular center, making this village a model of perfect Feng-Shui. Zhuge Village is, by far, the most fascinating place we've been while in China.

We are now in the Year of the Rabbit, which is my year and therefore, I am supposed to have good luck and fortune this year!  Mike was born in the Year of the Monkey and Chinese astrology says that this year will a good one for moving forward with plans and goals.  So it sounds like we're going to have a pretty good year this year! We will be in Japan next week so we may have trouble posting our next blog entry. But if you don't hear from us next Wednesday, please keep checking back! Until then, Xin Yi Kuai Le (Happy New Year)!

Things To Do in Shanghai

Antique Shop at Dongtai Road
Into antiquing? History? Or maybe just window shopping? Dongtai Road is the perfect place for you to go.  Dongtai Road offers tourist and locals a great place to shop for Chinese memorabilia, antiques, and souvenirs.  Many of the items in this area are replicas and kitschy souvenirs, but every once in a while a true gem can be found. However come well prepared with your bargaining skills.

Maybe It's Just Me

After the great weekend we had, it was hard to imagine that it could get even better, but it did. Normally, Super Bowl Sunday includes BBQ, a few beers, and a bunch of friends. This year, I had to wake up at 6am and hustle down to the Big Bamboo (a local bar that was showing the game and serving all-you-can-eat American breakfast) because I would have gone crazy watching the game on my 14" laptop screen. Before we went, I thought there would be a good chance I'd be one of the few die-hard fans that would sacrifice my vacation-sleep for the game. But, when we arrived 30 minutes before kick-off and got the last two seats in the whole bar, I realized it wasn't just me. It was a great game, and it was awesome to watch with other expats and enjoy a slice of American culture in Shanghai.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 8, 2011

The Chinese Knot is commonly used during Chinese New Year,
since it can symbolize best wishes, happiness, and harmony.

Picture of the Day - February 7, 2011

Fireworks...They were everywhere, which was nice...for the first twelve hours.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 6, 2011

A look at the subway during Chinese New Year, one of the rare times you will actually see space to sit.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 4, 2011

2011 is the Year of the Rabbit. Rabbit designs are plentiful in Shanghai right now.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Week 15

@Kenneth from Turkey, thanks for your comments and for keeping in touch! We are definitely going to take up your suggestion of going to the Tea Houses, we've been by a couple but have never stopped and had tea. Those places do seem like a great place to relax and enjoy one of China's greatest commodities. @Allison from Georgia, as promised, below are some photos of real estate offices for your reference. The second place is close to Luwan District, and I've also included some photos of the actual listings. Though you may not be able to read Chinese, you may be able to infer what is being offered (i.e., 3200RMB/month, 3rd Floor/2nd Floor, etc.) The first set of photos are from a real estate agency that sells properties, and the second set is mainly a rental agent. Some agencies do both, but I think this should give you an idea of what to look for when you guys arrive.

Allison asked me an interesting question about a similar dilemma that we had before we came, so I thought I would share it in case anyone else is interested. Before we came, we tried doing A LOT of research up front about places to stay and renting an apartment. I tried contacting several agencies beforehand to get quotes, inquire about space and availability, etc. Unfortunately, I got one of two responses: I was either quoted a ridiculous amount and couldn't get pictures of the actual apartment for rent, or else no one got back to me at all. The question we struggled with, and Allison's question to me was, "Do we try and rent an apartment before we get there, or would it be better to get a hotel for a few days and beat the streets looking for an apartment when we arrived?" Because we wanted to see the place we'd be staying in for the next few months, and because we couldn't get good service from the rental agencies we contacted, we were forced to book a hotel (through a very nice friend who speaks Chinese, thanks Belle) and beat the streets. We were lucky to find a great apartment on the first day we got here. Rental agencies are everywhere here, and they look like the pictures above, we think it's a great idea to book a hotel for a few days and try finding an apartment after you get here. Unless you work for a company that might arrange all this for you, we think this option gives you more freedom to negotiate and confirm that all of your appliances work, you like the area, etc.

Last week was my birthday, and it was a great day. I had to work but my coworkers surprised me with a cake and sang Happy Birthday to me in Chinese, which was pretty cool. It was my first birthday outside the U.S., and being in an exciting new place helps me reflect on what a great year I had being 30 -- it definitely was not "just another year." Tiffany and I had a wonderful evening going out to dinner by ourselves. She took me to a fantastic restaurant called M on the Bund. It is located at No. 5 on the Bund, Guangdong Road, and it has a spectacular view of the Huangpu River and the Shanghai skyline. Awesome atmosphere, great view, even better food. It's a bit pricey, but it's the kind of place that people go and take pictures of themselves to remember the occasion. Every table we sat by was asking the next table over to take a picture for them, so we did, too.

The last week of work for me has been a really good experience. I'm learning a lot about web development and getting know more about the way things are done business-wise here in the China. One of the more difficult things, as I am finding out, is dealing with clients and colleagues that are in totally different time zones. For example, one of the company's partners works in San Francisco. He is awake and working while we are getting ready for bed, and vice versa, so coordinating our communication can mean one person is talking business while at dinner, going to bed, or else waking up super early to take a call. It seems like turn-around time for projects is slower with this type of schedule, and this problem is compounded by the language barrier and the miscommunication that can happen as a result. The other thing that has come up is Chinese New Year. Because many of our clients are in other countries, they don't acknowledge what a special time of year this is for the Chinese. They are expecting their projects right away, of course, but don't seem to understand that we are going through a holiday schedule that is similar to Christmas for many places.
Contracts in China are also part of the deal when it comes to employment for expats in China. Unlike the U.S., where many jobs allow someone to leave (or be fired) at will, there seems to be an expectation here of signing a contract with terms and conditions. The bad part about this is that some contracts bind you to work for a specified time (i.e., one year), while others may prohibit you (upon termination) from working for/with a competitor in the same industry or starting your own company. I'm not keen on signing that type of contract, especially when the conditions are overly intrusive on my decision making. But Tiffany has a story about contracts she'd like to share.

I found renegotiating a contract in China to be very different than similar experiences I’ve had in the states. As many of you know, my contract was up at MADA a few weeks ago. However, I kept working, waiting for my review and renegotiation of my contract.  Well, when it came time, I received the news that MADA would not negotiate on salary and they were not going to budge from a number that was well below an established market rate.  For a few days, the process went back and forth, me asking for more money, them saying they wouldn’t budge from their number but they didn’t want me to leave, my supervisors fighting with the company to give me more money so I would stay, etc. The process was a complete chaos for a few days.  Finally, I realized they couldn’t or wouldn’t budge.  They had many other people in my same position who were told the same thing and they were afraid they would find out I had received a higher number than them.  So we ended up not being able to renegotiate and, as a result, I am currently looking for other opportunities here in Shanghai.  I don’t know what’s going to work out for me but I’m very excited to see what China has in store for me next.

There is a place I've been frequenting for lunch called, Yang's Fried Dumplings, and it's somewhere I go to get utter happiness. For those of you who don't know, dumplings are really popular in China, and there are many different kinds to choose from -- steamed, fried, boiled, etc. One of my favorites is Sheng Jian Bao, or fried dumplings. They are cheap, fast, and totally delicious. Yang's Fried Dumplings is one of the more popular places to find Sheng Jian Bao, and some of you may have read about this place in your Lonely Planet Guide. Yang's is really close to the office and I've gone probably three or four times since I started working, haha. Last week I took Tiffany down there so she could try these amazing little treats, and we took a video in case you people want to see what Yang's is all about.

It is Chinese New Year today and everyone is very excited. Many people have left the city to go back to their home towns, so the streets and subways have been much less crowded over the past few days. The general spirit of people around the city feels a lot like Christmas in the U.S., and the fireworks have already begun. We've been told to expect getting very little sleep tonight, as the fireworks will be going off all night. We are going to take the scooter on a little journey tonight around 12am to get a feel for Shanghai on Chinese New Year, so expect that next week's post. Until then, Xin Nian Kuai Le!! (Happy New Year!!)

Things To Do in Shanghai

10. Ladies, Get A Wax!
So I wouldn’t just trust just anywhere with waxing! However, Strip: Ministry of Waxing, ( is one of the places you can trust here in Shanghai. The atmosphere inside is “modernly industrial” and very clean.  The staff is extremely friendly and all speak English. With four locations around Shanghai, there’s bound to be one that’s convenient for you.

Maybe It's Just Me

My friend Mike and I (yes, I know both of our names are Mike, and yes, that is funny) were walking to lunch last week, minding our own business, walking through a green-lighted crosswalk. Just as we approached the sidewalk, a car started honking at us and sped through the little space between us and the curb.  The guy got so close to Mike that the drivers side mirror hit Mike in the arm. He stopped almost immediately, because Mike tried to quickly get out of the way and hit the back of his trunk. This idiot gets out of his car and starts yelling at us, as if we were the ones who did something wrong. The guy has the audacity to grab me on the arm and start pointing up at the crosswalk sign (which had now turned red after all of the commotion), saying it was our fault because we walked through a red light! I threw his arm off of me and, for the first time in a while, felt like knocking this guy out. Instead of apologizing for hitting Mike and seeing if he was okay, this guy tried to lay blame on us!! Maybe it's just me, but are people really this stupid?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Picture of the Day - February 1, 2011

Here in China, yogurt comes with straws. We've always liked to sip and savor our yogurt anyways...