Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Week 26

Hello everyone, hope all is well wherever this message finds you! Last week I talked a little about the weather in Shanghai being beautiful, but it seems the best climate conditions were short-lived. Just a few days after our last post, the weather started getting a lot hotter (around 75-80 degrees). Sadly, it also started getting more humid as the days went on. It was a little strange because one day it was perfect, and the next day it was uncomfortably muggy. Not fun. We have some friends coming to visit us next week from the U.S., so I'm hoping that the weather stays nice enough for us to site seeing (and not run for cover inside air-conditioned places).
 
This week's blog is a little different from the past, because Tiffany and I are in two different parts of the world while we write it. I know we had a survey a few weeks back about where you guys wanted to see us go for our next (shared) visa leave. But because Tiffany got a new job a few weeks ago, plans had to change. Her employer was nice enough to send her off to Hong Kong to get her work visa, so that's where she is right now. It's great news for her, because the change in visa status means she won't have to leave China every two months. Sadly, my visa status has not changed, and it's time for me to leave the country. Since I have been to Hong Kong a couple times, I decided to see a place I haven't been before, so I am spending 10 days Hanoi, Vietnam! It's great to be in a new city in the world, but I am a little bummed to be here without my travel buddy (tear, sad face).

I have only been here a couple of days, and have already been treated to a little Vietnamese hospitality. The day I arrived, someone from the hotel was supposed to pick me up. My plane was late, however, and the driver thought I had gotten another ride. So when I got to the airport, three guys ran up to me and told me they could drive me to the hotel. (Quick side note -- the aŠĽČrports in China and Vietnam have one thing in common: whenever foreigners arrive, there are dozens of taxi drivers waiting outside that will run up to you and shout for your business. It can be a little daunting.) I was a little wary of these guys, but it was almost midnight and I had been traveling for 15 hours. So I decided to put a little trust in them, especially because they quoted me what appeared to be a ridiculously good price for a 30-minute drive. When we got to the first toll booth, they stopped the car and asked me to pay. I asked them how much as I counted the money.

Just then, the driver pulled 10 bills from my hand and gave it to the guy sitting next to me who, in turn, immediately got out of the car and ran to towards the toll booth (as if he was actually going to pay a toll). The Vietnamese exchange rate is insane, something like 10,000 Vietnamese Dong to $1. After the guy got out of car, I realized that the driver had taken $100 from me as a toll fee. When I asked for my money back, the guy told me he had already paid the toll and pretended as if he didn't know English anymore (despite the 20-minute conversation we all had about where I was from, why I came to Hanoi, and how long I was staying). I was in a bad position -- at midnight, on a dark road, and miles from where I needed to be. Matters got a little worse when they stopped near the hotel and told me to walk down an alley, where the car couldn't fit. There was only one problem: they wouldn't get out of the car, which I thought was strange because I promised them more money if the walked with me to the hotel. Then I realized that my bag was still in the trunk. I raised a little hell, to put it mildly, and they finally tossed my bag on the street and drove off. Having been almost pick-pocketed the last time I was in Nha Trang, Vietnam, I started to question whether I made a good decision in coming back.

The next day was a lot better. The hotel apologized, saying they would reimburse me for the taxi ride, and I spent the next day enjoying some of Vietnam's fantastic cuisine! I'm hoping things get better on my trip as the days go on, but I'll keep you guys updated in next week's blog.

 Pho is perhaps Vietnam's most famous dish, and there are many different ways to enjoy it. Hanoi is known for it's Pho Ga, or Chicken Soup.
 If you enjoy a good cup of coffee as much as I do, you probably know that Vietnamese coffee is some of the best in the world. This picture is taken from a cafe on Ngo Ta'too street, where I am enjoying a cup of iced Vietnamese coffee and reading a good book. Life is good.
 Bun cha, a Vietnamese meal with an assortment of great dishes.
The hotel has been good to me, I just tell them what I want and the guys go down the street and pick it up for me. If that's not enough, they literally serve it to me on a silver platter, haha!

Things in Shanghai are going well. I have started looking for a new job, and we are preparing for the arrival of our puppy (which Tiffany will tell you about below). One of the things we talked about was, when I get a job, who is going to be able to care for the dog while we're both at work? A problem, I know. Fortunately there is an easy solution, especially here in China, to help us through this dilemma: we've decided to hire a maid. We started interviewing last week, and I think we've found someone really great. We'll see how things work out, and I'll let you guys know what happens next week.

Tiffany will take it from here (well, actually, from Hong Kong, haha).

The Search Continues...
We've been looking for a puppy for a few weeks now and we're currently considering all our options. Here in Shanghai, we have quite a few: adoption, breeder, and pet store purchase. As far as adoption goes, there are two legitimate adoption agencies. The first, JAR Animal Rescue (http://jargroup.doodlekit.com/ and http://jarshanghai.wordpress.com/) is a wonderful organization founded by a man named Marvin. The organization is named in honor of his daughter Jaiya Kristina who passed away from SIDS in 2009. The other rescue group, Second Chance Animal Aid Shanghai (http://www.scaashanghai.org/) is a "non-profit organization committed to protecting and improving the health and welfare of companion animals." Neither organizations have shelters and therefore, rely solely on the wonderful support of their foster parents. 

Another option we've been considering is private breeders. There's many "home breeders" here in Shanghai who breed puppies lovingly from their own homes. This is more popular on the outskirts of town where people have a little more room to let the puppies roam. The last option is pet stores. There are quite a number of pet stores throughout Shanghai that offer puppies of all breeds for just about any budget.

While considering all our options, we've learned many things about the "puppy industry" and animal welfare laws here in China (or lack thereof). There are limited, if any, laws regarding animal welfare in China and therefore, there's unlimited amounts of abuse and bad breeding happening in the so called "puppy industry." During our search we've come across many breeders who outright lie, mislead, and try to sell very sick puppies. However, we've also come across many extremely loving and caring individuals who are working extreamly hard to improve the lives of all the animals in this city. As we continue the search, we are looking forward to finding the right puppy for us.

Alright, well, that's about it for this week's blog. I promise to bring back lots of pictures and video from my trip to Hanoi. Tiffany has promised me she intends to spend her entire time in Hong Kong at the hotel pool, so don't look forward to any material from her, haha. Until then, take it easy.

Things to do in Shanghai

Who doesn’t love Shopping, Dining, and People Watching?

Xintiandi is the best of the best of all three. This shopping complex was originally a neighborhood of old Shikumen or stone-gate houses, a style that was very popular in China in the 1920s and an architectural relic in Shanghai. The architect, Benjamin Wood, refurbished the houses in 2002 and created an exclusive retail district. The area gives visitors a sense of what China’s 1920s hay day just might have been like. Some of the city’s best restaurants, stores, and nightlife can be found in Xintiandi. Enjoy dinner at Crystal Jade (dim sum), T8 (fusion Mediterranean and Asian), or Ye Shanghai (Shanghainese).

Maybe It's Just Me

Warning: This week's Maybe It's Just Me includes, what some might consider, graphic or racy material. So if you have a weak stomach, or just don't care for that sort of thing, please stop reading and pick up a copy of Reader's Digest.

I have been taking full advantage of our brand-spankin'-new gym memberships, and there are some, hmmm, interesting locker-room practices that I have not yet gotten accustomed to. The locker-rooms are very nice, and the gym provides a clean area for people to shower, dress, blow-dry your hair, and get ready for the day. But like most things in China, these areas are rather crowded. It's not the mass collection of sweaty, naked humanity that bothers me. Nor does it bother me that I am forced to squeeze through uncovered bodies to get to my locker, as I am comfortable with my own sexuality. What does bother me, however, is watching people use the blow-driers. In one stall, you see a guy blow-drying the hair on his head. In the stall right next to him, I see guys blow-drying less conventional areas of their body. It seems a little awkward to blow-dry hair where the sun doesn't shine but, then again, maybe it's just me.

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