Monday, May 30, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 30, 2011

Walking the streets of Shanghai can be risky. The guy on the sidewalk was hit by a car, who was turning right, and didn't see this guy and his two friends. Even though both driver and pedestrian had green lights, the normal custom of letting the "pedestrian have the right of way" doesn't go over so well here in Shanghai.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 29, 2011

It's a little hard to tell, but above this restroom door is an electronic sign. What does the sign say, you ask? It keeps the time of occupancy, so that people outside can see how long you've been in the bathroom. It's a little uncomfortable if you ask me, then again, it was even more awkward for the guy that came out of this door after 10 minutes and 32 seconds.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 28, 2011

Only in China will you find a random chicken on the street going through garbage...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 27, 2011

Our dog search started when we began answering ads on in which puppies were for sale. The person on the other end of the phone told us that they had "plenty" of the dogs we wanted: Black Labrador puppies. When we arrived at their shop, miraculously, they had just sold the one that we wanted, but had many other puppies they wanted to sell us. This was the entrance to that lousy shop. The dudes sitting around smoking cigarettes while the animals sit in their own waste was a little frustrating.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 26, 2011

Practicing my archery skills at the Suzhou Calm Gardens was a lot of fun!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 25, 2011

One of the many water canals at the Suzhou Calm Gardens in Suzhou, China.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Week 29

Hi again everyone! Last week I ended by telling you guys about the end of our search for an Ayi (maid), when we hired a young lady named, Bonnie. Bonnie has been with us for a couple of weeks now, and is already prompting me to ask the same question I asked myself after I got my first cell phone: "How could I have ever lived without this before?!" Having someone here to take care of things around the apartment is great, but having her help us run errands that require a Chinese-speaker is fantastic! However, I would be missing the point if I didn't remind myself that the reason we hired her in the first place is because we decided to get a puppy. In fact, we decided to get a puppy about a month ago, and have since been searching for the right place to get it.

I am happy to announce that our search has ended, and we have a new addition to our household!! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Bao Bei (pronounced like "Bow Bay").

Following up on our dog search from Week 26, we were considering all our options in finding the perfect puppy. We decided adoption wasn't for us at this time and we were having problems finding a good breeder. The other weekend, our ayi, Bonnie, found us what looked like a great breeder online. So we made the long trip out to the location to once again be disappointed to find out that we had been lied to, yet again, and the conditions of the facility were terrible. As you can imagine, we were beginning to get extremely frustrated about being lied to and spending lots of time on our weekends traveling to far-away locations only to find that we had been once again duped by another breeder. However, I had heard of a large, reputable breeder, Jialiang (, close to where we were located at the time. 

Mike and I had no plans for the remainder of the day so we decided to make our way out to the Jialiang kennel. When we arrived, we were extremely impressed and loved the beautiful and expansive facilities. Jialiang is the breeder and trainer of many of the working dogs here in Shanghai. Their dogs work at the Pudong airport and they also train many of the police dogs. They have a large equestrian facility on the property (and for those of you who know me, you know I was very excited to see). They had a couple different litters of black lab puppies that we were able to see. The first group was very young and still being weened. However, they said that they had another litter (3 girls and a boy) who were a little older. In order to see them, they needed to bring them over from another part of the property.

So as you can tell from the video, we ended up purchasing a Black Labrador Retriever puppy and naming her Bao Bei, 宝贝, which translates to treasured object or baby. It's a common name people use for pets and children here in China.

Bao Bei and her two sisters being brought from their location
a little farther away on the property.

Bringing Bao Bei home in the Taxi

Me with Bao Bei on our trip home

One of the things that we're learning as new doggie parents is the concept of socialization. Introducing our new puppy to as many as 100 people in the first few months will help her get comfortable being around people, so we're trying to have as many friends over to our apartment as possible (since she's not yet allowed out of the house because she is still getting her vaccination shots). Though we're a long way off from our goal of 100 people, we got some help from two of our friends who were visiting from the U.S. over the last couple of weeks!

Gary and Rebecca are from Seattle, and the trip to Shanghai was their first to mainland China, so Tiffany and I wanted to help make their trip as memorable as possible. Given that we have been exploring the city and its surroundings for the past seven months, there were a lot of cool activities that we wanted to show them. The normal tourist activities were a must, such as seeing the Oriental Pearl Tower, going shopping at the various "fake" markets, and getting tailor-made clothes at the fabric market.

Going up to the Pearl Tower was pretty cool for all of us, since it was the first time for all of us. For those of you who haven't heard of this unique piece of Shanghainese architecture, it stands 1,500 feet high and is situated in the heart of Lujiazui, which is Shanghai's financial center. Although you can go all the way up to the top, we chose to pay a little less money and go up to an observation deck that was 777 feet up. Because of its location in Pudong, it has a great view of the Bund across the Huangpu River, and also allows for a 360-degree view of the entire Shanghai skyline. One thing we learned after going up, however, was that you can get a much better view if you go up during the day. This is because the floor on the observation deck is transparent, and the lights used to ornate the Pearl from the base cause a glare that makes it hard to see the ground. During the day, the lights aren't shining through, and we thought it would have been a better experience to see how far up we really were. Still, it was pretty cool seeing the city at night, which is something Rebecca really wanted to see.

We also took our friends to the fabric markets and "fake" malls, which they found to be a lot of fun. I think it's always a lot of fun for tourists to have clothes made and bargain with the vendors. They turned out to be savvy negotiators despite not speaking a word of Chinese, and returned home with a lot of cool stuff. Gary got himself a nice, three-piece suit with pink lining and an overcoat. Rebecca found a shop that made her a stylish coat as well. For all that, I think they paid the equivalent of about $250! Then it was off to the fake markets, where Rebecca found 4 pairs of shoes that needed a home, and Gary finally found the remote-controlled helicopter he'd been missing his whole life, haha. In between all of the shopping and sight-seeing, and because both of them are big-time foodies from Seattle, we also took them to get some authentic Chinese food and hot pot.

 Tailors wanted to charge Gary extra money for his coat, because he's so tall
they said they needed "extra fabric" to make it fit...he went somewhere else.
 Our new suits fit perfectly!!
 Rebecca trying on her snazzy new coat,
which should keep her warm when she gets back to the Northwest!
 The Chinese have a term used to describe a guy like Gary at the fake market, with his newly purchased suitcase and remote-controlled helicopter in tow, and that is "Laowai." You can look that one up and judge for yourself. Store owners take one look at this bearded lumberjack and think to themselves, "Cha Ching!$!"
 Tiffany, Rebecca, and Belle,
just before they rode the go karts at Stampede Karting.
 Us on the Huangpu River boat cruise.
 Rebecca doesn't know this guy,
which didn't stop him from wanting to take a photo with her.
 Hot pot dinner and a bottle of wine with friends,
not sure life gets much better than that.

Another cool activity they wanted to do while in Shanghai was visit Suzhou, a city just outside of Shanghai that is known for its serene classical gardens and silk trade. Suzhou is also one of the ancient water towns in China, so the city is bound together by a myriad of canals that function as tourist attractions and transportation for goods. I had never been to Suzhou so I was excited to check it out.

All told, I think Gary and Rebecca enjoyed their trip to Shanghai, and we enjoyed having them. Now that they're gone, it's back to life as usual for us. Well, not exactly life as usual, since we have a new puppy to take care of! We'll definitely keep all of you posted on the particulars of owning a dog in China. Until next week, take care people!

Things To Do in Shanghai

Order In

Is it a rainy Saturday night in Shanghai and all you want to do is watch a movie and have dinner brought to you? Well then I have the perfect solution for you: Call Sherpa's! Sherpa's is a delivery service that will bring you food from a large variety of restaurants near your place. They have all your favorites: Italian, Mexian, Chinese, Tibetan, etc. The delivery charge, you ask? A mere 15RMB (approx. $2). You can order through their website, which makes it fast and easy, especially because it's in English. Your food will be at your door in 30-45 minutes, no cooking, no mess, no clean-up!!!

Maybe It's Just Me

I took this photo at the Hoa Lo Prison (a.k.a. The Hanoi Hilton), where American P.O.W. were held during the Vietnam War. If you can't tell, the photos above depict American protesters, against the Vietnam War, marching in the streets. What is interesting about this photo is the description that comes atop these pictures, which offers a competing interpretation of war protesters in the U.S. during the 1960's. Maybe it's just me, but if my understanding of history is correct, I'm pretty sure the main reason people in the United States were protesting the Vietnam War was NOT because they were supporting the "Vietnamese struggle for independence and unification of the country."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 22, 2011

Thang Long's Water Puppet Theater is the most well-known theater of its kind. Perched over Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi's Old Quarter, this water puppet show is not only uniquely entertaining, it is also an opportunity to learn about one of the most fascinating cultures in the world.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 21, 2011

Scattered throughout one of Vietnam's most highly visited tourist attractions, Halong Bay, are hundreds of small water villages. The people who reside in these villages make a living by selling items to passing tourists, and many of them also harvest seafood that is sold on the main islands. While the lifestyle may be a bit slower than living in Shanghai, I am somewhat envious of their morning scenery.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 20, 2011

The Dong Xuan Night Market is in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. For a few hours on Sunday nights, the police block off all traffic (including all motorbikes) in a four or five block radius so that vendors can set up their booths. People from all over come to the market to shop, negotiate, and come away with some pretty cool stuff. The booth above is selling shirts for 100K. Paying 100K for any shirt might seem crazy expensive to some of you, but you would be pleasantly surprised once you find out that the exchange rate is 20,000VND (Vietnamese Dong) to $1!! In other words, these shirts selling for 100K (VND) only cost $5!! (I didn't buy any, though, because I can actually have a shirt made for myself for almost the same price in China, haha).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 19, 2011

Here are two vats of Snake Wine, which is made by infusing live snakes in rice wine for a period of time. Poisonous snakes are preferred, because it is believed that their venom has special powers to help cure illness and reinvigorate the soul. Don't worry people, the venom is neutralized by the rice wine, and is therefore harmless. I took this photo in Halong Bay, Vietnam, but the nectar is popular in many parts of Southeast Asia. I would have tried some, but unfortunately I have a terrible allergy to large, poisonous snakes that have been sitting in a vat of fermented rice.... : 0 )

Picture of the Day - May 19, 2011

Beautiful Jing'an Temple right in the middle of Shanghai!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Picture of the Day - May 18, 2011

One Vietnamese boy explained to another which toy the two should buy,
and then drove a real hard bargain with the salesman, haha!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Week 28

Hi everyone! It was Mother's Day in the U.S. this past weekend, so we want to wish all of you mom's out there a very happy Mother's Day, hope all of you had a wonderful day!! Summer has already begun here in Shanghai and it is starting to get really uncomfortable!! Today it was 85 degrees, sunny, and the humidity can make going outside feel like entering a sauna. Can't say I'm used to it yet, we'll see as time goes on.

I wanted to take the time to respond to a couple of comments from you guys. @S.K. from Cali, I've never been to the U.K. so I'm not sure how the Chinese guards compare to those at Buckingham Palace. From what I've heard, however, the Chinese guards are a little more responsive to people, and some will even crack smiles (such as when I took a picture with one at the Chinese Pavilion). @About Nicky, thanks so much for checking out our blog, we've been looking at yours and love the material! @Maria (a.k.a., Greasy), haha, life is good without many English speaking channels, although I have to admit I went through ESPN withdrawal in the first few months. Glad to hear everything is going well back in LA, tell Ahman that Tiffany and I say hello!

The last time we posted, both of us were in different countries. We both made it back safely from our visa trips and are happy to be back in Shanghai. From what I can tell, Tiffany had a great trip that didn't just consist of poolside service and shopping, haha, but I'll let her tell the story a little later.

After my mishap on the first night (see our last post), my trip to Hanoi got much better. This was my second trip to Vietnam but I had not yet been to Hanoi. I don't like having to pick up and move my stuff from place to place as I travel, nor am I the kind of person who travels somewhere simply to say, "I've been there." So that's why I slotted 10 days solely dedicated to touring Hanoi and getting to know the city and its surroundings. The weather was a bit more humid than it has been in Shanghai so that wasn't too much fun, but I was able to do a lot while I was there. I had enough time to do normal tourist stuff such as touring the old prison where the North Vietnamese kept POW's, seeing one of the first Universities in Vietnam, traveling to an old village outside of Hanoi known for its pottery, attend a manufacturing trade show, and see the famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater in the Old Quarter. But I also had time to chill out with some of the locals and play badminton in the park, do some shopping at the Dong Xuan Night Market, and spend a lot of time reading around the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake.

If anyone is going to Hanoi, I would like to recommend staying at the Hanoi View 2 Hotel (you can find it on this website). I had a really good experience there and promised the concierge I would mention them on the blog. The rooms were very clean, it's really close to many attractions and, best of all, the service was superb. After a long day of touring the city, I came back frequently and told the guys at the front desk what kind of food I wanted to have for dinner/lunch, and they would go out on their scooters and get it for me. They also took me around a few places and made sure I got there safely. After feeling like I wanted to turn around and go home on the first night, the people at the hotel helped change my mind about staying.

I also wanted to give a big thanks to my friends, Diem and Tam, at Hanoi Free Tour Guides. This organization is made up of about 100 college students who volunteer their time to show tourists around Hanoi, free of charge. Diem and Tam came from smaller towns in Vietnam but are in Hanoi for school, and they were eager to show me around while practicing their English. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad we had a chance to spend the day together talking about Vietnamese history and get their input on all the attractions we saw. Although the service is free, the guest (i.e., me) is expected to pay for transportation costs and any admission tickets for everyone (although they get reduced bus tickets and didn't really have to pay for many admissions anywhere because they are students). A tip at the end of the day is also very appropriate, especially because they gave me insight that I would not have otherwise gotten on my own. Thanks again to Diem and Tam for a day of showing me around Hanoi, I really enjoyed it!

After my one-day excursion with Diem and Tam, I was on my own for the remainder of my trip. It was a bit difficult getting around because I don't speak any Vietnamese, so rather than using cabs I found a lot of places on my own with the help of my hotel concierge and a good map. It was easier using a map in Hanoi as compared to Shanghai because the streets are represented by alphabetic letters as opposed to Chinese characters, so that was nice. One reason I tried to avoid using cabs is because it can be frustrating. There are so many different cab companies that charge different rates and it's hard to gauge how much a ride will cost. Another frustrating thing that happened a couple of times was having the cab driver flip some sort of switch on the meter that made it run faster than normal (i.e., costing me more money). Apparently this is not an uncommon thing that happens to foreigners. Very frustrating, and I was still a little upset about being duped by unscrupulous cab drivers on my first day, so I tried to avoid taking cabs.

Traffic in Hanoi, and much of Vietnam I suspect, is dominated by gas-powered motorbikes and there are excessive amounts of them on the roads. (FYI - I shot a video of a ride I took on the back of a scooter on the way to the Old Quarter. I didn't include in the blog but if you want to see it, you can watch it here.) Watching them all go through intersections should be considered a tourist attraction in and of itself, because I haven't seen anything like it here in China or anywhere else. The traffic signals seem more like soft recommendations than actual laws. The buses were also kind of funny, like the one that took us to Bat Trang village. As we stood on the curb waiting, Diem and Tam told me to start getting ready because they could see our bus was approaching. So I started gathering my things and they told me to go a little faster. Then they started running alongside the curb, which I was a little curious about. Then I realized that the bus wasn't going to actually stop, it was merely going to slow down for us. So I started laughing because I thought it was odd that they called it a bus 'stop' (unfortunately the people jogging behind me didn't find it that funny).

One of the best things I love about Vietnam is the fantastic cuisine, which is influenced in part by the French, Chinese, and Vietnamese cultures. I had so many good meals with flavors that are truly unique, and I must have drank a gallon of Vietnamese coffee while I was there, haha. There are some dishes I could do without (see Maybe It's Just Me), but in large part Vietnamese food is exceptionally good. Overall my time was well-spent and I had a lot of fun. I also took a lot of video so you guys can see what's good in Hanoi.

While I was touring the Van Mieu University I came across some post cards from Halong Bay, which I knew nothing about before coming to Hanoi. I liked the scenery I saw on the post cards, so I did some research online back at the hotel that day and decided that I really wanted to go. For those of you who haven't heard of Halong Bay, it is a group of 2000 islands in Northern Vietnam, all of which are made of limestone and are thousands of years old. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there is interesting Vietnamese folklore about how the islands came into existence. As the legend goes, during wars with the Chinese, the gods sent a group of dragons to help the Vietnamese fend off Chinese invaders. The dragons descended and spit fire near the Vietnam-China border, and those fireballs transformed into islands. It turned out that Halong Bay was crucial for defending Vietnam during this time, for various reasons, so the area has a special place in Vietnamese history.

I asked the concierge if they knew how I might be able to book a tour and, to my surprise, they knew everything because apparently a trip to Halong Bay is quite common for people visiting Hanoi, haha. The front desk set me up with a 3-day, 2-night tour that only cost me $100, so I left early on Friday morning. I planned my trip so that I would spend one night on a boat in the middle of the islands, and the second night was spent on Cat Ba Island. I had a choice to stay in Bungalows for the second night, but the concierge told me that I would be miserable if the weather was bad, so I chose to spend my second night at the hotel. I ended up regretting that decision because the weather was great and some friends I made on the trip were staying at the Bungalows. At any rate, I am so happy I made the decision to go because the three days I spent in Halong Bay turned out to be the highlight of my trip to Vietnam.

Tiffany also had a visa trip, but of a different kind. Her work sent her to Hong Kong.

The past couple months, I've been working on getting my work visa (also called a Z-Visa here in China) so that I don't have to leave the country every two months! The company I'm working for has sponsored me and helped me threw the whole process. However, it's still extremely long and involved. First of all, before applying, you have to visit a government clinic to get a health check. This involved numerous tests including getting blood drawn, an ECG, and an ultrasound. After submitting an astonishing long list of documents and passing your health check, you have to fly to Hong Kong to visit the Chinese Embassy. So while Mike was off exploring Vietnam, I was in Hong Kong for three days applying for my new visa. After finally receiving a temporary work visa, I came back to Shanghai, where I have had to visit a number of police stations, government offices, visa centers, etc. and will finally be receiving my one year, multiple entry work visa this week! The biggest thing I've learned through this whole ordeal is: Be Over-Prepared. It seems like no one knows, understands, and/or cares to explain the visa application in detail and therefore, lots of information gets lost in translation. So, if you find yourself applying for a Chinese work visa: Take multiple copies of everything you ever thought you might possibly need and some things you didn't think you'd ever need!

So now we're back in Shanghai and back to life as usual. Just want to update you guys on a subject from our last post. As you might remember, we were searching for an Ayi (maid) because we're getting a puppy and we'll need someone to look after it while we're both out of the house. We searched high and low, and found someone we think is going to be a really good fit for us.

Her name is Bonnie and she is from the Jiangsu province in China. Aside from being highly recommended by other expats, Bonnie also speaks great English and can help us as a translator and personal assistant! In fact, she's already put these skills to use by helping two of our friends visiting from the U.S. purchase plane tickets from a Shanghai travel agent, which probably would have been difficult, if not impossible, had they done it on their own. I would have to say that getting an Ayi is one of the best investments we have made so far, we'll keep you posted!

Things To Do in Shanghai

Visit the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China

For all you history buffs out there, the Site of the First National Congress of the CPC is the perfect place for you! Located right next to Xintiandi at No.76 Xingye Road, this historic site is a great place to visit. The building is a traditional Chinese Shikumen (stone-gate house) from the 1920s.  It became the birthplace of the Communist Party of China on July 23, 1921, when the First National Congress was held. The building is full of relics, artifacts, and pictures that tell the story of the beginnings of the CPC.  And what could be better? Admission is free!

Maybe It's Just Me

I was a little hesitant to take this photo because I was afraid that doing so might offend customers or the vendor. Of course I took the photo anyways, and then walked quickly to the end of the street, haha. I understand that, for various reasons, some people have strong feelings about cultures in which dog meat is consumed.

In the time that I've spent abroad, which has not been very long, I have always tried to keep an open mind about learning cultural practices that are different from my own. I sort of feel that the best way to understand another person is by trying to see the world through their eyes (Shout out to Dr. Alison Dundes-Renteln for giving me that belief). Having said all that........Maybe it's just me, but this does not look appetizing whatsoever.