Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vogs through Shanghai II: French Concession

My Vogs have brought me across Central Yan'an Rd. from the Shanghai Exhibition Centre where I'll hit Chengshu Rd, and head south towards Hengshan Rd and arrive in the heart of the French Concession. The clouds have convened, and suddenly, the stylish Vogs ask for a plain surface, something a little less cobbled, a little less historic.
I can feel I'm in the vicinity. Hengshan road shows its treelined streets and French influence. The clouds are ominous, kicking up the ions, the electricity is plapable, the barometric pressure turns, it darkens. In the back streets, the ladies are packing up their sidewalk sewing machines, and I find myself jogging in my vogs, having taken my umbrella out and unlatched it. Downpour is eminent. I'm trying to get to Dong Ping Rd. where I'm aiming for a Peruvian tapas restaurant.
The winds are kicking up. It reminds me of the the rustling trees in Central Park this last August 2nd, when I was at the Delacorte, experiencing the Tribal Musical that is Hair. Midway through the first act, you could feel that same change in pressure, but it had this dynamic effect, as if the music were actually moving the molecules around and affecting the meteorology. Next thing you know it is pouring and the love is wet and the vibe is free and the show is rain delayed. The audience is asked to exit en masse, and for 40 minutes, the crowd watches the downpour under shelter. Everyone susses out whether to stay or go. The starving go feed, the others build the electricity. The best overhearing of conversation in sensurround ever at a theater event. And when it does let up, the audience is a community. There's no plot to review (it's a revue) and the heightened excitement of seeing the actors back on stage adds to the hippie love, we've been through something together, man, even before the play unfolds. Organic, uncorny, clensed. aquarian joy. The soldier lays dead on the American flag, as the departing company echoes to Let the Sun Shine In where we all had waited. And then it explodes into a massive dance party on stage. Gosh if theater could more readily embrace this dionysian element always crowded out by the indoors of the apollonian.

I'm joggin in my Vogs at this point...it's feeling like dusk in the middle of the afternoon. I turn on Dong Ping Rd and see two security guards sitting outside their indoor post. I'm still obsessed with documenting this day with the Vogs on. I ask the younger security guard if he wouldn't mind taking a photo of me walking down the street. No, no, he waves his hand. i ask his older partner, a portly fellow with a suntan if he might do it. He gets a kind of static look in his eyes, moves slow to unfold his arms, staring at this little camera. He will. Great. I just want you to get me walking down this street...This street, he asks? What's so great about this street? Just push this button when I walk by. The younger guard is not looking at the camera, trying to show him the button, I know I know he waves off. I take my position. Push. The old guard immediately takes the camera away from the shot. Flash. O, he is startled. Yeah, the timing of this camera is a little off because it's dark and the flash...
Let's try again, he suggests. Great.
Great. They both look at the photo. Hey this street looks pretty good in the photo. The trees. I thank them, and it starts to pour. I mean coming down hard. it's raining capitalists and communisits. I duck across the street, to the tapas bar.
Azul, it's called and I enter with Billie Holiday singing. I get seated by the big front window and it continues to pour. The Peruvian chef Eduardo Vargas has made a very hip spot: tapas on the ground floor and a club called Viva upstairs.
In the bag there are two cubbys with low tables and lots of pillows. I get the chilean sea bass ceviche and the lamb skewers with mint salsa. My feet rest well.
The subway stop is just down the road. It's small and quaint, not with the usual ads, but with warriors enjoying an afternoon of drink.
I'll come back to the French Concession, to hang for coffee and people watch, My security guard buddies suggest one more photo, with the backdrop of this pink building they sit across from. I want to take their photo, but the young guard has already changed out of his uniform and is ready to leave work, and the older fellow sits, arms folded. Au revoir.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008


I go with 'Honey' to the visa office in Pudong to get my work visa.  Pudong is the super new part of China, across the Huangpu river from the Bund, and antiseptic and uptight just like Century City in Los Angeles.  In fact the main drag is called Century Ave.

It's gonna be a long wait:  when we enter, they are on #156, our number is #253.  It's 10:10am. We're timing it so that Eric is getting the Foreign Expert Certificate required for the work visa in Xu Jia Hui while we get in line in Pudong and wait for him to arrive.  Ideally, the plan will not waste too much of anyone's day.  Last time, Honey spent the whole day acquiring the work visa for another teacher:  getting the Expert Certificate herself and then traveling across town and waiting 4 hours in Pudong.

'Honey' is a worker in the Headmaster's Office of Lida.  She handles the official paperwork of foreign teachers at the school.  Her name is Hua, which means flower, and her voice is sweet as nectar--the sound you would expect coming from those lovely ruby-lipped, eyebrow drawn, creamy skinned women from Old Shanghai, now iconized on coasters, posters and cards.  I ask if i can call her 'Honey' because her voice and person are so pure and sweet; she declines with a subtle tilting down of her head and silence.  She has an old-fashioned and diplomatic sincerity, but also a steadfast decency to tell the truth.  She is patient with the bureaucracy her work is so mired in, but is able to speak up about its inconsistencies, in the most paced and dulcet of tones.

We leave Lida at 8:30 am for our trek across town.  On our way over to Pudong, I notice Hua's feet girlishly tapping up and down.  She has happy feet, I tell her.  She smiles.  She is happy not to be in the office pushing paper, to have a breather on this beautiful day out and about.

During our long wait, I ask her about billing in China.  She tells me she has a friend who rents an apartment in the city, and has to pay electricity and water bills, and that by the end of the month, he has no money to save.  I need to pull focus about my idealism about socialism:  But I thought that the state takes care of all the bills.  If you work in a school or a factory, she tells me, those things are taken care of for you--though you still have to pay a little bit of rent.  Since the wages are low, the cost is adjusted according to your wage.  If you want to move ahead, like most people in Shanghai do, you work for private companies and your wages increase many times over, but you have to rent your own apartment and pay bills.  Doesn't the government own the apartments?  The new ones are all privately owned.  So the rents are high?  And so one wants to rent, everyone wants to buy.  So like that one over there--she points to one of the skyscraping apartment buildings out the window of the visa office--one apartment unit will cost 3 million RMB.  It's expensive around Renmin Square too.  Freedom is expensive, she says. Freedom is not free, I tell her in English.  She nods.  

We get a call from Eric.  The person who said that the Expert Certificate would be ready in the morning is not there.  Hua says that's impossible, she checked twice, talked to the person twice and he said it would be ready this morning.  It's because of this one Expert Certificate that the processing of the work visa has been held up for 8 days.  Eric says that there will be someone there at 1:45pm.  It's 11 am now, and they are already in the 200s.  The numbers are being called swiftly.  At this point, we go and get a new number every half hour.

What about for hospital?  The last time I was in China and I was diagnosed with 'wind in the head.'  I paid 10 fen (cents) to see a doctor.  Granted it was in a room with three doctors and three desks, diagnosing through the socratic method, and then prescribing a concoction that tasted like the stew of someone's old and sweaty shoe, but lo and behold, my 'wind in the head' ceased (the literal kind at least).  Hua tells me, you have to pay.  We get 4-5 % deducted from our wage to have a health card that can get us in to see a doctor for small things.  But if your case is severe, you have to pay.  

And is this mainly a cash society?  People put their money in banks and even invest in stocks. They take out loans to buy apartments, but they must have enough to put 40% down.  There is huge pressure on the young Shanghainese to buy apartments and so the competition is intense. I think Shanghai might be as expensive as the U.S. Do your retired parents own their apartment?  They were given housing from their work unit.  That was from a time before.  They are able to buy their housing for very cheap, something they can afford on their pension.  I tell Hua that they should be given a break, having gone through the Cultural Revolution and all. She nods.

I have to adjust my own idealism.  I come into this society, immune to its language and propaganda because I cannot read it and my vocabulary is limited.  I see, sitting here in Pudong, that the surface of progress is well tended, but the innards are still heavily socialist.  I continue with Hua.  But I thought this was socialism, that it would take care of its citizens.  Hua tells me that, for instance,  for the victims of the Szechuan earthquake, there will be financial compensation and new housing will be built for them.  For these big national tragedies, the government must come through.  And what about the milk situation?  If it were that widespread, wouldn't the numbers be more than 53,000?  Did the government adjust the numbers?  That only happened in one of the cities near Beijing.  That's why the number is so low.  But still, the Sanlu brand can no longer exist.  And the woman at the top, in charge of the Sanlu brand had to be removed.

We've taken two poker handfuls of numbers.  We make friends, giving our unusable numbers to those who have numbers way behind ours.  (In Los Angeles, at the Chinese consulate that day before I left for Shanghai, a sailor leaving port in 2 hours gave an old Chinese lady US$100 for her number; at first skeptical and not understanding, she made the deal, much to her big grin.) One of our new numbers friends suggests that someone can make money from hanging around the visa office and selling off the numbers about to be called.  Yeah, except for the Ah-yi at the ticket counter, policing the number of times your drawing a new card.  We give him our #382 and he gives us appreciative kowtow hands (when you put hand on top of fist and knock up and down, the way you worship at a buddhist shrine with incense).

So if the newspapers are censored, I wonder to Hua, do many people still read it?  Yes, she says and nods, it is good for basic information, for what is happening locally, to keep up to date.  If you don't read the newspaper, then you don't know what people are talking about, and then people will think you are 'stupid.'  She says 'stupid' in English.

Eric arrives at 2:45pm when #403 is just being called.  We tried to trade our number for one around #410, but all were after our #431.  He explains that at 1:45pm, the man still hadn't processed any of the Foreign Expert Certificates.  The crowd of 15 had a shouting match with him, and he was cowed into basically putting a photo on a piece of paper and stamping an official seal on it.  30 seconds worth of work.  Hua says that we are at the bureaucrats mercy, as if they have all the time in the world to talk on the phone and avoid the work, and they make 100,000RMB a year.  One small detail missing and they send you off to return again and wait. If we say anything, they might give us even further problems.  I tell her that that kind of bureaucratic behavior happens in whatever system you are in.  And she says that this guy, the one the crowd had to shout down is particularly grotesque because he will move faster if you are a pretty girl.  He looks at Eric and it won't get done.  Besides, we have no connections with that office because Lida is a private school.  If we were a government school, we would have gotten the certificate much sooner.

Hua and I move towards the windows when #429 is called, ready to charge the moment #431 will flash on the screen .  I see that the Chinese news is showing clips of Obama and McCain debating in Mississippi.  Ha, the impetuous and senile McCain is debating after all.  We are called.  It takes 2 minutes to do process the papers.  It is 3:45.  We are free to tour Pudong.

Had we been efficient and Hua's plan had worked out, she would have had to go back to Lida to finish her shift until 4pm.  But because of the bureaucratic delay, I am able to take both Hua and Eric for a meal at the  super new, super wide, super shiny Super Brand Mall, where we have a meal at the Old Shanghai restaurant.  The food is 'not bad' according to Eric and Hua, both native Shanghainese.  There were so many choices, but we opted for the local flavor (that was 10 times what we'd pay in Songjiang) and was extremely tasty, and fresh and not salty. (Still a bargain compared to U.S. prices).   When we wait, it is socialist slow.  When we consume, it is capitalist quick.

Here I am with Hua, my 'visa.'

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Milk and Bail

It was the 7th and 8th time I was teaching the lesson that it started seeping in.

I'm teaching a class called Nursing English to new students of the Shanghai Lida Polytechnic Institute.  They are fresh out of middle school and on a track to become nurses.  This class is teaching English through scenarios a nurse would encounter as well as (hopefully) giving practice in using language to show empathy, instead of just nursing through book psychology.

So.  Getting familiar with the hospital.  The lobby is next to information. The admitting office is across from the cashier.  The pharmacy is down the hall, on the left, next to the patient elevators.  Excuse me, where is the snack bar?  It's on the left, just past the gift shop.  Asking directions.  Prepositional phrases.  Locations in a hospital.  That was last week's lesson.  This week, I was reviewing the locations with a power point presentation that had visuals that would or would not correspond with the location we were reviewing (when it doesn't correspond, there is the chance for the yes-no question,  i.e. Is this a hospital lobby?  No, it's a hotel lobby.)

With each class, the lesson gets tighter.  I teach each lesson 8 times to 8 different classes.  By the 3rd and 4th class, the lesson has all the elements timed out perfectly.  The 5th and 6th time, it's there, but I'm starting to get a bit bored with the material.  I actually embrace the challenge of teaching this over a course of 3 days--I marvel at actors who can do 8 shows a week and imbue each performance (theoretically) with the freshness of a first performance. I welcome the chance to practice the buddhist concept of 'beginner's mind' with each 80 minute class, investing the same lesson with new and keen energy (theoretically).

So by the time I was describing 'Billing' for the 7th time, I started riffing a new example.  The past six times, I would show a piece of paper and say that this was a bill, and this has the amount of money you have to pay, this is the number of yuan you have to give to the hospital, on this piece of paper, this is the bill, this is the office that makes this bill, it is 'Billing.'
Do you have to pay in China?
No, someone says.
Right, you're a socialist country, the doctor's are 'free.'
The class is stone-faced and silent.
Well in the United States, there are lots of bills.
There's a bill for electricity.
A bill for gas.
A bill for your telephone.
Wait, you guys here all buy your minutes in a chip and when you run out, you buy some more, so you never have a telephone bill.  You don't have to write a check (cuz you guys are such a cash economy) and then send it with the bill to the company, right?
They shake there heads.
(There English is proficient! (?))
A bill for your house.
A bill for your credit card.

Great, a new angle to expand out the idea.  A little cultural sharing.  U.S. life vs. China life.  Pay later vs. Pay now.  Abstract money vs. Cash money.

Come the 8th and final time (the 4th time this day) for reviewing the locations of the hospital, billing becomes just a list.  In the U.S. we have to pay:
A bill for electricity.
A bill for gas.
A bill for your telephone.
A bill for your house.
A bill for you credit card.
A bill for bailing out your government.
That's right, to the tune of 2000 US buckaroos per person in the United States.
So yes, that's billing.  That's the office that gives you your bill.
Does everyone understand?

Come time to talk about the coffee shop, there's still an hour to go.  At this point it goes from 'beginner's mind' to Outward Bound.  I humor them with the eye-popping energy of a caffeinated face and also explain how in the U.S., college students drink lots and lots of coffee to stay awake when they study.  The graphic shows a man pouring coffee, the way a Moroccan pours tea, high above the head, the drink cascading down with aimed skill.  Aha.  A moment to review the present continuous and use a verb:  
What is he doing class?  He's pouring coffee.
Everybody:  He's pouring coffee
He's pouring coffee
He's pouring coffee
What else can you pour?
I show them my Nongfu spring bottle.
Can you pour bread?
Can you pour beer?
Can you pour milk?
(beat) Yes.
Can you pour rice?
No you can't pour rice after it's cooked, but before?  Before it's cooked? Yes, you can pour rice into the pot.
They nod.

Milk just went by.  Didn't have to expand it.  The bigger point was to have them think about the action of pouring.  But milk right now is definitely not a talking point in class.  It is better not to translate the tragedy of melamine, the plastics and fertilizer additive that shows up as the required protein in milk tests, and has caused infant death and tens of thousands of infant kidney stones.  There's nowhere to go with it.  The part where so much of the kidney ailment and parent/child suffering could have been avoided, but no one wanted to spoil the 'two perfect weeks' of the Olympics with the melamine discovery.  It's not possible to discuss.  Especially where  economic and social progress outpaces the political: party officials, afraid that increased milk prices would cause protest, place caps on prices.  This then puts suppliers in a bind, needing to beef up supply to keep prices down.  (We definitely can't discuss this; it's beyond Nursing English).  When leaders of companies are many a time party officials as well, decisions get made to either keep the face of the state or fatten cadre pockets while citizen tragedy ensues.   (Re: collapse of buildings in Szechuan earthquake).

This is a big loss of face for China and loss of confidence in Chinese product for the world.  The thing is, the corrupt Chinese officials are immediately removed (not sure about parachutes, gold, silk or otherwise), and the Chinese citizens do not even have to entertain the thought of bailing  out their financial institutions, because the government already owns them. 

Next week's lesson:  Patient Admission and Orientation.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Expat Expo

Made it!

By taxi and 17 yuan (no tip necessary) from Xu Jia Hui in South Shanghai to the Shanghai Exhibition Centre (yes, zhan lan zhong xing), there on Yan' An Rd. for the Expat Show playing (or boothing) all weekend.
The Shanghai Exhibition Centre was originally the grounds of the Jewish millionaire Silas Hardoon.  He was once a respected real estater, part of both the French and International Councils until he caused scandal by marrying a Eurasian woman and doing a 'Josephine Baker' by adopting a gaggle of multi-cultural children.  
When Hardoon died in 1931, he was the wealthiest man in Shanghai.  His estate and school were burned down years later during the Sino-Japanese war and eventually became the Friendship Palace for Sino-Soviety relations, thus the 'bold Bolshevek strokes' of architecture.

Here is the entrance to the Expat Show.  I wasn't sure what I was expecting...to meet the foreign cool folk of Shanghai?  But alas, it is an Expo, once again introducing all the western amenities China can provide, booth after booth of luxury living, or tour packages to other parts of China and Asia, home decorating, medical services, legal advice, real estate, golf lessons, Chinese lessons, lots of food shops able to get faxed and deliver or cater for office parties, also fresh fruit delivered to your door, even Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.  There were also rooms with lots of games and activities for kids, and so it was families and business colonials.

Most booths had young spirited Chinese folks ready with their practiced English spiel.  It was cute for them to deliver it to me with a smile in their eyes, cuz they are still getting used to speaking English to a Chinese face.  Some would just automatically speak Chinese to me, but I kept my 'expat stat' and would speak English.  One gal was explaining the concept of a rental car to me in Chinese and offered me coupons to rent a car in the U.S. for 48 dollars if I filled out a form today.  I explained I didn't need it.  How about leaving a business card.  She had the pen in my hand and was getting me ready to sign up for the deal.  I told her to save the form for someone else and thanked her for her time.

There were a couple of standout booths.  The Swiss offered an enticing clean-air booth, a filter system that would definitely improve life in Shanghai, indoors of course.  There were Dutch cheese samples, their standard mild and sharp, but also one wedge spiced with kumin, and another with wasabe (the kick came after the third chew).  Both tasted really unique.

I checked out the California Fitness booth, and it seems gym membership push is universal, though they were definitely looking for a business clientele, cuz even the 'one day look' pass cost 480 yuan.  480 for a day?  I kept asking.  Yes, it's nice, come in, we'll show you.  For one day?  Yes, we have classes, sauna, yoga, come in.  (Thats like 60 bucks).  It's nice, come in, we'll show you.  Even in New York City I could get a two week trial at NY Sports Club for 20 bucks.  

The French dentistry booth was empty with a very low key Frenchman there.  I asked him what the standout of French dentistry was.  'We are French' he said with a smile and a super thick accent. I looked at their brochure:  it said 'Talent and Work, S. Dali."  I asked, Salvadore Dali?. Yes.  Alas, only the French would quote Dali on their dentistry brochure.  Merci. 

My 'networking skills' are very specialized and the expo catered to the monied or at least those wishing to maintain a certain lifestyle while in Shanghai.  This is the business center of China, after all, and everyone was exuberant to make connections and feel that rush of familiarity.  I would have to meet the foreign cool folk of Shanghai elsewhere, probably in a bar or a museum or a den or something.  I went to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf booth and grabbed a quick shot of my preferred joe and watched a huge downpour from the terrace.
The architecture started to attract my eye after so many booths of product and service.
Just sitting on the terrace was a relief.   One could sit and watch the details on the column, the spire within the arch.  I figured I'd go to the French Concession for a meal, and started looking for the route I could travel, preferably by foot, preferably after the rain stopped.  It was getting crowded on the terrace with the food court folk...plates of carribean food, crepes and also the favorite--pizza!  I went back into the Expo to find a spot to plan my next move.  Here's what hovered over the booths:
And I land on the other side of the entrance arch.
With map in hand, I sat and took in the room.  A look up...
And then down to the deco of the ground...
When architecture like this takes a back seat to booths and hocking, it certainly feels like history submits to the present.  The ancestors silently watching as the youngsters percolate in the foreground.  Alas the coexistence of old and new.  
All this seemed to be a show for a very pat life.
I found my route to the French Concession and exited through the entrance.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Vogs through Shanghai I: Xu Jia Hui

I love my Fluevogs.  John Fluevog, that is.  The Canadian shoe designer, who makes sturdy shows that are also fun and stylish.  My sister Su introduced me to them--she who has a great eye for detail (God is in the details, she believes) and very good taste.  And so, I am fortunate to know about Vogs.  
This particular shoe is called Katia.  Fluevog designs for both sexes, and gives people names to all of his shoes, whether practical or gravity-defying.  And the special touch...one's heel sits upon a Fluevog pronouncement:  'Your love makes me sing,' it says, surrounded by musical notes.  Happy feet, in every way.  And most importantly, comfortable. 
So for my third excursion into the city, I'm Vogging it.  I will meet my teaching cohort, Deb, in her neighborhood called Xu Jia Hui. (BTW, in pinyin, the 'X' is pronounced 'Sh').  Deb is from Sydney, Australia and has taught at Lida for the past year and a half.  When I ask her what she misses about Sydney, she answers 'Fresh air.'  Touche.  We're gonna check out the ExPat show at the Shanghai Exhibition Center.  While at Xu Jia Hui, I'm thinking of getting a webcam, but even more importantly, a cell phone...lthough it's been quite the pure living without any interruption whatsoever.

So in my Vogs, I walk out of the gates and there, a pink bus is already stopped.  No wait.  And there are seats available.  I always think I'm gonna read on the bus, but it's so much more interesting to gaze out the window.  

There is Ye Xe, the small town the school is near, there is the lot of stone lions for sale to guard the gates of new constructions, there we cross the bridge over this part of the Huangpu river, there we're honking and speeding down the highway.  If you think about the high-flying Chinatown buses that get you from city to city in record time, well this is the ancestral ground and there is no speed limit or precaution whatsoever.  No time to fear, just hold on and go with it. I grab tight to the railing.  Folks around me are napping.

Xu Jian Hui is not as far as People's square:  only 6 stops from Lianhua Rd.  There is a very friendly recorded voice on the subway, but on this weekend I swear that the recorded voice is just a little lower, like she slept in or something.  Could that be?  A different, more relaxed voice for weekend passengers?  Maybe played at a different speed? Though she still says the most curious thing.  After explaining in Chinese whether to exit on the right or the left side of the train, she says in English the name of the stop and then 'Please 'lide' on the left (or right) side of the train.' I've heard it over and over, and whether weekday or weekend voice, it still always sounds like 'lide.'  Leave?  Ride?  Elide?  Don't matter.  No one really speaks English.

I get to Xu Jia Hui.  I'm to meet Deb at Exit 2.  The place is bubbling over with shoppers.  I see Exit 8 and 9 this way, 10-12, that way.  That's it.  I go to the ticket seller, I can say this in Chinese.  'Excuse me, where is Exit 2.'  'There's no more Exit 2.'  I'm adjusting, and check again.  'No more Exit 2.'  Hmmm.  I go to Exit 12, to maybe wait there, but it's the entrance to a ritzy department store.  I go back to 8-9 and decide to just go up to the street.  The whir increases, I look for Deb...there's just no way, without a cell phone.

I surface at the entrance of the Orient Shopping Centre.  I am greeted. 
Rock on with your bad self, Lion at the Gate of the Orient...
I figure if I stay in one place, maybe Deb might pass by.  I take in the sites.  I find the mall that's a ball that houses electronics stores.  I do need that phone and webcam, but I can't get myself to navigate.  I really just want to get my bearings.
The lion looks on so merrily.  Laughing at the fesitivities, or perhaps about to feast upon it.  Eyeing that ball, the toy that always teases the lion in how many New Year's dances.
It may be the Orient, but it certainly welcomes all the world.
Turns out it's a display for the Festival of Shopping.  Aha, it's a festival, alas.
At it's base, gleeful bubbles of prosperity.  How can I get a picture of this with me in it?
I start sussing out passersby.  Who isn't carrying bags.  Who has hands free.  Everyone's got stuff.  That's cool.  I've got all the time in the world and no plan.  A nice gentleman passes by. Hands free.  I approach.  He abides.  I pose.  He pushes the button.  The Vogs are in.  So is South Korea, Germany and Italy and all those gleeful bubbles of prosperity.  What a display.
I've got to get a shot with the lion.  This proves to be a bit more challenging.  It seems that every person I asked to take a photo doesn't quite get the most important instruction:  Please include the shoes in the photo.  Granted it is the kindness of strangers that even allows me to have a photo with the mighty lion.  Is it too much to include the Vogs?

After standing on ground level for 3  photos, each time thanking the person for granting me the favor and then flicking the camera switch to view the photo, lo and behold the whole of the lion is in, but the photo would crop at my ankles.  They were even pretty good poses, but none of the photographers could appreciate the Vogs enough to include them in.

Finally, I ask a gal if she might take a photo of me.  I don't mention the shoes, and this time leap up onto the pedestal with the lion.
Et voila.  Mission accomplished.  All the while, the popping sound of a tennis ball is constantly heard.  Just behind the lion is a coupla men taking turns hitting a ball attached to a piece of elastic, hitting out into the street, no net, no court, just this device to practice your swing.
The strange thing is that upon closer inspection, these rackets are badminton rackets and have nothing to do with tennis.  I try to get a photo with the ball in action, but my timing with my camera is off. The guy behind the rackets asks if he can help me.  As a matter of fact yes.  How do I get to the...to the...to the Shanghai...museum, not not museum...boy my Chinese is limited...that place on Yan'An Blvd, a big place where there's a...there's a...it's at 1000 Yan'an Blvd...

I get my point across...it's the Shanghai zhan lan zhong xin... zhan lan zhong xin...I don't have a pen to write it down... Can I walk?  The fellow looks at my shoes...it's too far to walk.  How about subway?  Subway you have to change trains, it's complicated.  Better take a taxi.  Across the street.  

So how do you say it again?  He looks at me.  Sorry, I'm from the U.S. and my Chinese... Shanghai zhan lan zhong xin...zhan lan zhong xin, ...that's what I tell the taxi cab across the street...zhan lan zhong xin.  Yes, he says, suspiciously.  Something weird to him about a Chinese person who can't understand him so well, and can't remember how to say something as simple as zhan lan zhong xin.  I had that in Guangzhou too, when I was teaching there 23 years ago.  As if you're playing a joke or something. Part of the low trust of this culture.
I wonder if I should try at least to get a webcam to see my peeps back in the U.S....if I might venture into the great good mood that is this huge shopping district.  I'm not a big shopper, in fact I'm kind of averse to it.  It's not that I hate to shop, it's just that I never really want anything.  Not that I don't want anything but living the writing life, I've trained myself to not want what I cannot have (yo Sinead!), or at least cannot afford.  But when I need something, I'll go to where I need to get it--not really a browser.  Where to begin here in this Festival of shopping?  And I think you need your game and your Chinese to get the good deal.  Gosh, there's just too much to look at.  Can't do it in 20 minutes.  No webcam today.
I also decide to hold off the taxi to the ExPat show and checkout all of these huge gifts that continue to loom in, I guess, this Festival of Shopping.  The red above the happy gray cubeface is the flag, flagging indeed compared to the bright optimism of this set. 

And above the happy faces, towering bags with overflowing presents.  It looms even larger than the skyscraper.
It puts me in the mood for looking.  I go into one of the malls.  I walk inside and immediately get a sinking feeling.  I can't.  It's too overwhelming. The lights.  The music.  The crowds inside.  I see the taxi stand at the foot of the escalator and head down.  But not before I notice a string of Toshiba ads, with a familiar face, standing tall like a goddess from above.
It's the diving queen Guo Jingjing, Olympic gold medalist and China beauty, who makes 2 mil a year in endorsements. She's all set.  This one is for computers.  Feel Quality.  Feel Toshiba.

I feel dizzy from the air and stimulus.  I descend the stairs and grab a cab from the taxi stand. The Vogs are doing me right!  And I'm off to the Shanghai zhan lan zhong xin.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Commissary # 2

Here is the path from my apartment building that leads out into the school.  On the left is Commissary #1, and on the left Commissary #2. Lida hires two different catering companies to feed the students.  Commissary #1 is more Shanghainese, has lighter, more local fare, like wontons and noodles.  Commissary #2 is more traditionally Chinese, with a variety of dishes and rice.
To the west and behind the Administration building we are, right behind the curves of the library and media center.  You can see my apartment building at the top, Commissary #2 to the left and Commissary #1 to the right.
Luna took me to eat lunch that first day after I landed.  Groggy and trying to orient, she chipperly led me down the path.  'Let's go to #2.'  As a creature of habit that's the one I go to. For pretty much every meal.  With the 15 hour difference and the jet lag, I am awake to hear the early cock's crow at around 4:30 am and have been getting to Commissary #2 at 6AM, when it opens. 
It's 8 tables deep and 16 tables wide (8 x 16 x 4).  It amazes me the masses of folks it can accomodate, and superfast, too (if friends don't let friends cut in line).  Here is breakfast:
Lots of breads and light cakes, but also stacks of steamers, loaded with both meat and vegetable bao.  The also have plain bao (man to) available, and sometimes they'll have the foldable kind that you can stick a fried egg into the center.  They vary from 30 to 80 fen.  (100 fen = 1 RMB).  I've gotten so good at dividing by 7.  The prices keep blowing me away and I guess I really am Chinese at the core because if the price is good, it tastes better.
Here's some preparation.  O look at all the glorious dumplings, waiting to be cooked.
Then there are vats and vats of rice porridge, also known as congee, and to the Cantonese, jook.  One of them is plain, and one has century egg in it.  Since the food and fillings tend to be on the salty side, I've stuck to having the plain.  One bowl is 70 fen, and it comes with either pickled radish, or salted mustard greens with soybeans (edamame).  I switch off between the salty and the salted, and try to put only half the portion in.  
Today it's pickled radish, a veggie steamed bun (that has the salted mustard green in it) and a tea egg.  Tea eggs are hard boiled eggs that have then had their shells cracked and then stewed in tea.  It's a Shanghainese specialty.  It always reminds me of my Ma cuz she used to make a whole pot of them and eat one or two as a quick meal.
This is the magic card that gets deducted from.  This total is from lunch or dinner cuz it's a whopping 6.50 RMB (usually breakfast is around 1.20 RMB, which at 7 to 1 is less than 20 cents).  My card is credited with 250.00RMB every 25th of the month.
The card also works at this little convenience store, right in the commissary.  You can get basics like toiletries, mini-notebooks, sodas and snacks, fresh fruits like asian pears, fuji apples, or honey pomelos (oro dulce?), and yes, tea eggs.  You never really need cash, unless the machines are down. 
This is pretty much my breakfast every morning.  Right in the middle of it, I down an Omega 369 fish oil pill.  I bring my own water.  The bottle is from the 'nongfu shan something' which means 'farmer's spring.'  I just keep filling it with my big jug of water at home and chilling it in my mini-fridge.  And since I'm done with breakfast by 6:30am (it's 6:30pm in NY and 3:30pm in LA), I usually have a mid-morning snack as I'm reading the internet, to tide me over to lunch. Did you know that food is very important to the Chinese? 
Yup, still got mooncakes, and they're still delicious.  I have it with jasmine tea.  Come lunch:
It gets packed.  It's serious food for lunch and dinner:
The masked ladies are ladened with ladles, and have very good technique, scooping forehand from there closer side, and then able to reach across and scoop backhand just as proficiently.  They can make big scoops of rice too.  I usually just ask for a small scoop, it's 30 fen.  This here is a weekday spread.  They usually have more greens and variety.  Today's weekend selection is more limited, but still pretty tasty:
On the left is textured tofu with chili flakes.  The middle is a kind of zucchini with egg, and then there's sliced seaweed with tiny bits  of ground pork.  Really tiny.   And this meal is 6.80RMB--delicious!  

My only reservation is the salt and MSG situation.  Not to be an obnoxious American or anything, (because I am duly appreciative of having this food available to me 3 times a day and my not having to cook so that I can just do my work and stuffs), but I am extremely thirsty after eating and the MSG headache does creep in.  I can't exactly request 'low sodium'--it ain't that modern yet, and what do these kids have to worry about high blood pressure.  So I, when no one's looking, rinse some of the food with my water.  It might make a bit of a puddle in the tray compartments, but it just looks like...uh, extra sauce, yeah yeah.  I caught someone watching me do this--only one of us was embarrassed and hint:  it wasn't the American.  I swear, not so much headache anymore and not as thirsty.  (Or maybe I've adapted.) And it's not every bite. Some days are not as salty as others.  And there are ways around it.  For instance in the zucchini egg dish, the eggs seem to carry all the salt, so they tend to get left in the puddle. Since this is the one-child generation of students, brought up in a time of prosperity, they tend to be picky with their food and only eat what they want.  Yeah it weighs on my waste conscience, but it's either the egg, or my head.

I certainly do not do the rinse when I'm eating with others.  Though just today, I invented the bath: when one compartment is empty, I rinse the bite over it, and then I bathe the other bites in the new water, until it gets too salty.  That way I don't have to pour as often.

Not pictured here is the lady with the plastic container who wipes the tables and catches the food bits in her container.  She sits there as the eaters eat, and waits for them to leave their tables and then she wipes.  It didn't feel right taking a photo of her.

Also not seen are the three dishwashers that the tin trays are self-bussed to.  It was awkward for them when I gave them my tray and I would say 'Thank You.'  One would meekly, in his or her country Shanghainese accent say 'No need.'  When I told Winner about this, she said that no one thanks them.   I still do.  If they look at me.

When I stacked my tray today (cuz the dishwashers were taking their meal), I saw that I was not the only one with 'lots of sauce' in the tray compartments.  Someone else had done the rinse too... 

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