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Friday, January 29, 2010

Making Friends

My friend Charlene who lives in Seattle has a friend, Mike, who lives in Shanghai. What luck! I contacted him through email & we were able to meet up for dinner. He's lived in China for several years now, & his wife is Chinese, so he will be a good mentor for me.

I love how small the world is.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Getting a Haircut en Español

The other day I had a fight with the curling iron & the curling iron won. Time for a haircut.

I found a hair salon right by my house. I wasn't sure how it would pan out since I don't speak much Chinese, but I figured I'd just try out my gesturing skills & see what happened.

I went inside & asked one of the men working there: "多小钱?" Duo xiao qian? How much? He motioned toward one of the customers who was a foreigner hoping that she would be able to help us translate. She spoke Chinese as well as English, & told me it was 20 yuan for a haircut (US$2.85). Nice.

She looked Latina, so I asked her where she was from. "Mexico," she answered. "¡Que bueno!" I exclaimed. "Hablo español." We switched to Spanish & she helped me describe to the haircutter what I wanted. Then she sat chatting with me while he cut my hair. It was so nice to be able to speak Spanish again.

It turns out that María is from Sinaloa, the Mexican state just south of Arizona. She's here in Shanghai studying business administration & Chinese. I was so lucky to find her there at the hair salon. I made sure to get her phone number - it would be so nice to have a Spanish-speaking friend here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Material World

Moving is an interesting exercise.

I've been working on my 100 Thing Challenge now for a year or two. When I was getting ready to leave Arizona for Vietnam, I got rid of a lot of things: furniture, clothing, household goods, my car. It was easy in the beginning to find things that I didn't need or want. I had four or five different yard sales within a year, donating whatever didn't sell to charity. It felt good to purge all that extra stuff.

I wound up bringing about 400 things with me to Vietnam. Not bad for a first try.

When I moved to Shanghai, China this month, I went through the task again of getting rid of things. I left a whole pile of books, clothing, & other items with one of my Vietnamese friends. I pared down my four pieces of luggage that I brought with me from Arizona to three. Still, I came to Shanghai with just about 400 things. How did that happen?

Now that I have an apartment, I find that I'm already accumlating more things: a pot, a dish, a cup, sheets, a pillow... Maybe I should change my challenge to 500 things instead!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Doing Laundry

My new apartment has a washing machine! Now, does anyone know what the buttons say?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My New Digs

Welcome to my humble abode.

One bedroom, one bathroom, a living room, kitchen, & laundry room
46 square meters (about 500 square feet)
2600 RMB per month (about US$370)
5-minute walk from my school!

All of the furniture came with the apartment.

I'll have to do a little rearranging, a little decorating.

I bought this awesome sheet & comforter set at the mall today.
It's already starting to feel like home.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mall Rat

I now work in a mall.

My school takes up half of the top floor of a nine-story shopping mall, which has lots of restaurants, clothing stores & boutique shops to help me fill the time between classes. There's also a movie theater, a karaoke lounge, & an ice rink! Who could want for more?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Great Firewall of China

Google Sites
You Tube
Wikipedia (images blocked)
Bank of America

Good thing I found a way through to the other side of the Great Firewall of China.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Laptop vs. Mini

I left my Dell Inspiron 1525 (no longer available) with a friend while traveling around Vietnam in December. At over seven pounds, it would have been a burden to carry with me in my backpack while I trapsed all over the country. Besides, I was afraid it might get stolen on the road if I left it in a hotel room or on a bus luggage rack.

I traveled for a month without it, using internet cafes at each stop instead. I definitely missed the convenience of having my own computer with my own internet bookmarks & settings, all of my documents & photos. Because I was traveling for so long (& being the shutterbug that I am), I had to buy a second memory card for my camera because I quickly ran out of room on the first one. If I had had my laptop with me, I could have downloaded photos daily, it would have been easier to update my blog, & I would have been able to keep better contact with friends & family on Skype.

A mini laptop would be much better for long-term travel. At just over two pounds, it would be much lighter & easier to carry, & the smaller size would make it less noticeable to potential thieves. Many of the minis offer 160GB or larger hard drives, integrated webcams, & wireless capabilities.

The downside:
1. The keyboard is smaller than a standard keyboard, so for daily typing tasks, it might be hard to deal with.
2. It doesn't have a built-in DVD drive, though you can buy an extrenal drive if you want it.

By the time I'm ready to buy my next computer, maybe they'll have it all worked out.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Apartment Hunting

A couple of students from my school took me & another new teacher to look for apartments today. I was so glad for the help. I had no idea where to start, & I don't speak enough Chinese to ask the right questions.

We saw four different apartments. One was very nice - clean, bright & modern with new furniture & a good view of the city. The other three were older & darker with out-of-date furniture & appliances. The rents ranged from 2500 to 3500 RMB (between US$350 & US$500).

The other teacher decided to take the nicer apartment. It was a two-bedroom & I was looking for something smaller. I will look at more apartments this weekend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Medical Check

Today all of the new teachers went to have our medical check, which is required for us to be able to work in China. We had to go to a special clinic specifically set up for these kinds of medical checks, which was about a 30-minute taxi ride from the main office in People's Square.

When we got there, we each took a  number & filled out the intake form with the help of our shepherd for the morning, a Chinese woman who had accompanied us from the school. The form was entirely  in Chinese.

They were very well-organized at the clinic. There were several rooms where each step of the process would take place, but still none of us knew exactly what would happen in each room. The mystery made it kind of fun.

Each of us were called into the first room one by one. When it was my turn, a nurse measured my height & weight: 1.8 meters tall, 65 kilos. Then I was told to get undressed, put on a white robe, & wait to be called to the next room. It was kind of like going to the spa.

In the second room, they took blood samples, then lead me to wait for the third room. What's going to happen next? I had to wait & see. In the next few rooms, they tested my hearing & eyesight, took a chest x-ray, & did a breast exam.

I entered another room where I was told to lie down & open the robe. The nurse quickly attached electrodes to my chest: pop! pop! pop! I started giggling. I felt like I was in a Stanley Kubrick film. The nurse chastised me & I tried to control my laughter. A few seconds later, pop! pop! pop! The nurse removed the electrodes, handed me a print out of my EKG, & directed me towards the next room.

The final room was the ultrasound room. Again, I was told to lie down & open the robe. The nurse moved the ultrasound wand over my belly & ribs, causing more giggles. It seemed like she took an extra long time looking at my insides.

Finally I was finished & was allowed to get dressed. All told, it took an hour for six of us to go through the fun house.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shanghai is Huge!

Today I went out to find my school & to take a look around the neighborhood near there, hoping to get a start on my apartment search.

I looked on Google Maps for directions from the hotel to the school. It gave me the bus route, with addresses in English & Chinese. I wrote down the names of the stops where I would have to switch buses in Chinese, grabbed my English-Chinese dictionary & a compass, & headed out the door.

Three hours later, I arrived at the school. Holy moly, but this city is huge!

Going back to the hotel, I took the subway system, which was much faster & easier to use, but it still took me an hour & a half to get back. I definitely need to find an apartment on the other side of town.

When I started out today, I thought that I would be able to find apartment buildings in the area of the school, & just walk in & ask to have a look. But it's not going to be as easy as that. Even just the area around the school is too overwhelming for me to go searching on my own. I'll have to contact a real estate agent to help me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My First Day at School

Today was my first day of orientation at EF, my new school here in Shanghai. There were five other teachers who were also new to EF. A school representative met us at the hotel & showed us how to use the bus to get to the main office near People's Square. There we had coffee & took a look around the center.

Then another representative took us to open bank accounts, get passport photos for various administration purposes, & buy cell phones & SIM cards. We took a break for lunch, & in the afternoon we met more of the staff members & signed our contracts. Everyone was very nice & welcoming.

The main office takes up several floors in a high-rise building downtown. It's very stylishly decorated, with banks of computers for student use, as well as several classrooms, lounging areas, & even a pool table! It looks like a well-organized forward-thinking company.

I won't be teaching in the main office, but in a school in the northern part of town in Hong Kou district. I'll go tomorrow to find the school & explore the area. I'll also start looking for an apartment that's close to my school.

Excess Baggage

In my recent move from Vietnam to Shanghai, I left a lot of things behind (mostly books). I had to fit all of my things into four bags: two checked bags at 20 kilos each & two carry-ons at 7 kilos each. I carefully weighed each bag to make sure that I was under the limit, reluctantly adding more stuff to the pile of leave-behinds.

When I got to the airport to fly to Hong Kong, the Vietnam Airlines representative at the check-in counter told me that I was only allowed 20 kilos of *total* checked bag weight & only *one* carry-on. I was 15 kilos over weight! I paid the $120 excess baggage fee & boarded the plane. (They graciously allowed me to take the two carry-ons & thankfully did not weight them.) Apparently, if you fly from the US or Canada, they allow you 40 kilos, but if you're flying within Asia, the rules are different. I must have read the wrong page on their website.

Two weeks later, I flew Dragon Airlines from Hong Kong to Shanghai. This time I expected the excess baggage charge, so I found more things to leave behind & packed the lighter items in my checked luggage while stuffing my remaining books into one carry-on, hoping that it wouldn't be weighed. This time the lady at the check-in counter only charged me $35 for the extra weight & ignored my carry-on altogether.

I bet this move has helped me a lot with my 100 Thing Challenge.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I'm in Shanghai! I'm so excited to be here! I have a really good feeling about this year.

My first day here I found a grocery store - oh! the variety! Found some yummy street food - held out my hand full of change & the lady at the food stall counted out 5 RMB (about 70cents) very slowly so I could see what she was doing. Walked down a side street bustling with a night market.

I actually understood little bits & pieces of what people were saying, especially numbers & things like "how are you?" & "do you want some?"  I'm looking forward to improving my Mandarin skills while I'm here. Juliana will be so impressed!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

10 Things to do in Hong Kong on the Cheap

1. Hong Kong Park - Free
2. Kowloon Park - Free
3. Temple Street Night Market - Free to browse & people watch
4. The Escalators - Free: Ride them up the mountain, then walk down
5. The MTR - Cheap & easy way to get around town
6. Star Ferry - Cheap way to see the harbor
7. Self-guided architecture tour - Free audio recording & map from the Hong Kong Tourism Board
8. Museums - Free on Wednesdays
9. Window shopping
10. Endless noodle shops - Meals for under HK$50

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Architecture in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is full of amazing examples of modern architecture. Walking around, I can't help but look up agape at the elegant monstrosities. It would be interesting to know more about these monoliths scraping the skies of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I will miss the architecture walk sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. They only offer it on Saturdays, the day I fly to Shanghai. As it is, I can only admire them from the pavements below.