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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Humble Abode

Last week I had to move to a new apartment. The landlord at the old apartment decided that she wanted to live there herself, so after only two months in Shanghai, I found myself looking for a place to live again.

I was able to find another apartment without much trouble, thanks mostly to my Chinese-speaking friends. I moved into the new apartment last Thursday.

C'mon in, let me show you around.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Couch Surfing

I've always been intrigued by the idea of couch surfing, but have never done any surfing myself. One of my good friends is an experienced couch surfer & has lots of great stories to tell of his experiences. The idea is to connect with people through the Couch Surfing website who can offer you a free place to stay for a night or two while you're traveling. When you get home, you can offer your own couch to travelers, & thus build up good karma the world over.

In addition to lodging weary souls, the Couch Surfing community in Shanghai also meets for social events. Tuesday evening they met at a bar close to where I live, so after classes I took the bus over to check it out.

The bar is a hole in the wall right next to Fudan University. It's apparently pretty popular with the college crowd. When I got there it was filled with foreigners. In fact, the only Chinese people there were the owners of the joint. They served huge beers for 10 RMB (about US $1.40), & the extensive menu offered Western food at rock bottom prices. I got a decent-sized veggie burger & a plate of fries for 16 RMB (about US $2.30). Nom nom nom.

The couch surfing group was interesting as well. I met an Austrian, a Finlander, a Brazilian, & several Americans, including two people from Arizona, of all places. Some had just started traveling, others had been traveling for years, but they all had interesting tales to tell. Maybe some of them can give me some good advice on traveling within China so I can start taking advantage of my days off.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Magnifying Chinese

I've been earnestly studying Chinese since I arrived here in Shanghai. Every night when I get home from work, the first thing I do is study a lesson from my Pimsleur audio program. I also have a reading textbook that I bought at the bookstore here, & once a week I attend the free Chinese lesson that my school offers. Still, it's slow going - Chinese is hard! Especially since the characters in my dictionary are so tiny - I guess my vision isn't what it used to be. So I bought a magnifying glass at the 2 kuai store. Now I can see those little buggers up close.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Apartment Update

Since I have to move from my current apartment, I spent Thursday & Friday house hunting. There was no way I was going to be able to do it on my own since I don't speak that much Chinese, so Anna, my Director of Studies (basically my boss), graciously spent her day off pounding the pavements of Shanghai with me, helping to translate & negotiating for the best price.

Apartment hunting in Shanghai is so different from in the US, where you can just pick an apartment building & go to the office to be shown the available units. Here in Shanghai all apartments are essentially condos. Each unit has a different owner, so the only way to find out about the available units for rent is to go to a real estate agent who will then show you his listings. He may have one apartment in one building & the next apartment will be down the street a kilometer or two, so you wind up doing a lot of walking!

After seeing about ten apartments in two days, I finally decided on an apartment that's even closer to the school than my current one - a three-minute walk to work! The rent is more expensive than my current place at 2900 RMB per month (about US $415). It's a one-bedroom place on the 22nd floor, which is the top floor, so I guess I can say I have the penthouse :)

I'll be moving in on Thursday.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bluegrass! (Sort of)

I'm always looking at Shanghai's City Weekend to find interesting things to do on my days off. This week I found a posting for a bluegrass band. Bluegrass in Shanghai?! I had to see it.

It took me two hours to get there - that's the way things go here in the largest city in the world. Once I found the place, I was warmly welcomed by the band members & local bar flies alike. Turns out that there was no cover & free wine for ladies' night - yahoo!

The band played mostly folksy rock tunes, but they did play a couple of bluegrass songs as promised, including Cripple Creek, which my friends back home sometimes play. They were all good musicians, but the mandolin player was extra amazing.

They play every Thursday, & although it's a trek to get there, I may go back again next week. Bluegrass makes me happy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Apartment Hunting - Again

Even though I signed a year lease for my apartment, my landlord has decided that she wants to live there herself, so she's kicking me out after only two months. Originally, she gave me three days to move out, but then reconsidered when she realized that was absurd. I now have a month to find a new place.

So I'll have to find a real estate agent & spend my weekend apartment searching. Maybe I can find something better than what I have now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mongolian Rock

The Jue Music & Art Festival is going on this month in Shanghai, bringing lots of cool bands to the city. The other night I caught the Beijing-based Mongolian rock band Hanggai (杭盖) at a local hole in the wall. Tickets were 50 RMB (about US $7) and beers were 20 RMB.

They were awesome! Their style is hard to describe. It was a mix of rock & traditional Mongolian sounds, including throat singing. It even had a lilty element to it which reminded me of Irish music. The audience (about half Chinese & half foreigners) was well-versed in their tunes, singing along & dancing happily.

This was my view of the show:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Yeah, But We Have Hai Bao

Everyone here in Shanghai is getting excited about the upcoming World Expo. There are new parks with beautiful landscaping, spruced-up buildings, & extended metro lines all over the city. The city is definitely a-buzz.

In the Travel Club class that I teach, of course we talk about places other than Shanghai or even China - we're traveling, you see. The other day we were talking about Paris - Paris has this, Paris has that. One student in a fit of hometown pride said, "Yeah, but we have Hai Bao!"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chestnuts Roasting

I tried chestnuts for the first time ever the other day. I found a vendor who was roasting them on the street corner. (Have I said how much I love street food?) I got a half kilo for 6 yuan (about 85 cents). They were surprisingly starchy - like potatoes - & a little bit sweet. A tasty afternoon snack.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Strong Shanghainese Women

Since moving to Shanghai, I've heard rumors of Shanghainese women being famous for their strength & independence. Apparently women dominate this city. You can read more about Shanghainese women here, here & here.

I see tangible evidence of the phenomenon everywhere I go in this city: Guys carrying their girlfriends' purses.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teaching at English First

I teach English at a school for adults here in Shanghai. They organize the classes so that the lower level students get Chinese teachers whereas the upper level students get foreign teachers, so many of my students are pretty good at English by the time I see them. They know the grammar well & have a good vocabulary base. The other day, a student came to class dripping from the rain outside & said, "The weather is atrocious!" Indeed.

So they come to classes not to learn verb conjugations or lists of vocabulary, but for the opportunity to practice the language in "real life" situations. We give them classes with engaging topics so they can use the language as a means to an end rather than ending at the language.

In essence, we're not really teaching English here but instead using English to hold discussions on various subjects. Sometimes they are mildly controversial (Did we really go to the moon?), but they are always thought-provoking. Last week I taught a class on despotic & linear hierarchies, & this week I'm teaching about dystopias & cyberpunk.

The lessons are written as Power Point presentations by a team at the main office downtown & all the schools throughout the country use them. However, every teacher has one class where they can be creative with the content.

I teach a Travel Club which features a different destination every week. I get to choose the destinations, & I research the information that I use to create my own Power Point presentations. This week we're doing Tokyo. It's a lot of work. One 50-minute class takes me about five hours to prepare!

But I love doing it. It's interesting to research the information, & I like the challenge of putting together a seamless lesson based on content rather than language. I feel like I'm learning something too, which is one of the main reasons why I love teaching.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Green China?

According to & this guy, 16 of the top 20 polluted cities in the world are in China. The State Department has a more conservative statistic, but I wouldn't exactly say that people in China have hopped on the environmental bandwagon. Even so, some cultural norms turn out to be environmentally friendly despite a general nonchalance on the subject.

For example, almost everything that's recyclable gets recycled - not by your standard suburban family, but by the people who make their living sorting through garbage cans for sellable materials. The grocery stores don't provide bags for you (customer service is a relatively new concept here), so almost everyone carries their own shopping bag to the store. & millions of people (I can safely say that in the largest city in China) use public transportation every day instead of driving a car around town.

Now if we could just get rid of all that smog.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Naming Yourself

I teach English at a school for adults here in Shanghai. Most of the students have an English name that they have used since long before they became English students. It seems to be the custom in China for people to adopt an English name in addition to their Chinese name. Since many Chinese people deal with English speakers regularly, it just makes things easier for everyone. Most people choose "normal" names, like Amy or Barry, but some people get creative with names like Sugar or Eunice.

In Vietnam it was different. Only students of English had English names, & many of those were chosen by their foreign teachers. Some students mocked the system by naming themselves Superman or Cinderella. In business, however, Vietnamese people use their Vietnamese name, even when dealing with English speakers. They don't want English names. It's not their real name.

When I go to the post office or the bank, they sometimes ask me if I have a Chinese name. I've tried to think of a good name to use, but haven't come up with anything that I can remember long enough to tell anyone about it. I think I'll just stick with Nancy. It's easier for everyone.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Public Transportation

Living in Shanghai means relying on public transportation. I had a bicycle in Vietnam, which allowed me to roam freely around the small town where I lived. But here in Shanghai, a bicycle is impractical. The city is just too huge to try to bike from one place to another.

A car - or even a scooter - is also out of the question, since I won't be here long enough to make the investment worthwhile. Besides, I don't know how to drive here. Good thing my apartment is a five-minute walk from my school.

On my days off I use the bus & subway to get to the center of the city where all the interesting things are: museums, monuments, bars, & bookstores. Most trips downtown take about an hour one way, sometimes longer depending on how many transfers I make.

So I struggle with this conflict: On the one hand, I want to go out & see this city, take in all it has to offer, experience it to the fullest. On the other hand, I don't look forward to dealing with the journey, the pushing & shoving, trying to ask for directions when I don't speak the language. Besides, I've been working all week & I'm tired. It would be so much easier just to stay home & watch a DVD that I bought from a street vendor.

Luckily, I have so far been able to push through my laziness & go out anyway. I start to think of all the things out there that I could be missing, & I grab my transportation card & go. & it's almost always worth it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tasteless Produce

At the grocery store the other day I bought these plump bright red cherries. I thought about them the whole way home - how juicy & sweet & yummy they would be. But when I finally bit into one, it was tasteless. Bummer.

Actually, much of the produce I've found at the grocery store has been pretty tasteless. I've been eating less fruits & vegetables because of it. I guess that's what you get when you live in a big city: mass produced produce for the masses.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Chinese Finger Counting






Friday, March 5, 2010

Stuff on Sticks

My favorite street food in Shanghai is what I like to call Stuff on Sticks. These guys set up their barbeques on the street corner & display a wide variety of yummy food on wooden skewers.

You just pick out what you want & hand it to the guy who lays it over the hot coals. He brushes it with oil & soy sauce, & shakes salt & chili powder on it. A few minutes later it's done & you have a tasty treat. This time I got eggplant, tofu, mushrooms, & zucchini. Nom nom nom.

Those coals are actually red hot but it doesn't look like it in the first photo. Here's another one.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pushing in Chinese

扑行 pu xing

扑 pu1: To throw oneself on, pounce on, rush on, attack; flap, flutter
行 xing2: To go, travel, prevail, do, perform, carry out, engage in

My new word to describe using public transportation in Shanghai.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Connecting to the Internet

After several attempts, I finally got the internet connected in my apartment today. It's astounding how long it takes to get these kinds of things accomplished in an unfamiliar place in an unfamiliar language. But now I have internet 24/7! (Danger. I may never go out again.)