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Friday, May 28, 2010

Skate Competition

My apartment building is right next to a sports arena. While I wait for the elevator, I can look out the window & see what's going on over there. All this week they've been getting ready for what looks like a skate/bike competition. Too bad I'll be working over the weekend. It would be interesting to watch people do some crazy flipty-flip tricks.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tuesdays at Helen's

I've been going to a bar near my apartment on Tuesday nights to hang out with some Couch Surfers. The group is always interesting - there are usually people there from at least three different countries. This week a Swede, a Mexican & a guy from Minnesota were there. We ordered a table top dispenser filled with cheap beer & had a great time exchanging travel stories until 2:00 in the morning. Thank goodness I don't have to be at work until noon!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Work Party

I teach English for English First, an international chain of English schools. There are several schools here in Shanghai & we're always having some sort of contest amongst ourselves. Last month my school won the highest student satisfaction score. Yay for us! So we had a party.

First, we went out for Stuff on Sticks & beer.

Then we went bowling. That sign on the far wall of the bowling alley is advertising the World Expo. It says "Better City, Better Life".

& what special night out in Shanghai wouldn't be complete without karaoke? Here are some teachers singing a Lady Gaga song. They love her.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Deciphering Menus

One of my language learning projects has been to decipher the menu from one of the restaurants near my apartment. I've been using a great program called NJ Star to look the characters up by radical (the separate components of a Chinese character), something you can't do with a regular Chinese-English dictionary.

Sometimes all that translating doesn't get me very far. For example, I've discovered that this restaurant offers "tofu brain" (豆腐脑 dou4 fu3 nao3), as well as "old sesame copy hand" (老麻抄手 lao3 ma2 chao1 shou3). However, the other day I had a breakthrough & was able to order a yummy meal of tofu with mushrooms and a spicy cabbage dish, a delicious reward for my efforts.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Fourth Floor

In China, the number 4 is an unlucky number because the word for "4" ( si4) sounds like the word for "death" ( si3). I've been told that especially in hospitals, there is no fourth floor. My apartment building does have a fourth floor, but the button for it has an up arrow on it rather than the actual number. There doesn't seem to be a problem with naming the 13th floor, however.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chinese Dialects

Most people know that Mandarin & Cantonese are two different dialects in China, but Shanghai also has its own dialect. Many of the street vendors & taxi drivers here speak mainly Shanghainese, which adds to the confusion when I'm trying to get tasty stuff on sticks or when I'd like to go home.

If you're curious to hear what these three dialects sound like next to each other, here is a very good 15-minute podcast from Chinese Pod that gives examples of "hello", "thank you", & "goodbye" in all three.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Film Crew

I was sitting at Starbucks this afternoon when I noticed a big crowd had gathered in the pedestrian mall outside. I went to investigate & found a film crew setting up. I took this photo before I was yelled at by the film crew - no photos!

Later, they started filming a scene in which a woman kicked a man in the groin, soap opera style. She kicked him several times before the film crew was happy. Poor guy. I haven't watched any Chinese TV, so I didn't recognize the actors. They're the two circled in the photo below, in case you're curious.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dumplings on Credit

On my way home from work in the evenings, I pass by a nightly street fair. There's usually someone selling copy DVDs, another person with panty hose in all colors & designs, still others selling wallets, costume jewelry, & of course a cornicopia of yummy street food.

I often buy veggie dumplings from the same guy a few times a week. The other night, the dumpling vendor saw me coming & dished up ten of the crispy bites for me (3 RMB = about US 40 cents) before I reached his stand. When I dug into my pocket, I realized that I only had a 1-RMB coin & a 100-RMB bill. In my basic Chinese, I told him that I didn't have any money, so I'd have to go dumpling-less tonight. He insisted. He shoved the dumplings at me, took my one kuai coin, & said I could pay him the remaining two kuai when I saw him next. I guess I've established credit in China!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

10 Things I Say (Almost) Every Day in Chinese

1. ni3 hao3 你好 = hello
2. mei3 shi4 ka1 fei1 美式咖啡 = American style coffee
3. re4 de 热的 = hot
4. yi1 dian3 tang2一点儿糖 = a little sugar
5. wu3 jiao3 chang3 五角场 = five angle area
6. zhe4 li3 hao3 de 这里好的 = here’s good
7. fa1 piao4 发票 = receipt
8. xie4 xie4 谢谢 = thank you
9. wo3 e4 si3 le! 我饿死了 = I’m starving!
10.ting1 bu4 dong3 听不懂 = I don’t understand

Monday, May 17, 2010


People certainly don't come to Shanghai for the weather.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Paying Rent

My landlord came over today to collect the rent. Since I don't have a way to write a check, I would have to pay her in cash.

So I went to the bank this morning to take out the 9000 RMB (US $1285) that I would need to pay for three months rent plus utilities (In Shanghai, you normally pay rent in bulk like that). I felt a little uneasy carrying all that cash on me, especially after my pick-pocketing incident, but made it back to my apartment without any problems.

My landlord itemized the bills & gave me a signed copy for my records. She's a really nice lady. Too bad I can't say more to her in Chinese. Maybe by the time I give her my last rent payment...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Open Mic Night

Last night I made the trek across town to see an open mic night. Most of the live music on offer here in Shanghai is just covers of pop songs, but this event promised only original songs from the participants. I was looking forward to hearing something new.

Most of the performers were foreigners, but there were a few Chinese musicians too, including this woman who played an instrument that resembled a child's toy, both by the way it looked & the sounds that it made. I felt like I was at a junior high talent show.

When I got home, I looked the instrument up online. Turns out it's called a Melodica & can cost about US $100-200. Who knew?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pop Music

The most popular English-language star in Shanghai.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

English Corner

A Chinese student invited me to join him & his friends for English Corner. They meet every Friday evening for a couple of hours of English practice. This time, they had prepared a warm up of tongue twisters ("Betty & Bob brought back blue balloons from the big bazaar"), & then we played a game of Guess My Card.

It was fun to spend time with students, but mostly I am just amazed at how dedicated they are to practicing English. I can certainly learn from their example.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Loving Hut

I found a vegan restaurant near my apartment called Loving Hut. Aparently it's an international chain. There's even one in my hometown, but the menu is different. At the branch here in Shanghai the food is more, shall we say, Chinese-y.

At 3:00 in the afternoon, I was the only customer there, but Mr. Xu, who speaks very good English, was friendly & chatted with me as I ate my bao zi 包子 (a steamed bread ball filled with shredded cabbage & carrots). It only cost me 1.5 RMB (about 20 cents). I didn't try any of the main dishes (10-20 RMB each), but judging from the photos on the menu, they look delicious. I'm definitely going back!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dreaming in Power Point

The lessons at my school are all done as Power Point presentations. Even my Travel Club, which I create myself, is a Power Point lesson.

I'd never used Power Point before coming to Shanghai, but since I started working for EF, I've become a near expert on the program. I spend so much time using it that I often dream in Power Point. Click to go to the next scene. Click to start audio. Click click click.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Day Trip: Suzhou

With the weather turning warmer, I finally decided to take a trip outside of the city. Suzhou is only about 30 minutes away by train, so I thought I'd start there.

They call it the Venice of the East because of its network of canals.

The most obvious tourist attraction here is the seven-story North Temple Pagoda, but most people come to see the ancient gardens. There are several gardens that are said to be hundreds of years old spread out around town, all of which charge a 40-80 RMB entrance fee.

Since I only had a few hours here, I decided to forego the tourist sites & just wander the streets & back alleys. 

I found a heated game of Chinese chess...

...a peek into the back room of a quilter's home...

...& the most typical site in China: Renovation.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bilingual Yoga

There's a yoga studio just across the street from the mall where I work. The other day I went there to try out one of their classes. Since I don't speak much Chinese, I was expecting to have to watch what the rest of the people were doing & just follow along. But it turns out that the instructor is bilingual & did the whole class in both English & Chinese. Cool. Not only did I get a yoga session, but I also got a language lesson.

xi1 qi4

hu1 qi4

Sunday, May 2, 2010

World Expo Opening

On Friday, Shanghai held the opening ceremonies for this year's World Expo. I went with Anna, one of my co-workers, to the Bund, where we were hoping to get a glimpse of the elaborate fireworks display we'd been hearing about. I guess the rest of the city had the same idea - the Bund was teeming with people. Anna taught me a new phrase in Chinese:

ren2 shan1 ren2 hai3
people mountain people sea

We pushed & shoved through the crowd to Captain Hostel, & found a good spot on their terrace to wait for the action along with scores of other people. No problem - the weather was nice, the view was awesome, & the patrons were friendly.

Finally at around 10pm we heard the crack & boom of fireworks. We all looked toward the sky but couldn't see anything. Turns out the fireworks display was being held down river at the Expo site (of course), around the bend & out of sight.

Resigned to disappointment, we finished our beers & were turning to go when suddenly the Oriental Pearl Tower was ablaze with fireworks. Ooh! Aah! I fumbled to get my camera out, but the show didn't last long so I was only able to get a photo of the residual smoke hanging in the air.

Back on the street, that mountain & sea of people was heading home. The busses were so jam-packed that they didn't even stop at the bus stop - no room for more.

Anna & I started walking toward the next stop. Again, no busses stopped. We looked for a taxi, but they were all taken. We wound up walking a few kilometers toward home before we finally came across a free taxi. We made it back safe & sound around midnight.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jing An Temple

On a sunny day I decided to check out one of the tourist attractions in Shanghai: Jing An Temple (静安寺). I don't know why I dig Buddhist temples so much. I'm not religious & don't feel drawn to Buddhism in any way. Besides, they all look pretty much the same. Still there's something spiritual about them. I love the smell of incense burning, the chime of prayer bells, the ritual of people praying without really meaning it.

They say that the temple is about 800 years old, but looking around the site, I didn't see anything that looked like it had been around that long. It seems that in China, preserving the original isn't that important. Instead they like to rebuild structures in the old style - a replica of the real thing. In fact, they're in the middle of another "renovation" now.

In the US this would be a desecration, but here it's how things get done. Is the structure any less beautiful because it was built recently? No. But it does lose something of it's personality. I guess it's hard to preserve the old world charm when you're right next door to a shopping mall.