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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dice Game

A popular bar game here in Shanghai involves five dice & a cup. You put the dice under the cup, shake it several times on the table to mix up the dice, then, without showing your opponents, you take a peek at your dice.

The first person tries to guess how many of a certain number are on the table. For example, if I have the above combination under my cup, & there are three people playing, I might claim that there are in total four 2's on the table. The next person has three choices. (1) They can up the ante on 2's, claiming that there are maybe five 2's on the table. (2) Or, if they don't like talking about 2's, they can choose a higher number to speculate on, saying something like "There are three 3's". (3) Or they can just call the claim & everyone has to show their dice. If the last claim is right, the caller has to drink. If it's wrong, the person who made the claim has to drink.

It's a pretty simple game, but it's hugely popular here. Bars often keep the cups & dice on hand for patrons. If you go out to a bar in Shanghai, you'll most likely hear the clack-a-clack sound of the dice game.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Job Interview

I'm an English teacher here in Shanghai. Every once in a while we get emails about job openings within the company.

A couple of weeks ago I got a notice about a Teacher Recruiter position. These are the people who interview potential teachers, lead them through the visa process once they're hired, & greet them when they finally make it to China. I thought maybe this would be a good opportunity to gain some experience in the ESL field beyond teaching. Plus, this could be my chance to get a more permanent foothold in the company. So I forwarded my resume to the department manager.

Last week I went for the initial interview. They asked me questions about how independently I can work, how I deal with criticism, & what questions I might ask when interviewing a potential teacher. Then they gave me a quiz. They gave me three resumes & asked me to make comments on whether I thought they would be good teachers for EF.

I'm not sure how well I did in the interview. I think I made a few mistakes, giving some answers that weren't the "right" ones. I guess we'll just wait & see what happens.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Student Debate Competition

Some of the advanced students at my school signed up to participate in a city-wide debate competition with the other EF schools in Shanghai. The first heat happened this week. The topic was Earth Hour - does it achieve anything or is it just a show?

Our team took the competition very seriously, preparing for weeks before the event, researching the topic, & formulating a solid argument. They even went so far as to discuss details like whether or not the ladies should cross their legs during the debate. (In the end, they decided against leg crossing.)

Finally the day of the debate came. It was held at one of the other centers in town, & several other students went there with me to support our team. When we got there, we found out that the opposing team didn't show up. We won by forfeit (a new vocabulary word for most).

Too bad. They really put a lot of effort into their presentation. We held a mock debate instead, so that all that hard work wouldn't be for nothing. I was really impressed by the organization & professionalism they showed. I'm sure that if the other team had showed up, our center would have won anyway :)

Round 2 is in a couple of weeks. The topic this time is whether it's better to live in a metropolis like Shanghai or a second tier city like Guangzhou. They've already started preparing their argument.

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Expo 2010

I finally made it to the World Expo.

The whole city is a-buzz over it. People from all over the country - in fact, the world - are coming to Shanghai to experience this event. I was excited too, after seeing so many advertisements & hearing so many people talk about it.

For 160 RMB (about US $23) I got an all-day ticket. I had heard about the long lines for some of the countries' pavilions - it was rumored that you had to wait four hours to enter the Japan & South Korea pavilions - so I decided to try to see as many of the smaller, less popular pavilions as I could. I'll go back another time to see the rest.

In the six hours that I spent at the Expo, I wound up seeing about 15 of the pavilions with little or no wait. Some were bigger than others, but they all had interesting displays showing something of their culture, traditions, food, &/or technology.

At the Maldives pavilion, they had a sand pit & some palm trees for photo taking. You could get a henna tatoo at the Bangladesh pavilion. The Mongolia pavilion had a display on dinosaurs. Timor Leste had some really cool wood carvings. At the Iranian pavilion they were selling beautiful rugs at too high a price for anyone to consider buying them. In the Vietnam pavilion there were musicians playing traditional Vietnamese instruments. The Turkmenistan pavilion had several mannequins wearing traditional Turkmenistan-ese clothing. & Kyrgyzstan showed us what living in a yurt would be like.

The coolest pavilion I saw was the Morocco one. They had three floors in a beautiful building that looked like a Moroccan palace. Their displays were museum quality & they had several videos explaining everything from making pottery to the different spices available in the country to the modern day fashion scene.

Still, there was just a five-minute wait for the Moroccan pavilion. But when I asked at the Japan line, they told me it was a four-hour wait, & you had to wait seven hours to get into the Saudi Arabia pavilion! I wonder what makes those pavilions so much cooler than the ones that I saw - because the ones I saw were pretty cool. I guess I'll have to go back to find out - & I'll be sure to bring a book.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Living in Shanghai is like living in any big city - we have Starbucks & McDonalds, Walmart & IKEA, reliable public transportation & lots of English-friendly restaurants & bars around town. It's so easy to live here in fact that sometimes I forget that I live in China. (China! Wow!) But every once in a while I'm reminded of just how different the Shanghai way of life really is.

The other day in class, we were talking about our life experiences as we practiced the present perfect verb tense: Have you ever bungee jumped? Have you ever swum with dolphins? Have you ever seen a rainbow? The answers were no, no, & no.

I can understand the first two, but have they really never seen a rainbow? Shanghai is certainly the definition of "urban jungle". I guess you can't see any rainbows through all this smog.

*The scene in the photo above is one of my most treasured memories, from when Michelle & I drove from Phoenix, Arizona to Anchorage, Alaska together. We were just outside Seligman, Arizona when we saw this beautiful rainbow. What better way to start a road trip?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Trip to Hangzhou

I had three days off for the Dragon Boat Festival last week, so I went with a Couch Surfing friend to Hangzhou, which is about an hour & a half by train from Shanghai. There we found a cute little hostel for 50 RMB a night (about US $7) that was close to the famous West Lake & all the tourist action.

While in Hangzhou, we took a walk around a hilltop park, where we saw retired men & women practicing their morning tai chi...

We rode a ferry across the lake to an island where we sat & watched the people taking photos of each other in front of the distinctive Buddhist pagodas...

We strolled down the main tourist shopping street where they were selling everything from Chairman Mao stickers to sweets on sticks...

We ate sweet black rice in handmade grass baskets...

We watched as people threw popcorn to the brightly colored coy swimming in the Red Carp Pond...

We visited the tea museum where they served us four different types of really good tea...

...& we still had time for a nap! It was a great trip & a well-deserved break from the bustle of Shanghai.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I've been hearing about this burlesque show called Chinatown ever since I got here, & I finally got the chance to see it last Saturday night with some other teachers.

I found the unassuming facade nestled in the alleyway of a very "Chinese" street, with knock-off clothing stores, steamed dumplings on bicycle carts, and toddlers peeing in the streets. But when I went inside, the scene was altogether different. There I found a 1930's style theater with velvet curtains, carved wood banisters and scantily clad women in sparkly costumes.

The show included an amazing rendition of Etta James's At Last sung by the same woman who belly danced around the room in the next vignette. Later in the show a Bruce Willis look alike belted out Frank Sinatra favorites as he strutted around the stage in a tuxedo.

Of course, there wasn't anything Chinese about this Chinatown. The audience was almost entirely made up of foreigners. Even the announcer spoke in English. But it was a fun night out anyway, & it wasn't that expensive, like so many of the foreigner places are.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Split Pants

Diapers aren't that popular here in Shanghai. Instead it's very common to see babies & toddlers wearing what they call split pants. If the baby has to go, s/he just squats wherever s/he is. I wonder if they make them in adult sizes too.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Extra Work

I work for an English school here in Shanghai. The lessons that we use are created as Power Point presentations by the main office downtown & then are sent to all of the EF schools in China. The lessons often include recorded dialogs with native speakers talking about everything from their hobbies to the influence of Western culture in Asia.

Last week, the main office sent out an email requesting voice actors. Cool. I went downtown on my day off & spent an hour in the recording booth. They were recording for a business English class that day, so my lines were from a simulated board meeting: "Great. Let's move on to the next point on the agenda."

It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at the lessons that I teach every day in class. Plus it's fun to think that, if they wind up using my voice, I'll be heard all over China.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup Soccer

On Friday night, I went out with some Couch Surfing friends to watch Mexico play South Africa in the first game of this year's World Cup. There were people from all over the world there: Chinese, Germans, French, Moroccans even. We gathered with a group of Mexicans in front of the big screen to help cheer on their team. We spent the evening whooping & hollering in Spanish, then wished the French good luck before we danced the night away to Chinese pop. This really is an international city.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Train Ticket

I went to the train station the other day to buy a ticket to Hangzhou, where I'll spend the Dragon Boat Festival holiday.

Instead of ticket agents, they have authomated ticket machines. The menu is both in Chinese & English, & is super easy to use. You just choose your destination & the date, feed money into the machine, & it spits out your train ticket in seconds. Cool.

I'm really looking forward to getting out of the city for a few days. I hear Hangzhou has a lake. & trees.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Matching Outfits

There's a trend in Shanghai for young couples to wear matching clothing. Cute, huh? It's so popular that the stores here actually sell boyfriend-girlfriend sets.

This would never happen in the US. Although the girls would probably go for it, American boys would be too embarrassed. But here in Shanghai, the boys seem happy enough to match their girlfriends - & to carry their purses while they're at it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

One Year

Today marks one year since I left the US to live abroad. It has been quite an interesting year. Although I miss things from home, like road trips & uncensored internet, I'm so grateful for this opportunity to live & work in another country.

In addition to teaching English to some really amazing people, I've climbed on the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat; I've participated in a death anniversary celebration in Hanoi; I've lazed on the tranquil beaches of Thailand; & I've navigated the bustling subway system of Shanghai.

It hasn't been without it's frustrations, but that too is part of the experience. I'm curious to see what adventures await me as I begin my second year as an expat.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chinese Bakery

Every morning on my way to work I stop at the bakery on the corner, a Taiwanese chain store called Cafe 85ºC. The pastry window looks like something you'd see in France, but I usually just stick to the coffee, which is nice & strong - perfect for starting the day.

By now they know me there, & I always order the same thing, so most mornings when I walk into the shop, someone yells out my order before I get to the counter:

mei3 shi4 ka1 fei1 re4 de
American style coffee
I go to the "Bread cash" counter & pay my 8 RMB (about US $1.15).
Then I go over to the "Pick up the goods Section" to wait for my coffee. In just a few minutes, I have a steaming hot cup o' joe.

I thank the nice people at the cafe (谢谢 xie4 xie4), & go on my merry way.

ming2 tian1 jian4
See you tomorrow.