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Monday, August 30, 2010

Qi Bao

On Saturday, I went to Qi Bao with my friend Juliana who is visiting from the US. Qi Bao is a cute little town near Shanghai with restored old buildings, arched stone bridges, & lots of tourist appeal. It was a great half-day trip, & the weather was nice with an overcast sky.

For 30 RMB (about US $4.25) we got a ticket to all the sights in the small town, including a replica of an old pawn shop, a museum of miniatures, and the bell tower where we took turns ringing the huge bell. Afterward, we pushed through the crowded market street, where they were selling everything from China souvenirs to flip flops to crickets in bamboo cages.

For 10 RMB (about US $1.40) we took a ride up the canal & back, with a grisley boatman as our guide. He tried to chat with us, but neither of us understood him very well. Juliana, who speaks fluent Mandarin & Cantonese, said he had a weird accent, possibly local to Qi Bao.

It was a nice relaxing day away from the city. Qi Bao is easy to get to by subway from the city center, & it would be convenient for me to go back there when I need a break from the hectic city life. I love the idea of spending a day sipping tea by the canal, with nothing to do but watch the tourists go by.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saturday 7:30am

I awoke to the sound of a jackhammer. The neighbors are apparently remodeling their bathroom. I wonder how long this will take.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My First Visitor in China!

My friend Juliana arrived in Shanghai yesterday. She'll be here for a week, taking in the sights & visiting friends. It's so nice to see a friendly face from home!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Rent Looks Like

It's time again to pay the rent. It's been three months since I last made a rent payment. Instead of paying rent monthly, I pay three-months at a time, which is the normal protocal here in Shanghai. I guess collecting every three months is just easier for the landlord - she doesn't have to come around as often.

Even though Shanghai is the financial capital of China, most people still conduct their business in cash. My rent is 2900 RMB (about US $414) a month, which I gather is pretty expensive, at least that's what my students keep telling me. It certainly felt like a lot of money when I took 9000 RMB (about US $1285) out of the bank today. All that cash burned a hole in my pocket as I briskly made the short walk home with it.

The last time I paid rent, one of the teachers from my school was there to help translate between Chinese & English. This time I was able to handle the transaction easily by myself. I'm getting better at speaking Chinese, which helps, but I'm also getting better at understanding how things work in Shanghai, which makes day to day chores go much more smoothly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

All the Tea in China

I love tea. Black tea, green tea, red tea, rose tea, jasmine tea, lavendar tea, mint tea, orange spice tea, chamomile tea... You get the idea. So when I first moved to China, I was excited about being able to sample tea from its land of origin.

Surprisingly, I haven't been able to find much more than the standard green tea or black tea in the shops around Shanghai, & most of that is Lipton. I've started to question my own taste for tea. Maybe real tea drinkers don't get entwined in all that froo-froo floral fruity foolishness. Maybe real tea drinkers just drink tea.

A couple of months ago, I took a short trip to Hangzhou, a town about two hours by train from Shanghai, where I visited the National Tea Museum, which is also a tea growing plantation. The museum complex is surrounded by acres of tea plants, which are actually more like tea bushes.

They had a pretty interesting exhibit there chronicling the history of tea, & at the end of the tour, they offered a free tea tasting.

Wow. Now this was tea. They carefully poured out four types of really good tea, giving us time to savor each of them. I was happy to finally locate good tea in China, but found their prices prohibitive, so I only bought a small sampling to take back to Shanghai with me.

The other day, I came across this guy, a fellow tea drinker, who has taken on the project of trying more than 85 different Chinese teas. He's posting his reviews of each variety on his blog, along with some cool photos. Perhaps his project will inspire me to conduct my own mini-sampling of the loose leaf teas that I see in the small shops that line the back streets of Nanjing Road.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

At the Dentist

Last year while I was living in Vietnam, I chipped a tooth, so I went to the dentist there where they fixed the tooth in less than an hour & for less than $10. I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

Last week, that filling suddenly came out, so I needed to go back to the dentist. Shanghai is more expensive than Vietnam, & I expected this visit to the dentist to cost a lot more than $10, so I made sure I had plenty of cash on me.

I asked one of the students at my school if she knew of a good dentist, & she offered to go with me to help translate. We took the bus four stops & stepped off in front of a hospital. A hospital? Yep. That's where the dentist is.

We went inside to register for an appointment, & an hour later, I was sitting in the dentist's chair. She took a look at my tooth & said that since it was a break & not a cavity, she could just file it down & it would be alright. 30 minutes & 14 RMB (about US $2) later, I was back on the bus heading home with my tooth fixed & a smile on my face.

I'm amazed at how easy it has been to get treatment here. Both in Vietnam & in Shanghai I've been able to see the dentist on the same day, & the treatments were incredibly cheap. In the US, I would have waited at least a week for the appointment, then paid at least $100 just for the dentist to look at me.

I can now understand why people travel to other countries to get medical treatment. It's sometimes referred to as medical tourism & has been popular among Americans for a while now. It's quite common in Arizona (my home state) for people to cross the border to Mexico for their dental or pharmaceutical needs. A couple of hours drive is worth the savings for many people who might not otherwise be able to afford treatment. 

Since I've been living in Asia, I've also discovered that many people often fly to Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, for surgeries because it's so much cheaper, even after the price of the plane ticket. An added bonus is being able to sleep off the novocaine to the sound of ocean waves, a mai tai in your hand.

Of course there are no mai tais here in Shanghai, but I could easily take a trip to Sanya with the money I've saved at the dentist.

How about you? Have you ever been a medical tourist?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mini Menu

Being a vegetarian, it's sometimes difficult to find things to eat here in Shanghai. It's not the lack of vegetable dishes that makes it difficult, but rather my lack of Chinese words to describe what I eat.

There are a couple of noodle shops by my apartment that I frequent, & the staff there are familiar with my crazy vegetarian ways. They laugh when I enter, asking what I'm going to eat this time, often offering various options to me. But when I go to another part of the city, I wind up eating the same things again & again because there are only a few dishes that I know how to order.

I have recently noticed that, just as most casual restaurants in the US will serve some form of sandwich & french fries, & probably spaghetti or chicken fingers, most Chinese restaurants serve basically the same dishes.

So I decided to start keeping a notebook in my purse. Every time I discover a vegetarian dish, I take out the notebook & write down the Chinese characters as well as the pinyin (Chinese pronunciation), along with the English translation.

Now, when I go to a new restaurant, I just pull out my mini menu & flip through to the dish that I want. I ask the server if they have it - most often they do - & I soon have a tasty vegetarian meal.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Music Club

I'm here in Shanghai teaching English at a school for adults. I really dig the job. It has just the right combination of structure & creativity. Many of the lessons are written by the people at the main office, & then the teachers present the lessons in class. But we also create some of our own lessons as part of the students' cultural experience.

Once a week, I write a lesson for what I call Music Club. I choose an iconic song from Western culture & play it in class. As they listen to the song, the students try to decypher the lyrics. During the second part of the class, I play two or three cover versions of the same song but in different genres. Then we discuss which version they liked the best.

One week we did the song Fever. I played the original version by Little Willy John, then we listened to the more famous version by Peggy Lee, & finally we heard Madonna's dance version. The class overwhelmingly voted for Madonna's as their favorite rendition.

Sometimes I like to choose extremely different or unlikely cover versions of the songs to help spark conversation. I found an orchestral version of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, a lounge act version of Radiohead's Creep, & a whispy Celtic version of the classic Over the Rainbow. Surprisingly, these are the versions the students tend to like the best.

Last week we did the song I Swear, originally by John Michael Montgomery, but probably more famous for the version by All-4-One. I found a Muzak-esque version of the song & played it in class. Before I could tell them, the whole class recognized the artist as Bandari, saying they love their music - it's relaxing & they use natural sounds like birds & waterfalls in the background.

Later, I asked some other students & the Chinese teachers if they had heard of Bandari. They all had & they all seemed to love them. Bandari is apparently a sensation here in China. I'd never even heard of them before.

How about you? Have you ever heard of this musical group?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Woman Wandering Solo: Sunny Jo Gardner

Women Wandering Solo is a series of guest posts that inform & encourage women who don't have travel partners to go ahead & take the trip anyway. There are so many amazing places to see in the world, & experiencing them solo could wind up being the best way to do it. To learn how you can share your own story with us, click here.

La Princesa Gitana

Sunny Jo Gardner is the author of the cookbook Table for One, & travels around in her RV with her dog Gomez.

My mother always said I had the gypsy blood of my Hungarian father and she was right. At the age of 19 I announced I was moving out of our family home in NY to go to Florida with a man I’d known only a month. Of course she freaked and asked me how I could do such a thing. I told her he asked the right question: “Wanna move to Florida?” Yep. I was packed and ready to go the next day.

Although I am no longer with that man from many moons ago, I firmly believe it was the start of my traveling life. Over the years, I’ve lived in many, many locations spanning several states. But it was not until recent years that I truly got a taste of what my destiny was all about.

Moving out

Never one to conform to the norm, I gave up my apartment three years ago and traded the settled life I was living for one of pure freedom! I put my prized possessions in a storage unit and purchased a Class A motor home. I have been living in it full time ever since, without any regrets of the lifestyle I have chosen. I jumped right behind the wheel of that thing and headed on down the road... to RV driving school. A full weekend of driving up and down mountains later and my fate was sealed. I was destined to be on the move, see new places, and meet all sorts of interesting people. I was going to live life, not just exist. How exciting!

Learning the ropes

Sadly, I did not travel initially. I was working a full time job and needed to stay put in one place for a little while. Fortunately, the first park I was ever “stationed” at (for 8 months) had a park manager who was willing to show me the ropes. He and his wife even went out on a few trips with me to dry camp and teach me all about surviving without a plug. What a great learning experience! Some of my park neighbors were also more than willing to teach me a thing or two, like how to get my awning down without killing myself. I was very lucky to start out with such a great support system.

Once my job contract ended, I started making plans to hit the road. But first, I learned everything I could about RV life so I would not become a burden to others or have to depend on anyone for help. I bought a tow dolly to drag my SUV around to see the sights. I also bought some do-it-yourself manuals to be able to fix simple things around “the house”, and then off I went.

When I felt properly armed and ready, I joined a few camping memberships and took off with my dog, Gomez. Gomez and I will be celebrating 16 years together this year on Christmas. He, like me, enjoys heading off to places unknown and has adapted to the RV lifestyle quite well. We’ve got this down to a science now!

Life on the road

The RV life is not without sacrifice, mainly closet space for the shoes and absolutely no room in the freezer for a tray of lasagna (which lead me to start writing a cookbook about single portion meals)! I’ve adapted. I think the hardest part about traveling is saying goodbye to the new friends I make at each park I visit.

One of the challenges I initally faced when deciding on this lifestyle was how to sustain a living. Currently, I am spending my summers at the beach. I spend my winters in the desert doing a little bartending and waitressing and sock away money for the future. I am also writing my first cook book, which is gaining some support from the writing community. I hope to publish it in the coming years. I am quite a capable person and don’t worry too often how to survive.

My circle of support

My friends keep my spirits alive and remind me daily that I have what it takes to make it on my own. Bless their little hearts! My friends and family are the most important aspect of my solo life. No matter where I am, they’re with me daily via email, Facebook, Skype, and Twitter. Most are just a cell phone call away. I am fortunate to have so many wonderful friends all over the world.

However, even with such a great circle of friends, I sometimes find that RV life can be a little lonesome. Most RVers are either families traveling on vacation or full-timers who are married couples. When embarking on a new park, I often try to engage with my fellow camping buddies while remaining a little cautious at the same time. Afterall, I am a single, white female traveling alone! Sometimes I get the cold shoulder from the campers, while other times I get an “atta girl”. The latter is the norm for me.

My single friends tend to envy my position while my married friends don’t understand this lifestyle at all. They are always asking when I will “settle down somewhere.” Well maybe someday I will do just that. Who’s to say? For now, I am having too much fun living life to the fullest every day. I don’t just exist in this world anymore, I live in it. I would not trade this life for anything!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What American English Sounds Like

In the first days of Hollywood films, the actors who played foreigners didn't actually have to speak the character's language. Instead they would just speak gibberish with a French or German accent & the audience would be fooled. No one spoke those langauges anyway.

Today, because this global village is so very small, those langauges are much more accessible than they were then. Many people in the US can speak two or more languages these days, so Hollywood is much more precise in its depiction of foreigners.

Still, Chinese is a language that hangs on the periphery. Other than Chinese people living in the US, it's rare to find someone who speaks Chinese as a foreign language. Most people don't really even know what Chinese sounds like beyond the stereotypical sing-song "ding dong do". If someone mimicks the sound of Chinese, they might also thrown in an "ah-so" or two.

The reason we do this is because foreign languages aren't "normal". They're not what we hear every day, so they sound strange. But to a large number of people in the world, English is the unintelligible foreign language. It's English that sounds strange.

Just what do non-English speakers hear when they listen to English? Here's a great video of an Italian pop group singing a song in gibberish meant to sound like American English. I kinda like the song. It's got a catchy beat.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Electric Storm

Today was an awesome day for weather in Shanghai.

This morning as I was getting ready for work, the air was utterly palpable. Although it wasn't raining - yet - the sky was making scary rumbling noises. Then I heard an amazingly sharp CRACK! outside my window. Lightning had struck very close by, causing car alarms around the neighborhood to reel. As I reached to unplug my laptop, I felt an intense electrically charged pressure, making me wonder what being struck by lightning would be like.

I quickly grabbed my keys & headed out to work, hoping to make the five-minute walk before the heavens started pouring out the rain. I nervously descended 22 floors in a metal elevator. Just outside the front door of my apartment building, huge drops of rain thwapted against the pavement. I could almost walk between them, they were so far apart. 50 feet away from the door, no rain was falling as a dry wind whooshed past me. The air pressure was intense.

I walked briskly down the street, eyeing the revolving door at the entrance to the mall. I was sure I would make it. I only had to cross the street & I would be safely inside. Just then a wall of water crashed down in front of me, blocking my way to shelter.

I ducked into a noodle shop for cover, & stood at the window, watching the rain spray the street & passers by for a solid 15 minutes. Eventually, it eased enough for me to make a dash across the street. I arrived to work only slightly soaked. For the rest of the day, all anyone could talk about was the weather.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Qi Xi Festival: Chinese Valentine's Day

China has a lot of really cool stories that explain natural phenomena in alegory. This time we have the story of Zhi Nü (织女) & Niu Lang (牛郎) to explain why we see the Milky Way in the sky.

As the story goes, once upon a time, a beautiful goddess fell in love with a mortal. They lived happily for many years & had two children together, but eventually the goddess's mother caught wind of the marriage & decided she didn't like her daughter being married to a mortal, so she whisked her daughter back to heaven & away from that low-life. Mom was so angry, in fact, that she took her hairpin & swept it across the sky, creating the Milky Way to separate the two.

However, every year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month (qi1 xi1 jie2 七夕节 means "Night of Sevens"), a whole bunch of magpies fly up to the sky to form a bridge to connect the two. The crotchity old mother graciously turns a blind eye, allowing the lovers to be together for one day out of the year.

The Night of Sevens fell on August 16th this year. According my own very unscientific survey of Chinese people, it seems that not many of them celebrated Qi Xi Festival. Instead, they prefer to celebrate the Western Valentine's Day on February 14th. The karaoke bar in the mall where I work hung hearts to decorate the lobby & a couple of stores had sales, but other than that, the day seemed to pass here without much notice.

You can read a more detailed version of the story here & here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

National Day of Mourning: Landslide in Gansu

Sunday was a national day of mourning for the landslide victims in Gansu Province. Over 1000 people are dead & more than 500 people are still missing.

All entertainment outlets in China were closed for the day. The movie theater & karaoke bar in the mall where I work were dark, & there was no mall music playing, similar to the day of mourning held in April of this year for the earthquake victims in Qinghai.

All entertainment at the World Expo was apparently also cancelled for the day, & memorials were held all over China.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fudging the Weather

According to Shanghaiist, we've moved from the previous Orange Alert on the weather to the current Red Alert issued yesterday by the Shanghai Meterological office. That means that it was friggin' hot out there before, but now it's - well, it's hotter than that.

Apparently, if the temperature reaches 40 degrees Celcius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) here in Shanghai, we all get a day off. So far, the official temperature reports are hanging around 39 degrees. Many Chinese people say that the weather bureau fudges the numbers so that the Shanghai machine doesn't grind to a halt. Whether that's true or not, I'm so glad to have a nicely air conditioned job.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Woman Wandering Solo: Pat Gulliford

I'm excited to announce Women Wandering Solo, a new series of guest posts that inform & encourage women who don't have travel partners to go ahead & take the trip anyway. There are so many amazing places to see in the world, & experiencing them solo could wind up being the best way to do it. To learn how you can share your own story with us, click here.

Below is the very first Women Wandering Solo contribution, written by Pat Gulliford of Phoenix, Arizona. 

I never liked solo travel until…

I am a woman who lives in the Southwest US and am currently in my mid 50s. Until my early 30s I did very little leisure travelling - I would mostly travel for business or to visit family. I didn’t particularly enjoy the solo business trips.

When I first started traveling for leisure, I was married and traveled with my husband. Even after I divorced, I would always invite friends or family along on my trips. So it was only fate that led me to try solo leisure travel.

How I learned to love to solo

Back in the early 1990s a friend and I decided to travel to Vancouver. Suddenly my friend had a family emergency come up and had to back out of the trip at the last minute. Usually I would have cancelled the trip at that point. After all, it was to be my first trip to Vancouver and I didn’t know a soul there. However I was totally stressed out at work and realized that I needed a vacation in the worst way. So I went to Vancouver by myself and ended up having the best time. Since then, I have taken several trips by myself.

If I had not gone solo I never would have…

• Biked in Stanley Park and done the Grouse Grind in Vancouver

• Listened to the rich Patois spoken in Jamaica and challenge myself to understand it while soaking up the rich culture and tasty cuisine. Escovitch fish, mmm—best fish dish in the world in my opinion.

• Hiked through a rainforest in Honolulu

• Seen the breathtaking scenery as I drove along the Snake River across the border from Idaho into Wyoming

• Tried a vegemite sandwich courtesy of my new Kiwi mates on a ski vacation in Aspen (hated the sandwich, liked the people!)

Tips for traveling solo

Read the chapter on traveling solo in the book Living Alone and Loving It by Barbara Feldon. Yes it is that Barbara Feldon - the actress who played Agent 99 in the TV show Get Smart. I would agree with her advice that you should try out solo travel initially by going somewhere safe and predictable. After you get used to it, you can try out more exotic locations.

Know your travel style and plan accordingly. One reason I didn’t like solo business trips is that it meant eating dinner at restaurants alone. I’ve tried techniques like bringing a book to read, but it is just not my preference. So now whenever I travel solo for leisure I try to make it so that I can eat and interact with other people, such as eating dinner at a bar.

Try shared living accommodations such as hostels or university dorms. Not only will it save you some money, but it will also allow you to socialize and meet fellow travelers. Also, if I am staying at a hostel I will help cook and share a communal meal with the other guests.

Savor the benefits of flying solo. There are no compromises that need to be made - you are in the driver's seat and in control of your travel experience.

Finally, don’t wait for fate to push you into taking that first solo trip. Just go.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Food Inspection

I always liked the fact that some cities in the US require restaurants to display the grade they received on their most recent health inspection in the front window for all to see. Although this law doesn't exist in Arizona, I've seen the "A" report proudly displayed in windows all over Los Angeles. Those restaurants that receive a B or even a C in LA are often "ethnic" restaurants, including those in Chinatown, probably because of the duck carcasses hanging in the window or the meat being chopped on the same cutting board as the bok choy.

Here in Shanghai, I doubt that many of the traditional eating establishments would pass the rigors of the LA health department. Even so, I've noticed a few places around town that show off their food safety success with a big green smile in the window.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sightseeing Tunnel

Ever since I arrived in Shanghai, I've been curious about the "Sightseeing Tunnel" that takes you under the Huangpu River, connecting the Puxi (west) side to the Pudong (east) side. I finally took a ride this week. For 45 RMB (about US $6.50) one way, I really took a trip!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chinese Humor

I teach English here in Shanghai. Most days we teach four or five classes per day, usually with several breaks in between. A tough schedule would include teaching three classes in a row without a break.

The other day, one of the other teachers at my school was covering some classes for a teacher who was on vacation. She wound up teaching six classes in a row that day. Towards the end of the day, I knew she must have been exhausted. To show my empathy and to give her encouragement, I asked her, "How are you doing? Are you ready to scream?" She stoically replied, "No, my throat is sore," and walked down the hall to her last class.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I've Been Published!

I've just been published online at! It's the first time I've ever had anything published & I'm all giddy inside. Wee!

You can read my article here:

If you like the article, please write a comment on the Go Overseas site, and share the article with your friends so that they can post comments too. The more traffic this article gets on the Go Overseas website, the more likely they are to publish more of my writing, which would be really friggin' cool. Thanks for your help spreading the word!

Friday, August 6, 2010

No Master Needed

I teach English here in Shanghai, the latest job in a decade of teaching gigs. I love teaching English because I learn so much from my students about their culture, their life experiences, their hopes & dreams. Plus, I can go just about anywhere in the world to work, so it's a great way to fund my travel addiction.

Now that I'm pushing 40, I've started to notice a difference between me & the teachers that I work with. Most of them are in their 20s. Maybe it's their first time away from their home country. Some are just out of school, wanting to do a bit of traveling before settling into their career. Or perhaps they haven't been able to find a job in their field in today's economy so they're waiting out the storm by working for a year or two abroad. Most of them got their ESL certification online in a few short weeks, & they generally don't take the job very seriously.

They do the same job that I do. I studied teaching English as a second language in grad school, which involved a lot of linguistics & theory & all that jazz. But that Master degree doesn't entitle me to a higher salary, nor do my years of experience help me to move up the academic ladder. When I tell people that I teach English, they assume that it's temporary, asking what I'll do next. I'm discovering that there is a glass ceiling in this industry. As a teacher, there's no real way to move up in the company.

Although I love teaching, I don't want to be an English teacher forever. & it looks like the only way to move up is to move sideways first. I'll have to change my approach if I want to get anywhere.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Turning Shanghainese

♫ I think I'm turning Shanghainese, I think I'm turning Shanghainese, I really think so ♫

Lately I've noticed a few changes in my behavior. I find myself jumping lines, or at least sticking my elbow in front of people to preserve my place. The other day I caught myself pushing & shoving to get on the bus. Last week I stole a seat from someone on the subway - well, I just got there first. & this morning I impatiently pushed the "close" button in the elevator, as every other person in Shanghai does. Could I be turning Shanghainese?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Social Networking

In the US we have Facebook. In China there's QQ. They're not exactly the same. My students tell me that QQ is more like MSN, but everyone is on QQ in China.

Instead of exchanging phone numbers, people often exchange QQ numbers, so I figured it was high time I got my own QQ number, especially now that I can hold a basic converation in Chinese. Maybe I can make a few QQ friends & practice "chatting" in Chinese.

Yesterday I downloaded the software & now that adorable little penguin pops up to greet me every time I turn on my computer. Cute-cute.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Okay, Yep, It's Hot

I'm from Arizona, where most of the summer is spent above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, & we're even blessed with a couple of weeks above 110. So when I came to China in January & everyone started warning me about the oppressively hot summers here, I waved them away - you don't know from hot.

Though it was unbelieveably cold for a while there - cold being relative, I suppose. It didn't snow or anything, but I spent my first month or so wearing my winter cap to bed because my space heater didn't give off enough heat to keep me warm overnight. It got a little better as the months went on, but long about May I started thinking that Shanghai may never warm up. By July - the middle of the summer - I had given up on this mythological "unbearably hot" Shanghai summer.

Then August came.

The news has claimed a high temperature of 100 degrees Farenheit for the last few days here, & they don't see it letting up any time soon. In fact, it feels a lot hotter than that as I take my five-minute walk to work in the mornings. The electricity has cut out several times in my apartment over the last few weeks, & I can only guess that it's due to system overload - everyone must be using their air conditioners.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Prefer Squatty Potties

One thing that might be new to you if you travel to China is what I like to call the squatty potty. Not all bathrooms have them, but if you're not traveling with a Westernized tour, you're almost certain to come across one at some point.

Using a squatty potty for the first time could be quite intimidating. Is it sanitary? What if I fall in? However, I actually prefer them over "normal" toilets.

Shanghai is not the cleanest place, & public restrooms are no exception. There's no way I'm parking my tush on a public toilet seat here. & since bathrooms don't usually come equipped with toilet paper to cover the seat with, you wind up hovering over the bowl, hoping that you don't miss, praying that your legs can hold out long enough to support you while you're doing your business (why did I drink that extra cup of coffee this morning?). Then there's the question of digging tissues out of your purse while in this prone position. Not fun.

On the other hand, there's no need to hover with a squatty potty. You can crouch all the way down & relax while relieving yourself. It's a much nicer experience - & much cleaner, actually, because you're more likely to hit the target.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chinese Grammar

I've been studying Chinese for several years now, but mostly just as a hobby. However, since moving to Shanghai, I've been putting a lot more energy into my language studies. I can now have a simple conversation with the dumpling guy & get the maintenance man to turn the electricity back on in my apartment.

I'm even getting kudos from ChinesePod, a really cool website with great langauge learning tools.

The more Chinese I learn, the more interesting it becomes. Lately, I've started to notice a very curious but common sentence structure in Chinese. Here's an example:

这是我朋友写给我的信。zhe4 shi4 wo3 peng2 you3 xie3 gei3 wo3 de xin4.

Word-by-word translation: This is my friend write give me 's letter.

More natural translation: This is the letter that my friend wrote to (give) me.

It looks like a relative clause in English turns into an adjective clause in Chinese. Who'da thunk it?