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Thursday, April 28, 2011

London Calling

I'm going to London next week. It's my first trip to the UK, & my very first business trip. I'm looking forward to doing a little bit of tourist-ing while I'm there, though sadly I'll miss the wedding. That's okay - I wasn't invited anyway.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chinese Fables: Kong Rong Giving Up Pears

13 March 2011
23 April 2011
In the park near my apartment complex, there are several statue vignettes depicting well-known Chinese fables. This one shows Kong Rong, the Han Dynasty scholar, politician & warlord, who is famous for his act of filial piety as a young boy.

According to the plaque next to this sculpture, when Kong Rong was four years old, he was given the opportunity to choose a pear from several. Instead of taking the largest pear, he took the smallest pear, saying that the larger pears should be eaten by his older brothers.

The story is used today to teach children to respect their elders. While searching for more information on the story, I came across this blog post written by a woman who discussed Kong Rong with her five-year-old son who was learning about him in school.

At first, he didn't understand why he needed to give the larger pear to his older brother, but finally conceded that since Kong Rong did it, he should do it too. But when his mother tried to apply the principle to chocolate cookies, the five-year-old refused to see the connection. Kong Rong gave his brothers pears, not chocolate cookies!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wedding Photography

Last month I discovered a wonderful park near my apartment. I've been going there on the weekends to relax & watch the people.

One of my favorite things to spy on while I'm there is the wedding photo sessions. There are thousands of them are getting married each month in Shanghai. On the weekends, you can see couples dressed in rented wedding gear posing for photographers in front of picturesque scenes all over the city. My park seems to be a favorite backdrop.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Freshary

Wow! Things are starting to happen here in Shanghai. Healthy, organic, vegetarian-friendly organizations are popping up all over the place. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered an organic grocery store that delivers, & last week I visited an organic farm on the outskirts of Shanghai where I frolicked among the peach blossoms.

This past weekend, I found The Freshary, a vegan organic bakery with two locations in town. Everything I've tasted there is beyond delicious. The ingredients are fresh & locally sourced when possible, & they make everything from scratch on-site - they mill their own flour & make their own soy milk. & of course everything is vegan & organic.

Talk about yum!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bug Eyed Desk Jockey

I have been a language teacher for the past 12 years or so, both in the US & abroad. About a year & a half ago, I came to Shanghai, China to teach English.

I love teaching, but I figured that it was time for me to expand my horizons - diversify, so to speak. So when I got the opportunity to take a job as an editor for my school, I jumped on it. The new job came with a great salary, weekends off & opportunity for advancement. How could I pass it up?

After only four months in the office, I think my brain is starting to turn to mush. I sit for close to nine hours a day, staring at a computer screen. The only time I interact with my co-workers is when we go to lunch - everyone is busy doing their own thing. I've started drinking more coffee lately because it gives me an excuse to move around, to talk with someone - anyone.

I have to admit it - I'm not sure I'm cut out for this. I mean, it's a great job with great benefits. I work for the fastest growing English training company in China - possibly the world. We're creating really interesting stuff, & I'm learning all kinds of new skills. & I have weekends free.

But when I think of working at that desk day in & day out for the next... however long, it makes me cringe. & it makes me really miss teaching. I miss the interaction with students. I miss the energy of a classroom. I miss preparing lessons (did I just say that?!). I miss sleeping late.

What about you? Do you have a desk job? If so, why?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hot Pot

Hot pot (火锅  huǒ guō) is pretty popular here in Shanghai. It's a lot like fondu - you have a boiling pot of liquid on the table, & you order a whole bunch of raw foods to cook in your pot. They even have a serve-yourself condiment bar with tasty sauces & spices to add to your hot pot - from sesame oil & soy sauce to black beans & garlic to cilantro & red chilis. 

The pot sits on a burner, so the liquid is constantly boiling as you add more goodies to the soup throughout the meal - a perpetually hot pot. It's great for the winter months because it warms you all the way down to your bones. But there are those that swear by it in the summer as well - a sort of reverse phychology for the body.

Sometimes you get a huge pot for the whole table; other times each person gets their own pot. As a vegetarian, I like the individual hot pot better because then it doesn't matter what the rest of the people at the table are eating. But with either a big pot or a small pot, there is almost always a copious amount of beer involved.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lost & Found

a disheveled vagabond
smelling of oil
black dirt under his fingernails
& in the cracks of his hand
approached me in the subway station
i was leery at first
he was stoic, unsure yet determined
i cautiously took a step back
he revealed his phrase book
russian, chinese - no english
i’m sorry – i can’t help
he turned to a chinese girl in front of me
he pointed at a phrase in the book:
出口, exit
two fingers pointed him in the right direction
he climbed the stairs out of the subway station
giving a tentative glance back at me
i offered a friendly smile & got on the train.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Organic Produce in Shanghai!

My lifestyle has changed quite a bit since I left the US almost two years ago. When I lived in Arizona, I was pretty active. I used to go hiking, camping & rock climbing on a regular basis. I went to yoga classes three times a week & stopped at Whole Foods for my daily dose of organic goodness. I grew my own vegetables in my backyard & I rode my bicycle everywhere. I even recycled.

But my life here in China looks nothing like that. I do walk around the city a lot, but I don't get nearly as much exercise as I used to. Rock climbing & yoga are figments of a distant memory. & I have dramatically lowered my standards for what I will eat - these days I'm just happy if I can get something that resembles a vegetarian meal. I just don't know how to be healthy in Shanghai.

But I'm making headway. One of my little successes came last week when I discovered an organic grocery delivery service here in Shanghai. I was so excited! I clicked through the offerings on their website, trying to choose what to order - I wanted one of everything. I finally decided to order their Seasonal Veggie Pack, which included 2.5 kilograms of mixed organic produce for 150 RMB (about US $23).

The delivery came this evening after work. I rushed home to see what the Organics Fairy had brought me.

The box was huge - 2.5 kilograms is a lot of veggies. I got a massive daikon radish, the biggest bunch of celery I've ever seen, a buldging bag of string beans, a head of cauliflower, a head of cabbage, & five or six bags of various other leafy greens - all organic! All for me to eat!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Monastic Weekend

This past weekend, I had four days off in honor of Qing Ming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, so I decided to take a trip out to the countryside to relax at a Buddhist monastery. I was looking forward to escaping the city & doing a whole bunch of nothing for a few days.

The monastery is about four hours by bus to the west of Shanghai, near the small town of Zaoxi. A representative from the monastery picked me up at the bus station & took me through the town & up the hill, where the complex sits among clusters of bamboo.

An Australian man who was volunteering there gave me a tour of the complex, which included three temples, the monks' quarters and a dining hall, as well as guest housing. The room I stayed in was not heated, but the blankets on the bed were nice & cozy warm, making it all too easy to spend the day in bed reading.

Upon arrival, I was informed of the daily schedule - each activity was to be announced with the sounding of a huge gong in the temple.

04:30   Morning chanting
06:00   Breakfast
08:00   Morning meditation
10:30   Lunch
16:30   Dinner
19:00   Evening meditaion

Initially I thought that maybe I'd make it in time for lunch. But I soon realized that nothing happens at the monastery after 8:00pm so you just wind up going to bed, which makes it quite easy to get up for breakfast the next morning. I even made it to the 4:30am chanting session one day.

There were other guests there at the monastery as well - a Canadian author who was at the end of a three-month tour of Asia; a British kindergarten teacher living in Shanghai; an Italian film producer between projects; the Australian volunteer, a psychologist interested in following the Buddhist life. We all shared our life stories around the dinner table - each one of us having taken a different path to wind up in the same place.

In the afternoons, I took walks among the bamboo or down the road past the local farms. I saw a man bent over nearly in half beneath heavy bags of grain as he trudged to town to sell his goods. I saw a woman beating laundry against a rock as children in split pants chased after chickens in the yard. I saw a group of men tirelessly carrying stone after heavy stone to build a retaining wall at the edge of a stream.

On one of my walks, I came across a make-shift shrine - just incense stuck in the dirt, really - evidence that our ancestors are watching over us.

It was a nice, relaxing weekend - I did absolutely nothing for three days & had a great time doing it. I got a small glimpse of monastic life in the Chinese countryside, & met some pretty amazing people while I was there. It was just what I needed to recharge my inner battery.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tomb Sweeping Day

Last year, I got all excited about Tomb Sweeping Day, a holiday that is similar in essence to the Latin American Day of the Dead. I wanted to visit a cemetery to see people sprucing up the tombs in anticipation of a visit from their ancestors, to smell the incense & paper money burning, to hear the quiet prayers of the devoted.

But my students looked at me like I was nuts. I soon realized that, at least in Shanghai, the most popular way to spend a holiday - any holiday - is shopping at the mall. To heck with all that traditional old-school stuff. China is modern! Shopping & movies & karaoke!

So this year I've got another plan. Since it's a four-day weekend, I'm going to spend the holiday at a monastery a couple of hours from Shanghai. I'm looking forward to relaxing in a peaceful place, away from the bustle & hustle of the city, eating lots of good vegetarian food, & watching butterflies flutter by. It'll be nice to see nature again, & I may even see a tomb or two swept.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Band Concert Do-Over

I may have been denied the pure awesomeness of Hanggai last Saturday, but this band did a pretty good job of being second best.

Last weekend, I went to Yuyintang, one of my favorite music venues here in Shanghai, to see a band called The Black Atlantic, a foursome from The Netherlands. Their music is mesmerizing, their harmonies are tight, & their hair is unruly. Quite frankly, any band that uses an accordion & a ukulele in the same song successfully demands applause.

For your listening pleasure, the band plays their song Ella on the Great Wall of China. Notice that there is no one - NO ONE - on the wall that day. Utterly astounding.

All this great music is part of the Jue Music + Art Festival, which continues through April 3rd.