Saturday, September 27, 2008

ya, i'm cool off that, thanks

I went to my usual Korean market yesterday to purchase an international phone card. They cost 30RMB and I can usually get at least an hour of conversation time from each one, so it's a pretty decent price.

Or "best friend price" as Romy and I like to say to the vendors at the clothing market.

Well, for some reason they were completely out, but instead of just saying that, they tried to pawn some partially used one off on me. It was out of its wrapping, the security code was all worn away, I'm sure it didn't even have any minutes on it.

So what's a girl to do? I flashed the Lindsay Lohan signature peace sign, said "Later", flipped my hair and left.

Friday, September 26, 2008

a chinese monthiversary

WOW. I've been here a whole month! I can't believe it.

To celebrate, we all went out to Cefiore which is an American fro yo place HERE in Shanghai. Mmmmm. It was the most perfect way to celebrate a monthiversary ever.

Here's to many more monthiversarys to come! *raises her waffle covered in original tart fro yo, chocolate chips, granola, and chocolate sauce* Here, here! To life, to love, to eating fro yo around the world!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

paradise on earth, or something

There's an old Chinese proverb that goes "Up in heaven is paradise, down on earth is Hangzhou". I'm not sure I agree with that. For one, I read that on a postcard that I bought in Hangzhou, so it might be a little biased. Secondly, I also read that about ANOTHER city in China called Suzhou, which is also near Shanghai. Third, it was so humid and hot that it felt more like the opposite of paradise. Especially since we inadvertently went on a 3 hour vertical hike up the largest mountain in the city with only 1 bottle of water. Oops.

That being said, my trip to Hangzhou was a lot of fun. Hangzhou is about an hour and a half outside of Shanghai, and the difference in landscape is extraordinary. Shanghai is often described as a concrete jungle; Hangzhou is straight up just a jungle.

I went to Hangzhou last weekend with Romy and our mutual friend Penny. Penny is in our graduate program, too, and a blonde, so we got a ton of attention. It's funny because Chinese people kept coming up to us and asking "Oh, didn't I just meet you at so-and-so a place an hour ago?" We'd tell them no, and they'd explain how the people they met looked just like us. I bet to the Chinese all us American girls start looking the same after a while.

We stayed at a hostel called "4 eyes backpackers" which was pretty nice. Actually, it wasn't really, but they had a cat that had recently had kittens so it seemed a lot nicer than it was, simply from the kitten presence. Here's me and momma kitteh, and yes, I came all the way to China to take pictures with cats.

I was surprised the hostel had the number 4 in their name because I have always heard that the Chinese consider it unlucky, but I also ate a dish that was described as "the fry Chinese make egg on chive" at the restaurant down the street (Penny had "the eggplant explodes in sauce"), so it could have just been some sort of translation error. Maybe they meant glasses?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

dreaming of christmas time

Yesterday I had chestnuts (yes, roasting over an open fire) for the first time. In the middle of a busy intersection in Shanghai, no less.

Yeah, it doesn't make sense to me either. But neither does 85% of the stuff that happens to me in this country. I've just learned to go with the flow. Or to at least pretend to be going with the flow.

The chestnut vendors are all over the place and they all have scales where they weigh out your nuts and then point to the price for you to pay. I only wanted one chestnut, really, but the vendor insisted on filling my little bag even though I kept say no and pantomiming that I wanted him to put some back. I'm sure if I actually knew enough Chinese to tell him "I only want a little" it wouldn't have made much of a difference. For all I know there could be a minimum order or something.

Everything in China is a big production. I can understand why a lot of the other teachers here never leave their rooms. Shanghai is a scary place sometimes. Like at 6PM when the subway is over-packed with sweaty men wearing their shirts up over their bellies who rub against you as they exit.

China is definitely not a place to expect personal space. Ever.

What I mean by "big production", though, is that the smallest task takes forever and sometimes never even happens. I was without a cell phone (quelle horreur!) for four days because I couldn't figure out how to convey that I just needed a sim card for a phone I already owned (even when I brought the phone in they didn't get it).

But I don't expect the Chinese to "get" me. I don't expect them to bend over backwards for a silly, redheaded American who always says "xie xie" (thank you) after bumping into them with her cart in the grocery store when what she means to say is "duibuqi" (sorry). I don't even expect them to be patient with me when I try to speak to them in horribly pronounced Chinese (they always are, though).

I do expect, however, to not have to come up with a game plan every time I want to eat dinner. Or buy fruit at the market. Or mail some postcards at the post office. "Where do you want to eat?" brings shivers up my spine. "Do you want to take the bus?" is nauseating. "Which air freshener do you think will smell best?" gives me a headache.

These are all questions I ask myself, mind you. I'm not even trying to speak Chinese and they stress me out.

I think it's just a side effect of traveling. Everything seems more important and more stressful than it really is. Because, honestly, who really cares if I get the citrus or lavender Glade Plug-In?

I got the citrus, by the way.

the fox says..."boooooo"

I just signed into iGoogle and saw this:

I've had my little Asian fox theme for months now, but have never seen ghosts before! How cute that they're all going to eat Mr. Fox's steamed bun ancestral offering.

Monday, September 22, 2008

tmi at its finest

The Chinese are an interesting bunch.

Sit next to American on a 5 hour flight from Sacramento to Kansas City, and by the end of it you'll know their families financial situation, where their children attend college and what they are studying, and all about how the death of their grandmother when they were 14 years old deeply impacted their life and has made it difficult for them to truly love anyone.

Sit next to a Chinese person, and if they happen to know English, they might tell you about a great movie they saw recently or a funny anecdote about a vacation they took three years ago, but they're not going to open up like Americans do.

I've never been one to become BFFs with people on planes (I prefer to sleep, thank you), but in the words of Fight Club's Tyler Durden, the United States is a nation of people that love single serving anything: sugar, cream, butter, ketchup, floss, or a friend. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They're single-serving friends. It's like having a real relationship, only with none of the commitment of ever having to see the person again.

And yet, ask an American how their day is going or how their weekend was, and you will undoubtedly get a generic "Fine" from pretty much everyone. A response of "Oh, it was fun but I didn't get much sleep" is considered an in-depth answer.

In China, do not ever ask "How was your weekend?" unless you REALLY want to know how that person's weekend was. I'm not just talking a simple "Oh, it was actually pretty crappy" description, I'm talking full on details that you, an American, would no more share with an acquittance than you would your toothbrush. In other words, it would never happen.

During the ten minute break between my ESL class I went to meet Romy, and while walking through the hall I caught her speaking to one of the Chinese teachers. On her way to meet me (she was about 10 feet away from me at this point) she casually ask the teacher how her weekend was. The conversation went something like this:

Romy: Oh, hi, how was your weekend? (starts to turn and walk away at this point, expecting a one word answer like "Okay")
Teacher: It was really bad, my mom got really sick and I had to take care of her.
Romy: (Turns to face the teacher again, caught off guard from the actual response to her question) Oh, no! But she's feeling better now, isn't she?
Teacher: Yeah, I think so. She had really bad diarrhea and I had to take her to the hospital and they had to put an IV in her arm and everything.
Romy: Blah blah blah.
Teacher: Blah blah blah gross detail blah another gross detail blah blah diarrhea blah vomit.
Romy: Blah blah.

At that point I stopped listening because I was so shocked that the word "diarrhea" was actually being uttered in real life, outside of a doctor's office, between two people that have never even spoken to each other before that I couldn't even pay attention to anything following the "rhea".

I guess it's not that shocking when you consider that Chinese people regularly hawk loogeys in public and potty train their children on the street.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

say it ain't so

Since most of you haven't been in the wilderness of China for the past two days like me, I'm assuming that most of you know about Travis Barker and DJ AM's horrible, horrible plane crash.

I feel so bad for Travis and his family. He was so amazingly nice to me when I met him back in July (or June, whenever that was). I really hope he pulls through and makes a full recovery.