Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Since Blogspot is still blocked in China, I've given up blogging here. Now I'm posting (irregularly) at note.wubi.org. You can update your RSS feeds as well.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daimei for hotpot

Daimei is so cheap it's hard to resist.

Seriously, even meat platters are only RMB 8-10

IMG_4404 (by Micah Sittig)

The only bad thing about Daimei is that after dinner you inevitably smell of cigarette smoke or of hot pot.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I haven't written an old-school China post in a while, which supports the thesis of this post, but it still makes me feel funny about writing it.

Something I noticed at the recent Shanghai barCamp and that came back to me while reading the Laowai Wenshen blog is the feeling that these days I meet more and more foreigners who have been in China for 5, 6 or more years. These folks are usually somewhat conversant in Chinese and don't think much of it, or still don't speak much but are cognizant of this as something to regret. They've moved beyond the "China contrasts" stage, the "China is so different" stage; they're done "experiencing China" and instead are focused on getting on with their lives, building careers and families, investing in friends and lifestyles, and living constructively making things that are worthwhile.

I'm not saying that people like this didn't exist before. They did, but they were always the exception, a novelty.

This all makes me feel really comfortable and satisfied. Maybe it's because I grew up abroad that I feel like I had a leg up on this, and it's been something I've been looking forward to for a while now. I don't have to fake the "China is so strange" conversation with people as often; I don't have to explain Chinese words I drop into conversations; and I don't feel like I'm imposing on people when I recommend things to them that require interacting with locals, moving around the city/country, or letting themselves down off the magic carpet ride of "China" to deal with the mundane business of Real Life. Let's talk about hospitals where you had your baby! Let's talk about local politics or something you read in the newspaper! Let's complain about the cost of living and how we'll never own a house! Let's talk about your latest project that isn't some expat-focused website guide to Shanghai. This is the kind of stuff I find satisfying these days, and it's getting easier to find.

And also at Julen's BBQ party, and writing for Shanghaiist, and...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Flower girl

Maryann at the Expo:

Maryann and Charlotte went to the Expo today. Maryann posed by some pink flowers and made a silly face. They had a good time, but it was tiring and they came back after only 4 or 5 hours.

Jodi was given two tickets and a day off to visit the Expo by her preschool. She took her mom, and Charlotte and Maryann for a few hours in the afternoon. They had a good time, but it was hot and tiring. Some pavilions let them in the "fast lane" line because they were pushing strollers (US, Egypt), but others were more strict and would only give passes to children under 1 (Australia). Jodi's mom saw enough, but Jodi wants to go back some evening.

Subway Volunteer II

I went to the Metrofans' Saturday volunteer activity again this weekend. I got put on the ticket machines in Line 8, then switched back to the same turnstiles as last week. Jodi and Charlotte dropped by on their way to class.

Mostly it was the same deal as last week: answering questions (exit 19 is Nanjing Rd, exit 3 is Fuzhou Rd), helping people insert tickets or sending them to the service center, and steering people away from turnstiles that stopped accepting single-trip tickets due to mechanical problems. Mostly this happens because the turnstiles are getting old, but also 3 times I caught people trying to stick stuff other than subway tickets into the turnstiles:

  1. Expo one-day ticket
  2. Hotel room key card
  3. Travel agent business card

After the two hours were up we took a group photo:

Then some of the forum members went out to Yunan Rd for dinner.

The restaurant was Sichuanese, but these kids (yeah, I'm probably the oldest by 4 or 5 years) are all Shanghainese so of course we also had dishes like 娃娃菜 and 红烧肉.

We rounded off the night with a couple rounds of the 三国杀 card game.

Good times.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Two texts that caught my eye

I'd like to share two interesting pieces of text that I read today. The first comes from the Metrofans BBS subforum for the Zhangjiang Tram. A few days ago there was an incident where a car crashed into the tram, which lead people to discuss the safety of the new tram line (incidentally, the car was totaled but the tram came off with only a few scratches). Some posters suggested that tram-only lanes should be demarcated on wider streets and that narrow roads, including the horrible mess at Guanglan Rd near our house, are responsible for the accident and for the elimination of Shanghai's historical trolley buses. This poster thinks otherwise:


You know what? Back in the day Puxi had lots of tram lines, more than ten, and all of them ran on very narrow streets, like Zhejiang Road, Hubei Road, Chongqing S Road, Sichuan Road, etc. Even so, there were very few accidents; people just knew to stay out of the trolley's way. The trolley lines were dismantled due to far-Leftist thinking, that they were shadows of the Concession era and the British and French merchants that used to run them. That was back in the GPRC, so of course nobody dared speak out against it. Actually, a lot of Shanghainese feel it was a shame to lose the old trolley lines!

These streets were in the British concession near People's Square or farther south in the French concession.

That's sorta cool. Makes me want to go look for evidence of the old trolley lines.

The other is from a series of posts by Jiang Xueqin on The Diplomat's China weblog about Chinese education and the former principal of Shenzhen Middle School, Wang Zheng.

By far, Principal Wang Zheng's biggest impact was on student life. He divided the students into eight different houses, and each house had its own student management system. With the house system, imposing and intimidating Shenzhen Middle School (with a campus the size of three city blocks and 2,400 students spread over three grades) became friendly and intimate. Helping the lowerclassmen adapt to this new education system were the Prefects, upperclassmen mentors who liked to organize surprise birthday parties for the lowerclassmen. And organizing activities and competitions among the houses was student government.

Student life was vibrant and diverse, but its most striking characteristic was that it was entirely student-built and managed. Student cadres were not just the glorified hall monitors found at other Chinese schools—they were democratically elected representatives who served the interests of their classmates. They solicited corporate sponsors for basketball and soccer tournaments (one student was so charming that he received $30,000 from China Mobile). They organized masquerade balls and "American Idol" competitions. On December 31st of each year hundreds of volunteers stayed up all night to organize the school's annual winter carnival; on New Year's Day, over 100,000 Shenzhen residents would come to buy goods and play games, listen to concerts and watch performances.

This reminds me a lot of the house system at Caltech but better, and I think that this kind of grade-to-grade interaction would lend a lot to a high school. Read on for a fuller description of Wang Zheng's reforms, and the reaction from parents to changes at one of Shenzhen's top middle (high) schools.

Also, for some more background reading on the subject, see these links:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Busy day

Today was an eventful and busy day. On the way to school this morning I stopped by the Service Desk to request a repair to our hot water heater. Cold shower this morning, BRRRR! Why was I going to school? It was our annual International Day, most for the elementary school students to put together some rocking country-themed classrooms and performances. First thing, though, was playing sumo wrestler for the middle school, which mostly just plays sport and games. Those sumo costumes are heavy and hot! I was exhausted after a short two-minute match. After a rest in the office I met Jodi and Charlotte for a tour of the elementary school, checking out the different countries and snacking on their finger-foods.

Back to the office, I worked on the school internal wiki for a while, editing and designing a new stylesheet with the Stylish extension for Firefox. I had lunch from the coffee shop in the rec center, and then arrived at home to find Maryann napping.

Once she woke up, we changed her clothes and all headed out the door. Jodi met Sandy on the subway, and I took the girls to Zhangyang Rd to pick up a present for the wedding tomorrow. After a quick but worthwhile purchase, we went ahead with my plan to walk all the way to the Huangpu River and boat across. If you walk straight west on Zhangyang Rd you basically can't miss the ferry station, which is where the road reaches a T-intersection at the bank of the river.

Once across in Puxi, we explored the area below and around Fuxing Rd until we found one of my new favorite roads and restaurants, Sipailou Rd and the 蒸功夫 Hunanese restaurant. The friendly waiter recognized us from last time and watched oru stroller while we ate inside. Both girls did a great job eating all of their food, staying neat, and spilling a minimal amount of food and dishes (0) on the floor. For dessert we had a piece of cantaloupe on a stick. Then we further explored the small alleyways of this still-preserved neighborhood south-east of the Yu Gardens, which we eventually spilled out onto.

We spent about 45 minutes at the Yu Garden neighborhood, window shopping, crossing the windy bridge, and buying magnets. Then we grabbed a bus back to Nanjing East Road and took Line 2 directly home, watching a downloaded episode of Ni Hao Kai Lan on my cellphone.

One note: Today I had about half a dozen random people help me getting the stroller up and down stairs, completely spontaneous and of their own volition. This is a high number for Shanghai.

Random photos:

A punny noodle store along the backside of Yu Gardens: "Don't ask (smell) our name, instead see our noodles (face)."

From the Yu Gardens, a view of the World Financial Center. (I know I know, these "contrast" photos are the purview of FOBby foreigners, but I thought this one had minimalist artistic merit too.)

A KFC imitator, ostensibly "Country Chicken".

Ka ora te tangata

Last Saturday I was a Shanghai subway volunteer.


For a few years now I've been a 超级潜水员, a super-lurker, as somebody recently described me, on Metrofans, a Shanghai-based web forum for subway system enthusiasts (compare: 117 posts on Metrofans since 2006, and 287 posts on Zhangjiang BBS in less than 2 years). A couple years ago I attended an outing organized by the BBS to celebrate the opening of Line 6, had a good time and met some cool people. Lately I've been thinking about practicing my Chinese and getting out of the house a bit more, so I'd been looking for a chance to join another activity. It just happened that on a night I was thinking about this sign-ups for last week's biweekly volunteer activity were opened. After a quick post and private message to the organizer, I was added to the list and noted the time and place on my calendar: People's Square main hall Expo countdown at 2:45.

People's Square main hall Expo countdown at 2:45

Sure enough, by 2:30 a group of young people had formed and I introduced myself to the organizer, who goes by 周瑜的地铁 on the forums. A couple people recognized me from the last time, but most faces were new to me. The volunteers tended to be male (there were 2 girls out of 20-something total), college students or fresh graduates, and very nerdy. There was also a sociology student from ECNU who is carrying out research on this kind of community who I chatted with for a bit.

周瑜的地铁 and ECNU sociology student

Volunteer vests were handed out and we were directed toward the light blue line.

The vests are red and say 上海志愿者 on the back.

We dropped our stuff off in the Line 8 control room back room which, by the way, is full of Buddhist paraphernalia: calendars, altars, statues…

And then the real work began.

By design, first-timers are assigned to stations with more experienced volunteers, so I was at a larger set of turnstiles with two other forum moderators who had volunteered before. Other volunteers helped passengers buying tickets at the ticketing machines, and some were assigned to wander the station and answer questions. Interesting things about manning the 'stiles:

  • The volume of people exiting the station can be high, so the key is to anticipate who will need help inserting their ticket or dealing with ticket trouble. A couple criteria: young, urban people are generally OK; people with public transportation charge cards are generally OK.
  • Common card trouble includes: not knowing where to stick the ticket, trying to swipe a single journey ticket, having a ticket rejected for not inserting it properly, having a ticket rejected for not having the right fare or being demagnetized.
  • Most common question from people asking for directions: "Where is/which way to People's Square?"
  • There are police patrolling the People's Square station on Segways. They come in pairs.
  • Being a white person volunteering, it was amusing that locals and urban people tended to go to my partners for directions or questions, while WDR and rural people did not discriminate, expecting me to be able to speak Chinese as naturally as if I was a local. Also, being white and smiling at people as they exit has a tendency to make them forget to take swipe their card and run into a still-engaged turnstile.
  • A reporter from the 青年报 stopped to interview us.
  • Things you may have wondered about: it doesn't matter if you insert your ticket upside-down or rightside-up; and the turnstiles are smart enough to count N swipes and tickets, and then let N people go through. Still, don't tailgate the person in front of you because they could miss and then would exit on your swipe!
  • The sketch I made of the People's Square subway station and the location of its exits came in very handy. Most people figure out which line they need to take, but a lot of people need directions about which exit will take them to their final destination.

My map was hand-drawn into my Line 2 pocket notebook.

Obviously I didn't want to take any pictures on the job, but here's an example of another volunteer who was still going as we walked back to the meeting point at the end of our two hour shift.

I worked by the turnstiles too.

Here's a group photo taken before we said goodbye for the day:

Aren't we smooth?

Something cool is by the next day there was an active post on the forum where people reflected on their volunteer experiences and shared funny or moving stories that had happened to them that day. It was a fun way to vicariously live out other people's volunteer experiences.

If you're interested in doing something similar, I suggest that you sign up for Metrofans and spend a while learning about the community. Also, you must be 18 years old and it really helps if you can speak good Chinese.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Management plan during the Expo

The following post has been pinned at the top of each Metrofans subforum for over a month now. The translation is mine:



  1. 关闭游客访问本站功能。
  2. 即日起,本站发现不和谐内容的帖子将直接删除,删除时若写名删除理由的,以删除理由为准。若没有写明理由的,则为上级要求批量删除。
  3. 因内容不和谐而被被删除的帖子,不接受任何投诉,反复纠缠者,直接禁发言。
  4. 即日起,关于安检的内容,只得发布合理的建议和意见或者是工作不足的监督。不得在本站发布任何关于安检的负面消息,例如质疑、批判、抵制、内部揭发。任何版主有权利删除安检负面信息,且不接受投诉。
  5. 即日起,加强对会员的监督管理。凡是对论坛非重要问题反复纠缠的;挑拨会员情绪、破坏论坛气氛的;对管理成员故意挑刺、挑衅的等,都将被直接禁止访问。被禁止后不接受任何投诉,注册马甲再纠缠的,直接封马甲。
  6. 新发帖子,世博会不得使用有歧义的字母,如需要使用拼音,请使用“shibo会”
  7. 各版均会加强审核与管理,若发生不便,请给予理解。本规定不接受任何评论,若无法接受,可自便。



Management plan during the Expo

In order to cooperate with the relevant departments, in light of this website's actual status, and to better manage the forum, effective immediately and for the duration of the Expo (April 19 to November 15) the Shanghai Metrofans site will implement the following policies:

  1. Close the site to unregistered users.
  2. Beginning today, unharmonious posts will be summarily deleted. A written justification may be given. If no written justification is forthcoming, it is because the post was recommended for bulk deletion by the authorities.
  3. No appeals will be entertained regarding posts deleted for being unharmonious; repeat offenders will be banned.
  4. Beginning today, all posts on the topic of baggage inspections/X-rays must contain only reasonable recommendations and opinions, or reports of insufficient care in inspection work. Posters must not publish on this site any negative information on the topic of security, such as questions, criticism, boycotts, or exposés. Moderators have the right to remove any negative information on security, and will not entertain any complaints.
  5. Beginning today, the forums will strengthen the supervision and management of members. Posters who repeatedly brings up irrelevant problems; provoke other posters and pollute the atmosphere of the forum; and deliberately create run-ins with moderators will be banned without warning.
  6. When posting about the Expo, do not use characters with double-entendres. If pinyin is required, please write "shibo会".
  7. All subforums will be stricter about approval and moderation. Please forgive any inconveniences. These policies are not up for discussion; if you find them unacceptable you are welcome to leave.

We appreciate the cooperation and support of all members.

Shanghai Metrofans

November 15 is two weeks after the Expo finishes.