Thursday, September 30, 2004

Here are some captions for pictures I took recently with my cellphone camera:

Outside lots of metro stations, motorcycle taxis wait to take one or two passengers to nearby destinations. At the station that I take back from my morning preschool these guys are particularly vivacious, waving and calling out to people with luggage as they exit the subway station. I think that's because there is a big bus station a short ride down the street.

Today we got off work a little early, and aren't going back to the office for seven days. Why? Because October 1st is the National Day holiday, when Chinese people get a week off of work to celebrate their own Fourth of July. Decorations are going up all over the place, including poof-balls, flags and lights around the sub-urban development where I teach in the mornings, big-character signs at schools and government offices, and double flags in the front windows of public buses. Good ol' nationalism at work.

Speaking of nationalism, I got a blurry picture of the flag-raising ceremony at the preschool, taken from the second floor. There's not much to say about this picture because it's so hard to make out the details, only to say that it's a huge pre-school with a two two-storied wings, and they are hiring a foreign teacher (me) to come in every day to teach their class, which is not cheap. I'm sure these two to five-year old students' parents are spending a hefty bit of cash on their education.

The funny thing about the picture of this wicker furniture guy is that I just saw the same thing today on my walk back from work: a humongous cart loaded with this kind of furniture, and the carter next to it resting. Only the guys I saw tonight had spread out blankets under the cart and were snoozing, while this guy had untied a chair from his load and was reading a book. What lead me to take the picture, and what the picture actually doesn't convey well, is the size of the load. It reminded me of the factoid that ants can carry so many times their body weight in mass.

One thing I've often considered collecting is pictures of the xiaoxin/dangxin pengtou (watch your head!) signs that grace escalator junctions all over China. At the Hongmei subway station, you have to take an escalator up to go over the tracks and reach the north-bound platform. As you rise to the second floor, there is a white hanging sign with red letters warning you to watch your head. There is also a second paper sign plastered just above the hanging sign, with the same warning message. These two signs, I can understand. But there is a third sign, another paper one, that I call the "warning of no return", because by the time you see this warning it's probably a little late to withdraw your head. I tried to capture this sign-of-no-return in this photo.

Monday, September 27, 2004

For all the subway and light-rail riding I've done in Shanghai, I've seen very few people reading books for fun. Oh sure, lots of people pick up the free æ.¶ä»£æ.¥ ("Metro Times" is the official English title) that gets passed out at public transport stops every morning. But books, I only see those every few days. Which makes me wonder why so many people I meet nod knowingly, or complete the name when I'm slow to pronounce it, when I mention that I'm reading Haruki Murakami's latest book.

There are two things that I'm having a very difficult time finding in Shanghai. The first is a computer; specifically, Saint Song's Cappuccino TX3 book-sized mini-PC. If I was in the States, I would surf over to Froogle or call up the nearest Fry's Electronics, and probably be able to order a single unit. Here, things work a little differently. The biggest computer markets are actually more like computer malls: a big building full of litttle computer stalls; each floor has a different theme: usually the bottom floor is composed of stores selling pre-built systems and notebooks, another floor sells custom-built systems, and the whole place is littered with desks selling random parts and accessories. The whole thing looks impressive because of the range of items set out before your eyes, but when you start to look deeper into each store you notice that they basically fall into five or six categories, and that the stock at each store is pretty much exactly the same. The only thing they seem to compete on is how many bored-looking young men and women are standing behind the counters, or crowded around monitors playing some sort of two-player Street Fighter II knock-off. Very few people are actually buying systems, and those that do come intending to spend money usually know very little about the computers they are buying. They end up sitting at a table, being guided towards one computer or another by a twenty-something guy who ends up writing them a receipt and sending them home with a computer that they don't really understand, bought for "educational purposes", but will probably end up using for solitaire, online games and QQ, China's most popular instant-messenger client.

It's all pretty depressing, but the worst part is that nobody seems to have anything smaller than a Shuttle, which is what I have back in Michigan. The best I've been able to do is contact the staff of Saint Song in Taiwan, who have suggested that I order directly from them.

The other thing I can't find in Shanghai is a mug—a plain-colored, flat-bottomed mug. Actually, what I want it a set of these mugs. Right now I'm using a combination of a glass beer-stein and a set of cute children's cups, but I would really like to get a nice set of ceramic mugs. But it's impossible. The biggest obstacle to my finding the mugs is the Chinese aesthetic sense: too much decoration. Every mug that is in the right shape and material has a cute teddy bear, or some gaudy pattern, or a jungle scene painted on or engraved into the side. Even Ikea failed me: they had plain, single-colored mugs, but with rounded bottoms. So far, the best candidates have been these guys on the street who sell ceramic dishes from the back of their bicycles. I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, September 24, 2004

If you read my weblog on the wubi site, you've been seeing pictures show up in a brand new (smaller) size and resolution. This is because the cellphone I picked up a couple weeks ago at the Cyber Digital Mall in downtown Shanghai is equipped with a camera. The cool thing about this is that I can send pictures in an MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service, to any e-mail address I choose. Through a little procmail trickery, I was able to create a new e-mail address and store in a certain directory all pictures that come as attachments to e-mails sent to that address. That way, I can take picture, instantly e-mail them to myself, and have them automatically appear on the main page of my weblog just a few minutes later. For example, here's a few comments about pictures I took recently:

Now Hiring signs around Shanghai tend to have a few more requirements listed than they do in the United States. For example, a sign from a new commercial center near the school I teach at now is advertising several positions, and asks for applicants to meet certain age requirements (usually between 18-30), height requirements (1.60 meters for women, 1.80 meters for men (phew, I just make it!)), and language requirements (must understand Shanghai dialect, must speak standard Mandarin Chinese).

The picture of my balcony shows some of the plants that my landlady forgot to take out of the house before I moved in. The balcony is probably my favorite place in the house, because the view of the surrounding apartments is fantastic, especially at night when lights of myriad colors appear. I often fix my dinner in the kitchen, then move to a stool on the balcony to enjoy the night-time breeze and enchanting panorama.

On my way to work a few days ago, I took a picture of several employees of the Formula 1 race track getting off the light rail train at the Caoxi Road exit. Somehow I imagined them speeding down the road in sports cars to get to work; I guess reality is more mundane. I like their grey jumpsuits.

Finally, a couple of food pictures. I had sweet cured pork ramen for dinner a couple nights ago, it was pretty good. I found Trix at the grocery store behind my apartments; it's one of three Western breakfast cereals available. I actually bought a different kind of breakfast cereal: I saw some flakes that looked like fruity pebbles being sold by weight, so I bought a small bag; it was labelled ba bao something or other, but I figured maybe that was the Chinese name for Fruity Pebbles; when I got home, I tasted it and found it to be very hard, and to taste like Eight Treasures Tea—just a little sweet—exactly as it was labelled. I figure it's supposed to be boiled to make it soft, and it will probably turn into some sort of mush. Yum?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I just did a re-organization of my Bloglines subscriptions, removing the Ann Arbor folder. Some folks went into RL friends, some folks went into Net Folks, and others were deleted. I'm just not getting onto the internet as much anymore, since the office router went bust during the move and I've been busy getting my house in order. Not computer yet either, I'm having trouble finding the case I want (extra small, something like what Saint Song makes).

My expenses for today:

RMB Expense
3 Light rail from Golden Sands River to Caoxi Road.
1 Bus 703 from Caoxi Road to the Chun Shen Road/Moli Garden stop.
1 Bottle of water for class at a convenience store in a new commercial center outside the new suburban housing development in south-eastern Shanghai where I teach mornings.
1 Bus 703 back to the Hong Mei Qiao stop.
1 Copy of the Shanghai Daily, an English language newspaper.
3 Metro from the Jin Jiang Amusement Park to Shimen First Road, changing trains at People's Square.
1 Bus 316 to meet the landlord and register at the local PSB office.
10.40 Lunch of two doughuts and a box of (pasteurized, ugh) milk at a French croissant place that has potentially good loaves of European style bread.
100 Fee to the Public Security Bureau for not registering within the first three days of moving into my house.
1 Bus 316 back to the office.
1 Bus 316 back home, chatting with Lisa, co-worker.
6 or 7 A couple hours at the internet cafe across the street.

All public transportation is paid for by swiping my jiao tong ka, a value-storage card that can be used on Shanghai's buses, metro, light rail, taxi, and ferry services. Dinner tonight could be bought at the carts behind my apartments for 5-6 RMB, or maybe just a peanut butter sandwich. This budget was inspired by Bradf's budget blog.

Monday, September 20, 2004

This picture shows the banner of the Pasadena City College marching band as they passed by the grandstand last night on Huaihai Lu, in downtown Shanghai. For me, this was a pleasant surprise. Pasadena City College was where I took my first Chinese class, back in the fall of 1997.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

So today I found out that if you don't make a down payment, you can consider a house to be still up in the air. Or not in the air, if somebody else wants it. That's OK, I found a place on the 17th floor of an apartment next to a light rail stop, and only a 20 minute bus ride away from work. RMB 2000 a month, one big bedroom, a kitchen with table, bathroom with a shower that drains into a hole in the floor, big windows, and no television by request. It even has a computer desk, and an extra phone extension for dial-up. This is one has money down on it, so I'm vacating the hotel tomorrow morning and moving in tomorrow evening. Afterwards, I hope to catch the tail end of a Shanghai indie rock concert at Jiaotong University.

For dinner I finally went to the curry place at the end of the non-pedestrian part of Nanjing Dong Lu and it was great.

Monday, September 13, 2004

I dinged a fangzi today. Er, I picked out an apartment today. Deposit and moving in will happen tomorrow. It's about ten minutes on foot from work, in a little gated community, with a kitchen, bathroom (Western toilet), living room and bedroom. The living room and bedroom have big windows that let in a lot of light. It's decorated in a very garish neo-Chinese fashion: lots of fake, light-colored wood, overly-decorated molding and chandelier. I passed up two pretty neat old-school type apartments for this one, where by "old school" I mean the ones where you go up the elevator and still have to walk down a couple hallways to get to the front door, and are very sparsely decorated but homely. The problem with them is that they both looked out on a busy street, and if staying in a hostel downtown has taught me anything it's that noise and light pollution can make for a bad night's sleep.

The real-estate guy virtually went into hysterics when one owner tried to secretly slip my co-worker her phone number on a piece of paper as we walked around the apartment. That apartment had two big balconies, but they both opened to a busy street so I didn't give it much consideration anyways.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

d: you do realize you just quoted your blog word for word, don't you?


Isn't that a classic weblogger moment? One I don't have to stumble through, since nobody here reads my personal weblog... yet.

I'm always fortunate to meet the nicest people, and then I compare them to myself and it makes me feel like a jerk.

Hooray, I'm employed.

From 0xDECAFBAD's links I picked out Idea Recording, a helpful how-to on writing down your thoughts whenever and wherever they come. My first advice to all Chinese learners now, especially those in China, is to buy a little notebook to write down "found vocab" for looking up later and keep the notebook in your back pocket wherever you go. It's also great for writing down concert dates, phone numbers, and weblog post ideas. This guy uses 3x5 cards. I can remember two people that I really came to respect who carry notebooks around faithfully: Kathy Zhang and Gordy Grover.

Today I took out lunch from a place called Xi Nian Lai, Hong Kong style cha shao fried rice. So far, John has taken me to two amazing places for very cheap lunches (15 kuai and below). I'm impressed by the service and quality of the restaurants that are springing up to feed Shanghai's new (hard-)working class.

She started it:

These are the books I have piled up on my bedside table.

Risa Wataya's INSTALL, a martial-arts novel monthly, Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, the Shanghai Stock Exchange Factbook 2003, Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicle, a collection of his short stories, and a collection of CS Lewis essays.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I'm trying to learn to write about the good and the bad on this weblog, and also stories. So here's a story about me getting gypped out of RMB 200 (USD 25) the other night in downtown Shanghai.

It was one of those "I should have seen it coming" scenarios. You know, the "It'll never happen to me" kind of thing. It also relates to the "complete faith in another human being" quote I put in my recent entry of Murakami quotes. Some people would call it naïveté, but I maintain that the truly innocent would be given opportunities to show grace that may appear to others as tragedies. This is pretty much how a guy wandered away with my backpack in Beijing three years ago. But on with today's story.

I was walkind down Nanjing Dong Lu late at night, maybe eleven PM, looking for a place to sit down with a drink and read my book. Out of the blue, a young fellow approached me; a little shorter than me and a wee bit thinner, he was Chinese and his story of being a student at the Tourism University and just getting off his internship shift at a local hotel sounded plausible. When I told him where I was going, he offered to take me to a bar that had lots of Chinese students where I could speak English and make some friends. To me, that sounded ideal; a bar with students would surely be a cheap place, and probably open late. I followed him a couple major streets off of Nanjing Dong Lu, Shanghai's symbolic, but far from the best, shopping street. As we walked, we made small talk. Probably, the first warning light should have gone off when he asked me if I like girls or guys, and started to intimate that I would meet some nice girls at the bar. Naturally, I waved off his idea, believing that he was simply joking good-naturedly.

The real internal sirens sounded when we walked into the entryway of Platinum, the bar he was taking me to. Instead of the cozy little student dive I had imagined, the walls of the long entry-hall were decorated in brown plaster with Egyptian hieroglyphics and pharaoh-type symbols inscribed. My companion pointed out the "students", girls standing around in slinky black dresses with high slits, and led me to a table. Film of an American girl-band concert played on a large screen next to the plush couches that wrapped around low tables, each possibly seating a dozen people; except that the place was completely empty! Now I was really uncomfortable, especially when we ordered drinks--an orange juice for me, and a "soft drink" that turned out to be some sort of bright blue liquor--and he suggested that we could choose a couple of girls to accompany us.

I really became alarmed when large bowls of expensive-looking nuts, dried squid, and a plate of watermelon sculpture appeared on our table. Yikes! I just wanted an orange juice. But el colmo was when about eight or nine or the bar girls walked over and stood in front of our table, and my friend asked me to choose a couple. It really was true! I was in the middle of a big scam, and it was stinking to high heaven. At that point, I refused to acknowledge the girls and began to remonstrate to this guy for tricking me into coming here. After about two minutes of "this is not what you made me think when you said students", he told the girls that I was not interested--obviously!--and sent them back to the bar. After I tried to make small talk to a cold shoulder for a few minutes while I finished my orange juice--this sortie was obviously a failure, and the guy wanted out--I told him that this was a blatant misunderstanding, this place was not the kind of bar I expected from his description, and that we should stop taking up each others' time.

At that point, the check arrived: RMB 430, about 50 dollars US. Naturally, I examined the tally. My orange juice had been about four dollars, the "soft drink" about eight, a "seating fee" of 6 dollars per person had been applied to the bill, and the remainder was a charge for the snacks. Since it was clear from the menu (that the bouncer(!!) brought over and the female manager held in her hands as he stood aside) that the snacks were not included in the seating fee, so I began to argue over that technicality, that I was not going to pay for the snacks since I had not ordered them nor touched them since they came. Really, at that point I was just anxious to get out of there with as little damage as possible to my wallet. I kept pressing both my friend and the manager, and finally he relented and offered to pay half the bill. That was fine with me, since I was offering to pay for the drinks and seating fee, a fee I probably should have figured out from the menu. So my friend ended up paying for the snacks, I pulled out my money clip and tossed them all RMB 200 that were in it, stood up, grabbed my book (ahh, a faithful friend!) and walked out with the guy.

After a frigid goodbye, we headed our separate ways.

So if you're out on Nanjing Dong Lu late at night, politely turn down any offers to guide you to a bar.

[msittig] http still down, hrumph [msittig] I'm going to write a weblog post about how I got gypped out of 25 bucks the other night in downtown Shanghai. [msittig] But it could have been worse. [cyclotro] lol [cyclotro] how ? [msittig] one of those "hey, I'll show you a place if you buy me a drink" wher ethey bring you a line-up of girls and charge you an obscene cover charge. [msittig] I got away, mostly. [msittig] they still got 25 bucks out of me... live and learn. [msittig] I consider it "tuitiion" [cyclotro] ah well... no free drinks included in cover charge I suppose? [msittig] one 4 dollar orange juice that was part of the 25 [cyclotro] yea and 25buck is cheap for tuition in this life hehe [msittig] free sna [msittig] snacks, but I didn't eat them, and therefore refused to pay for them (I didn't order them, blah) [msittig] yeah, I suppose :)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

New photos of Hong Kong and Shanghai!

The write up for Hong Kong is here, and the Shanghai writeup appears below:

The train from Hong Kong to the mainland didn’t make us get out at Guangzhou this time, we passed through customs at Shanghai. That’s nice, because you can take fruits and veggies to eat on the train. I got a lot of reading done.

Shanghai was just exiting a heat wave when I arrived, so the heat was receding but still a little oppressive. Of course, being my second time in Shanghai and n-th time on the mainland, I don’t have many pics of the “local scenery”, maybe a few of traffic at night and a series of pics from the bathroom window of our hotel, the 150-year-old Pujiang Hotel. Mostly, I have small wry observations to make, sub-titles for certain pictures, like:

One day I did go to Fudan University to look around, and it was the second day that students were moving into the dorms. Mostly, though, I’ve been hanging out with folks like Victoria, Brittany, Oliver, and Jonas, visiting the Shanghai Stock Exchange (they wouldn’t let us in, so we cruised the listings at the neighboring Starbucks), taking the tourist tunnel under the Huangpu River, crashing the Hyatt on the 54th floor of the Jinmao Tower (nice view!), and talking as we walk along the Bund at night after a sumptuous dinner.

Oh, and working on my latest book. Finally, I found a book in Chinese I can really get excited about, Murakami's latest Kafka on the Shore, and I'm learning new characters at an incredible rate. Hooray for good books and electronic dictionaries!

Saturday, September 04, 2004

This is going to be a long entry of passages that I connected with in Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle:

"No, I wasn't," said Lieutenant Mamiya, biting his lip. "We were in different units – different divisions, even. We worked together in a small-scale military operation that preceded the Nomonhan battle. Corporal Honda was later wounded at Nomonhan and sent back to Japan. I didn't go to Nomonhan. I lost this hand of mine" – and here Lieutenant Mamiya held up his gloved left hand – "in the Soviet advance of August 1945, the month the war ended. I caught a slug in the shoulder from a heavy machine gun during a battle against a tank unit. I was on the ground unconscious, when a Soviet tank ran over my hand. I was taken prisoner, treated in a hospital in Chita, and sent to an internment camp in Siberia. They kept me there until 1949. I was on the continent for twelve years altogether from the time they sent me over in 1937. I never set foot on Japanese soil the whole time. My family thought I had been killed fighting the Soviets. They made a grave for me in the village cemetary. I had a kind of understanding with a girl there before I left Japan, but by the time I got back she was married to another man. Twelve years is a long time."

Twelve years is a long time.

I arived at the tearoom ten minutes early, but Noboru Wataya and Malta Kano had already found a table and were waiting for me. The lunchtime crowd was thick, but I spotted Malta Kano immediately. Not too many people wore red vinyl hats on sunny summer afternoons. It must have been the same hat she had on the day I met her, unless she owned a collection of vinyl hats, all the same style and colour. She dressed with the same tasteful simplicity as before: a short-sleeved linen jacket over a collarless cotton top. Both pieces were perfectly white and perfectly free of wrinkles. No accessories, no make-up. Only the red vinyl hat clashed with the rest of the outfit, both in tone and in material. As if she had been waiting for my arrival to do so, she removed the hat when I took my seat, placing it on the table. Beside the hat lay a small yellow leather handbag. She had ordered some tonic water but had not touched it, as before. The liquid seemed somehow uncomfortable in its tall glass, as if it had nothing better to do than produce its little bubbles.

Two things: for a while, I took to ordering drinks and not touching them either; also, I like the image of the uncomfortable tonic water.

I let out a sigh. Not that sighing was going to accomplish anything, but it was something I had to do. "So, then, Kumiko had been involved with this man for some time?"

"Two and half months or thereabouts, I believe."

"Two and a half months," I said. "How could it have been going on for two and a half months without my noticing anything?"

"Because, Mr Okada, you had no doubts whatsoever about your wife," said Malta Kano.

I nodded. "That's true. It never once crossed my mind. I never imagined Kumiko could lie to me like that, and I still can't really believe it."

"Results aside, the ability to have complete faith in another human being is one of the finest qualities a person can possess."

"Not an easy ability to come by," said Noboru Wataya.

I think I have, modesty aside, this ability. It was the reason I "lost" my backpack in Beijing in 2002, and the reason payed twenty dollars for an orange juice and a cold shoulder last night. But if the good guy loses, he was still the good guy... right?

May Kasahara touched her lips to my mark – her lips were small and thin, like an extremely well-made imitation. Then she parted those lips and ran her tongue across my mark – very slowly, covering every bit of it. The hand she had placed on my knee remained there the whole time. Its warm, moist touch came to me from far away, from a place still farther than if it had passed through all the fields in the world. Then she took my hand and touched it to the wound beside her eye. I caressed the half-inch scar. As I did so, the waves of her consciousness pulsed through my fingertips and into me – a delicate resonance of longing. Someone should take this girl in his arms and hold her tight, I thought. Probably someone other than me. Someone qualified to give her something.

"Goodbye, Mr Wind-up Bird. See you again sometime."

I like the "resonance of longing", and feel the same way about people sometime. "Someone other than me."

Lately it's really been bothering me that, I don't know, the way people work like this every day from morning to night is kind of weird. Hasn't it ever struck you as strange? I mean, all I do here is do the work that my bosses tell me to do the way they tell me to do it. I don't have to think at all. It's like I just put my brain in a locker before I start work and pick it up on the way home. I spend seven hours a day at a workbench, planting hairs into wig bases, then I eat dinner in the cafeteria, take a bath, and of course I have to sleep, like everybody else, so out of a twenty-four-hour day, the amount of free time I have is nothing. And because I'm so tired from work, the "free time" I have I mostly spend lying around in a fog. I don't have any time to sit and think about anything. Of course, I don't have to work at weekends, but then I have to catch up on the laundry and cleaning, and sometimes I go into town, and before I know it the weekend is over. I once made up my mind to keep a diary, but I had nothing to write, so I gave up after a week. I mean, I just do the same thing over and over again, day in, day out.

But still – but still – it does not bother me at all that I'm now just a part of the work I do. I don't feel the least bit alienated from my life. If anything, I sometimes feel that by concentrating on my work like this, with all the mindless determination of an ant, I'm getting closer to the "real me". I don't know how to put it, but it's as if by not thinking about myself I can get closer to the core of my self. That's what I mean by "kind of weird".

Sometimes I feel the same way, that the more I think about things, the less I experience them and the more muddled my thinking becomes. CS Lewis said something similar in his childhood autobiography, that there is an Object, and a Feeling we get when we pursue that Object. If we pursue the Feeling (in his case, Joy), we will not find it. But if we concentrate on the Object, we will experience Joy again.

The rights to translate and publish Murakami's latest book, Kafka on the Shore in simplified Chinese were granted to the Shanghai Translation Publishing House. The Shanghai Book City has several copies. Well, one less copy than yesterday morning. (Hat tip to And the English edition is slated to come out in January 2005.)

Friday, September 03, 2004

/me opens his notebook, examines the jottings, and picks out the page with the "topics-to-write-about" list.

First off, I remembered serendipitously a feeling I had while cleaning out boxes of old junk from my parent's garage, a summertime ritual for me. I pulled out a booklet from the Academic Decathlon competition I took part in my senior year. The Super Quiz topic for that year was the Information Age, with a focus on the internet. Looking back on the essays by "famous" and influential writers, I realize how little any of of what wrote actually corresponded to anything important about the internet. It was a nice reminder of how clueless people were about technology; a cluelessness that, no-doubt, continues today and will be a constant companion to us in the forseeable future; a nice little reminder to not take ourselves or our partners-in-prediction too seriously.

Second, I had an idea for a project. I discovered that the Frommer's travel guide website has published all(?) of their content for China on the web. If I was motivated enough (and thought it was legal enough to be worth the effort), I could write a script to extract all the content and corresponding meta-information, dump it into a Kwiki database directory, and allow visitors to update it, a la WikiTravel.

When I lived in Tianjin, I really wanted a BobDog article of clothing to wear. BobDog was all the rage with the elementary school crowd at the time. Nowadays, I intend to keep my eyes open for a shirt with the QQ penguin on it. I've seen a couple around town. Speaking of clothing, I went shopping yesterday (somehow, I doubt my 5 t-shirts and 3 pairs of pants will go over well at the office) and was pleasantly surprised to find two UNIQLO franchise locations here in Shanghai. Their UK website pretty much sums up their schtik with high quality, logo-free clothing at low prices. All the news stories are now pay-only, but the gist of UNIQLO's history is that they were one of the few companies to find profit in Japan's 1990s recession by sending production to China and finally abandoning the small-boutique legacy of the 1980s big-money boom. As for me, I picked up a dress shirt, an umbrella, a t-shirt, and ogled their 30 different colors of socks.

Finally, I have a question for you to think over. In his book, Kip Fulbeck (actually, the main character of this "Fictional Autobiography") posed two questions to a group of kids: what is the best thing anybody could say to you, and what is the worst thing anybody could say to you? Fulbeck says that adults come up with corny answers, like "I love/hate you", but kids are much more honest. Be ready to answer this next time we meet.