Friday, December 31, 2004

I'm feeling lazy, but I'd really like to write a "life in general" post for those back home to read. So I'm going to take the easy way out and write about the all the cellphone photos I've taken this month.

Back in the beginning of December—was it only four weeks ago?—I went with Ms Chen to her friend's Latin dance class; after that, I signed up, bought myself a pair of shoes, and now I've almost mastered the steps to the Cha-cha. That first night, we went out for smoothies afterwards at the Raffles City food court (another sign that Shanghai wants to be Hong Kong).

I've still been averaging one concert a weekend. Sometimes I meet up with Asa and Chris for sushi before the show if it's at the Ark, but more often we go out for dinner afterwards, usually a bunch of expats at some cheap little Chinese restaurant. Last weekend I went to a neat all-day festival at the Gua'er Music Factory, and we actually went out to dinner (Asa, Chris, Valentina, Max, me, and some Chinese kids) during the show, while some random metal band was playing.

I'm still going to Hailida Preschool to teach six classes every morning. It's about an hour commute each way, a very tiring trip. I've taken several pictures there. The Disney logo in Chinese is interesting because they've managed to hide the Disney "D" in the character whose pinyin is "di". There's quite a bit of student art up in the hallways; one that you might think is a spider, but of course this being Shanghai is actually a crab. I always though that when the students said yang wa wa for the word "doll", they were talking about some kind of goat doll; it turns out, yang is actually the character "ocean" and means that the doll is a Western doll. No wonder people on the Shanghai Expat forums have to ask where you can buy a Chinese doll. The school went way overboard putting up Christmas decorations. Every day as I leave the preschool I pass this parked motorcycle that has a fur pelt covering the seat, for comfort I assume. As some kind of morbid joke, the owner put a little tail coming out from under the back "trunk" box. After taking the bus and metro, walking back to the office I pass a house with this plaque mounted on it proclaiming it to be a "Model Mansion". That just sounds funny to me in several ways.

Speaking of work, sometimes it's actually fun. For example, the other day I hopped into a taxi to take me to school, and it had a television in the back of the passenger seat headrest. Also, a couple of weeks ago I went to Hangzhou to "MC" a few English game days; I was treated to dinner involving leg of lamb, and discovered pirated cookies at the supermarket.

But back to Hailida: the school put on a big program involving singing/dancing/acting performances by the students. I got a bunch of student pictures with my digital camera during rehearsals, which will be uploaded someday. A bunch of parents came to the final performance; it was fun to look for the parents of the rowdy kids and see what kind of human beings could give birth to these little monsters! After the show, the kids bundled up and walked home in a light snowfall. Actually, lots of them went to KFC for lunch first, because that's where I went for some quiet reading time before heading back to Melody, and instead ended up constructing mega-straws with a handful of my students. But speaking snow...

Christmas this year wasn't white, the snow came a few days afterwards! Still, I managed to get into the spirit and hang a few ornaments in my place. Thanks to the parents/grandparents for sending over some great gifts, they also gave the apartment a little more holiday cheer. As far as Christmas activities, I tried to get into the spirit by baking a little in my new oven, which required a trip to Ikea for supplies, like a rolling pin, mixing bowls and measuring cups. I left with a bunch of stuff, enough to get me on my way to a couple of batches of cookies, lemon and almond. People at work were reasonably impressed when I brought in a box to share, and I still have a bunch more to pass around. Great!

So then you might wonder what I actually did for Christmas Eve and Day. On Christmas Eve I went over to Chris and Asa's place for a little soirée that involved party games, a CD exchange, beer, blankets and lots of laughing. I like staying late at Chris and Asa's place because they have a comfortable futon that folds out into a bed, they leave the A/C heater turned on all night, and sometimes Chris fixes french toast for breakfast... and shares! Thanks, Chris. I didn't get any pictures of John's party on Christmas day, but his new apartment has a great view of the elevated highway, light rail line, and a small river, so of course I snapped it. John's party was cool too, involving Knight Rider, more party games, a little alcohol, pizza, and good company.

Finally, a few pics that don't I won't give more than a few words to: bus stop where I take the bus home from work, Zhongshan Park light rail exit stairs, a flower someone left on the first floor milkboxes, "be a cute Shanghainese", and I'm excited about a girl.

Thanks for reading. Good night.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

I dressed up as Santa Claus... and enjoyed it!


Through the a China Digital News post I found out that the Washington Post published an Associated Press article about a show called "Quest USA" that I watched a few times before moving to China: "On This Reality TV Show, East Meets West:

They rapped. They performed farm chores in Amish country. They had an egg-eating contest in Roanoke. They drank Miller Genuine Draft in motel rooms until they got loaded and started talking about sex. They ate breakfast at dawn in IHOP. They raced little cars in Daytona Beach and competed in "mud skiing" in northern Florida. They met on the beach-volleyball court in Miami Beach (Taiwan 11, Mainland China 5 -- and no war!). All in Chinese with English subtitles, and the occasional lapse into English, in which they are all fluent.

What they don't mention in the article is that the host of this show is former Channel-V DJ, mainland soap superstar and model, and That's Beijing columnist David Wu (胡大为 Oops, make that 吴大维. Thanks John.)!

Friday, December 24, 2004

This is probably the point where I should give an update on my dance class.

Overall, I'm extremely happy with the experience so far. We've had five classes, of which I've made it to three and a half. The instructors are a Chinese man and woman, both extremely good dancers to my untrained eye. The class is about 40-50 students, which at two instructors and 90 minutes means that you will probably receive personal instruction for about 30 seconds each class. The space is small, and sometimes it's hard to see the instructors around the other dancers. But that also makes the atmosphere cozy and encourages interaction between the dancers. The typical class runs for about and hour and fifteen minutes of instruction and following the teacher to music, and then there is about fifteen minutes plus overflow time of paired dancing. The class officially ends at 8:30, but Ms Chen, her friend and I end up staying till 9 PM just dancing for fun.

The first class was discouraging. It made me realize how long it has been since I've done any real kinetic learning. Probably the last time I had to learn some coordinated activity was ping-pong at Caltech, or being more rigorous it would be learning to play volleyball in junior high. And if you want to talk about dancing, I've never had any dance experience in my life (that I can remember... Mom, help me out?). So the first day, I felt like I had two left feet, my arms didn't know where to go, and I was being left behind by the more advanced students who just came off of learning the rumba. Very discouraging, but pretty much what I expected.

The second class was a big left for my spirits. I felt like my body actually remembered what I had learned the week before. Once the hips started moving, everything else followed. By the end of class, when it came time to pair up and string all the moves together, I felt like I had mastered a new and simple talent. Wearing my new black leather dance shoes, I was a happy man.

I missed the third session due to a business trip Hangzhou.

The fourth class pushed me hard again, and left me gasping for air. Like I told one of my dance partners, it's not the basic steps that are hard to master, it's the stringing them all together that keeps me tripping over her feet.

The fifth class was tonight. The Melody teachers had a Christmas dinner tonight after work at our department leader's nice apartment, and I felt like putting in an appearance but ended up staying for dinner. This made me about an hour late to dance class; it turns out I didn't miss much because the female teacher 徐老师, Mrs Xu, was absent, and the guy is not a great teacher, so they spent the whole time reviewing. In total I still got an hour of dance time, and it was particularly enjoyable because this was the first class where I actually danced with more than a couple partners. It was fun to feel a few different styles and skill levels of dancing, it gave me a better sense of how to improve my own style. The instructor also mixed things up by playing some songs with a faster beat, which was nice because it gives you less time to think about what you're doing next, and forces you to rely on instict or physical memory to lead into the next step. Although I didn't learn anything new tonight, I feel like I improved on a few key transitions and tightened up some moves, particularly in the upper body department.

One of the coolest things about the class is meeting people. Mrs Xu has a great eye for detail, and has spent several minutes after class with me on a couple occasions working out a trouble spot. A lot of the students have been dancing for a while and are very confident in their dancing, and also very friendly towards the newbs (that's me!). A few people are organizing an evening trip on the 25th to Shanghai's man-made ski slope. Also, a few of us are talking about going out and dancing on a Latin dance night at one of Shanghai's many night-time hotspots. A little scary, but fun!

On a totally seperate note, I'm thinking about trying to catch the final night of this theatrical performance 单身公寓 on Christmas day, Sunday, at 7:15pm. If anybody in Shanghai is interested in going with, give me a ring at 136-3664-4690.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

I forgot to mention this when it launched, but better late than never: I'm writing reviews for the music section of Shanghai Streets. Try to guess which pen-name is mine; it's not too hard to identify my corny style.

Friday, December 17, 2004

It has been a while since I spilled a bit of my mind onto this page, so I have a lot of things to say. Only some deserve a full post to themselves, so I will put the rest here:

  • Maybe John will have a good suggestion on this one: I'm tired of students, teachers and our own company's teachers pointing out foreign students to me at preschools and saying "he's a Japanese student" or "look, this class has an Indian student". How should I react, so they get the idea that it's natural for people to come from different countries? It's been socialized into Americans (including me) for so long that you don't make a big deal out physical differences or country of origin, that it's becoming very annoying.
  • An article in Harvard Crimson takes on US remakes of Asian movies. In the end it touts Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer as a true Asian treat. Puh-leeze. That movie, along with most of today's Hong Kong movie industry, is a total joke. And I saw a commercial for his latest flick at the hotel last night: the cinematography gave me a very made-for-the-USA impression, and it is conveniently titled 功夫, which translates easily as Kung Fu. Because nothing says "Oriental" like kung-fu!
  • The most effective medicine for dealing with the symptoms of my perpetual cold this winter has been 泰诺酚麻美敏片, known on the other side of the box as "Tylenol Cold". The doctor at the Putuo District Number One Hospital actually suggested to buy it for my severe flu-like episode, and I'd saved the left-overs and have been using it to hold back the runny nose during work. One interesting thing is that the box has the letters "OTC" on the front; Over The Counter is my guess. Then I saw it advertised on bus stops in Hangzhou. Then I heard another kind of medicine advertising itself on the radio as "不是OTC药品", "this is not OTC medicine", saying that it could be taken anytime during the day. So I'm confused as to whether OTC is a good thing.
  • On the train back from Hangzhou, I had my nose buried in Kafka on the Shore when I suddenly heard what sounded like the opening bars of Sergio Mendes and the Brasil 66's version of Tristeza. When you're in a country where you are used to hearing the same HK or Taiwan pop song over and over again wherever you go, you—or specifically, I—tend to notice things like that. Where was this coming from? It turned out to be the ditty for a Channel V transition segment introducing music videos on the in-rail (in-flight, but for trains) television system. Good old Channel V, who so excited me by sampling Pizzicato 5 and Fantastic Plastic Machine for transition segments shown during my summer at Princeton in Beijing, 2000. And what a coincidence, Konishi Yasuharu's Pizzicato 5 liner notes were my gateway drug to Sergio Mendes!

Big half-day music concert/festival at the Gua'er tomorrow.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I saw a neat hotel last night.I walked past Shanghai Stadium again last night, and noticed that the gates were open as always, with dozens of young guys playing basketball in the setting dusk. I walked inside and followed an older couple and their daughter as they walked past the games of 4-on-4, and around the side of the coliseum. Soon I realized that "stadium" that I see everyday when I pass through on my way to work is not the actual stadium, but only the basketball gym; the real soccer "stadium" is behind it. The stadium is huge. So huge, in fact, that the bottom level of the outside of the stadium has been parcelled up into neat chunks and turned into hot pot restaurants, grocery stores, KFCs, sports equipment stores... The front side of the stadium is taken up by the Regal Shanghai East Asia Hotel. I wonder if you can watch sporting events from your room?

Around the back of the stadium is the Shanghai tour bus center, with tour buses leaving to Shanghai locations, and tourist destinations in the sourrounding regions. I've been planning to take one of the one or two-day tours to Nanjing, Hanzhou, etc, just to get those out of the way.

As I walked to the light rail stop from the Harley Bar, I thought of all the reasons why I chose not to go into the concert.

  • RMB 100 is a lot to pay for a concert. And if I show up at a RMB 100 concert today, tomorrow's concert will be 100 RMB again. With "foreign" DJs. Ooooh.
  • RMB 50 is still a lot. Especially when I'm feeling slighted, or that I'm being framed as an expat.
  • I wasn't that interested in most of the bands.
  • I have a sore throat, and bars are smokey.
  • I don't drink, so three free drinks doesn't make up for an expensive ticket.

And last, I hate when people pressure me to do stuff. Like go to concerts, or drink. So I refuse by default.

When the Angry Asian Man calls the Hollywood Reporter for only including one person "of color" in their top 35 entertainment execs under 35, he is doing a necessary piece of analysis. When he draws his readers' attention to James E. Herr's letter to Variety pointing out the same phenomena in their list of top women in Hollywood, he is pointing out another good piece of analysis. But then when he talks about the PBS series They Made American, he goes a little too far for me:

Sort of on a related note, They Made America is a PBS series based on a book chronicling 64 pioneers, entrepreneurs and innovators that helped shape America as we know it. And wouldn't ya know it? There are only 5 people of color. Yeah. And none of them are Asian American. (Are you beginning to see a pattern here?)

At this point, the Angry Asian starts trying to re-write history instead of simply pointing out signs of possible latent discrimination in the entertainment industry. Let's say that Chinese state television came out with a series called They Made China (I chuckle just thinking about it), and I saw that out of the people profiled, not a single one was Caucasian, "of color", or any other non-Chinese minority. Would I be justified in criticizing CCTV for this? No, for two reasons (reasons which I hope would have analogs in defending PBS's list):

  1. First, unless the list were considerably long, you could probably make a good case for not including any Caucasian people in the list of influential Chinese. Casting aside any discussion of what "influential" means (Stalin certainly played a large role in shaping the 20th century China), on a superficial level we would probably find that ethnic Chinese simply dominate their own history. Bringing this over to the USA, I think that ethnic Europeans dominated much of early US history. This, for sure, is another lengthy debate already in progress, but on a superficial level it may be that simple.
  2. Second, the melting-pot type of nationalist mythology which the USA currently finds to be in its own self-interest is not the same as the mythology that China would have its own citizens be socialized with. For many centuries, the idea of a strong (ethnic) center leading tributary (ethnic) satellites has held together a relatively stable China. In this respect, all we could criticize PBS for, as an important tool of socialization, is for being outdated; the 21st century America is better served by an ideology of diversity. (Intersting to note, then, that the Angry Asian Man can be seen as a missionary of this next brand of American nationalism.)

On the other hand, I find the second point that I made above to be remarkably relativistic. I may even find myself rejecting it seconds after I hit the "Publish" button...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

This evening as I was punching out at work I got a call from Chen Yaling inviting me to attend one of her high school friends' latin dance class, down next to People's Square in central Shanghai. So I did. It was pretty amazing to watch the instructors; they were obviously in their thirties or forties, but when they started to dance they looked like twenty-year-olds because they were so graceful and coordinated. The students were a nice mix of ages, with a median probably in the mid-to-late twenties. As usual, less guys than girls.

So I told Ms Chen that I'd think it over, but I'm pretty sure I'll be signing up for the Cha-cha classes starting next week. Two nights a week, Monday and Thursday, an hour and a half each, for a month. One hundred and fifty RMB, about USD 18. Plus a pair of black leather dancing shoes, RMB 80.

Anybody else in Shanghai who is interested, shoot me an e-mail or talk to me in person.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Richard wrote a nice article on the code that generates his linkblog sidebar. I think it's a funny coincidence that I was working on a similar thing last night and ran into the same downtime that reminded him to integrate some error-checking code into his work. My code is not as feature-ful as his (related links? neat!), but it's elegant and worth a look.

We'll start using a set of modules to make the job a little easier:

#!/usr/local/bin/perl use strict ; use XML::RSS ; use XML::RSS::Parser ; use CGI qw{ :standard } ;

My code takes advantage of the fact that I keep a copy of the RSS feed for my bookmarks on the local server, because I tend to rebuild my homepage more often than I want to be hitting up the Del servers. I build an RSS object out of the file, and initialize a database hash reference to hold bookmark info:

my $p = new XML::RSS::Parser ; my $feed = $p->parsefile( "$HTML/feeds/delicious.xml" ) ; my $db ;

Next, iterate over all the items in the feed and store them in the database, a perl hash (python dictionary), using the date as key:

foreach my $entry ( $feed->items ) { my( $date, $description, $link, $title ) = ( "", "", "", "" ) ; foreach my $tag ( $entry->children ) { $description = $tag->value if $tag->name =~ m#description$# ; $date = $tag->value if $tag->name =~ m#date$# ; $link = $tag->value if $tag->name =~ m#link$# ; $title = $tag->value if $tag->name =~ m#title$# ; } $db->{ $date }{ 'description' } = $description ; $db->{ $date }{ 'link' } = $link ; $db->{ $date }{ 'title' } = $title ; $db->{ $date }{ 'source' } = $channel_title ; }

Now we'll start working on each item in the RSS database. At this point, I could limit it to a certain amount of items; this is actually a simplified version of what I wrote... in the actual code, I do limit to a specified number of bookmarks.

foreach my $id ( sort keys %$db ) {

For each bookmarks, we pull the info out of the database and do a little formatting, a little preparation for printing.

my %link_attributes ; my( $title, $link, $comment ) = ( $entry{ $id }{ 'title' }, $entry{ $id }{ 'link' }, $entry{ $id }{ 'description' }, ) ; $link =~ s#\&\;#\&#g ; $link_attributes{ '-href' } = $link ; $link_attributes{ '-title' } = $comment if $comment ne '' ;

The CGI module makes the output code elegant, if not easier to read for those unfamiliar with this module. Let's push a link for each bookmark onto an array stack:

push( @link_array, a( \%link_attributes, $title ) ) }

Now that we've gone through all the bookmarks, let's simply print out an unordered list, where the list item element is distributed over all the links in the array we collected up above.

print ul( { -class=>'linkblog' }, li( \@link_array ) ) ;

Ta-dah. I don't have a fancy-shmancy source repository in which to store this example, but you can download this for a while from my code directory.