Monday, January 31, 2005

I recently read this sentence in Mian Mian's Panda Sex:


I learned the word ke long (克隆) when I was living in Tianjin. I still remember the moment I learned it because it was one of those words that somebody just repeats and repeats, and then the meaning suddenly dawns on you: clone! But I had never seen kao bei (拷贝) until I read it this time. Like "clone", it's a phonetic borrowing of the word "copy" from English. Phonetic borrowings are rare in Chinese, compared to other Asian languages like Japanese. So I usually remember them when I come across one. I think you could call pai dui (派对) a phonetic borrowing of the word "party".

The sentence given above can be translated as "If somebody were to clone me, I would gladly give her a copy of myself."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Tuesday and Wednesday Jodi and I took a little trip to 马鞍山 (Ma'anshan) with a couple of friends. It was really just for the heck of it, all we really did was eat snack, play games, window shop, and go out for barbeque dinner.

Speaking of vacation, in less than three hours I'll be hopping on a train to Hunan. Yesterday Jodi and I went out and spent RMB 50 on snacks: water, fruit, sunflower seeds... Armed with that, a little bit of money for the so-so boxed train lunches, a portable DVD player, a deck of UNO cards, and two good attitudes, we should be able to weather the 17-hour, overnight hard seat (!!!) trip.

I may not have computer access in Hunan, so maybe don't expect posts for a while. See ya!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Due to my travelling schedule I'm going to be out of town at the end of this month, so I'll do my (hopefully) monthly cellphone photo narrative a little early this January.

I'm still hanging out a lot with Chris and Asa. They tend to call me up, or the other way around, late on a weeknight and we watch a movie or go out to dinner at this little restaurant by the train station. The restaurant puts out the ingredients for each dish for you to see before you order, which makes ordering easier. (Unlike, say, lunches at work, where ordering is always easy.) One special night with Asa was when he invited me to hang with Cold Fairyland at the Ark, and we ended up at dinner afterwards till late, a very fun night.

Work is keeping me busy. I tend to work slowly, so that has meant some late nights at the office. But I've also gotten to go on a trip to Suzhou with Traci and Vivien to train some teachers. I even made some banana bread in my new pans for the trip, which we devoured with Starbucks hot chocolate. At the schools I teach at, the big topic for January was tsunami relief. Hailida put up posters around the school, had students draw pictures of rescue boats, and collected donations in a big ceremony, putting up more displays as part of the kids' ethical education. I think it's great. But while the schools are looking out for kids' bodies, as well as their minds, they do this in curious ways, like leaving the heat off in the hallways of the schools. Luckily, the schools turn the heaters on for us when we go to do activities. Otherwise, we might freeze! Shili Preschool also fixes us dinner. I'm impressed with their kitchen facilities.

So what I'm I doing while I'm not at work? Besides going to concerts on the weekends, or dancing with co-workers, you'll find me dancing samba at the studio off People's Square. Our male instructor is such an archetype; he basically hits on the pretty twenty-something girls, can't really teach, and without fail pulls out a cigarette the second that class is dismissed. But he's incredibly slim and a great dancer. I started going out to different restaurants on Fuzhou Road after class, but I keep find myself going back to the curry place. It's delish. Other nights, I'm hanging out at the net cafe, taking pictures of the owner's daughter, or getting my picture taken by her.

When I came back from Suzhou, I wandered out of the train station to call Chris and happened to find that the new long distance bus station is almost done, and the surrounding temporary walls had been torn down. I walked over to look at "the knave" and inside the coliseum-like main lobby.

I got a haircut. The pre-haircut massage was long and painful. The cut looked good for about a day, then the ragged scissors started showing their effect as my hair sprouted in every direction.

Other random photos: Shanghai diorama by students at Hailida; songs and speeches for uniformed military and local police forces inside Plaza 66, one of Shanghai's ritziest malls; finally, the most fashionable Shanghai women's hairstyle, I'm going to teach this one to Laurel to replace the shwoop.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

So I was posting a bunch of links to my bookmarks about the "new" Taco Bell Grande in Shenzhen, all excited because greasy, processed Mexican food was finally arriving in China.

Then I went dancing with Jade and her friend on Monday night and passed through People's Square, discovering to my great horror that the Mexican restaurant on the north side of the Square is a Taco Bell Grande, actually opened before the one in Shenzhen, and which I'd always just shrugged off as a likely poor imitation of the real thing; a Mexican "Chitalian".

Tonight I discovered the China Mobile web site and the fact that you can log in and check the monthly usage stats for your SIM card, i.e. your mobile phone. It was a bit of a hassle slugging my way through the Chinese, but the interface is pretty simple once you give it a good look. I managed to put together a quick translation of the rates for my plan, and a quick analysis of December's bill.

The plan I'm on is the 神州行大众卡, the Shenzhou Card for the Masses[1]. I bought my phone a few weeks after I got here at the Cyber Digital Mall on Huahai Road, choosing the cheapest model that could take digital photos: the Siemens MC60 for RMB 1300 or so. At the store where I bought the phone, the saleslady hooked me up with a SIM card which plugs into a slot underneath the battery in the back of the phone, SIM card which I got by choosing a number from a stack of envelopes (I chose 13636644690 for the double numbers... but a double 4!? what was I thinking?!). The numbers which all began with 136, the prefix for the Shenzhou plan.

The card originally came with RMB 50 of value as a starter, but now when the total gets low I get an SMS alerting me to go to the store (usually the one by my house, or at the Shimen Yi Lu metro station) and buy a recharge card. I call the number on the back of the card, punch in my phone number and the card serial number and RMB 100 is added to my balance. The confusing thing about buying these cards is that you can haggle for IP and IC cards (I've gotten RMB 100 IP cards to call home for RMB 50 and RMB 40 on different occasions at the same store), but for cellphone charge cards I have to pay face value.

This system works great. The only bothersome thing is when I run out of value before I can buy a recharge card and my phone is refused service by the network. Then I have to find another phone from which to call the recharge number, not always an easy thing when I'm on the go.

Oh, and here's the hard data: China Mobile Charges.

[1] Orientalist translations are free, sensible translations cost extra.

Monday, January 24, 2005

One plane ticket booked, one to go.

Went to Suzhou this weekend and had a nice time. Sent the details in an e-mail to mom and dad.

UPDATE: All tickets booked. Travel plans at the link above.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Chinese phrases that have caught my interest over the past couple weeks:

Another use of the character 么. Most commonly, it's the second character in "what" (什么); second, I often see it replacing the interrogative particle 吗 on internet message boards and SMSs; this time it replaces the 没 in "it doesn't matter" (没关系).
"The phenomena of bus drivers talking on their cellphones while driving is extremely widespread." This was in an article about new rules for bus drivers in Guangzhou. I just like the phrase 煲电话粥 (bāo diàn huà zhōu, "cooking up some telephone rice porridge") and hope to use it sometime.
When I talk in Chinese I always say the English "party", but I keep seeing this word "in the literature" (Mian Mian's Panda Sex, popular magazines and newspapers). Still, I think the usage is slightly different; 派对 seems to be more about the group of people than about the event.
I'm still not exactly sure what this means; something resembling a fashionable person or hipster (but without that word's negative connotations). The literal meaning of 型 (pronounced "xíng") is a model on which other stuff is based.
I keep seeing this word in pop writing, and I'm still wavering on whether it has its origins in the feeling one gets from doing drugs (as was discussed on Sinosplice). It describes a person feeling cool/happy/excited. There is a free magazine for hip young Shanghainese called 生活在上HIGH.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I've been meaning to go back to the USA to pick up some stuff and see people. I got approved to take a few days off before the official Chinese New Year vacation start, so I'll be shopping around for airplane tickets tomorrow. I'm thinking something like this:



Monday, Feb 7

PVG (Shanghai) to LAX (Los Angeles),
LAX (Los Angeles) to DTW (Detroit)

Wednesday, Feb 9

DTW (Detroit) to LAX (Los Angeles).

Monday, Feb 14

LAX (Los Angeles) to PVG (Shanghai).

If I can pull this off it will give me a day in Ann Arbor, and five full days at home.

Oh yeah, and walked through the south square of the Shanghai Railway Station yesterday on the way to Asa and Chris' house for dinner, and it was packed. I tried to get a picture with my cellphone, but it was too dark. Tons of people are already starting to head home for the holiday. Most of the teachers in my office will start leaving at the end of next week. We only get a week off, but most schools give their kids three to four weeks of vacation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

It was actually me, Jodi, her friend, Lisa, her two friends, and Cherry with her boyfriend. We had a great time dancing, stayed out until way too late, and went to work a zombie today; but would do it again in a second.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Last night I stayed up till early morning at the net cafe across the street working on installing a "Shanghai Wiki" at The project is almost done, I'm having some issues getting the virtual host set up correctly. The point is that I slept in very late today.

So I though it would be a mostly wasted Sunday. I cleaned the house a bit, put away dry dishes, washed a fresh load of dirty dishes, admired the view from my balcony as the sun went down and I thought about things, cleaned the filters on my air conditioner... finally I got myself bundled up and outside, down the elevator and up the street to the shopping center where I got my hair cut last time. As I settled into the chair for the pre-cut shampoo and head-thumping session ("massage"), my ears alerted my head that the shop sound system was playing a Eurodance mix.

For most Americans, Eurodance is something foreign and funny; for me, it was my childhood, spent tuning in to 40 Principales on the little red plastic "stereo" that my parents gave me one Christmas. During the course of my haircut, I heard two songs that took me back—Aaron would probably recognize them—one being something along the lines of "Vamos a la playa, oo-oo-ó!", and the other being Culture Beat's Mr Vain:

Call me Raider, call me Wrong,
Call me insane, call me Mr Vain,
Call me what ya like,
As long as you call me, time and again

Yeeeeah. Like I was telling Asa at dinner tonight, there are just so many different things about China that remind me of Spain.

Someday I'm going to write a post about Shanghai barbershops, like John's post today about real estate offices.

As the guy finished up my new 'do, I got a message from Asa inviting me to hang out with him tonight. He got an invite from the Cold Fairyland folks to hang out at the Ark and check out a band visiting from Taiwan. So we met up a little early and had dinner, Korean, at a food court off Huaihai Road, then met up with Lin Di and the cohort at the Ark. The Herb opened, and they're always worth sticking around for. But we left halfway through the Taiwanese band. Asa pointed out their groupies—read "girlfriends"—sitting over by the stage: very fashionably dressed Taiwanese.

Anyhow, we headed over to this little restaurant a block or so away from Xintiandi and ate, discussed MIDI equipment, and played drinking games for a couple of hours. The sound guy from the Ark even showed up after the show ended, rounding out the group at eight and leading into some new games. It was a great night, Lin Di is very cool, it was the first time in Shanghai that somebody has insisted that we order a Sprite when I told them I don't like to drink beer, even taking the cup of beer away that had already been poured for me. Maybe it seems silly, but it meant a lot to me. (pic 1, pic 2)

I'd like to write down the games that I've played in Shanghai, at parties and drinking, just for future reference. They've all been pretty fun.

  • Who, Where, What:

    Three bowls, lots of slips of paper. Everybody writes their name, a place nearby, and a thing to do. Each slip goes into a bowl. Then each person draws three papers, and the person on the first slip has to do the thing on the second slip at the place on the third slip. It's a good ice-breaker for parties where people don't really know each other, as well as among friends.

  • Eat Poop You Cat:

    John introduced us to this one. It is described on its own website.

  • Mafia:

    Rather complicated, it involved choosing a policeman, one/two/three killers, everybody closing their eyes, somebody being killed, and then accusations and defenses, and voting for people to die.

  • Card pyramid:

    Played at John's Christmas party. A pyramid of face-down cards is built four levels tall, cards are dealt to players, and then challenges are made regarding who has what cards based on what cards show up ont he pyramid. Drinks are based on challenges, and location in the pyramid.

  • 3, 6, 9, x3:

    Going around the table, count up to one hundred but hit the table instead of saying the number on each number containing 3, 6, or 9, or that is a multiple of 3. Mistakes take one drink, and start again within the decade where the mistake was made. We also played a '7, x7' version where somebody pounded a quick beat and players had to keep up the pace. Most of us actually used chopsticks to hit the table.

  • Follow the Beat:

    The Cold Fairyland drummer lead this one. One player is the leader, and pounds out a rhythm with his chopsticks on a bowl/the table, and each successive player has to pound out the same beat, keeping up the rhythm. Too slow or mess up and you take a drink, and are eliminated. Last two players are the winners (since the leader can't really be eliminated).

Also, at the Ark I picked up a copy of this magazine I've been wanting for a while now, called "生活在上HIGH", or "Living in ShangHIGH". It's an all-Chinese free magazine, a la That's Shanghai, with restaurant and event listings but with more articles. Mian Mian actually mentions it in her book Panda Sex, and Vivien had several copies at her house when I went over for Christmas. It's free for the taking.

Tomorrow I teach at Hailida in the morning, Shili in the afternoon, then I go straight to dance class for the first session of the new month (samba!) with Zoe, a co-worker who is interested in dance classes. Then there's the chance I'll go out dancing that night with Lisa and Jodi. Could be a long day!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

I had forgotten the wave of murmurs that spreads through the room when I write the subject of the day's Classroom English talk on the whiteboard at our monthly teacher training sessions. It's because I write the title in capital letters; apparently that makes it harder to read.

If I had been drinking something while walking back to my apartment last night, it almost certainly would have come shooting out of my nose when I walked past the next-door convenience store.

I hadn't noticed them before, even though I've been inside more than a dozen times. As I was walking back from picking up a styrofoam box of fried rice for RMB 4 from the little 24-hour restaurant across Ningxia Road, I happened to glance into the Buddies convenience store. Like I said, I go in there often to pick up a drink or snack, maybe a bottle of Suntory Amino drink, or a bag of candied walnuts (good for making nut cookies, but go light on the sugar). I guess I'd just always been too occupied to notice the posters on the column that rises to the ceiling in the middle of the store. These posters are close-ups of food, like the kind of poster you'd expect to find in a grocery store. That's pretty normal. What wasn't normal was the choice of food pictured on one of the posters:

Chocolate chips.

Heh, try to find those anywhere but the super-expensive City Supermarket, located under the awning of the Shanghai Portman Ritz-Carlton in the trendy Jing'ansi neighborhood.

Monday, January 03, 2005

I just wrote this on an ooooold entry of Kaizor's LJ where there were some comments on how the band 冷酷仙境's name should be translated into English. As far as the Shanghai crew, Asa says "Cold Fairyland", I say "Frozen Fairyland" and Chris says "Frigid Miasma". Lin Di says she likes Miasma because she likes the letter "M". Anyways, I'd like to post my comment here too:

A few weeks ago I was checking out the Haruki Murakami books at CD/books/movie shop "2046" here in Shanghai, and smiled when I ran across the following one of his books:

Japanese title
世界の終りとハードボイルド・ワンダーランド (sekai no owari to haadoboirudo wandaarando)
English title
"Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World"
Chinese title

I wonder where the 冷酷仙境 came from because it's not exactly the most faithful translation, it seems. Cool band name, anyways, and props for the Murakami reference.

I had two ideas while I was showering this afternoon: a database for attaching metadata to my photos that would be accessed through a REST-like interface, and the idea to go miniature golfing (or frisbee golfing) in downtown Shanghai.

The first is a combination of a .htaccess that will pass the user through on URLs that point to actual files or directories, and pass off all other URLs to a CGI that will conduct database queries based on the URL, returning 404 errors for empty query results and Apache-directory-index look-alikes for non-empty query results. So this:

will take you to the picture stored at that place on my server, and this:

will return something that looks like an Apache-generated directory index of all photos of me taken in 2004. Of course, the nasty part of this will be entering in metadata for all of the photos I take. But a nifty CGI interface (department of redundancy department!) could make that task a little less burdensome.

Also, I stayed up real late last night at the net cafe and when I got home this morning I had another one of those episodes where I turn productive when I'm dead tired, and I wrote up that "Shanghai date/outing ideas" list (actually a few lists) that Jodi said we should come up with.

I saw three movies this weekend: A World Without Thieves with Chris at the Peace Cinema on People's Square for RMB 80 at 10:30 on Saturday evening, Kung Fu Hustle with Ms Chen at the Westgate Mall on West Nanjing Road for RMB 60 at 3:45 on Sunday afternoon, and Monty Python's Life of Brian by my lonesome in the living room of John's apartment for RMB 12.50 (two bags of popcorn and a bottle of sweet tea) at 9:00 tonight, Monday night.

Chris' Chinese nickname is 废抹布. It's the best approximate translation of Used Dish-rag we could come up with on the spot.

Unrelated: The Bus Party.

I heard from lots of people about the great New Year's Eve they had. Fantastic. Now it's your turn to hear about mine. It made me very, very angry. But like most of the times I get angry, I'm not very sure who to be angry at.

So on Friday at about 11:45 AM I was walking out of the gate of Hailida Preschool when I got a phone call from the office. It was our department manager, and she was asking me to a New Year activity that night. "Everybody will there," she said, specifically naming the office boss, several higher ups from the marketing department and teachers from our own department. I had not gotten much sleep the night before so I was looking for a low-key New Year celebration with friends, and I felt a little guilty about skipping the Christmas party and several past company dinners for various reasons. So I agreed, and she had another teacher message me with an address and remind me to bring a small gift. Perfect, a chance to share some more of my cookies with the Melody teachers.

That night I showed up at 7:30 PM, half an hour early. As I walked, I discovered that the address was for a renovated estate in the old Concession area of Shanghai, near our original office. It struck me as strange that our company would rent such a nice place for a party, and it was even more disconcerting when I peeked through the window and did not see a single familiar face. Minutes later, as I loitered around unsure that I belonged there, I saw one of our teachers at the front gate asking for directions. She seemed to be more informed than I was, so I followed her inside and dropped off my cookies—I had specifically picked the best ones to share with my co-workers—into a gift box guarded by strangers. This only served to compound my discomfort.

We were led by a into a side room and introduced to a well-dressed older woman, who turned out to be a semi-famous actress and one of the MCs for that evening. MC? This was made clear when my department manager arrived, sat down, smiled, and handed me a paper with the order of events for the night. Order of events?! Yes, this was not a party for our company at all, this was some sort of evening program for rich Shanghai retirees and their relatives, and we would be running several games during the course of the night, right up until 30 minutes to midnight. I felt like I had been duped. This was not a relaxing night with friends, this was work!

So imagine my situation: I'm dog tired from lack of sleep the night before, I'm a relative introvert at a party for old Shanghainese i.e. people I don't know (and later asked to hob-knob with the principal of a preschool from which my company derives significant guanxi), my best cookies are on their way toward some unappreciative stranger's mouth, half of the people who I had been told would show up are not there, I'm not getting paid a red cent for this, and my department manager is making lame excuses at me: "think of it as half-play, half-work!" At this point, I'm fuming just remembering it.

Since I was not on the clock, I knew the ball was in my court: I had a choice to make. I could simply refuse to participate and walk out to make other New Year's Eve plans, leaving my manager to put on the games. This would leave her in the incredibly unfavorable position of having to explain to the hosts and to our office manager (basically the manager for our company's entire mainland operations) why the "foreign guest" and game MC had just walked out of the party. Or I could stay and play along.

I'm such a pushover.

Or maybe not. I actually made our department manager very aware of how angry I was, and got her to give all the attending teachers a half-day-off plus the promise of lunch on her sometime this week for me.

By the time the party was over, I actually felt bad for her because I think the party was a significant disappointment for her in terms of the entertainment it was supposed to provide. I think she didn't quite get what she was expecting either.

So I am very angry, but I don't know who to be angry at. The possibilities:

  • Myself: the usual suspect, for making assumptions about what I was walking into.

  • Department manager: for misleading me about what the evening was about.

  • Marketing department manager: who got us roped into doing this event.

  • Co-worker: only coincidentally, for excusing himself from this event, unknowingly passing it on to me.

  • Fate: I had such a nice Christmas this year, maybe it was only fair that my New Year was wet-blanketed.

Thanks for reading all the way through this, you really didn't have to. I just wanted to get it off my chest.

I got an awesome present for Christmas this year. Not that the sweater I got from my mom wasn't great, but the Christmas present I got from Asa is the bomb: Mianmian's newest book, Panda Sex (熊猫每年只做两次爱, literally "Pandas Only Make Love Twice Each Year"). The first time Asa told me about Mianmian, I nodded and smiled. I had read the first couple chapters of Shanghai Baby, the book that Mianmian's writing is most often compared to, and I thought it was awful. So I lumped her into the "Shanghai shock lit" category and promptly forgot about her.

A couple weeks ago I picked up a copy of That's Shanghai at the Ark after a Cold Fairyland show and found that the last-page article was written by Mianmian. After reading this article, my opinion of her changed completely: she sounded so jaded by Shanghai society, exactly the way I feel; bored by the expat scene, frustrated by the lack of support for the arts... it was all too familiar. Still, I wasn't sure how to follow up on this change of mind, so I just let it sit in a corner and fade away.

So I was very excited when Asa pulled this book out of his room and handed it to me. I finished Murakami's Kafka on the Shore a few weeks ago, and I've been speeding through Piper's Don't Waste Your Life. It'll be nice to have another Chinese novel to work my way through.

One cool thing about this book that has already piqued my interest after a couple of chapters is the subject matter, as described by a man and woman having a conversation in the first chapter: "listen to the people around you, write down what you see and hear" (a very rough paraphrase based on what I remember; the book is back at home right now). And since Mianmian is a Shanghai resident, she writes about Shanghai. The first chapter takes place at M On The Bund, a fancy restaurant down by the Bund that rich expats tend to frequent. So far, the book has been conversations between actual people that Mianmian knows from around town. And when she mentions actual people or things, there is a section of footnotes in the back of the book that gives addresses and contact info for them. That rocks. Like Chris said, it's like you are reading about yourself.

(To properly credit my mom, she also gave me a photo album of the family and a notebook of recipes, both awesome presents.)