Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mu Rongxuan got some attention with her remix of Nail-house clips, but some of her other videos are worth checking out too. What she does is parody popular songs, giving them lyrics about current events:

女粉丝pk刘德华 - The female fan versus Andy lau

吸粉,嫖娼,当作家 - Doing drugs, visiting prositutes, and writing books (to Wang Shuo).

小资是一种病 - The new middle class is a plague on China (this one almost killed me)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Notice all the credit card promotion that has been springing up in metro stations around Shanghai, and on TV? I wrote about it before, that foreign banks are being granted equal status with Chinese banks and competition would be heating up. I checked out the latest credit card promotions, but they're really just the same thing that's been available before: earn points on purchases, and trade your points for household electronics and other trinkets; or pay for tours to Europe and Asia in installments. Personally, though, my main interest was to wait for offers of credit cards with more interesting benefits (hint: airline mileage) and better support, and also for more favorable house loans.

Well, score one on the credit card front. I just saw an ad in the paper this morning: last month, Shanghai Airlines, Citibank and the Pudong Development Bank jointly released what they claim to be China's first credit card to offer "buy one get one free" on airline tickets, both domestic and international. The card plays the usual games: express ticketing, higher luggage weight limits, mileage for purchases, VIP waiting lounge for platinum card members; and the feature benefit is only available on Shanghai Airlines for limited number of times each year. The yearly fee is RMB 360, waived the first year and by charging over RMB 3000 in subsequent years (in a single month? over the entire year? doesn't say).

The card is called 上航•浦发联名信用卡发行, and it's being marketed to 飞行常客 (frequent flyers).

Personally, I'm not that frequent of a flyer, and I think the Shanghai-Airlines-only restriction just about kills it. But I welcome this as a step in the right direction.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The result of this weekend's shopping spree:

  1. White BBZone crib (Yaohan 8th Floor)
  2. Purple Zooper stroller (Super Brand Mall "Little Prince")
  3. Rainbow-colored Geoby playpen, about halfway down that page (Super Brand Mall Toys'R'Us)

And notice the spike in the pollution meter on my homepage. The last couple days we've had a yellow alert on air quality, ugh.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

(This one's for Megan.)

Jodi says I always turn sad after a day of shopping.

On a rainy Saturday, we ate lunch and set off to look at baby cribs, strollers and bottles. We jumped onto the 798 and sailed past the Yaohan mall without realizing it, going all the way to Lujiazui. We cruised into a bustling Super Brand Mall (SBM), making a beeline to Toys'Я'Us's baby section. We found a playpen on sale that Jodi's mom promptly tried to veto when we got home ("who needs a playpen? a bed is good enough.") The verdict on T'Я'U: not enough selection, and a little expensive. Up on the 7th floor, the kids section had a few acceptable candidates.

We looked at clothes, and it occurred to me that there must be a lot of neutral colors because people aren't allowed to know which sex their baby is before it's born.

Jodi fell for a purple stroller. In my world, strollers fall into three categories: tanks, mid-size strollers, and stroller lites. The purple stroller is a mid-size, comes with a retractable roof, bottle holder, lots of pockets, and a leg cover for Shanghai winters. It has no tray for the kid to put stuff on, but that's a small sin.

We also found a bed that was acceptable, but we weren't completely satisfied and it was still early so we left. Chaterhouse Books at the Super Brand Mall is like a mini-Borders. Prices are reasonable, a small mark-up over their US cost. They had sold all of their baby name books.

We took the 798 back to Yaohan. The number of street vendors outside that place is incredible. Their floor of baby products was much bigger than the SBM's. We found a couple of beds that made the cut. One is actually any bed by ForU, a company Jodi found that specializes in baby sleep equipment. The other is by a company that actually has only two models, but a very solid build and attention to detail. But no stroller was able to steal Jodi's heart from the purple stroller.

Even the most basic cribs that we looked at all share a few basic characteristics: they're made with non-toxic materials, they have lockable caster wheels, one side slides down for easy baby access, and detaches and the bed drops down so that the crib can turn into a "normal" bed when the kid gets older. Higher end cribs use nicer woods, have built-in drawers for storage or built-in baby-changing counters, or come with a rocking crib that hangs inside the bed itself. There's really not much creativity in the industry; the most innovative idea I saw was a crib whose bottom was rounded so that it turned into a rocker when the wheels were detached. Still, the fact that most of the cribs we saw were functionally pretty much equivalent was the main point of one "discussion" today.

Of course, a crib along is not enough. You also need a mattress and a set of blankets and pillows. I learned from online research that it's good if they have a high thread count, but in this town "for export" seems to be the best and most oft-touted guarantee of quality. Also for Shanghai, a drapable mosquito net is a popular add-on.

So that was it. Three cribs, one stroller and a playpen made the short list. Tonight we sleep on it and tomorrow we go back to make final decisions and purchases. We ended the day with dinner at Bifengtang (pan-fried beef vermicelli, wonton soup, steamed chicken feet, honeyed suckling pigeon, "churros" in egg noodle wrap, Chinese kale, "pineapple" buns with cold butter), which is where Jodi made the quote that I started this post with.

It's true, and it's something I can't help. Superficially it looks like I'm a miser embittered at having to part with his money; that's only partly true. The cradle is going to cost around USD 250, the stroller of interest is nearly USD 200, while the playpen, on sale, rolls in at a merciful USD 20. On a monthly salary of about USD 1700 (oops, just violated the NDA) we should be able to handle that, even while paying rent, saving for a house and dreaming of vacations to Egypt; and that's a fact of which I am aware, if a little begrudgingly.

But my glumness isn't all due to the above; it has a more philosophical, existentialist root. It's entwined with ideas of expected social status, of unapologetic and genuine simplicity, of a spirituality that allows for not a thing secular, of a search for the lowest common denominator and what it hides. I came to Shanghai to get away from some things, but they've been laid back on my plate.

I may not be a missionary like my mom and dad, but I still care about that stuff.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Last night watching Hunan TV, Jodi and I saw our first ad for "Happy Boy" (快乐男生), the follow-up to Super-voice Girl.

I'm reading "Forever China" by Robert Payne. It's a non-fiction travel diary set during mid-WWII.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I fixed the Pudong weather forecast RSS feed so that it's working again. This is the weather forecast that I try to copy-and-paste to my department's mailing list every morning. (The forecast is courtesy Weather Online.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

I went to the Shanghai Writers talk with Qiu Xiaolong and Chen Danyan on Saturday, part of the Shanghai International Literary Festival. My impression is that it was underwhelming, as these things tend to be, but valuable. Highlights were the ideas that hating Shanghai means loving it, that some of the best writing about Shanghai happens in the Xinmin Evening Post, and hearing so many white people with Chinese better than mine. I put my notes up on the wiki for archiving and random perusal.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This message rolled into my Gmail inbox last night:

Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 18:06:30 +0800
From: happyout
To: msittig
Subject: 12.31




(1)杀人游戏:10RMB/人 (2)聚餐:30元左右/人(其中包括10元场地、水、电、煤气、配料等分摊费用)


What is it? Where did they get my e-mail address? Browsing their website, it becomes clear that it's a club for people who like to travel/hike and have parties. They have backpacks, tents, sleeping bags for rent. They plan trips together. And like the above e-mail advertises they have parties at their "home base", an apartment in Xujiahui. This party is an Assassins/UNO party. For a small door fee you can join the party, and pay a bit more for snacks. The rest of the e-mail goes on to explain the rules of UNO, as this is a relatively new game; as opposed to Assassins, which thanks to English teachers all over China enjoys a long and prosperous history in this country.

Again, how'd they get my e-mail? In general, these kinds of club are characterized in the media as "white-collar clubs" for young people with discretionary income, and not enough downtime or cultural training to casually meet potential spouses. The above e-mail announces that parking is limited; only white-collar workers would have their own cars. These people also spend a lot of time in front of computers at work, so they tend to browse the BBSs. I'm pretty sure they dug through the profiles of one BBS or another and picked out my Gmail address.

I'm not going to attend.

Friday, March 09, 2007

On several levels, this is too hilarious to translate. I've posted it to, though.

(OK, maybe I'll translate it later.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Here’s a really interesting topic for middle school math teachers: origami constructions. Whereas straight-edge and compass (SE&C) constructions are equivalent to solving quadratic equations, origami can solve any SE&C problem and solve cubic equations. As “K’s Origami” puts it:

Now, let's solve the cubic equation x3+ax2+bx+c=0 with origami. Let two points P1 and P2 have the coordinates (a,1) and (c,b), respectively. Also let two lines L1 and L2 have the equations y+1=0 and x+c=0, respectively. Fold a line placing P1 onto L1 and placing P2 onto L2, and the slope of the crease is the solution of x3+ax2+bx+c=0.

Very nifty! The site linked above has the best explanation of the theory behind origami constructions that I’ve found. I’m still looking up resources and trying to absorb this. The best examples for the classroom I’ve found so far are at Tom Hull’s website. It has examples of trisecting an angle, and doubling a cube (ie finding the cube root of 2).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

GMail variants:
Normal, AJAXy Gmail.
HTML Gmail.
Mobile Gmail (light HTML).
ATOM Gmail feed.

More here.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

For my own reference and because people might be curious, my school's English-track tuition and fees are in a Microsoft Word document linked to from our school's website. Our school's site is very poorly designed, but that's just as well because it's blocked in China right now. (UPDATE: a domestically hosted site is online now.)

PreschoolRMB 1,2500/sem (2500/mon)USD 1,613/sem
ElementaryRMB 2,3435/sem (4687/mon)USD 3023/sem
Middle SchoolRMB 2,7845/sem (5569/mon)USD 3,593/sem
High SchoolRMB 3,1845/sem (6369/mon)USD 4,109/sem

These are the approximate numbers for non-company employee children, based on 5 months per semester. I can't talk about tuition for children of employees because I signed an NDA when I started working at the school. Chinese track fees are almost exactly half of the above.

When people ask me about these numbers, I've always admit that I didn't remember. But it's true! Jodi always says I have no head for business. I'm guessing that if I could tell them, they'd gasp. But the fact is that we have a reputation among the English-language schools in Shanghai for providing good educational value for your buck. Annual tuition alone for the last year of high school can reach:

SMIC Private SchoolUSD 7,742
British Int'l School*USD 25,587
Dulwich College Shanghai USD 24,064
Shanghai Rego Int'l SchoolUSD 24,000
Concordia Int'l School Shanghai USD 23,910
Shanghai Community Int'l SchoolUSD 22,839
Yew Chung Int'l School of Shanghai USD 22,065
Shanghai American SchoolUSD 21,250
Shanghai Livingston American School
(added 2007-03-23)
USD 19,400
Shanghai Singapore Int'l SchoolUSD 16,800
Fudan High School, Int'l Division
(added 2007-06-14)
USD 10,323
Shanghai High School Int'l Division
(added 2007-03-23)
USD 11,045

(Tuitions are for Pudong campuses, if multiple campuses exist. Numbers current as of the date of this post; may be for current or next academic year. (*) Includes textbooks.) Hmm, looks like SMIC is something of an outlier. Also just for kicks, the average application fee at Shanghai int'l schools runs at about USD 200. SMIC's is USD 40.

Still, don't take those number as straightforward indicators of anything. Schools should be graded on a lot more than just tuition: also consider campus facilities, course selection, teacher quality and turnover, academic culture, etc. It's just... interesting.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Some students at Hunan University in Changsha put together a very cute song and music video about their hard life, mostly from having to take the public bus.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Selected KFC commercials on Tudou:

For the complete set, search for 肯德基 on Tudou. This post is inspired by a commercial I just saw where KFC brags about changing the eating habits of Chinese people towards a healthier diet (but couldn't find it online).

I'd like to visit all the international schools in Shanghai.