Monday, April 30, 2007

At 4:30 AM on Sunday the 29th of April, Jodi's water suddenly breaks. We grab a taxi and rush through the empty early-morning streets of Shanghai to Peace Maternity. The baby is almost four weeks early, just early enough to necesitate our signing release forms related to premature babies but still late enough that the doctors are confident enough not to delay delivery.

After 24 hours of waiting, it is recommended that labor be induced. At 8 AM on Monday the 30th of April our doctor arrives at the hospital and a drip of Pitocin is attached to Jodi's hand. Contractions begin in earnest.

At noon, a pained Jodi's cervix dilates enough to finally get the OK on an epidural. The tube administering the first epidural gets lodged between two bones and dams up after a few minutes. A second epidural is applied and things progress much more smoothly.

At 3:55 PM, after much sweat and pushing by the mother-to-be, an excited but calm father watches as baby Charlotte takes her first breath of real air. Seconds later the father dons gloves and slices the umbilical cord. The baby weighs in at 3.240 kilograms (almost 6.5 斤, or 7 pounds and 3 ounces), and all the nurses comment that the due date must have been calculated wrong because the baby looks like it was carried to full term. The following cellphone picture goes out by mass MMS an hour later:

The baby and mother are fine now, resting in the hospital for a few days. If you want to come visit, contact me and I'll give you the details. There really are no visiting hours; you can pretty much drop in anytime you want. Just be polite and let us know a bit in advance.

More pictures:

First breaths

Charlotte Sittig

New mother

Grandma 何

Baby Charlotte

(Notice the eyebrows. Same color as Laurel's hair.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

This morning Jodi went to the doctor. She is at 36 weeks, and so it wasn't much of a surprise when the doctor said that the baby is already in the occiput anterior position. From Web MD:

 "Most Common Position
Ideally for labor, the baby presents head-down, facing the mother's back, with its chin tucked to its chest and the back of the head ready to enter the pelvis."

This means that the baby is ready to come out. Since this is the first child, though, it will be another couple weeks before it makes its grand exit/entrance.

One issue we ran into this morning is umbilical cord blood banking. A representative of some company approached Jodi, gave her a pamphlet and an offer to store our child's umbilical cord blood for RMB 6400 the first year, and RMB 600 each year thereafter. Of course Jodi was excited by this, but to me it sounded fishy. 果然 all the non-commercial web pages I find on the subject recommend against private blood banking. They say that private blood banks are expensive and a bad investment because the odds of being able to use your own child's blood are very, very low if you are a low-risk family. The only families who are recommended to save their child's umbilical cord blood are families with a previous child suffering from leukemia, and in that case the hospital would offer to arrange the procedure and store the blood themselves. Resorting to an outside private blood bank would not be necessary. Jodi and I arrived at the conclusion that it would be better all-around to inquire about donating our child's umbilical blood to a public blood bank. The most legitimate cord blood bank in the region seems to be AsiaCord, but they only have representatives in Beijing and Tianjin. The Shanghai Cord Blood Bank, the organization that approached Jodi, makes miraculous claims typical of get-rich-quick schemes and their flippant dismissal of other cord blood banks in Shanghai leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don't think we'll be giving them our "business".

So, just some FUD to watch out for in case you run across the same offer.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The newest Danwei TV film is artfully done — less Jeremy? better editing? — and on a topic I've been waiting to see something on for a while now: mainland Chinese-Americans, in this case returnees.

Web History has been removed from your account.

Thanks Google! See, when I surf the web I like to dig a bit deeper than the average person. View Source? Several times a day! Also, Copy Link Location, so I can slice and dice that URL, or add a proxy address in front of it, eg for accessing Wikipedia. So when I found that the new Web History was mangling — ok ok, maybe just obfuscating — search result URLs and that pausing the service didn't just turn it off, I was worried that Google was ruined for me. This is the reason I grit my teeth when I'm forced to use Yahoo for one reason or another. So I was delighted to find that Google makes it easy to delete the Web History service from my account. No more interesting data on my searches, but I keep the pleasure of once more being able to "hack around" on the web.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Top ten books listed by members of, a Chinese site for readers:

  1. Wang Shuo - "My Thousand-Year Chill" (Ramblings by Beijing intellectual badboy and blowhard.)
  2. Jack Kerouac - "On The Road" (New translation by prominent but aging scholar Wang Yongnian.)
  3. Xu Zhiyuan - "The Mournful Youth" (Peking University graduate, LifeMagazine editor, One-way Street Library founder and blogger writes about his youth as a member of China's Generation Y.)
  4. Umberto Eco - "Baudolino" (Translated by Yang Mengzhe.)
  5. Tian Yuan - "Double Mono" (Beijing author, HK actress, 跳房子 lead singer, and blogger/MySpacer writes about love, youth and self-discovery.)
  6. Zeng Zimo - "Ink Marks" (Beijing-born Phoenix TV host, Harvard grad and once-Morgan Stanley New York office analyst's auto-bio is paired with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's book for's "Buy Together" feature.)
  7. Kenya Hara - "Design of Design" (Muji's Creative Director and director of the Nippon Design Center; translated from Japanese by Zhu E; original title was デザインのデザイン)
  8. Cai Kangyong & Kele Wang - "Those Things I Learned From Boys" (Taiwanese TV host joins poet and illustrator for 30 stories about boys.)
  9. Yu Dan - "Analects of Zhuangzi" (Prof of classics and media studies at Beijing Normal University interprets the ancients for the post-moderns.)
  10. Hong Huang - "A Pointless and Perfect Life" (Ramblings by Beijing aristocrat, controversial publisher and (yes, another) blowhard.)

Makes sense, given that the site was popularized through grassroots efforts starting in Beijing.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Signs that summer is near in Shanghai:

  1. 小龙虾 restaurants and roadside stands are starting to get popular again.
  2. Popsicles are on sale, buy 10 get 20% off, at the tobacco store on Yulan Rd.
  3. I stop wearing two pairs of pants at once, and feel fine.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A poem about not having broadband at home:





Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It may be a good idea to avoid Hongqiao Airport on Friday night, but give yourself a treat and don't avoid the Ikea restaurant on a weekday afternoon.

Normally Jodi and I visit Ikea on the weekends and stop to eat dinner. We're both big fans of the Swedish meatballs. I always ask for extra lingonberry jam. Usually we try to arrive a little before meal time to avoid the crowds, but we often find ourselves hunting for seats anyways! I always thought that was the worst part of dinner at Ikea on a weekend but today we swung by for lunch -- and to buy a baby changing table -- after a doctor's appointment and found how much more we have been missing. (Or maybe I'm wrong and they've just improved the service overall? Time will tell.)

The difference was dramatic. At lunch today we found four different kinds of rolls: round buns, croissants, 豆沙 and apple pastry; usually on the weekends they have two, and most of the time they are all gone. Nothing was out of stock this time; in fact bins were full and plates were doubled up waiting for us. We found several kinds of vegetable and fruit salad, and little cups of potato or macaroni salad. We opted for the apple-celery option, hold the Thousand Island. Standing in line is the norm on weekends, whether waiting for a tray or to pay for your meal; today we zipped right through. Usually dessert is two kinds of nut tart or tiramisu; today there was strawberry cake, and several other choices. Finally on weekends the soda is often flat or running low on syrup; today it was flavorfull and bubbly. I told Jodi that I would die of happiness if they had ice cubes.

As usual, they didn't. Well, nobody's perfect.

Because it never gets boring... or does it? Blogspot is accessible in Shanghai as I type this.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Word of the day: 酝酿. It's in Kingsoft, Adsotrans, and (which, like so many Chinese websites, doesn't work if you don't add the www in front). My electronic dictionary has it as:

yùnniàng 造酒的发酵过程 ferment; brew; <比喻 fig>做准备工作 make preparations, deliberate on:~候选人名单 consider and discuss the list of candidates|大家先~一下,好充分发表意见。Let's deliberate on it first so as to express our opinions in full.

Friday, April 13, 2007

I just finished proctoring the 7th grade advanced Chinese course midterm. Their essay question was to write a 500 character essay on the topic of “_________感动了我”. Most of the kids had the expected answers: parents, friends, grandparents... The two that I made sure to read in their entirety were a bit different. One was on spiders, who sacrifice themselves for their young. The other was on the royal household (皇族感动了我), who have to privileges beyond those of mere mortals but have to suffer the politics and self-sacrifice that comes with being of royal status. Very creative!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I've finally run across a restaurant that I really want to go back to, many many times.

It's called the 葡京茶餐厅, the Lisbon Macau Restaurant. It serves a combination of Hong Kong classics and Macanese traditional dishes. It's a chain with several locations across the city. This is what City Weekend had to say about it:

Locals sniffing out a satisfying Macanese meal pack this rowdy shopping mall chain. Festive mosaics adorn the interior, which is decorated in a colonial spirit. A sweet Macanese coffee compliments the robust flavors of seafood fried rice, potato onion soup and curry chicken. Perfect for appeasing an eclectic palate.

This is what Dianping users have said:

“最喜欢的茶餐厅”之一。菜肴总体口味“偏淡”。招牌澳门炒饭分量“大得惊人”,足够“3个女生分”;咖喱牛腩“很好吃”,“半肉半筋”,“又酥又烂”。饮料里挚爱冻咖啡,“香味浓郁口感醇厚”,连杯子的长相都“很澳门”。 P.S. 消费不足100元不能刷卡。

And here's what Weird Meat had to say on its Shanghai "Top 10 Favorites" list:

Macau-style food, a brilliant blend of Cantonese and Portuguese. So much good stuff on this menu, from the won-ton soup to the African chicken. The ice milk coffee is so delicious but will keep you awake for a day or two.

So far I've been to the Super Brand Mall location twice, once on a field trip with my school and once on a date with Jodi. The first time I had the RMB 28 curry beef brisket with a side of rice, and it was enough that I almost finished it and felt very satisfied. The curry is pretty amazing: thick, oily and beefy, I'm sure it had been left slow-cooking in the kitchen for more than a few hours. I was very happy that I'd decided to order rice as a side dish because I ended up mixing the curry broth into it even after the beef and potato were gone. For desert I had a Portuguese egg yolk tart (葡式蛋挞), which was average: eggy and warm inside, but with a slightly toughened crust that made me suspect re-heating. I still think the best egg tarts I've had in Shanghai are the ones at a shop called Enjoy/Surprise(?) in the tunnel from New World to Nanjing East Road at People's Square, which has a pretty decent recipe and so much foot traffic that fresh tarts are always coming out of the oven.

The next time at the Lisboa with Jodi we spent about RMB 100 on several dishes. Of course, I had to let Jodi try the beef curry. The Macanese fried vermicelli with shrimp was a little sweet, and seasoned with fragrant fatty pork bits. As a vegetable we ordered a tri-colored dish of boiled corn, cucumber and carrot spilling out of a crispy paper-thin wafer bowl, a dish that was better looking than it was tasting: well-made, but not above par. The red bean ice came in a beer mug with a milk-tea straw, and was heavy on the red beans. Finally, the highlight of the meal for me was the cheapest item of our order, an RMB 10 pork chop sandwich: a tender, juicy pork chop on a crunchy French bun that almost reminded me of sourdough. If the restaurant provided the HK-standard spicy mustard I would have been in heaven.

So, besides the dishes I listed above, what makes me want to go back? Large portions, food that looks just as pretty on the table as it does on the menu, and a hearty selection of authentic Macanese dishes with no compromises to local taste. I'm going to try to organize a little friendly get-together around this place, so keep your ears open.

The Lisbon Restaurant has locations throughout the city. The one closest to our house is a short ride on the 798 to the Super Brand Mall, on the 6th floor. They take reservations at 021-50472155.

Download now (but not for long): Will Smith - The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Today I picked up a Double Happiness 4007 for RMB 109 at Carrefour because the SMIC faculty tournament officially starts tomorrow. I was planning to pick up a custom model, but time and money constraints don't allow it at the moment:

On our way to Carrefour we walked through Century Park because somebody on Shanghai Expat posted a breathtaking picture of a rape flower field growing there. We were one of thousands of lucky people who were able to take in the park during its spring rebirth. Both Jodi and I took lots of pictures, the best of which are up on Flickr.

Century Park

Friday I got off work a bit early, met Jodi on the Century Park metro platform, and we rode the train to Shimen No 1 Rd. It was Friday, and that meant that the US Consulate was having their twice-weekly US Citizens' Visa Hour from 3:30 to 4:30. Get there by 3:30 and grab a number, hear a 30 minute speech from the officer in charge of the visa interview team, and then get a chance to talk to him one-on-one.

I won't talk about what was in the prepared speech. Mostly he repeated what was on the website but in a more organized and thorough fashion. Almost all of it was interesting, even if some of it veered off into subjects that were not relevant to me: student visas, etc.

The one-on-one was interesting. The whole room is quiet at this point, and one person goes up to the window and talks into the microphone. Since the consular officer's responses are broadcasted over a small speaker and the citizen must speak relatively loudly to be heard through the glass, the whole room gets to eavesdrop on the conversation. That Friday's cases were a Chinese-American man who wanted to sponsor an old friend and TCM practicioner to come to the US to treat his parents; a lawyer who was very unhappy that one of his associates had been denied a visa to start an English-language training program this summer and was looking for both an explanation and an expedited interview; and a third one who I can't remember.

Number 4 was me. In a previous weblog entry I mentioned some of the questions I planned to ask, which I eventually condensed down to three. Here are the questions and answers:

"Tell me about the CITIC Prior Travel Expedite Service."
I was told to file the application application at a CITIC bank location and tack an extra RMB 200 onto the normal application fee to get an expedited interview appointment. This may soon change to "interview-as-needed", which could mean no interview, just an appointment for fingerprinting. Since the interview is still required at this point and we have one scheduled for Friday, this isn't really useful for us.
"My wife has a prior visit to the US, and is pregnant. How will these affect her chances this time around?"
The officer said that prior visit will be a plus. For the pregnancy, we need to prove that she is too far along to travel and that the planned travel dates are for after the baby's due date. (Actually this question was badly phrased. I should have asked him to take into consideration that the kid will be an American whether or not it is born in the US.)
"What do I need to bring when we come to process the kid's American citizenship?"
Besides the usual set identification documents listed on the consulate's website, the visa officer emphasized that it was important to bring documents proving that I had lived in the USA for 5 years, 2 of which were after the age of 16. I think I have some college transcripts and old W-2's lying around.

So I thought that attending the Visa Hour was definitely worth it. The prepared speech was well organized, and the one-on-one time answered the questions I had, and the visa officer in charge (Christopher) was extremely polite and helpful; even when talking to the bordering-on-livid lawyer. Us, we're still gathering documents for Friday's appointment.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The newspaper is calling the McDonalds/KFC/Pizza Hut minimum wage scandal "工资门", or "Wage-gate". That is culturally, historically and linguistically hilarious.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My school is about 2/3 of the way through the recruiting process for next year. If you are thinking about applying, please do so. Our school runs a very slow and deliberate interview process so you should find yourself with more than enough information and time to make a decision that's good for you. I quote our recruitment page here:

School Overview: The SMIC Private School was established in September 2001 by the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) - a world leading semiconductor Foundry Company located in Shanghai, China. The SMIC Private School, a Pre-K to Grade 12 school, (see its website at offers two language tracks: Chinese and English Tracks, from G1 to G12. The Chinese Track follows the local Shanghai curriculum and the teaching language is Chinese. The English Track adopts the California and Texas curricula, and the teaching language is English. ESL and CSL (Chinese as a Second Language) classes are also available. Currently more than 1,100 students are enrolled at the SMIC Private School and the size continues to expand in the coming year. The student body is comprised of 18 nationalities and the majority of them come from the U.S. and Taiwan. Sources of teachers have predominately been from the U.S. but qualified candidates from any country are encouraged to apply.

Qualifications: Native English speaker; Master's degree in a relevant area or certified teachers with at least two years of teaching experience; has the ability to adapt to a culture that is vastly different from that of North America.

Positions Available:

  • Full-time Grades 1-12 homeroom and subject teachers (At the High School level, candidates who are able to teach AP courses are preferred).
  • All-level administrators

Report Dates: August 16, 2007 (For teachers) August 1, 2007 (For administrators)

Work Hours: 7:45am~4:30pm, Monday ~ Friday

Salary Range: Faculty compensation with wide health insurance coverage is commensurate with qualifications and experience; housing and meal subsidies and relocation allowance are available.

Duration: One or two years’ renewable contract

Application Procedures: Interested candidates are to submit a cover letter, C.V., two letters of recommendations (on official letterhead), copies of diploma(s) and teaching certificates to:

Dr. Yuan Han, English Track Principal, The SMIC Private School
No. 169 QingTong Road, Pudong New Area, Shanghai Zip: 201203
The People’s Republic of China,
FAX: +86-021-5855-7462

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Yes, I shouldn't be up at 2:30am when I have a gazillion and two things to do at work tomorrow.

I'm in a funk again. I'm reading some newly discovered weblogs by colleagues of mine that I don't/didn't really know very well. You know, sorta fleshing them out. One of them left mid-year because of strong disagreements with the way the school is run, the mismatch between what he was told when recruited and the reality of the school, because he wouldn't play a part in the school/company's unspoken evangelical mission. He also had lots of grumps about Shanghai, about living in a developing country, about the stress of being in a place where he didn't fit in. Other colleagues write about the same thing, about how hard life is here sometimes because of the inconveniences and inefficiencies of this place. Both "my" school and "my" country come off looking pretty bad, and I doubt myself: if these people, undeniably smarter and more experienced than me, condemn this place, am I dumb for staying here? Is my conscience, my critical thought, my ability to evaluate good and bad, dead? Should I be speaking, acting out? I know about the pollution, about the scams and disorganization, about the racism and ignorance, about the compromises made in "my" school, city and country; I know about them better than they do because I'm reading about them in the newspaper every day, I'm eavesdropping on unsuspecting conversations and being privy to otherwise impenetrable cultural moments. Am I stupid for not leaving? If I was back in the US I could get certified and be a better teacher, work at a more prestigious and well-funded private school, have the support of an extended family, enjoy the diversity and abundance that American offers... but I don't. Is this acceptable? Am I crazy, stupid, blind?

Instead, I live in a country where I worry about my kid being the nail that gets pounded down at school. I despair of being able to buy a house erected without sub-standard building materials. I bemoan the lack of long-term planning at all levels of society and government that causes waste on a gigantic scale affecting the health and well-being of my family and peers. I struggle at my job, taking more responsibility than I am trained for on less resources than I require, hobbled by a lack of competent professional mentors. I am constantly on my guard, fumbling between two languages, frustrated by my inability to communicate at the level of an adult to my society, and to be seen as one. And I sit here needing to associate and be accepted by people I respect, but listening as they grow frustrated, weakened, disgusted and ultimately reject the environment that I choose to inhabit. I've made this choice, I make this choice every day.

How can everybody be so sure of themselves? I push against the grain, wondering if this choice is worth it. Or am I just pushing against myself.

I'll be happier tomorrow.

On the way home from work this evening, the on-board TV announced that the Shanghai metro Line 8 was entering a testing phase and that engineers had run the trains on their first maiden voyage. The engineers were using laptops to monitor the train's control system, and I'm pretty sure they were running top in a terminal window. Linux! Or at least some form of *nix.

The TV also mentioned that paper fen bills are finally being phased out. Thank goodness, that's a part of the "old" China that I will not miss.

I have a newspaper clipping about Lujiazui's air-raid bunker hotels riding around in the notebook in my back pocket. I'd like to find the time to research the topic and write up a little post about it, maybe for Shanghaiist, but I'm not sure I have the time. We had a couple of them downstairs from us at Zhongshan Park and they always intrigued me. (Those are 防空洞旅馆, in case you want to run with this idea.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Recently a co-worker impressed on me the need to keep filing my US taxes. In case I ever want to consider moving back for any amount of time, this is probably a good idea.

It turns out that filing is not as painful as I thought. As long as I can prove that I'm an expatriate with a bona fide residence in China, I qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). This means that I don't have to pay taxes on the first USD 82,400 of income that I made here in China. So the only taxes I have to pay this year are on the interest earned on savings in my credit union account back Stateside.

But that doesn't mean I don't have to file at all. Luckily, there are only two forms for me to fill out, and as an expat I qualify for an extension till June 15th (which I hope not to use because any tax owed accrues back-interest starting from the original April 15th deadline). The two forms are the 1040, the main tax form, and the 2555-EZ, to claim the FEIE. These come with a nifty set of help files. I also have to attach a statement claiming to meet the conditions for the deadline extension, if I choose to take it.

The only thing I'm not certain about is Jodi's status. To the IRS, she is definitely a non-resident alien (NRA) without a social security number. I'm pretty sure that it would be best for me to file as "Married Filing Separately" but that's where my certainty starts to drop off. So, can I claim her as an exemption? If so I could double the amount of our income that falls under the FEIE. But does she need a Tax ID Number (TIN)? And it looks like I'm not the only one wondering...

(On a side note, I've got my Chinese tax stubs sitting in front of me, and I've calculated my tax rate sits at a hefty 43.9%. Crikies!)

In a couple of weeks Jodi is going to the consulate to apply for a tourist visa to visit soon-to-be grandparents with me this summer. I've downloaded the forms and made of a list of the documents we need to collect, but I'm still very nervous because of our experience last time.

When Jodi went to apply for her visa last year, she was turned away at the door because her forms were "not right". She was guided to a visa agency where the staff pointed out all sorts of niggling errors in the way we filled out the form. Now, I freely admit that the photos were not the correct size (a very bad mistake on my part) but they also redid our forms and I'm very unsure if some of the things they changed were extraneous and it was simply a way to charge us more money, or if the forms truly need to be formatted so exactingly to a set of standards which is not clear at all from the publicly available instructions.

I think I need to do some research on Chinese language sites but that takes forever, and I've found that the signal-to-noise ratio is very low on the BBSs. I'm not looking forward to it.

The other recourse I have is the Citizen Services Q&A session on Friday afternoon at the Consulate, which means I'll have to leave early from work. If I do, I'm going to ask about:

  • How being pregnant affects one's chances of getting the visa.
  • To what degree of carefulness the forms need to be filled out.
  • Whether a previous success affects ones chances when applying again.
  • Whether the CITIC expedited visa application is worth using.

Like I said, I'm not looking forward to this.

(UPDATE: I got home and found that Jodi was looking this stuff up too. She found what I was trying to find, actual first-hand accounts and not just straight translations of info off the consulate website. Both of us concluded that the CITIC Prior Travel Expedite Program (中信银行代传递服务 or 赴美签证免面谈) looks like the most judicious option, pending a phonecall to the embassy for more info.)