Thursday, May 31, 2007

I got an e-mail requesting my take on the baseball game I went to with friends.

First off, I heard about the CBL through Dan and his post a long time ago about the Shanghai Eagles. Then in April he wrote a post for Shanghaiist which included the Eagles' schedule for the 2007 season. Since I have a habit of putting stuff on Upcoming, I added every Shanghai home game and promised to myself that I'd go to at least one game. For me baseball is a nostalgic activity that reminds me of when I was a kid; I took Jodi to a Giants game on our honeymoon and it was great. Soon, May was drawing to a close and I noticed that the number of games left on my calendar was falling dramatically. I sent a mass (4 people) e-mail to friends, they dragged more friends into it, and soon we had a posse. After some help with directions from baseball nut Goose (pictured in the Shanghaiist post), we were off.

The directions are pretty simple: take the metro to Century Avenue, take exit 1, cross the street and walk south on Dongfang Road to the 980 bus stop. Take the 980 for a bout 25 minutes to Qihe Rd & Yunlian Rd. The stop is right next to the sports complex containing Pudong Baseball Stadium. Just walk ahead about 30 meters, around the corner, and into the gate. We left Century Avenue at about 1pm and arrived at the stadium at 1:45.

What I'd told people to expect was a minor league experience, and it was pretty close but even a little more ghetto. Entrance was free. The stadium was small and a little run down. To get to the bleachers, we walked through a room where several players were playing ping-pong before the game. There were a few rows of shady seats; we were lucky it was a lightly overcast day. No concession stands or vendors meant that we used the 45 minutes till the game at 2:30 to run to the convenience store and buy a case of bottled water, some potato chips, cookies and lychees. The view from the stands was pretty cool; over the tops of the apartments next door I could make out the Jinmao Tower, the World Financial Center being built next door, and the Pearl Tower floating behind the Nanpu Bridge.

Empty stands

The small crowd was about 2/3 Chinese and 1/3 white. There were even a couple Japanese kids chasing foul balls around the stands. I think the non-local crowd was more into the game as a leisure activity: the language used for cheers was almost 100% English, one group that came half-way through the game was a softball team that had just finished a league game on the field next door, and a family across the way solved the food problem by bringing their own BBQ


As for the level of baseball, it wasn't great. I mean, it was obvious that these guys had picked up a baseball before and they knew all the rules (some of which I had forgotten and was glad to be reminded of) but in the end it wasn't the main reason I was happy I went. Luckily there were a few things to distract us enough to make the game go by pretty quick. First, Jodi and I invited a few friends who had never been to a baseball game before so I was engaged explaining the rules to them, which for baseball means quite a lot of explaining. Something like:

"He's out because he got three strikes. What's a strike? If he swings and misses it's called a strike, or if it's a good pitch (never mind explaining the strike zone) and he doesn't swing it's a strike, or if he hits it outside of the first or third base lines it's called a foul bowl and it's a strike. That is, unless it's the third pitch and then a foul ball doesn't count as a strike, it counts as nothing. Why did he run on the third strike? Oh, if the catcher drops the ball on the third strike the player has a chance to dash for first base..."

At the bat

Also never mind explaining forced outs versus tagged outs, the infield fly rule, how "points" are scored... It would be much simpler if this were soccer! Also serving to distract from the game were the inning-break promotional activities: the ceremonial first pitch, raffles for prizes, a race around the bases; bang-bang sticks sponsored by Mizuno were handed out for free, as were long string-bean balloons for a crowd balloon release...

Overall the experience got good reviews from everybody who went. For me it was really just a way to support a small, worthy and healthy cause in a way that was also reliving some nostalgic memories from my own past. For me the smallness of the crowd is a plus because it allows for a more immediate intimacy compared to a major league game. I was asked to compare the experience to Shanghai Sharks basketball games, and although I've never been I imagine the atmosphere must be similar in that they're both small, eclectic and awkward teams with something of a "cult following". If you go, do it for the same reason you'd rather see a show at Yuyintang (RIP!) than at Hongkou Stadium.

Fearless fans

Threat to third

Evening shadows

Pow wow


(Yes, Shanghai lost. I put all my pics on Flickr. John B also wrote a post on the game.)

This is the next chapter in the ongoing saga of the ad hoc street market that forms on the sidewalk outside our apartment.

A quick background: our town of Huamu Xincun has only one vegetable wet market, located next to our house, so an ad hoc street market has been born on the sidewalk below our balcony. Our official veggie market has a reputation of being expensive. Browsing some neighborhood BBSs online I heard stories of people taking the bus to a wholesale market in nearby Beicai to get better prices. Part of the high prices at our market comes from the market being the only one in town, but I'd be willing to bet that another part comes from high rents charged to the vendors; again, short supply. Hence the impromptu sidewalk market that forms outside our house: no rent means cheap prices for us neighbors, and vendors are glad for the space to sell their produce/fowl/fish/knick-knacks...

Get yer veggies

Book bike


Baby stuff for sale

Dentist, street

Now, on with the story. Just as I predicted, about 3 or 4 days after I wrote that last post I came home from school to find an empty sidewalk. Jodi's mom reported that eight police trucks and vans had come that morning and kicked out all of the street vendors, taking away their merchandise and equipment. That turned out to be the end of the street market...

...for about a week. About a week later the vendors came back slowly but surely and took up their usual spots, again marking off their "stalls" with plastic bags, leaving trash on the curb, napping during the midday lull, and even stringing up sheets between the trees along the sidewalk and the cast-iron poles of our downstair neighbors' solarium fence to give them some shade as the days get hotter.

Combs for sale

Apple vendor


Until this morning. As I walked out into the balcony/study to grab my backpack and leave for work, Jodi's mom passed me and mentioned that they were here again. About five or six police trucks were parked outside, the hauling off of vendor property being supervised by both police and 城管, the so-called "city managers" oft associated with corruption and petty violence towards street vendors. Hearing this, I grabbed my camera and popped a quick picture as I headed out the gate of our apartment complex, badmouthing th authorities in my mind as they cleaned up our source of cheap vegetables.

Taking our market away

As luck would have it, it was not the last time these guys would ruin a part of my day. I had covered the few hundred meters to the Century Park metro station and was about to buy a 饭团 "rice breakfast burrito" from the usual guy at the metro entrance when the police trucks rolled by, fat and cocky after finishing with our street market. Of course like the thugs that they are they wouldn't miss a chance to intimidate the little guy so they pulled out their bullhorns and started launching threats at the breakfast vendors.

Bullying the breakfast vendors

Only the newspaper lady was courageous enough to stay. As I bought my daily Shanghai Morning Post (she even saves a copy for me if I'm late, hiding it under the Youth Daily stack), I watched my 饭团 flee down around the corner to Meihua Rd.

The consolation is that, whereas last time it took about a week for the market to return, by the time I got home today from buying a Children's Day present for Charlotte (plus Pirates 3, Candyman and a Korean horror flick) the market had already started setting up. Not quite as big as it was before, but there's room to grow.

SBT (Shanghai Book Traders) has placed an advertisement at the entrance to our elementary school that announces the taking of reservations for the next--and last--Harry Potter novel. What's interesting is that it comes in three flavors: the American version, the UK children's version, and the UK adult version. That's a loaded choice, if you ask me.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Peggy's List says:

House of Flour has opened up a branch behind the Portman.

Oh no; one more reason to move back to Puxi, a few years too early.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I just got this from the health insurance rep at our company:

Sorry, I just noticed that the birth date is April 30, not the date you sent out this email. So I'm sorry to tell you that you have missed the gracious time of adding your baby into our insurance.

Yeah, gracious indeed.

I know my weblog has turned boring.

But I like it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some friends and I are going to the Shanghai Eagles baseball game this Saturday afternoon. Get in touch with me if you want to join us.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I like this photo of Jodi, me and Charlotte best.

I finally figured it out, thanks to the Wikipedia article on lambda calculus and Chris Barker's Javascript lambda tutorial. What Alligator Eggs fails to mention is that if an alligator eats another family but is guarding none of his own eggs, the eaten family disappears forever. Now, to make puzzles for math club...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The population of interest is middle-class Americans who attended high school in Orange County, California in the late 1990s:

1 AOLer, 5 GMailers, 5 Hotmailers, 1, and 6 Yahoos.

Created with the National Center for Education Statistics's "Create a Graph" online tool.

In the taxi coming home last night, FM 103.7 played a Charlie Parker ditty followed by Nirvana's "Where did you sleep last night?". Hooray for living in a country unencumbered by modern musical genres.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

As a middle school math teacher, I spend a lot of time slogging through review material. Our current textbooks don't challenge the students very much; much of what they see is simply a repeat of what they studied last year with a few new vocabulary thrown in.

So when I get to introduce a lesson on a topic that is a certain distance from what the students have seen before, it's always an exciting day. Today in seventh grade we dove into the graphs of quadratic functions--at a very basic level, granted, but the students always step over the bounds of the textbook and ask great questions:

  • Does the parabola ever bend back in on itself?
  • How can the slope of a curve increase but never reach straight up-and-down?
  • Is it a quadratic function if it has powers of 0? How about -2?
  • Will the scales of the axes be the same for all quadratic functions?
  • What should I do if the y-intercept of the parabola is inconveniently large?
  • Can I put a break in the axes of a coordinate plane?
  • Is an expression still a polynomial if it has higher powers of the variable than 2?
  • What do the graphs of higher-order polynomials look like?
  • What does the function for this (fourth quadrant) parabola look like?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Speaking of markets...

Looking around at investment options, I find that a 1 year CD at ICBC in China earns 2.79% interest. This looks puny compared to the rate on the simple savings account at my credit union in the US, currently at 4.07%. But considering that the dollar has depreciated 3.95% against the Chinese yuan in the last year, the Chinese option is not looking so bad.

(Then again, maybe stocks is the way to go: the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund is 6.64% YTD, 15.07% over the past year; and the Shanghai stock market! Hoho, the Shanghai stock market composite index is up over 50% since the start of the year.)

The impromptu market that forms on the sidewalk in front of our house every day is getting bigger and bigger. When we first moved in, it barely peeked out of the gates of the official wet market. Notice the mostly empty sidewalk:

View from our balcony: west

Then over the weeks it started filling up the sidewalk even below our third floor balcony.

Our sidewalk market

Now the vendors span the sidewalk up and down the block, selling all sorts of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats: corn, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, all sorts of leafy greens, yams, bamboo shoots, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, green beans of all sizes, apples, oranges, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, lychees, bayberries, strawberries, cherries, chinese mulberries, different kinds of fish, chicken, ducks, doves... even (sting?) rays!

Lunching on the job
Corn stretch
Pile o' green beans
Fish vendor

(You might wonder how they sell the fowl. Like this: snip the main veins with scissors, drain the blood in the planters that line the street, stuff the bird into a metal cannister of boiling water, and then pull it out and pluck off the feathers. Fresh!)

Then the extra stuff started rolling in. Food carts selling a kind of rice wine soup (酒酿), different kinds of noodles, BBQ skewers of vegetables and lamb or chicken wings, and breakfast food. Last night I discovered that I don't have to walk all the way over to Yulan Rd for a late night snack, there's a Sichuanese 麻辣汤 soup guy setting up at the wet market door every night now, probably for customers from the 24 hour net cafe on the third floor.

酒酿 / Rice wine soup
Snacks by the jin
Cold noodle vendor

Even non-food vendors came to join the fun. You can buy clothes sewn by neighborhood grandmas, kitchen and laundry room utensils, potted and cut flowers... I've seen salesmen with little amps and microphones selling slice-and-dicers and kids books. Even the volunteers in white doctor's robes who used to sit outside the preschool around the corner measuring blood pressure for senior citizens and giving medical advice have moved over to our street to set up their equipment.

Flower vendor
Belts and buckles

And lately when I walk to the subway station each morning I see plastic bags set out to reserve places for vendors who haven't arrived yet — all the way to the end of the block! Location, location, location! I don't have any good recent pictures of the market because it's too hard to fit the whole thing into one frame.

There are a couple of downsides to this market. One is the arguments that sometimes break out 30 feet below our house between vendors and customers, and if you've heard the Shanghainese argue then you know what I mean. Also the market generates an enormous amount of trash: corn and bean husks, feathers, plastic bags... mostly organic, and most of it gets swept up the next morning.

So what does this all mean? I'm guessing it means that the crackdown by city officials is not too far behind. Expect it!

Monday, May 14, 2007

From the Financial Times, "Profits of doom":

Still: imagine, at the birth of globalisation, western politicians had made an amazing proposition to voters. "Together," they could have said, "we are going to end world poverty. In order to achieve this, we are going to ask you to accept a pay freeze in real terms for as long as it takes for the wages of workers in the developing countries to catch up, which we estimate will be about half a century. Until the adjustment is complete, the reduction in labour costs will produce the side-effect of extraordinarily high profits for companies, enriching many of those who are already among the richest in society.

"So there will be winners and losers. The bad news is that you, the ordinary, middle-class employees of the west, will be losers and everybody else will be winners. But the good news is, your sacrifice will make poverty history."

Would you have voted for this?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

One of Jodi and my's favorite recurring arguments is about which is the better paper, the Shanghai Evening Post or the Xinmin Evening News. The Xinmin has a more local focus and always sells out sooner, and the Evening Post is cheaper and has a more wide appeal. Without getting into the details of our arguments, here's a few of today's headlines from my favorite, the Xinming Evening News:

对安全生产弊端要重典治乱 (Using the law to crack down on unsafe workplaces)
Director of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) Li Yizhong released a decision stating that over a hundred government officials would be demoted due to neglect in enforcing safe workplaces, a decision that is the result of five major mining accidents recently in the news. This is the paper's front page headline. Other front-page stories show Hu Jintao and Bush discussing trade disputes on the phone, Shanghai mayor Xi Jinping visiting local universities to praise the hard work of students, the opening of a cosmetics convention at the Shanghai New International Expo Center, former acting-mayor Han Zheng visiting the sites of several roadway construction projects, and the start of a series of propaganda articles written in coordination with local Party officials about towns and culture on the Shanghai-Zhejiang and Shanghai-Jiangsu borders.
公交空调车今起“体检” (AC buses get a "check-up")
In preparation for the summer heat, starting today certain buses with air conditioning will receive a physical inspection to make sure they are up to the task of keeping passengers cool.
各项文明“成绩”均有提高 (Civic education sees rising grades)
Last year the city government made a big push to educate pedestrians and bicyclists on how to follow the law in navigating the streets. Officials graded several intersections on certain behaviors like pedestrians walking on green lights and sidewalks being clear of obstructions (parked bicycles), and are now reporting that grades have gone up on average in all categories since the last measurement four months ago.
根治“四乱”顽症,难在啥地方 (Where's the difficulty in stemming the "Four Disorders"?)
This is actually a great article which displays the depth and populist attitude that I appreciate in the Xinmin's local news. The title comes from an effort begun just before the start of the May holiday to clean up the "four disorders" or four nuisances that the metro company sees as plaguing their passengers: uncertified vending stands setting up on metro station property; and advertisement and name card distributors, illegal map and newspaper vendors, and vagrant beggars on subway cars. The multi-part article's purpose is to profile the people who pass through the operation's headquarters at People's Square, and to judge the effectiveness of the metro company's efforts. What comes out are some very personal and detailed profiles, nay, biographies of street urchins, unemployed farmers and musicians, and the metro employees who bring them in. We find out that map and newspaper sellers tend to come from Anhui, uncertified vendors from Henan, business card boys from Shanxi and Hebei... that they are brought over specifically to work the subway system, that they think of their job as a career, that they tend to live in commong areas according to their "occupation", and that their main purpose is to make money to send home to their families. There's no conclusion about the effectiveness of the program, but judging by the newspaper seller I saw on today's 6pm Line 2 from Zhangjiang, they still have their work cut out for them. (My own observations say that subway riders tend to agree with the metro company on 3 our of the 4 nuisances, newspaper vendors being exempted from passengers' contempt.)
加油站成黑车集散调度中心 (Gas stations becomes dispatch centers for unlicensed taxi vans)
This is a somewhat amatuerish article about a reporter's exploration of the workings of unlicensed taxi vans. She found that they tend to park at gas stations a short walk away from bus line terminal stations and wait to take passengers to residential areas away from the city center like Baoshan and Pengpu. Yours truly takes unlicensed taxis every few days when the bus is slow; for the same price as an AC bus, you're guaranteed a seat and possibly a faster journey. Ka-ching.
牛市让老陈节衣缩食成葛朗台 (Bullish Mr Chen skimps and saves, becomes a Grandet)
This is almost a comedic piece about old Mr Chen, who is caught up in the stock market fever. Against the wishes of his wife and grown-up children he is putting every cent of his disposable income into the stock market, reasoning that such an opportunity is once-in-a-lifetime. His wife urges him to enjoy his retirement by loosening his wallet and remodelling their house; Mr Chen retorts: "This month I made forty or fifty grand; remodelling would have erased those gains!" His son invited him to go to Europe expenses-paid at the end of the May holiday, when prices are cheaper. Mr Chen exclaims: "What?! And miss the red-hot opening of the stock market on the first day back from Labor Day week??"
非婚生“洋娃娃”随母亲生活 ("Baby-doll" born out of wedlock granted to mother)
Custody of a baby born out of wedlock to a woman from Belgium and her live-in American boyfriend, 15 years her senior, was granted to the mother by a Pudong court according to the laws of China. This article is accompanied by an aside answering he question "Why was Chinese law used to decide a case between two foreigners?"
网恋见面 情郎似有女友 不甘受骗 女子窃财报复 (Net lovers meet, Don Juan hides previous girlfriend; bitter at being conned, girl snatches goods and runs)
Hilarious story about a girl in Shanghai and boy in Hangzhou who develop an online crush and decide to meet IRL. The boy, his friend, and the girl tour Shanghai, check into a couple of hotel rooms, but the boy takes an early morning phone call in his mate's room. The girl gets impatient, eavesdrops, and hears what she assumes to be a conversation with a girlfriend. She goes back to their room, snatches his wallet and digital camera and flees. After a day of hunting, the boys report to the police who locate the girl and return the boy's belongings. It's stories like these that Jodi rolls her eyes at, but seriously, isn't it great?
切莫轻信网上兜售高考预测题 (Don't fall for internet predictions regarding college entrance exam questions)
I didn't actually read this article, but in writing this post I did run across a site linking to some predictions of this sort. The college entrance exam is coming up at the beginning of June.
《蜘蛛侠3》给国产大片上一课 (Spiderman 3 teaches Chinese film industry a lesson)
The subtitle to this article roughly paraphrases as: when the US sells Spiderman 3 it's not only selling a film, it's also selling its national ideology and moral values; reflecting on our own film industry, what cultural spirit and ethics are we contributing with our own blockbuster films? The article spends all of its time analyzing Spiderman 3, and no time reflecting on Chinese films.

Of course the list above is heavy on articles that I like to read. I skipped entirely the entertainment, culture and sports sections. The international news section, taking up the last three pages of the newspaper, had nothing of note.

Monday, May 07, 2007

At the informal veggie market that forms outside our house, this morning and yesterday I saw a guy selling rays. As in sting rays. Yikes. That's one for the likes of Weird Meat.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

(Below is a copy of the e-mail I just sent out to the AP Stats students I teach this year. The AP test is coming up next Tuesday. 加油!)

The baby is taking a nap so I thought I would spam your e-mail inbox with some stats examples I saw in the wild over this past week:

1) There is an article in the current New York Times called "Study of N.B.A. Sees Racial Bias in Calling Fouls". This is what the article has to say about the study's conclusion:

A coming paper by a University of Pennsylvania professor and a Cornell University graduate student says that, during the 13 seasons from 1991 through 2004, white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players.

Justin Wolfers, an assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School, and Joseph Price, a Cornell graduate student in economics, found a corresponding bias in which black officials called fouls more frequently against white players, though that tendency was not as strong. They went on to claim that the different rates at which fouls are called “is large enough that the probability of a team winning is noticeably affected by the racial composition of the refereeing crew assigned to the game.”

Does that language sound like something we've done before in class? The study in the article used a statistical technique called multivariable regression analysis, which is basically regression (y = a + bx) extended to multiple explanatory variables and a single response variable (y = a + b1x1 + b2x2 + b3x3 + ... We might spend some time on multiple regression after the AP test.). If they were to do a hypothesis test instead, what would be H0 and Ha, and which test would they use? I can think of a couple different ways.

2) I'm reading a book called "The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year" to learn about Charlotte's development and how to be a better dad. On exposing babies to music, I ran across this quote:

According to [education researcher Edwin] Gordon, every child is born with at least some musical aptitude: 68 perent have perfectly average aptitude; 16 percent well above; and 16 percent well below. "Just as there are no children without intelligence," he says, "there are no children without musical aptitude."

Hmm, that number sounds suspiciously familiar. Where have you seen 68% many times before? What do you think the distribution of musical aptitudes in babies looks like?

3) Well, it turns out that Jodi's baby was a girl. This was somewhat of a surprise because pretty much everybody had a guess based on the shape of her tummy, the stretch marks, the foods she like to eat, etc, and most of the guesses were for a boy.

Jodi's mom based her prediction (boy) on the experience she had with three of her friends when they were pregnant. Jodi's mom was the only one out of the four who did not develop stretch marks, where as the other three did. Then, Jodi's mom was the only one who had a girl; the other three mothers had boys. So Jodi's mom believed -- alternate hypothesis! -- that wrinkles were a good predictor of the baby being a boy. Does the evidence from her and her friends allow us to reject the prevailing belief that there is no relationship -- null hypothesis! -- between stretch marks and the baby's sex? Do you see any problems with this test (hint: check the conditions).

OK, that's it. You guys are lucky that I'm not writing a test for Chapter 13, or those questions might have ended up on it! Maybe next year...

The baby is home safe. She's a real good kid, seldom cries and is easily lulled to sleep.