Monday, June 30, 2008

Didn't make the "mocos (boogers in Spanish)/mucus" connection until today. Another sign that my Spanish is receding.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Suzhou Creek

Today we had a pretty busy day. In the morning we slept in and then got ready quickly. We took the 东川专线 bus to Longyang Rd, where we met Chris and his wife as they entered they subway station. When we told them that we were going to the flower market they told us that it was going to close down soon, and sure enough when we arrived there were only a couple dozen flower sellers nearest to the entrance left. Luckily, the stand that I was hoping to find was still there with a skeleton stock left so I was able to pick up a pot apiece of oregano (can you use that fresh in foods?), rosemary, basil and a plant called "lemon balm" that smells like spearmint and I'm happy to see Wikipedia saying can be "used as a repellant for mosquitos". Those herbs are now sprinkled around the kitchen. We also picked up a bunch of flowers to put outside our front door to mask, I joked with Jodi, the smell of Charlotte's soiled diapers! The best-smelling is the jasmine flowers, but we also got a couple mini chrysanthemums, a succulent with wispy tissue-thin petals on its flowers, and a few other random pretty flowers.

Back home, we put Charlotte down for her nap and lunched on take-out from Taibei Kitchen. Jodi watched TV and napped, and I caught up on news on the computer.

When Charlotte woke up we got her stuff ready and took the 张江环线 bus to Line 2, riding it to East Nanjing Road. There we replaced my Uniqlo umbrella ("lost" at Yuyintang), got money from an ICBC cash machine, and let Charlotte get some walking practice on Shanghai's most famous pedestrian street. At the 第一食品 (No 1 Food Store?) we walked all the way to the back to find a traditional foods market that we had seen featured on Channel Young a few days ago, and had a snack of Shanghai 生煎. After resting for a bit, we had dinner at Burger King and caught Kung Fu Panda at the new Grand Shanghai Cinema. By the time we got out it was almost ten o'clock, so we came right home, gave Charlotte a bath and put her to bed, and Jodi is asleep while I stay up to finish this post. A busy but lazy summer Saturday.

Good night.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

On Friday night I went out to a couple of concerts and was reminded of how awesome some people are that I know.

First I took Line 2 to Zhongshan Park, switched to Line 4 and got off at West Yan'an Road: Yuyintang. The rain meant that the crowd wasn't too big; all of the seats were taken but there was enough room to squeeze yourself in just about wherever you wanted. Cold Fairyland played a two part, three hour set of old and new songs. A giant screen played scenes from their unreleased work-in-progress Finland tour DVD. They band has added a new member on a second synthesizer, adding in effects that help round out their songs -- I didn't catch her name. After the show I went to say hi to Xiao Song because the rest of the band was in the back, and he greeted me warmly and pushed me back to where the band was resting. Lindi grabbed me, sat me down and we chatted for a while about the band, about Charlotte (she follows us on Flickr) and about upcoming concerts. Seriously, it's been over a year since I've been out to see them play, they've been touring around Europe making awesome music, and busy with their own lives, and she still greeted me as warmly as if we had just seen each other the previous day. That's how awesome Lindi is, and props to Xiao Song and the rest of Cold Fairyland too.

Second, after they took off I grabbed a taxi and headed down to the intersection of Danshui Road and West Jinling Road. On the south side of the Middle Yan'an Road Green Strip sits club Bling, where my former student Philip (aka DJ Stonnie) was DJing. For about an hour I hung out on the balcony, getting my fill of up-to-date West Coast hip hop, surfing Slashdot on my phone and generally feeling old in the crowd of ABC party people, young girls in sexy outfits and guys with popped collars ordering a rainbow of drinks and popping flashes left and right. When Philip passed on the baton to another DJ, he came out of the booth and got me a drink, and we chatted about life in California, about having kids, and about his plans for this summer. Here's a guy who is making waves in the clubs of LA, totally snoozed through my AP Stats class last year (being very up front about not wanting to do the work), and could be at the center of the happening party, but took the time to be a good host and take care of his old Stats teacher. In my book, that's pretty awesome. This guy is for real.

Last but not least, map props to Jodi for letting me stay out till 2am running around Shanghai on a rainy night. Not that she pining away, alone and bored — she was up till 1:30am working on her Liba thread! Hoho, ~

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I can't remember where I sourced this (probably a Twitter post), but I have a Firefox tab open to a weblog post that shows the interesting times China is going through. It lists and discusses "Ten Things That Will Disappear From Our Lives In The Future". I'll just translate the list here, so you'll have to read the original to get the full details:

  1. 户口 (family registration books)
  2. 暂住证 (domestic temporary residence permits)
  3. 住酒店用身份证 (showing national ID to book a hotel room)
  4. 发票 (official government receipts, aka fapiao)
  5. 港澳通行证 (HK/Macau travel permits)
  6. 外汇管制 (foreign currency exchange controls)
  7. 进口分账片配额制度/合拍片 (foreign film import limits)
  8. ICP牌照 (Internet Content Provider permits)
  9. 百货商店开票 (department store 3-receipt system)

Notice that most of these things are related to government paperwork. What would a similar list look like for the US? I imagine that things made obsolete in the US would be more driven by commercial interests, and if we knew them ahead of time we'd not be writing weblog posts but making a ton of money!

This afternoon, Jodi and I ate our first home-cooked meal since her mom went back home. We've been doing a lot of cleaning and rearranging since she left, getting things back to how we like them. Lunch was a simple meal of omelets, left-over pizza and cheesecake pudding. The potatoes were a little salty, but overall I was surprised to find that my cooking intuition hadn't regressed too much since Jodi's mom took over. Maybe it's a good time to restart the food weblog.

Anyhow, reason I'm sitting down at the computer to write this up is that while we were eating Jodi and I had a good conversation about nutrition, where people learn how to cook, and what foods she and I like to eat. Jodi said that her parents used to cook a lot more varied foods, and that when she was young they would make some very traditional foods of which she singled out four as being her favorites:

  • 猫鱼 (a pink, spicy fermented tofu with ginger)
  • 辣椒萝卜 (a crunchy, wet mixture of hot peppers and dried radish)
  • 烟熏腊肉 (Hunanese cured meats, smoked in a drum barrel downstairs)
  • 甜酒 (a sweet rice wine, brewed by Jodi's dad)

And that's all I wanted to say. Maybe someday we can try to bring back and perfect these homemade goodies, making them a part of our "family culture".

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Since I set up the SSH tunnel and have nearly unfettered access to the un-GFWed internet, I was found myself reading through some of my old weblog posts from my first year in Shanghai and realized that back then I spend a lot more time writing up the mundane things in my life. Contrary to what you might think, it's fun to go back and read those old entries. I'm going to try and write one here as a snapshot of my current life.

Today was the last day of school for students in the 2008-2009 academic year. It was a bit anti-climactic for me, since both of my AP classes finished a couple of weeks ago and my remaining final exam was given yesterday. I got a bit of a late start in the morning and was at home both for Charlotte's waking up at 8am and the maid's arrival (yes we got a part-time maid since Jodi's mom left; it's a transitional concession, if you know what I mean). I spent the first couple hours in the office catching up on personal stuff: clearing out the RSS reader, and digging through mailing list archives that had been piling up in GMail like Shanghai Mamas, the Oriental List, Perl China, the Modern Chinese Literature and Culture list, and the College Board lists for AP Stats and Physics. During the course of that activity I sent an e-mail to the Academic Affairs office director that blossomed into an e-mail discussion with several teachers, where I had to step in and make some strong statements regarding the science department's plans for next year and e-mail etiquette in general.

Lunchtime came and went and I was still dealing with that conversation, so I worked for a bit on the documentation for the school observatory which I have plans to formally "open" next year. That involved finishing up the translation of the telescope software manual, editing and reformatting it, and brainstorming on how to integrate the various sets of rules, regulations and policies drafted by different parts of the school while adding my own rules based on my role as director of the observatory. During that job I took advantage of some leftover food from the 8th grade party to have a quick snack. Faced with a checklist of things to do before we leave for the summer I began to make preparations to complete a few of the items early next week: I cleaned out my personal folder on the computer hard drive, leaving just enough data to fit on my USB stick, ran a couple set of books and textbooks back to the library, and cleared all my personal things out of the physics classroom. In the library, the librarian and I had a long chat about the committees to which we belong and how they could be improved, about who in the school lives in our building in LQ, and about how bad shopping is in Zhangjiang. By the time I carried the load of miscellaneous teaching props, papers and classroom materials down from the physics lab to the office it was nearly 4:30, time to call Jodi and leave to meet up for dinner.

Something had me at the computer for a little while longer and I didn't get out until about 5:15, which meant that I ended up taking the subway during rush hour. All I gotta say about that is, don't even plan on getting onto the subway at Lujiazui at rush hour. There were people literally laughing and shaking their heads as they watched their friends futilely trying to squeeze themselves on. There was simply no room for new passengers by then. Luckily it was my stop, so I squeezed myself out of the train and caught Jodi, Charlotte and Anna about to have dinner at Tanggong, a Hong Kong restaurant that was OK but nothing great. The best thing about the restaurant is that it has a display of impressive fish tanks inside the entrance where I took Charlotte for a walk. Still I most enjoyed myself after dinner when Jodi went to change Charlotte's diaper and I snuck away to the Chatterhouse bookstore for five minutes to read. Books must have a sort of sound-reducing effect because the mall was alive with the cheers of Elva (HK starlet?) fans there to see their idol hold a press conference, but the bookstore was reassuringly and deathly quiet. I browsed through a Baby and Toddler Cook Book.

Back at home Jodi and Anna chatted while I gave Charlotte her bath, then we put Charlotte to bed and stayed up late, late into the night, Jodi and Anna talking about girl stuff and me learning how to use Wordpress for a couple summer projects. One of my students wants some help setting up a website like my Facebook-style homepage, something I think can be done easily in Wordpress, and I'd also like to try one-upping the school website by re-doing it in Wordpress and see if that's a feasible way to give our site an upgrade from its current sorry state.

And that's it. It's 4am and I've got an 8th grade graduation to attend tomorrow morning. Goodnight.


You're allowed to turn your head and think WTF when Torturing Nurse is playing inside with the volume cranked all the way up.

John's post on overhearing a conversation between two old men sparked a stream of comments from readers about how they look forward to the day when their Chinese is good enough to eavesdrop on random Chinese-language conversations. This reminded me of a short episode that took place tonight during dinner that made me think of a certain milestone in language learning.

First, the set-up. Last Sunday on Fathers Day, Jodi gave me a "day off" from taking care of Charlotte by taking her to a friend's house to play all day. This gave me lots of time to spend on the computer catching up on news, to go to a NoiShanghai concert at Live Bar in the afternoon, and end the evening with a walk through Raffles City and down East Nanjing Road. On Nanjing Road I sat down to eat a snack from BreadTalk and because I was reading 慢船去中国 I ended up chatting with a group of those guys that glide around trying to sell you those skates with the LED lights embedded in the wheels that light up with you skate. One young guy was complaining to me about how it's hard enough to say things in English, but it's so much harder to understand what people are saying back to you. I distinctly remember going through that phase in learning Chinese, and one day realizing that I actually could understand what people were answering in response to my questions.

So at dinner tonight something happened that reminded me that my Chinese is still nowhere near perfect and that I'm still going through these phases and coming out of them, only more slowly than before. When I arrived at Tanggong, a Hong Kong restaurant in the Super Brand Mall, Jodi, Anna and Charlotte were there waiting for me. They had ordered drinks but were still waiting for me to arrive to finalize the food order. Jodi had a glass of water in front of her when I arrived and asked the waiter for a refill of 温水, since the glass was almost empty. Eventually the waiter brought the glass back full of freshly boiled water but since Jodi had specifically asked for lukewarm water so that she could drink it immediately she sent it back and had them bring a new glass at the correct temperature.

Later during the meal I noticed that the glass had been drained again so I called another waiter over and asked for 温水 again, adding a "要温水哦,不要开水" to make sure that he got the order right where the previous waiter had failed. So after he brought back another glass of piping hot water and we had to send it back again, I was hit by a realization: in the past, I would have assumed that I hadn't spoken clearly enough, or that I had mispronounced a word, or that the cause of the mistake had been somewhere in my Chinese; but today I was SO DAMN SURE that I had gotten it right, that the realization that at one point in my life I would have surely blamed this mistake on my Chinese did not even pop into my head until after the episode had finished.

That's not to say that my oral Chinese is great. I still stutter, forget tones and find myself at a loss for words pretty often. But it's a great confidence booster to have a realization like this.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jodi's mom went back home for a while so Jodi and I are on our own now. Are we worried? Absolutely not. We've got a big girl on our hands.


After posting to the Zhangjiang neighborhood BBS some pictures of my latest walk with Charlotte through the local, under-appreciated "water village", I found out that the area has an actual name, 张江老街, literally "Zhangjiang Old Street". Googling that name turned up some interesting info, like the fact that the area has hope for not being bulldozed, and a nice photo essay (excuse the soft-core porn ads on the side) of which I'll post some of the shots I wish I could have taken, below:

Monday, June 09, 2008

This afternoon Charlotte and I went on a walk through our own Jiangnan water village, a little section of old Zhangjiang about a 15 minute walk south of our apartment. Following is a slide show of some of the photos we took.

EDIT: If you can't see the slide show, the pictures are all on Flickr.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Last night we went to the Super Brand Mall movie theater to see Prince Caspian on the second night of its China release at a sold out 9pm show. I hated watching this movie (and hate going to the movies in general) because:

  • Popcorn and soda: Jodi's unhealthy habit.
  • Disney: stupid humor, British actors.
  • War, killing: unexamined consequences.
  • Super Brand Mall: too big, awful theater.
  • CGI armies: darn you Lion King.

That said, if you must see Prince Caspian, don't read the book again but do watch the first movie beforehand.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008