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June 28, 2002

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am now writing to you from the Pacific Northwest of the USA.

The flights were both very smooth... and I got a glass of Dom Perignon mid-flight even though I wasn't in First, and a bottle of champagne to take with me at the end of the flight. Just because I wandered back to the galley in search and snacks and ended up chatting up the flight attendant for a while. It felt so good to be on an airplane again... this dry spell (more than two months without taking to the air) was the longest since May 1998 for me. The full moon (or at least nearly full) accompanied us through the shortened night across the North Pacific... and of course sitting on an airplane traversing a third of the circumfrence of the earth gives you plenty of time to do some introspection and think about where you've been and where you're going.

Anyway, the theme for this week is matrimonial bliss... congratulations are in order to my friends Mike and Betty on their engagement. And the reason I'm in the Pacific Northwest right now is to attend Eric and Elaine's wedding this Saturday.

Picked up the Oakley Square Wire 2.0 Spring Hinge/Silver/Ice yesterday... was tempted to go for the titanium Penny... but at 300 bucks was just not going to happen. I mean, the thing is, I had to remember that these things were going to eventually meet some untimely end anyway, right?

Well, that's about it for now. Looking foward to some clean air, wide-open spaces, and quality time with good friends...

June 25, 2002

Les Miserables

I saw Les Miserables on the evening of its China premiere this weekend.

Colm Wilkinson is awesome. A bit shorter than I'd imagined, but the voice was so amazing. I never thought I'd be fortunate enough to see him perform the role I'd heard on the London and Broadway recordings so many times, but there he was. It was surreal. Michael McCarthy as Javert was also a great role. Ma-Anne Dionisio was a pretty good Eponine as well. Yes, she went up for "pretending!" in "On My Own." Check the cast.

The only unfortunate thing was that we saw the shortened version... but I'm assuming that all the companies are doing this now? Anyone know if London has shortened the musical?

Just when I was starting to get a bit down about being in China, something comes along to lift the spirit. Ahhhhh.

June 24, 2002

Smoking, and Taking Care of Business, Part II

Sorry it's been a few days... things have been a bit busy around here. On Friday, I watched Brazil beat England with a decidedly pro-English crowd at a slightly dive-y sports bar called Himalayas. Good game, for the most part. I was disappointed that England didn't put up more of a fight after Ronaldhino got sent off, though. Not that it means anything, but at least I got that game right on the bracket. That evening, I stayed at Himalayas and watched the USA vs. Germany game with a decidedly pro-American crowd. Well, looks like it was destined to be a low day at the highest bar in Shanghai (my slogan, not theirs)... but seriously. The USA played a great game. Even though the result didn't go in our favor, I left the place feeling pretty proud. And now I know how Italy feels, being robbed of a goal by the officials. Only they got robbed of like 4. Oh well, I've always maintained that having human officials is part of the game, and the controversy that sometimes comes with that adds to the game rather than detracts from it. That won't stop me from yelling myself hoarse at bad calls, though, like I did that night. I'm still hoarse today, thanks to a poor decision to hit the KTV with a bunch of my brother's friends after that. Anyway, how 'bout them Koreans? I think they're playing well, but man these refs are just inviting criticism lately. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to detract at all from a stellar performance... I think it's great that Korea is in the semi-finals, and I think they're playing with a lot of heart and skill. But man, talk about a slew of close calls in their favor starting with the Portugal game. Well, nobody ever won a World Cup without a little luck, and they've got it. So more power to 'em.

Okay, so the next part of this entry is going to focus on the controversial topic of smoking. And after that I'm going to talk about how I lost my Ray-Bans. You've been warned.

Now let me just set the record straight. I am not anti-smoking in the sense that I believe it is everyone's individual right to do whatever they want to themselves. I'll even fight for your right to smoke as long as you respect my right not to. As Voltaire put it, "I disagree with everything you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it." Well, I'll fight for that, and I'll even fight for your right to kill yourself, long as you don't drag me down with ya. In that vein, I don't have a problem if you smoke, or drink, or do pot, or crack, or heroin, or you like cutting yourself or whatever... what I do have a problem with is when you chain smoke in my face, drink and drive while I'm on the road, expect me to be in a car with you when you have a stash of drugs, and the only time I ever cut myself is when I'm diving for a save in front of a goal that happens to have gravel instead of grass. Alright? So I'm cool with smoking, long as I don't have to smoke with you.

That said, unfortunately, Asia still stinks. Because ALL of Asia smokes. And it is simply not possible to not be bombarded by second-hand smoke EVERYWHERE you go. Until the mid-90's, transiting through Narita airport (or any airport in Asia) was like spending a few hours in a packed bar (even if you only spent 15 minutes in the airport). Now, they've got designated smoking areas at the airports, which is a relief, but it's also quite entertaining. Whenever the doors slide open, this cloud of smoke pours forth, someone walks in, and disappears into the soupy fog. Unfortunately for the rest of Asia, these designations simply don't exist. The "smoking section" of any restaurant would be "the entire restaurant plus the foyer, plus the parking lot, kitchen, bathrooms, bar, waiting area, lounge, road in front, alley in back, side streets next to, apartments above, subway station below, plus any other area not already mentioned within the confines of the Asian continent." EVERYWHERE.

Now, as if that's not bad enough, I have to be constantly reminded wherever I go in China that nobody respects rules if they think they can get away with it here. There are actually "No Smoking" signs in many, many places. And I'm not talking about ones that say "No Smoking" in English because, hey, then they might have the excuse that (spit) they can't read! But I'm talking about the ones that show a lit cigarette with a big red circle and diagonal line through it. Here I'll even put one on the page to make sure we're clear. I might also add that there are signs for "No Spitting" in similar fashion and "No Throwing Yourself in front of the Subway." I'll try to take pictures of these sometime. They're a riot. But anyway, while I haven't yet seen someone violate the "No Throwing Yourself in front of the Subway" rule I frequently see the other two blatently disregarded constantly. It's frustrating. And among the top reasons why I'll never be comfortable living in China.

Anyway, enough misery from me. On to the cheerful subject of how I lost my Ray-Bans. So I had to take a business trip out to Hang Zhou sometime last week or maybe the week before. Hang Zhou is about 2.5 hours by train from Shanghai, and it's most famous for West Lake, which is a big tourist attraction. If you're into seeing a lot of pretty historical man-made additions to a lake, it's the place to go. Now I must warn you that I was feeling a bit ill when the day started and I really should have just called it off. But off I went anyway, and I made it through the day's business and even had lunch with the customer. Then it was onto the bus station for the ride home. There, my ill feeling returned, so I went to the restroom to see if I could find some relief. Turns out the restroom had but the Chinese "squat" style toilets, so I was discouraged. I'd never used one before, and frankly, I feared them like I fear being eaten by Godzilla. So I left the restroom and went back to the waiting area. Maybe it was the smoke, but after a few more minutes I decided there was so frickin' way I was going to be able to hold out for another 45 minute wait, plus a 3 hour bus ride, plus whatever time it would take to get back home after the bus got into Shanghai. So I went into one of the stalls and looked at the trough beneath me. Now there are many types of squat toilets, but this one happened to have a trough instead of just a hole. Remember. I'd never, ever done this before. So I'm standing over this trough, and I drop my pants to my ankles, then as I'm bending my waist down to assume a properly balanced squat, ploop in fall my Ray-Bans which I'd hooked onto my shirt foolishly. ANGER!

Now I have to admit that I actually thought for about 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001235 second about reaching in there and grabbing them. Anyway. I did end up relieving myself, and I made it home okay. But that's the last time I go anywhere in China if I feel the least bit sick. Oh, and I might also mention that you need to bring your own toilet paper. I did NOT find this out the hard way, thank God.

Anyway, enough of that. I think I've already picked out the next pair, the Oakley C-Wire in Silver Frame with Ice lenses. We'll see how long that lasts. The Ray-Bans ended up lasting about 2.5 years, which is better than most for me. I tend to lose, break, or have my sunglasses stolen every 1.5 to 2 years. You'd think I'd have figured out that I should not be spending more than $10 on sunglasses by now, but I'm a pretentious bastard.


June 19, 2002

Anger and Annoyance

Yesterday was a bad day in the World Cup prediction bracket as Japan and Italy flopped out. I have no further comment on that.

It's raining in Shanghai today. Bleh. And I'm talking about the whimpy pathetic rain, not a real thunderstorm like satori was talking about in his post for today.

Smoking stinks. I'll write more about Smoking and Asia later.

Let's see what this does.

June 17, 2002

Quarterfinals BABY

I am very happy to report that my prediction for the outcome of the USA vs. Mexico game today was completely wrong. USA is into the quarterfinals for the first time I can remember... first time ever??

Brad Friedel is totally the man. The MAN!!!! How many sweet saves did he have today? He was like a rock back there in goal today.


First, the World Cup update: I'm now 3 for 4 on predictions in the first round, as a hard-fought Ireland-Spain match ended in a 3:2 margin on the penalty kick shootout in favor of Spain. However, I called not only the winner, but the exact score and even the golden goal victory for Senegal. I'll be cheering for the Red, White, and Blue this afternoon, but it's going to be a very, very tough game to win.

Okay, on to the main topic, which is taxis.

A little background on the makeup of vehicular traffic in Shanghai first, though... Greater than 50% of all vehicles on Shanghai's streets are variants of the Volkswagen Santana. Those of you who are crinkling your eyebrows right now thinking, "VW Santana? What is that, a car that plays guitar?" just need to think of a 1980's Japanese-import sedan and you have the picture. Say, a Toyota Cressida. Now the VW Santana is not a bad car, per se, I mean it does its job, right? And as long as you take care of it, I imagine it would give you years and years of blissful fahrfegnugen. Literally 3 in 4 cars, AT LEAST, on the street here are either the standard VW Santana, or the new and improved Santana 2000, or S2K to the nouveau chic elite.

The reason this bit of background is important is because the vast majority of cabs in Shanghai are either Santanas or S2Ks. Also, because most people in Shanghai do not own a car of their own, the vast majority of traffic on the streets are, in fact, taxis. The plus side of this is that you can be just about anywhere in the city limits and hail a cab within seconds of needing one. The downside is that I submit to you that this contributes significantly to the pollution and horrible traffic of this city.

So let's run through a typical cab ride.

You step out of the office/house/club/disco/whatever and begin walking toward the curb. Before you even get to within ten feet of the curb, cabbies have slowed down and are eyeing you like pirhanas circling the kill. You begin to raise your hand from your side to actually hail one, but before your hand gets level with your shoulder, a Santana screeches to a halt before you. You step up, pull the door handle, and after a couple of tries the door opens and you step inside.

Most cabs are actually rather clean, and the seats are usually wrapped in a fabric seat cover. In the summer, they usually put on the AC, which is good. In any case, you're now sitting in the back seat of the cab. If you're Shanghainese, you're in the front seat even if there are no other passengers with you. Hey, to each their own. Anyway, the driver looks back at you and you tell him where you're going. And if you don't want to get ripped off, you tell him how to get there too. Actually, most of the time cabbies are pretty honest and take a direct route. The good ones even help you neogtiate a better route through traffic during rush hour. And then there are the just plain idiots who don't know where they're going and even though I've only been here for a couple of months I know the streets better than them, but that's true in any city.

Once he starts on the way, he flips the "For Hire" sign down on the dashboard, and a receipt printer goes for a few seconds to record the time and whatnot. A recording of a female voice will say something ridiculous like, "Welcome to Da Zhong taxi, I wish you the best journey possible with all my heart." And you're on your way. At this point, you can read the little notice stuck to the plastic shield that separates the driver from the rest of the cab... and on all of them it will say something like, "please fasten your seat belt for your safety." So you reach behind you, in search of this "seat belt" and find nothing. Right.

After a while, you notice that each taxi driver actually has a "Shanghai Taxi Service Drivers'" I don't know whether they ran out of room for the word "License" or what... but the important thing here is that this little placard on the dashboard of every cab tells you how much peril your life is in at the moment. The cabbies are all given a number, sequentially from when they got their licenses, I presume. They're up to something like 230000 now. So first thing is that if you've got a relatively low numbered cabbie, he's at least lived that much longer and you might have some hope. Second, under the number, you'll sometimes find stars. Stars are a good thing. Apparently, they get the first two by not running anyone over in a given period of time, and not getting caught by the police doing what every cab does all the time anyway, which is break all the traffic laws. So if your guy has two stars, you know at least he's got some experience and has enough common sense not to get busted. I hear to get the third star you have to take some test (I'd like to think you have to take a test to get the "Shanghai Taxi Service Drivers'" anyway, but who knows? Four stars and five stars are a pretty rare thing, and i've only ever been in a 4 star cab like once or twice, and I've only seen a five star cab, but didn't get in. The other thing is, 3 star and up cabs get to advertise this fact with a lighted placard behind their rearview mirror, so you can see their starage before you hail them if you're good. The four star cabs are really a bit nicer. Same car, but you can tell the dude takes care of it and everything is clean and tidy, including his own appearance. Oh and you've probably noticed that I've generalized with the "he" thing that all cabbies are guys. Well, it's true. I've been in like ONE cab in China driven by a woman. Why this is, I don't know, but this is the way it is for better or worse.

Okay, so let's say you're going along toward your destination merrily, and just when you relax and start letting your mind wander, the cab swerves mightily and tires screech. Yes, another stupid bicyclist has run a red directly into the path of your cab. Now I have absolutely nothing against bicyclists. In fact, I think one thing America lacks severely are bike paths and bike lanes on the roads. However, in China, bicyclists routinely pay no attention to traffic laws, and frequently ingore traffic around them. Anyhow, disaster is avoided this time, but before you start back on your way, the cabbie feels the overwhelming compulsion to hurl insults out the window at this foolish soul. Insult hurling is always done in Shanghainese.

Well, eventually, you're back on the way, and before rolling the window back up, the driver will probably spit outside. No biggie, as I've mentioned before, because hey, it's like breathing, right?

Somehow, you make it to your destination and at this point you pay the cabbie. Most fares are about US$2-3. If you've gone a really frickin' long way, you're out like US$5. You can get the receipt too, which is nice, because it tells you how far you've gone and how much of your life you just wasted sitting in traffic... You get out, making sure that you didn't leave your cell phone in the cab, and go about your business. All's well that ends well.

June 15, 2002

World Cup Bracket

For your viewing amusement, here are my predictions for the World Cup elimination rounds:

I came up with this (pretty much out of my arse) yesterday, but I didn't have a chance to write and post it until today...

So far I'm 2 for 2, as England sent Denmark home, though by a score of 3-0, and Germany defeated Paraguay 1-0. I realize I'm probably going to be way high on the goal predictions, but who cares? Oh and yes, I totally filched the graphic off of the FIFA World Cup website...

June 13, 2002


I nearly forgot to mention this...

I did managed to catch the last 20 minutes or so of the Italy vs. Mexico after my class. I went next door to the Foreign Students building at the university that I take the class at, and transfixed in front of the screen was a mixed group, but about 5 or 6 Italians leading the cheering. They were quite animated. When Del Piero scored the goal in the 85th minute, the room literally erupted. This one guy was screaming something in Italian, and he grabbed his chair and hoisted it above his head, shouting and screaming, then pumped the chair several times in the air still screaming, and finally brought it down and banged the poor chair into the ground five or six times before letting the poor thing be.

It was far more amusing than any goal would have been.

Takin' Care of Business and Curfews

Now I completely understand if you're out in the country somewhere and need to take a piss, and there's no one around, you can just drop your pants and whiz to your heart's content just about anywhere you darn well please. However, this type of behavior is not appropriate when you are in a public (park, street, side of buliding, what have you) in the middle of arguably the most cosmopolitan city in your country! And I'm not just talking about China, people, in case you think I'm looking down on anyone. I've been to New York, and one of the things I'd rather not remember about that city was that I saw not once or twice, but several times, people urinating on Madison Square Garden. Now the difference between NY and Shanghai is that in NY, most of the people doing this were bums, but in Shanghai, it's pretty much randomly anyone. That's not to say that most people do this, but enough people do it so that you see it at least a couple of times a day if you just walk around. And most appalling is that tonight, I saw a family actually encourage their kid to just whiz on a tree in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy street, in plain view of pretty much everyone. Just to make sure this practice is carried on for generations to come. Argh.

In my Chinese class tonight, which I thought about ditching to watch the Italy vs. Mexico game, I learned that undergraduate students here actually have a curfew, and I think it's something like 11 PM. A Lights Out curfew, too, where they actually shut off the electricity in the building! Wow. We didn't even have that at my high school! And apparently, college students are not allowed to get married. By law. When I asked what would happen if they eloped, all I could get was a confused look and something along the lines of "well, they're just not allowed." I guess they'd probably be expelled, huh?

So you Americans reading back at home... quitcher whining!

June 12, 2002

Disco Inferno

As promised, this is the Disco Report.

First, some general observations:

The dancing is... well, let me just put it this way: at least everyone tries. I don't pretend to know how to dance, but usually I at least try to move my feet every once in a while instead of just bobbing around and swinging my arms. Still, everyone's cool about it, and unlike pretentious clubs in NY or LA, nobody cares what you're wearing or how stupid you look. That's right, there's no dress code in Shanghai discos for the most part. Nothing wrong with looking good, though, so I at least make some effort. Oh yeah, and in the rest of the world, they are called "Discos" but in the US everyone calls them "Clubs." Just a point of clarification, because if you ask for a "club" in Shanghai, you're going to end up at a stuffy wood-paneled dark establishment where old men go to drink expensive brandy and cognac.

Here's the scouting report for establishments I've visited:

Rojam - This place has been the defacto standard for years now, and it's still a pretty fun place to dance and hang out. The sound and lighting system is probably the best in Shanghai, and the dance floor is larger than most. Like most discos in Shanghai, there are a large number of seating areas, though when my friend Leo and his brother were here a couple of weekends ago, we discovered that you actually had to pay just to sit down. Being that we were there to dance, we said screw dat! And moved on. The music here is your basic techno; fairly dance-able music and often they have a guest DJ in da haus. The crowd is mostly local Chinese, though there's a good mix of foreigners there occasionally. The only major drawback is that the place closes at 2 AM. Atmosphere: 7/10 Music: 7/10 Scenery: 6/10

California Club at Park 97 - I dubbed this disco the "meat market." The first time I was there, within literally five minutes of walking in and getting a drink at the bar, I was propositioned. The way this happens varies, but most of the time, some girl will come up to you and say, "Yi qi wan?" which means, loosely, "Care to play together?" Some are even more straightforward and just blatently demand that you give them money to buy them a drink. To its credit, this disco is absolutely packed well into the wee hours. And not everyone there is a hooker... some of the ladies there were actually quite attractive. The problem is that all the guys were losers. They were either middle-aged white guys with Asian fetishes or Asian guys trying to strike a pose. Not a lot of real dancing going on due to the place being too packed, and the music was a mix of old techno and house. Atmosphere: 4/10 Music: 4/10 Scenery: 7/10

Pegasus - Excessive use of strobe light! Music needs some serious waking up. Which is a real shame, because the crowd here was really pretty cool. Everyone seemed into it (somehow, despite the utterly poor music) and excited (maybe it was the strobe light causing micro-seizures...). Okay, I can DJ at this club because I know how to put a ten second loop of music on repeat for 10 minutes too. I mean, seriously people. And that strobe light is cool when you put it on for 30 seconds every 15 minutes. Not the other way around. Nice thing about this place is that it's right up the road from Rojam, so a good "after hours" thing to keep the vibe going. Again, a bit too packed to do any real dancing, but the scenery wasn't all bad. Atmosphere: 5/10 Music: 3/10 Scenery: 7/10

Duomo - This new club should be rockin', but it's not. The whole place is modeled on a cathedral theme, complete with pseudo-stained-glass windows and all. It's just a cool space. With two dance floors on two different levels, there is plenty of space to dance. Only no one is dancing, because there's no one there. It's frickin' DEAD as a dead horse. I think if they got themselves a good house DJ and advertised more, they will come. At least I hope so, because it would be a shame if this space went to waste. Atmosphere: 9/10 Music: 4/10 Scenery: 1/10

Galaxy - I shouldn't make a full report on this place, because I was only inside for a minute. They were charging some exorbitant cover (well, exorbitant for China standards, meaning about US$12.50) and I just went in to see if it would be worth staying. It wasn't.

So there you have it. If there are other places to dance and meet beautiful people in Shanghai, don't keep it a secret. Post a comment or something.

June 11, 2002


Okay. I've enabled comment posting for a trial period. If it goes okay, I'll keep it on.

Also, in case anyone's wondering, "CST" in the posts (except the first one, which is US Central Standard Time) means "China Standard Time," which is +0800 from GMT. Oh and feel free to point out spelling errors and grammar errors and nitpicky lame-time-wasting-i'm-a-loser-and-have-nothing-better-to-do-like-make-my-own-blog errors, but I won't correct them. It's kind of like how there's no instant replay in soccer... errors and bad officiating are part of the game. Well, errors are part of the blog.

Oh, and just to make sure this is clear, I don't think Shanghai is a bad place despite the traffic and all. In fact, I'd rather be here right now than just about anywhere in the United States. For example, on June 22, I will see Les Miserables on opening night here, starriing Colm Wilkinson. Can't do that anywhere else, now can we? And plus I don't have to worry about the Enroniban.

Football Brings the World Together?

Thanks to satori for putting a design on this thing. Yes, I'll take full responsibility for the name. Just don't get the wrong idea. A shout-out to shiggy whose blog is much cooler than mine.

The topic of the day is Football. Soccer, to my fellow Americans. One of the nice things about being outside of the USA during the World Cup is that the entire rest of the world shows every single match of the tournament on free television. In the US, I'm told, you get the US games on ESPN2 and that's about it. Maybe Univision has all the games. I have a theory as to why this is, and it involves myopic money grubbing media corporations, but I won't go into that.

Regardless, those wily Americans are making a serious run for the second round. Yes, Portugal played like crap during the first game, but there have been plenty of times the Americans weren't able to capitalize on other teams' crapitude (TM - a registered trademark of michael lee). To me, that game showed us that for the first tiime in years, the US squad was playing to win rather than just not to lose. And yes, the US had some serious luck in the game against Korea, but again, they were able to hang in there despite a withering assault throughout the game and pull off the draw. And DUDE, a PK save by Brad Friedel! Being a goalkeeper myself, I can say without hesitation that those are impossible to save, and it's SO satisfying to see one. Even sweeter that it was by the team I happen to be rooting for.

China, on the other hand, is coming home after being eliminated in the first round. It would be nice to see them take Turkey down as a warning shot for the next World Cup. I was able to watch the China vs. Costa Rica game (the opener for China) at a movie theater with about 300 Chinese fans. Certainly one of the things that "brings people together" is sport, and it was kinda cool to just hang out with a bunch of people enjoying football, even if their team did lose. Sorry, no riots or hooliganism to report from here. It was an orderly retreat.

I was going to write about the discos in this entry, but I think I'll save that for the next one...