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July 31, 2002

Out of Context

Mike (not related to Mike): "i won't eat your gonads if youc ome"

July 22, 2002

S M: Pictorial

For my last entry from China, the long-promised Shanghai Metro Pictorial...

Don't spit, smoke, or litter!
The popular People's Square station
Grab bars in action
This sign should say "Throwing yourself in front of the train is forbidden"
Watch your feet...
...and your hands, or else you'll be little tiger too

July 21, 2002

Brothers and Jade 747s

Note to self: When searching for a place in Shanghai and intuition conflicts with advice of brother, who has lived here for two years, trust brother. This would have saved a $6 cab ride today (reference earlier entry on cabs to know that this is a really, really, expensive cab ride). But it was in a really, really cool taxi with a pretty cool driver, so I guess it was all good in the end.

Anyway, most of you are probably aware of those Chinese scultures carved out of jade. They usually depict some mythical animal, like a dragon, or maybe a three-masted tall ship. Some traditional, old-fashioned looking thing from antiquity. Thus giving any office/fireplace mantle/foyer/parlor the stuffy feel of the Emperor's court. Regal and reserved, certainly, but a bit too antiquated for someone trying to be part of the jetset chic. Months ago, I made the off comment that they should carve cool stuff out of jade, like, for instance F-22 fighter jets or Boeing 747 aircraft. I mean, get with the times, right?

Well, it wasn't jade, but today I saw a crystal sculpture for sale at Cheng Fang Temple, one of the most popular tourist traps in town, depicting what appeared to be a Boeing 767 or Airbus A300 or A330 aircraft. One step in the right direction. Bravo!


I try to put only original content on the blog, but every once in a while a good one comes around and I can't resist... this one is from the friday five via shiggy.

1. Where were you born?
A city in the central part of Taiwan. If you don't already know the exact city, then you don't need to know. Something about drawing a line on privacy, sorry.

2. If you still live there, where would you rather move to? If you don't live there, do you want to move back? Why or why not?
I have not lived there since I was less than one year old. I do not have any particular desire to move back, though I've been back to visit a few times over the years. Because I left so early, I don't really have any attachment to the place.

3. Where in the world do you feel the safest?
On an airplane. This question is the reason I decided to violate my self-imposed policy of not answering "surveys" on my blog. If the answer surprises you, then no amount of explanation on my part will convince you so I won't even bother.

4. Do you feel you are well-traveled?
No. I've only been to a paltry 22 countries out of 192 (at present). 40 out of 50 US States (slightly more impressive). An utterly pathetic 33 out of 730 World Heritage Sites... Furthermore, I'm still almost 400,000 miles short of the Million Milestone. Sigh... so much more to see yet...

5. Where is the most interesting place you've been?
This is an extremely difficult question to answer. I was thinking about cheating and saying "the world" but you deserve better (all two of you who actually read this drivel). The truth is, I've been to many places which captivated my interest for one reason or another, and many many places which I'd categorize as interesting. There are many places that I'd like to return to, for every reason imaginable. But there's a place that I can't return to which wins this prize. Because even though the place still exists physically, I have changed since the only time I was there. So I could never return to the place I remember. It's a small campground near the entrance to Mt. Rushmore, and I'd arrived after a fierce rain. The clouds were parting and the sunset shone through. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

July 20, 2002

Public Transportation

When public transportation is done right, it can be very convenient, cheap, and (dare I say) pleasant to get from place to place within a city. Examples of cities that I think have this concept down right are London, Paris, Hong Kong, and New York. The city that is the absolute opposite of this is Los Angeles, where the system is utterly useless. Shanghai is about halfway in between. That is to say, I can get just about everywhere on the system, cheaply, but sometimes it can be quite far from pleasant.

When my dad used to work for Lucent, they had a chauffeured Cadillac deVille and I have to admit one of the things that I enjoyed about visiting them was the "pretending to be rich oil barons" bit. Those days being a thing of the past, I've instead been able to get a real taste of the true heartbeat of Shanghai. Not to mention a whiff of the true odor... Deoderant appears to be optional.

All the busses have plenty of grab bars because out of the 80 people on a bus during rush hour, only maybe 20 are sitting. Sometimes, the bus gets so packed that I don't even bother with the grab bars because, hey... there's no way I could fall if I tried. If you have any concept of personal space, leave it at the door. Not the door of the bus. The door of the airplane when you first arrive.

The metro is a little more pleasant. For one thing, it can save quite a bit of time because you don't have to deal with the traffic. The thing is, don't expect the people waiting on the platform to wait for the people disembarking to clear out before they shove their way onto the train. Even though there are signs all over the trains and stations imploring people to be civil, they aren't. It's just a mentality that is, unfortunately, ingrained into these people. Same thing with elevators, and any other doorway for that matter. Another thing that I'm uncomfortable with is sitting down on the subway or bus. Not because there's something unpleasant on the seats, but because I have this outdated mode of thinking in which I think seats should be for the elderly, infirm, etc... I even get uncomfortable when I'm sitting and there's a lady in high heels standing. So I don't sit. But don't expect this behavior out of anybody else. The last thing about the subway is that the system is not as extensive as it is in other major cities. There are two line of subway and one light rail line, and unfortunately, that's it.

Anyhow, if you can get used to being among the hordes, public transportation in Shanghai can be quite useful.

July 16, 2002

Faux Food

Having a title like "Shanghai Yummy" without discussing the topic of food would be in poor taste, so here's one to satiate your appetite. At left is a picture of an ad hoc food market on the side of a busy street. Grocery stores are for the bourgeoisie.

If you're a milk drinker, and you're used to buying a gallon jug of milk from the refrigerated section of the grocery store, you're in for a little bit of a surprise in China. Most of the milk sold here comes in vacuum sealed boxes, and has undergone UHT (Ultra Heat Treatment) so that it can sit in those boxes unrefrigerated for a few months. I imagine this makes the distribution of the product available to a wider range of outlets, but unfortunately, in my humble opinion, quality suffers. It's not that UHT milk is any better or worse nutritionally, to my knowledge, but it definitely tastes different. It's an adjustment that requires a little time. I've actually switched over to making milk from powder because I think it tastes about the same as UHT milk, and it keeps a lot longer than the liquid stuff in my not-so-cool fridge. I made this switch after having a gulp from a glass of white liquid and then saying, "Is this supposed to be milk?" But the USA definitely has the upper end of the world milk industry, as far as I'm concerned.

Now I've already gone over a little bit on the counterfeit clothes and fashion accessories one can find in the markets here. But what may surprise you is that even such items as candy and soft drinks have their imitators! You know those Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolate confections? Well, there's a Chinese knock-off that is wrapped in exactly the same way and has a very, very similar box, but of course tastes like those year-old chocolate bars that you used to have to sell for church fund-raisers. Coca-Cola? Oh yeah, plenty of fakes out there. My brother says his most memorable experience with Con-Cola tasted like "banana nut bread."

Speaking of unauthorized knock-offs, everyone seems to be in on this game. Check out this blatent knock-off of Risk, the board game. Apparently MPAA members are allowed to steal intelluctual property at will, but try watching a pirate DVD and they're all over you. 'Course now that we're moving into the new Era of Totalitarian Secret Police State, your neighbor will probably turn you in for it too... sometimes I wonder why the hell I'm going back to America when privacy seems to have about the same meaning here in Communist China.

July 15, 2002

Bicylcular Acrobatics

Finding a Chinese person who doesn't know how to ride a bike would be an anthropological phenomenon akin to discovering Atlantis itself. This is one aspect of Chinese life that I believe many foreigners have at least heard about, if only in vague pop culture references. Bicycles easily outnumber motor vehicles on the streets 20 to 1, and every street has bike lanes. I'm not talking about piddly little bike lanes that you can barely fit one bike into like those in the US... I'm talking about bike lanes the width of at least one or two lanes that cars could fit into comfortably. For most Chinese, bicycles are their primary vehicles. They go grocery shopping with them, down to the park, over to grandma's... and even, on occasion, big-time shopping.

I have seen people balance 27" TVs on the back rack of their bicycles while riding in traffic on some of the busiest streets of Shanghai. Got a sofa you need to move? No problem, just balance it on my 3-wheeler. How about 20 foot lengths of PVC piping? Pas de probleme... I'll balance it on my shoulder!

You ever seen those acrobats on the bikes or unicycles at the circus? Ever wonder why they're all Chinese? I don't think the Chinese have circuses... they don't need 'em. You can get all the action of a circus on any given day on any given street in the city!

July 11, 2002


One of my favorite pastimes, regardless of continent, is pocket billiards. I've played some form of Pool or another on four continents now, but until tonight I hadn't ever played a game of Snooker. As my brother, who is way more of a shark than I, puts it, Snooker is the game of choice here in China because "it's perceived as a classier sport."

Class or crass, it's frickin' HARD! I'm used to finishing off 8-Ball games in under ten minutes when I'm playing with my brother, but tonight, we played an entire TWO rounds of Snooker in about an hour and 45 minutes. That table is so large I can barely see the other end, let alone shoot on a ball cross table...

That said, though, I really like the game. I don't understand all the intricacies yet, and actually I'm not even sure of the detailed rules, but now that I get the gist, I think it's a great game of strategy and skill. I'm looking forward to more.

July 10, 2002

Buy your MBA here

I can't verify or disprove any of this, but here's a loose transcript of a conversation I had today with a rather respectable Singaporean doing business in Shanghai:

Me: "...yeah, so I'll be heading back to the States to go to business school this Fall."
Him: "Oh really? Why are you doing that? You can just buy your MBA here! (chuckles)"
Me: "Uh... what?"
Him: "Yeah, I know a guy who was applying for a position at (some University in China) but the position required an MBA, and he didn't have one. But apparently he was friends with the (chancellor or some other high official, I don't remember exactly what he said but you get the idea) so they let him just pay the tuition without actually taking any classes, and gave him the degree so he could take the job."

July 5, 2002

On wings of Dacron

Went out to Pacifica and Fort Funston this afternoon, with my friend Eunice and her husband Bob, to watch the paragliders and hang gliders. I haven't seen a hang glider since before I left for China, and watching them launch at Funston was just killing me inside. It's a Hang 3 site, so I'm not qualified to fly there, but just watching those gliders coming off the ground with such poetic grace stirred a yearning inside that I've been forced to repress since I left.

This past week back in the States has really made me appreciate so many of the things that I have here that I miss when I'm overseas. I'm not sure I could ever spend more than a few months overseas because of this. It's mostly little things, but as they say, it's the little things that get ya.

When I think about it though, there are some really nice things about living in Shanghai. Top of that list is probably the food. After that, probably just how convenient things are, but I'd say half of that is just the fact it's a big city and there's a lot of stuff around. The transportation is fairly convenient, not to mention cheap. Clothes are cheap too, as long as you're not after the fashion labels...

Actually, even if you are, you can get cheap stuff in China. I mean, it's fake, right, but I swear on some of these things it's hard to tell now. That's how good these counterfeiters have gotten. These wallets I saw even have the little inserts and the packaging is spot on. If I were Salvatore Ferragano or Donatella Versace, I'd be pissed as hell that they're selling $1500 handbags and clothes for $5 in the markets of China.

What I don't miss about the United States: terror alerts and John Ashcroft. Whatever.

July 2, 2002

Movin' (on up?)

Sometimes you make changes for a real reason, sometimes you make changes because you have nothing better to do, and then still other times you make changes because your friend tells you it might be a good idea, and he pretty much does it for you.

Well, I submit to you the latest advancement in Shanghai Yummy technology, the move to Movable Type... courtesy of Yukino.

In other news, Eric and Elaine's wedding on Saturday was pretty special. One advantage of being the absolute last among your friends to even think about marriage is that you can plagiarize blatently all the highlights from their weddings... this is exactly what I plan to do when, a billion years from now, I finally tie the knot. I'll probably steal quite a bit from Eric and Elaine's book, because they had a really sweet wedding. And if the bride and groom happen to read this, it was not my idea to sing "Meaty Cheesy Boys" at the reception.

On Sunday, Mike, Brian, and I paid homage to Ruby Beach. The first time I visited this place, I was in a lot of turmoil, and that visit helped me start coming to terms with everything that was happening... that was nearly five years ago. Since then, I've been back a couple of times, and it's been a different place every time, physically as well as spiritually. These return trips have allowed me to take a moment of pause to consider the changes in my life since the last visit... the place makes it easy to do this because of how different it is itself every time I go there. We can check on each other with each visit, like old friends seeing how each other have progressed in the years gone by.

I think it's possible that I'll keep visiting that place from time to time for as long as I live... but I've already noticed some differences. For one, there were about twenty other people there this time around. I remember the first time I went there with Mike, there was one other person and because of the fog, we were more like ghosts passing in the mist. At the risk of sounding snobbish... it was disappointing to see so many people in our secret place. Or something.

In any case, as promised, I slept through today. But tomorrow it's time for sexy steak...