Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Pictures

Christmas in Shanghai

I just uploaded a new album to Picassa. It includes the church Christmas party and the family one.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


For the holiday Amy got off Monday and Tuesday which totaled four days when you include the weekend. We had originally planned to go to Hong Kong, but it got nixed. It is actually slightly difficult to plan anything in this country. At least for us. There was trying to find decent plane tickets. Then figuring out how to get to the airport. Plus we needed a hotel room, and some idea of what to do. After much frustration we went to my sister for help.

After more discussion we realized that we would be in Hong Kong for Spring Festival (middle of February.) We were planning a trip to Thailand for that break and to get to Thailand there is a stop off in Hong Kong. We decided to extend that stop to a couple of days and there we were.

Then we discussed hitting up a nearby city in Mainland China. It turns out we're kind of slackers and never made any more plans. We talked to some friends who were hanging around town and made plans to hit an indoor ski place plus an ice skating rink. It seemed like a good idea to visit some more of this giant city on the break and we were happy with the plan.

Then Amy got sick and we went nowhere. Oh well

For Christmas we went to the Canfields (Brian's sister and husband.) Brian's mom and dad came to and we had a very nice meal and enjoyed the fellowship.

The Canfields boy got a Nintendo Wii for Christmas and we had a blast playing it.

Though we didn't go anywhere and we too sick to do much at all, it turned out to be a nice Christmas.

Really, I am a Great Husband

For reasons we shall not discuss (mainly because they make me look bad) I didn't go shopping for Amy until the Saturday before Christmas. Now really I'm not that bad a guy. Amy kept pretty mum about what she wanted, she holds the money, and Christmas really snuck up on the both of us. It just hasn't felt like Christmastime in Shanghai.

On Saturday I decided that as a present I would take her shopping. I usually do this for her birthday as she really likes shopping and it is so much better to let her pick out what she wants than to have me try to guess and get it wrong. And get the wrong size.

Out towards the river there is a mall - a Superbrand Mall - which is really super. Super big anyways. Seriously the place is gigantic. Think Mall of America without the playgrounds and night clubs. It is all about the shopping. No frills.

I half expected the place to be super packed too what with the pretty significant amount of ex-pats living in Pudong and this being the Saturday before Christmas but it wasn't bad. I mean it was crowded, but Superbrand is always crowded on a Saturday. It wasn't any more crowded than normal.

There are like seven floors to the place and we hit them all in time. Amy loves clothes and so we hit tons of shops. I am very much a man when it comes to shopping. I go to the store with something in mind, I find that object and I leave. I don't believe I have actually been clothes shopping this decade.

Now I'm not saying I'm still wearing clothes from the 90s (well not too many anyways.) My wife and my mother-in-law see to it that I get clothes on my birthday and Christmas. Sometimes while I am with my wife shopping I'll swing by the men's sections and if I see something I like that is on sale I'll buy it. I just don't specifically go to a store looking for clothes by myself.

My wife though, she is a shopper. She loves it. She loves looking at every single piece of clothing on every single rack in every single store. Generally I get cranky after about two racks. But since it was Christmas time and this was her present I bit my tongue.

For seven hours.

That's right we shopped for seven hours straight. That's a record for me. That's insane really. Who shops for seven hours? Crazy people that's who. Crazy people and husbands who haven't bought their wife a Christmas present by December 23.


While we were in the mall we ran into three separate groups of friends. Understand Shanghai has 18 million people or so. I might know 100 of those people. Factor that in your calculator and the percentages get a little crazy. Still, I run into people all the time in this city.

It isn't quite as freaky as that sounds. I live in Pudong which cuts the 18 million to about 1 million. I'm also a westerner who goes to western places. We often dine at restaurants that have American type meals and hit shops with American type goods. So do my friends. And we usually go after school when the people we know would be out.

Still it is weird to see someone you know so often in such a big city.

In Superbrand that day we saw two guy friends who were shopping for their wives. Later we saw their wives who were independently there. Then later I saw my sister and her husband and a friend.

I'll say it again, it is a small world.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Have You Been A Good Little Boy/Girl?

It is now Christmas break in Shanghai. Amy gets Monday and Tuesday off. Which means that last week was Christmas time for the school. On Wednesday night we had to attend a middle high school program that

On Thursday the first grade had a big Christmas lunch with their parents, and guess who got to play Santa?

Yep, it was me. My first time playing old Saint Nick, and hopefully my last. I truly have more respect for those folks who play him in the malls and such places.

The suit was terribly hot and itchy. The kids were actually pretty nice. But there wasn't any sitting on my lap or telling me what they want. Mostly it was just pictures. One class did have presents, but they were wrapped and named so I only had to pick them up, call out the name and give them away. The other classes had their kids come up one at a time, stand next to me and get their picture taken.

Humorously the Santa pants ripped in the crotchel area. Luckily I had made the right choice of keeping my pants on underneath thus not exposing any real danger areas. However as to not look like a Bad Santa, I kept my legs together.

I did not take pictures of any of this, but some of the teachers did and I have put my request out for them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An Embarassing Admission

A few mornings ago there was a knocking on my door. Then another. Then another.

Moments later there was a buzzing, indicating that someone was downstairs, outside the apartment building needing to get inside.

Presumably all of these were from the same person, who was in desperate need to get in.

I didn't answer any of them.

Why? You may ask. I was still in my pajamas and unshowered.

At 10:30 in the morning.

I was too totally embarrassed to answer the door in that state. Likely it wasn't my friends as they would all be at work at that time, so it was probably a random Chinese person, mostly likely of all to be someone from maintenance or security. Still, I don't want random Chinese people laughing at my lazy person.

I know this is the second post where I have discussed how utterly lazy I have become. I really did use to be an early riser and a quick bather. Unemployment has made me a bum.

Sunday morning we received another knocking at our door, this time at just before 8 in the AM and both Amy and I were still in the bed. By the time I got up and dressed appropriately enough to be answering the door, the visitor was gone.

Yesterday the same thing occurred except the knocking was a little later, and Amy was up, washed and gone to work. Me? I was still in the bed and once again missed the call.

I did find out what it was about: Sunday while I was at my sisters, taking care of their dog as they were out of town, a knocking came. This time I was up and showered and dressed, well no I wasn't showered as I rushed to their apartment before the shower to try to make it before the dog made a mess on their floor (I was too late.) But I was dressed and awake. The knocker was security double checking out alarm system.

Each apartment has an emergency button that will summon security quickly, and they were resetting them.

This morning I awoke at 7:30 and jumped in the shower. I was awake, cleaned, and dressed before 8 o'clock so I could catch security this time.

And of course they haven't come.

The Shanghai Diaries - Getting Around

A new diaries is up and this time it is all about how I travel in Shanghai.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baby, It's Cold Inside

While it is not quite the arctic mess that Oklahoma has become of late, winter has finally found its way to Shanghai. It is cold. And miserable. I'm from Oklahoma and I lived in Indiana and France so it isn't that I'm not adjusted to cold weather. I'm just used to it being outside.

Earlier I showed pictures of our air conditioning units (sorry I'd link to them, but it is too problematic with the firewall and all.) We have three wall units (one in the living room, and one in each of the two bedrooms.) They work pretty much like window AC units, and they also work as heaters.

Our apartment is pretty big, but it is also drafty. The units work ok, but they don't put out enough to heat the whole place. I typically run the one in the living room, and keep all the other doors shut. This works pretty good except when the unit decides to blow cold air instead of hot.

Honestly I only have a slight idea how to work out heater. All the buttons are in Chinese. We have a mini english guide, but it doesn't say much. And it is only for the one in the living room, for the one in the bedroom we have no guide at all. Mainly I hit buttons and wait for warm air. And it does shoot warm air most of the time, except when it pushes cold air.

The only thing I can think of is that I have it set on some automatic setting. When the temperature is below a certain degree it heats, but when the temperature is above that level (and I'm pretty such it is only above that level 2 centimeters away from the unit) we get cold air.

Which means the room suddenly turns really cold very randomly. Of course all the other rooms are freezing cold. The kitchen with no unit at all, and an outside door that barely shuts, is always cold. The bathroom remains an ice burg. And a wet ice burg at that. There is moisture always in that room and it keeps my towels in a perpetual moist state.

I'm currently in my flannel pajamas, my fluffy slippers and a knit hat. A tobaggon if you will. Because I'm cold.

Speaking of clothes, I told you that I bought a washing machine the other week. I love it and am happy with it. We don't have a dryer though. This wasn't a problem when the sun shined and I could dry my clothes outside. But now that it is cold and damp things aren't so good. Clothes take two or three days to dry. And as we only have one drying contraption, the dirties are piling up.

We did buy one of those portable space heaters. I figured with the perpetual cold it might keep me warm in the non heated rooms. It does work, but it only actually heats the area about 18 inches in front of the heating coils. Everywhere else is cold. On the plus side it does work as a nice clothes dyer. I now stay cold, but I can rotate the wet clothes in front of the heater and they get dry in about 15 minutes.

Forks Versus Chopsticks

You know how when you go to a Chinese restaurant they inevitably give you chopsticks instead of a fork? Well when you live in China you pretty much get chopsticks everywhere.

Now I'm not one of those guys who has to grumble about this. I don't constantly make sarcastic comments about how this is the 21st century and how silverware ought to be upgraded. I try to understand that even though forks and spoons are generally easier to use, chopsticks have been used for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, and this makes them more culturally significant. I'm also realizing that if you grow up using chopsticks they are remarkably usable.

As I believe I have mentioned before, I was never much for Chinese food in the states. Don't like it, don't eat it. I'm learning to enjoy the food here, and I'm learning to use the utensils. I kind of pride myself in being able to eat most any food with the sticks now.

I think the initial thought for Westerners is to the sticks as tweezers and use them to pick up pieces of food individually. To use the two sticks as pressure points grabbing food items between them. This is ok for little pieces of meat or vegetables, but immensely difficult for slippery items, squishy items, or small things. Eggplant gets annihilated and squished. Glazed chicken slips right out, and rice is impossible.

This is where I have learned to use the sticks more like a shovel. I place the sticks close together (but not too close), then dig it into the rice and when I lift up there is a nice collection of rice sitting on top.


I've pretty much mastered the basics of chopstick-ery. I have now began more advanced techniques like biting into a dumpling and moving the sticks to a lower spot on the dumpling while my teeth are holding it steady in my mouth. Or using both the big spoon things in conjunction with my chopsticks. I am no where near an expert user with these methods, but I am learning.

I've been pretty confident with my techniques for some time and this is why I was so upset at lunch today. Amy and I were at the local Sichuan place for lunch. We ordered some pretty basic foods - honey glazed chicken, green beans, sliced pork, and bowls of rice. We were chatting and eating and everything was going fine.

Then a chef showed up. He said some things we didn't understand and pointed to one of my bowls. They always give us small bowls with these spoon like things to go with them. Usually I put some of my food into one of these bowls and use the spoon to scoop out foods that are difficult to take with chopsticks (I still eat those things with my sticks you understand, they just don't work that well when trying to get a sizable portion out of the communal bowl.) For today's meal, I was putting all my food into my little rice bowl.

I really had no idea what this guy was saying but started to assume he wanted me to use the bowl. After a moment he came back...with a fork!

I was crushed. Chinese guy didn't think I had the skills to use my chopsticks. I'm sure he was just trying to be helpful, but it was quite the bruise to my ego. Especially since it was but one fork, meant for me and not Amy. Now it is highly possible that they only have one fork in the whole place. It is also possible this fork is new and he was showing it off.

It still stings.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Locked In

I totally forgot to tell this story when it happened so I'll tell it now.

Our front door doesn't have a traditional handle. On the outside there is nothing but a keyhole and a small hoop that looks kind of like a door knocker but is just above the keyhole and designed so that you can shut the door from the outside. On the inside there is but a small knob that is more like a small rectangle than a round knob.

We've had trouble with this door and knob from the start. It has difficulty latching and the key takes a special wiggling to work.

A few weeks ago I was home while the wife was at work. I was working at the computer with my headphones on listening to music. Then my wife called. She said she was at a friend's apartment and wanted inside the house. She said the door wouldn't open. She said she had knocked many a time, but as I had the music going I didn't hear her. I promised to let her in and she headed this way.

Little did I know how difficult that promise would be to keep.

The door knob was broken in a manner that it would not open. I twisted the lock and the knob to no avail. I pulled on it. Beat on it. Cursed at it. But it would not open. Amy came and she tried her key, but again it wouldn't open.

Eventually I decided to take it off its hinges. Unfortunately, I don't have any tools. With a butter knife I slowly removed each pin out of the old, rusted hinges. Even with the pins out the door wouldn't budge. The lock was keeping it closed. Finally with both Amy and myself pushing on the door it budged just a little bit. I then tried the knob again and with all my wrist strength it unlocked.

Then the door fell in and nearly crushed me. With the door open and Amy inside I then had to put the door back on its hinges. Not an easy task but with several finger pinches I finally attached it and we were done.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

More PIctures Uploaded


I uploaded some more pictures to my PIcassa album. We took a trip to a big street market this past weekend and then visited a German Christmas market. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bits And Pieces

Oh readers of the Shanghai Diaries, how I have forsaken thee! I have been so lax of late in writing. Please accept my humblest of apologies for this dreadful sin. I will stop short of promising to write more often for we all no how that goes.

There isn't really anything major to report, just a few odds and ends.

I got some house shoes. I'm not really a house shoe kind of guy, but in this house I really need them. We have those wood tile floor things instead of carpet and while it looks real pretty, it gets awfully dirty awfully quick.

Seriously, I sweep every day and every day there is a new layer of dust and dirt and crumbs and toenails and little pieces of paper and everything else under the sun. It is utterly disgusting. Especially when I start to realize that all of this stuff gets on the floor in carpeted rooms too, but there it is less easy to see and less easy to clean. How long did I use to go in my carpeted rooms before vacuuming? How many toe nails were buried in that carpet? How much crap doesn't even get picked up by the vacuum?


The thing is that even though I try to sweep regularly there is still always some dust and stuff sitting on the floor. This gunk gets on my lovely white socks and makes them a dingy, dirty color. Thus the house shoes.

Funny thing is I have big feet and the Chinese are mostly small. It took me two stores and about five bins to finally find a pair that fit me. And they don't really even fit. My heel just comes out over the end of the shoe. And they stink. Stink bad. They have that - been sitting packaged up with a bunch of other shoes smell. So I've been airing them out for days and wearing them anyways to add some more worn in smells.

But they fell ok, and that's pretty good.

My Chinese is getting slightly better. When I call for water the people almost always understand me on the first try. Taxi drivers sometimes understand where I'm going.

I have a little card that tells the cab drivers where I want to go for most places in Chinese. I pretty much use that when going somewhere, but I do know how to say how to get home and I always try to use that on the cabbies when I am out. Lots of times this works perfectly well as my apartment complex is a popular spot with lots of people.

Sometimes though, they don't know where I live and I have to give instructions. I know some nearby streets and I like to practice their names on the cab drivers just to see if I can get home. I also sometimes actually know which way to go and can give the no-so-sure taxi drivers directions.

It is fun. And interesting. Tonight we went out to dinner (as we often do on Tuesday as some restaurants offer half off on Tuesdays for teachers) and the cab driver wasn't really sure where we lived. We ran through the street names and he still wasn't sure, so I started giving him directions. "Turn right" I said confidently at one street. And we went right. A few blocks down we suddenly realized right should have been left. While I know how to say "right" and "left" I have no idea how to say "turn around." Neither does Amy and she was in the front seat. With some grunting and hand motions the driver got it and did turn around and we found our way home.

As mentioned I have a little card that tells taxi drivers the names of various places to go. Usually this works most excellently, but a few nights ago it was awful. We waited for ages on the cab in the first place. Then the first one that stopped was from another part of town and had no idea where we wanted to go. The second one didn't seem to be confident either but was willing to give it a shot.

He looked at my card then pointed to the name above where we wanted to go like the two were near each other. I tried to tell him no, but I guess I did a bad job at it. We then took off. Now Shanghai is a very big city with lots of roads. Cab drivers go all sorts of different directions when going to the same places. There are at least five different paths you can go when heading from my place to the nearest subway stop. So when I say that I wasn't entirely sure where I was going this night it is entirely true.

I kind of thought he was headed the wrong direction, but not being sure of this and not having any idea of how to talk to the driver about it I let him go his own way. I got a bit more nervous when he started talking to other cab drivers when we were stopped at red lights.

Eventually I realized we were headed to an area I had been before (which was actually the place named above the place we wanted to go on that card.) I wasn't really sure how close the two places were together, and I kind of figured the cab would let us off at the other place and that was good enough for me.

Sure enough we made it to that place and the driver was about ready to let us go, when he chatted with another cabbie, realized he was in the wrong place and took off. I should have told him to stop, but for whatever reason I let him go.

Turns out our destination was pretty close to where we live so we did this whole circle. Actually our destination is pretty much exactly a straight line from where we live and we spent around 40 minutes and 40 RMB to drive around town for a trip that should have been 5 minutes and about 15 RMB.

So yeah, my Chinese is getting a little better.

Friday, November 30, 2007


I was going to write a big post about Thanksgiving, but in the end it turns out I am too lazy.

Amy had to work on Thursday, as did everyone else, and so we made the big meal on Saturday. Thursday night we got together with a few friends, played games and had dessert. On Saturday we got together with the church at one of the larger apartments and had a big meal. It was very filing and wonderful and nice for everyone.

For photos, click here.

Reverse Racism?

My sister lived in central China for several years and she has always told me that life there is much different than in Shanghai. One of the differences is in the way people treat Westerners, or us white folk. Shanghai is a very modernized and international kind of place, but Wuhan (where the sister lived) was not so much.

My sister often speaks about how anytime she went anywhere people would stop and stare at her. Truth is many people in Wuhan had never seen a white girl before and culturally they weren't embarrassed to show their curiosity. She tells stories of stopping to talk to a friend and within minutes finding a small gathering of Chinese people stopping and staring.

This did have its benefits, though, she says as often the Chinese would rush her to the front of lines as to give her a sort of prized position in their society.

As I said Shanghai is more international so this doesn't happen to us. At least not much anyhow.

Yesterday I went to the market to pick up a few things for supper. As I did this around 6 in the evening there was a crowd of people in the market and a long line to boot. This particular market is set up horribly so that the lines to check out are very near the only entrance into the store. This means that people trying to get into the store have to push past the people trying to check out.

I sighed, took my place at the back of the line and tried not to get too annoyed with the hordes of people pushing past me. After a minute an elderly lady walked up and stood in line right in front of me. As she was talking to an elderly gentleman I didn't get mad figuring the two were together.

Then the lady started talking in Chinese and looked behind her man. He moved out of the way and I moved out of the way as there were some goods behind us and I thought maybe she wanted something. Then she talked some more and looked right at me. I smiled but had no idea what she was saying.

Then she made a motion for me to get in front of her. I smiled and tried to indicate that it was ok, I could wait. But she insisted. Then she insisted that I move up in front of everybody while speaking to them all very loudly. So I moved up.

I felt bad about it, but I didn't know how to politely say that I was fine and could wait. At this point I would have had to be rude about it anyways. The lady clearly wanted me to move up. And yes, OK, I was tired and kind of appreciated the bump.

All the rest moved back and I checked out in a snap.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm A Lazy Bum

The night before last I slept like a rock. Straight through, no chases. It was beautiful, unadulterated sleep. A rare thing around these parts. I slept so good, I didn’t get up until 8:20, which is slightly unusual for me. Typically I am up by 8, but this morning I slept in.

From firm sleep the rest of the morning was lazy as well. In general I am a get showered and dressed as soon as I get up kind of guy. I don’t like laying around in my own filth. I feel better after a shower. I feel ready for the day when I am cleaned and dressed. I have to admit China has made me a little lax in this regard. Not having a job to go to in the morning most days has allowed me to spend a little time lounging around in the morning before I get clean.

Still, I am typically showered and ready for the day by nine o’clock.

This morning that I am discussing, things got a little weird. The Bates’ recently let me borrow the HBO television series Six Feet Under, and as Amy has no desire to see it, I have been pretty steadily making my way through.

Well, this particular morning I decided to finish an episode that I had started the previous night before I got ready for the day. As there wasn’t much left of that episode I decided to watch the next episode too. Then that episode turned out to be a real page turner and I just couldn’t see what happened in the next episode.

Then the phone rang. It was my wife. My hungry wife, ready for luch.

“Is it lunch time already?” I asked.

It was.

I was still in my pajamas.

I felt way to silly to actually tell her this so I stalled. I batted around where we’d like to eat and glanced in the fridge to see if there was anything I could fix here to keep me from going home. Fate was in my corner and the phone went dead. I looked at myself in the mirror hoping I looked decent enough to go out. I didn’t. The face was still splotchy, the hair greasy and I kind of stunk.

I looked for my cap, but I’m not even sure if I brought it to China. I then called her back thinking maybe I could choose a restaurant where the food might take a minute. That way I could give the wife some excuse why I’d be late and let her order.

We didn’t get but a sentence into the call when it died again. I called one more time and this time no connection came at all. This time I stripped and dashed into the shower. I kept the phone nearby so that I could answer if she called and washed faster than any man has washed before.

I skipped the shaving and was out in less than five minutes. I dressed just as fast, and called again. This time it went through and we decided on where to eat.

I met her and she was none the wiser. Of course I spilled my guts within about two minutes of sitting with her. I just can’t keep secrets from my wife. Not ones so stupid anyways.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Shanghai Diaries - A Trip To An Orphanage


We recently visited a local orphanage, which was a very moving experience. I wrote about it in the most recent Shanghai Diaries. Take a look.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pictures, I've Got Pictures

I realize that I haven't really shown a lot of pictures around here. Mostly I've been uploading them to Facebook, not remembering that a lot of you folks don't have Facebook accounts. As I cannnot deal with Webshots or Flickr in China I am giving Picassa a try. So please come on over and give the pics a gander.

Keep coming back because I'll be uploading more pictures soon.

This Is Getting Ridiculous

Guess who is unemployed (again?) I got a text message last night from the mom of the two kids I've been teaching. It told me that she was enrolling her kids into an international school and would no longer need my services. Actually it said she might need my services for she will still be taking the boys to their special soccer club in the afternoons and thus she might need me in the evenings and weekends to give them a hand with the classes they'll be missing.

Remember that this is the woman who has fired me once before because she enrolled her kids in a special homeschooling group, but took them back out after a week because they didn't like it. I wonder how long they will last in this school.

I told her to give it a few weeks before making any other decisions including whether or not they will need the extra tutoring. I'm so sick of her and this constant back and forth. I'm so sick of getting jobs and then losing them.

My options at this point are either to bust my butt looking for additional tutoring gigs, or start feeling around for full time teaching positions at the local universities. Most of them hire English teachers pretty regularly.

That might be pretty good except that it would mean a commute and I'd have to pretend to know what I'm doing. I like the idea of teaching, but I'm so clueless when it comes to the nuts and bolts.

I'm taking a couple of days to figure this mess out and decide what I want to do. It isn't that bad on us as I wasn't making tons of money anyways, and Amy more than makes enough for the two of us, but man it sure gets discouraging.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Brief Encounter

Coming to and fro from our apartment I often run into the lad who lives right below us. Typically we meet in the stairwell where she is slowly helping her young daughter down the stairs.

As they go down or up the stairs, the mother counts the steps to the daughter in Chinese.

Often I hold the outside door open for them, or wait at the bottom of the stairs to pass. We always smile at each other and say hello, and thank you to each other in Chinese. And as they are pretty much the only chinese words I know, our conversations end there.

Tonight as I left my apartment I ran into them again. Both of them moved to the side of the stairs so that I could pass. As I went by them, the mother said, "oh you live just up stairs?" And then "on the third floor?"

In English.

I smiled and politely answered in the affirmative all the while internally I am laughing that she speaks English. She had never spoke it before so I assumed she only spoke Chinese.

I was too flabbergasted in fact to say much more, but I look forward to being able to speak with her a little more when we meet again.

In The Middle Of The Night

I have this great tendency to lie on the couch and listen to my iPod all alone, and by myself well into the dark hours of the night. I've always enjoyed the darkness of night. My thoughts collect easier when the lights are out and there are no distractions (and perhaps because no one can see me.) I've done this since I was a teenager actually, me sitting in the dark listening to music that is.

As a lad, I think, it stemmed from a need to be alone and try to figure out that great big question of 'who I am, and what am I doing?' Teenagers don't really get a lot of privacy, but after my parents and sister and brother would go to bed, I could sit up by the warm fire in the winter, or out on the porch under the stars when it was warm, and contemplate these things.

This has flowed into my adult life, and I suppose you could say being married I don't always get a lot of privacy and have to find some after my spouse goes to bed, but this isn't entirely true.

Whatever the reasons I find myself there - on the couch in the night - listening to music and contemplating life. My tendency during this times is to listen to really sad music. I have no explanation for that except that I really like sad music, and inner contemplation lends itself to sad songs more than glib dance tracks.

There I was last night listening to Ryan Adams and Bob Dylan wondering what the heck I'm doing here in China and feeling just a bit sad about it all. But then a Gillian Welch song came on and something changed.

Now normally Gillian is nothing but heartbreaking, but here it was her and David Rawlings and a real live band doing a version of The Band's "The Weight."

Now if you don't know this song besides being disowned by me, you should really hunt down a copy and give it a listen. It is a perfect song. A brilliant song. A life changing song. Its lyrics are enigmatic making some people think of religion and Jesus, and other politics and the US of A.

It has this really great chorus where they do this layered harmony thing that does nothing if not make me smile.

"Take a load off Fannie
Take a load for free
Take a load off Fannie
put the load
put the load
right on me-e-e-e"

It gives me chills just thinking about it.

Anywho, last night Gilliand and friends are doing a live version of it and I had to get off that sad sack of a couch and stand up and dance. I stood there in my living room, in the middle of the night, with all the lights off. In my pajamas. And played air guitar and air sung that song like I was in Madison Square Garden in front of a million screaming fans.

It was invigorating. It made me feel so much better. It made me....a...well a geek I guess.

But a happy one.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Stinking Coffee

The Chinese love their coffee. I mean L-O-V-E it. They put it in all sorts of things - cereal, pretzels, candy, ice-cream, drinks (!) and crackers amongst others. Name a snack food and they've probably got a coffee flavor of it.

Me on the other hand simply hate it. I hate the smell, I hate the taste, I hate the way it looks. I hate every flavor and variety of it. In college I used to hang out with a lot of coffee drinkers and without fail whenever we'd go out one of them would try to get me to taste some frapa-crapa-mocha-chino thing. They'd always swear it didn't tastes like coffee and it always did.

Lousy so and sos.

Needless to say I hate coffee flavored snacks. Yet I keep eating them.

Obviously I don't speak Chinese. Obviously I don't read it either. Which means shopping is always a strange and sometimes difficult experience. Most things you can figure out - an apple is still an apple. Coke still looks like Coke. And even things like pasta and potato chips or cereal are pretty easy to figure out. The packaging is similar and the insides of course are the same.

But flavors are a little tricky. I might grab a bag of bbq potato chips and not know it. My milk choices are still skim, half and super flabby fat, but I'm never really sure which version I buy most of the time.

That brings us back to coffee flavoring. Way too many times I have picked up some pretzels, or a candy bar or an ice cream bar only to realize (way too late) that it is coffee flavored.

Gag. Yuck. Gross.

Just now I piced up a little ice cream bar and was so looking forward to the cold, sweet goodness when - lick - ugh - oooh it's stinking coffee flavored.


To my embarrassment, I'm leaving something out. While I can't read the Chinese labels on these products, most of them do include a picture to tell you what flavor they are. Pick up some tomato flavored chips and you'll see a little tomato on the package. Want some chocolate milk tea? Look for the label with a pure white stream of milk and another flowing of chocolate.

And yes, if you're looking for some coffee flavored something, you'll most certainly see a picture of a coffee bean on the package.

I'm stupid. I'm a dunce. I don't look at labels very closely. I'm just not used to looking for pictures of coffee beans on my ice cream. Thirty years of life tells me the brown stuff around my chocolate bar is chocolate and nothing else. Or if it is coffee flavored it says so in big letters. Who looks for coffee beans on their package of ice cream?

Me, I guess from now on. Unless I want an ice cream bar that I can't eat.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Washing Machine

We finally bought a washing machine. It was costing us about 50 RMB a week to take our clothes to the cleaner and so a new machine was more than worth the money spent. However a dryer isn't really worth it right now, so we have to hang dry our clothes.

I always forget how much time laundry takes. It is so easy to take a bunch to the cleaners and then come back in a few hours with clean and folded clothes. Now I have to do one load at a time, and then line dry them. It takes forever! If I am lucky I can get through two loads in a day.

We've had the machine a week and I still have a huge stack of dirties piled up.

And then there was a major malfunction today. But first a little bit about getting the washer.

Our laundry hook-up is outside. On each end of our apartment we have some semi-enclosed porches. Just outside the kitchen is one of these and this is where the washer goes. The door to the porch is actually quite tiny and like fools we didn't measure this opening before we shopped for the machine. There was a brief period between buying washer and its delivery that I feared it wouldn't fit out the door.

It did fit - just barely, and I set to hooking it up. This proved difficult and it took the help of Brian and Bet to figure it out. It still leaks at the water hook-up which means that I have to watch it like a hawk. I turn the washer on, then turn the water one. When it is done filling up I turn the water off and remind myself to come back in a bit to turn it on. This goes on through all the cycles, unless I forget. Sometimes I forget and leave the water on and receive a big puddle of water on the porch for my troubles.

But fair enough, this system isn't too bad and I don't mind so much.

Today I threw a load in and did my back and forth with the water, except that on the second round there was a problem. I lifted the lid to see that it was done spinning and turned on the water. No water came running through. In fact there was still water in the bucket. A bunch of the lights were flashing and the machine was flashing something that was obviously an error code.

Understand that this is a Chinese washer. All of the buttons have Chinese next to them. The book is in Chinese. I never actually know what setting I'm putting my clothes on and I sure as heck didn't know what the error was.

Randomly I pressed buttons hoping for something. Then I moved around my wet clothes figuring maybe it was off balance. Then I pressed more buttons and got nothing. Finally I turned it off and on again. Then told it to go and it did. It filled with more water and we were on our way.

Or so I thought.

Later I cam back out to find the same water in the tub and the same error message. This time I took out some of the heftier clothes thinking this may be the problem with the balance (if in fact the balance was the problem.)

More water. More spinning. More error.

I don't know what to do now so I take out all the soaking wet clothes, ring them out as best I can and hang them on the line. They should be drive sometime next July.

Meanwhile I have a washing machine full of water and no idea how to empty it.

On Jobs And Giving Up And Jobs Again

I know I promised awhile ago to do some daily emo blogging, and it is easy to see that this hasn't been the case. I simply find it very difficult to write anything here. I get most of my blogging needs taken care of at the Midnight Cafe and then I read and comment on other blogs which takes a good deal of computer time from me.

I think also I have difficulties sitting down to write out my thoughts. I tend to sit on the couch and ponder my existence, or I think about where I am going while in the shower, or walking down the street. Once I get my thinking done, I don't need it anymore. I haven't the strength to write. I'll try to do better, you but you know how that goes.

Here's a little something for your troubles.

This past week I basically gave up. No, that's not right exactly - I decided to quit worrying about work. I was wearing myself down with stress over how I should make a living here, and what jobs I should take. I was so tired of getting small tutoring jobs only to have them taken away, only to be offered something else.

I've already blogged about my absolute hatred of not knowing what I'm doing. Every night I went to bed dreading a possible call in the morning to substitute. Not so much for the teaching, but for the being unprepared for it. I just hate not knowing if it is coming or not. Periodically I would get notices that someone was looking for a tutor, and I'd get all nervous before calling them, if I ever did.

I got sick of it and decided that I wouldn't pay them any attention. I could be happy doing my two mornings a week. We aren't in need of money, and that jobs gives me a nice chunk of spending money. It keeps me busy enough that I'm not going crazy.

I could spend my free time then writing, blogging and keeping the house clean. Not necessarily a manly job, but hey this is the 00s and men are kinder, gentler men these days. I made my peace with it. I was happy with my duties and my time here.

Of course yesterday I get asked by a friend to help tutor one of her students. Of course I can't tell her no. Of course I'm sick of myself.

I didnt actually give her a resolute answer. I said sure, but that I needed to work out a schedule as to when I could do it. I'm now hoping it will all just go away.

And so it goes.

A Slight Run-In With The Cops

Yesterday evening my wife and I decided to eat Mexican with my sister and her husband. Well it wasn’t really Mexican as this is China and they don’t really do Mexican here. It was a tapas place which is more Spanish than Mexican but for whatever reason they do serve some Mexican style dishes - fajitas, burritos, tacos and the like. Although with your quesadilla you get the choices of french fries or potato wedges, which is kind of weird, but good at the same time.

Whatever you want to call that, it was good and just what I was craving. It was also happy hour which meant that I got a refill on my Coke for free. Yeah, that’s right normally you only get one glass of Coke and that’s it. If you want to get topped off you have to pay for it. Welcome to basically anywhere in the world but America.

After filling our bellies we decided to head home. There are two main gates into the schools living quarters. Both are manned by security guards and both have those little mechanical arms designed to keep cars out unless given entry. Though I have seen many of the Chinese workers get stopped and have to show their ID or even sometimes open their bags, I have always been given a pass. I don’t know if this is because I look really trust worthy, or if all white people get a free pass, or if the guards realize they’ll never be able to communicate with me and just don’t bother. Whatever the reason, I have never been stopped.

Until last night.

We pulled up to the front cab, paid the driver and got out. We could have drove on in with the taxi but it is cheaper to pay at the gate, Lord knows I need the exercise, and it is also helpful to others who may be waiting outside the gate to catch a taxi. As we walked towards the gate I didn’t notice anything different about the guards but as we started to pass, we were stopped. It was then I noticed that it wasn’t a guard stopping me, but a policeman.

In broken English he asked for our passports. We were all a little confused and asked what was going on. He again asked for our passports and then said something in Chinese that I didn’t understand. We indicated that we didn’t have our passports on us, and he told us to go to one of the offices in the complex, where someone spoke better English.

At this point all of the horror stories of Americans in foreign countries began running through my head. I could picture myself being taken to some dingy, dirty jail cell somewhere in the bowels of the city never to be heard from again.

We walked to the office and were met by half a dozen officers, some of which were seated at a row of tables looking very formal and menacing. They too asked for our passports and we again explained they were in our rooms. They said we could go get them but first asked us a series of questions involving our names and addresses and such likes. We then went to our rooms and got our passports and returned. We were then asked a few more questions about what we were doing in Shanghai and let go.

All in all it was a pretty easy experience, and certainly the cops are well within their rights to ask for our identification. It even makes sense that they would bring a crew to check passports at a living complex where plenty of foreigners live.

Still, it was a rather frightening experience at first as my imagination took me overboard into all the bad movies I’ve seen over the years.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Beyonce In China

I saw the pop diva in concert the other night. If you'd like to read a review, shimy on over to the Midnight Cafe.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Internet Bill

For whatever reasons most of our utilities can be paid at the LQ. And by this I mean that a representative of the utility companies will sit inside one of the offices in the LQ for a period of time over the weekend. They do this partially because so many new people move into the LQ and thus need those services set up, but also so that we can easily pay our bills.

Amy and I made a mistake last week and forgot to pay out internet bill. So today I went down to the office where the internet representative would be and tried to pay our bill late. There were several numbers on the bill and I wasn't sure which one was the one I needed to pay, so I handed the lady the bill and pointed to the number I guessed was the right one. My hope was that she would read it and either nod affirmative, or point to the correct number.

As an added feature to my non-verbal communication I took the two hundred RMB bills out of my pocket and allowed her to see that I was ready to pay.

She said something that I couldn't understand, made no attempt to remove the bills from my hand and then pointed to another section of the bill. This particular bit was in English and said "prepaid." For a moment I figured we had somehow prepaid the month of October and I didn't need to pay anything now.

But then she pointed to a number and said some more things. I looked appropriately confused, but then waived my money around as if to say, whatever, I can pay that number if needed.

The lady said some more things and we were at an em pass. A few more conversations in two separate languages occurred while I continued to have my cold hard cash outstretched for her to see, but nothing really happened.

Next the lady got up and walked me to one of the workers at the LQ who speaks a little English. The two ladies conversed then the English speaker told me that I should have paid this bill in October.

This information I was aware of, and I told her so. Then I told her that as it happened I didn't pay that bill in October, but was happy to pay it now. She told this to internet lady and then explained to me that I would get a bill for November in the mail. At this point I'm completely aghast.

I thought this would be easy. Who knew that you could take a past due bill, have money in hand to pay it, and cause so much difficulty. I came in expecting that maybe she wouldn't be able to take my money and that I'd have to go to some collections office or something, but now it seemed like she didn't want my money at all.

Me and the English speaker talked a little bit more and I tried to explain that I had not paid the October bill, but was willing to do so now. She talked again to the internet lady and then internet lady made some phone calls.

The discussion then left points on October and November bills and went into something about the entire year. English speaker told me that when you pay for internet you pay for an entire year at a time. I seemed to recall something like this during our initial setup, but certainly didn't remember paying that much for it.

More back and forth and English speaker essentially told me it was all ok. I asked her again if I didn't need to pay anything and she said no. I was still utterly confused, but figured either we had paid extra and were ok, or that we'd eventually get another bill telling us what to pay.

I started to walk out when internet lady took my bill and headed back to her desk. Then she started filling out forms with my name on it. When she asked me for my phone number I knew I was in trouble. My guess was she was going to ask me to pay for the year. That's when I went for back-up.

I told her to hold on and got Amy. Her and I discussed the matter and realized we didn't want to pay a full year since we might not be here another full year. Numbers being the universal language we started writing dates down trying to tell her we could pay up until next June but not after.

That wasn't pleasing at all as you get a discount for paying a full year at a time and to stop service early means more money.

At this point I called Brian. Then went to an ATM to pull out a bunch of money. When I returned from the ATM Brian had sorted it all out. He simply told her we didn't want to pay in advance and just wanted to pay for the month.

We then paid and it was done.

My guess is this lady is a suave salesmen and was bent on selling us the whole year as it does give you a discount. Add to her salesmanship my total lack of Chinese ability and you get us both confused quick.

One Paychecks, Taxes, And Collecting Fapios

Up until recently Amy was paid in the following manner:

Half of the paycheck was paid out in RMB (Chinese currency) which was deposited into a local bank. This money was easily accessible through any ATM or by physically withdrawing it from any of the many branches in the city.

The other half of the paycheck was doled out in USD through a bank in Hong Kong. This money was monumentally more difficult to get to. There don't seem to be any branches in Shanghai, and we received no checks or debit/ATM cards. Essentially to use that money you had to have it transferred out of Hong Kong to another bank. This was done through a confusing system of faxes.

Typically American workers would transfer that money to their American banks and use it to pay off any outstanding debt still held in the States or whatever. It was actually a very good way to save money, as it was so difficult to actually spend.

It was also highly beneficial as since it was never actually Chinese cash the Chinese government was unable to tax it. And as the Chinese system of taxes doesn't take in effect (read they don't actually take any money out) until you reach a certain dollar amount, and we weren't reaching that amount with only half a pay check, we were getting away tax free.

Well very recently this whole system changed. The details are a little vague, but it seems the stockholders for the company that owns the school that employs Amy weren't too happy with this system.

Or something.

The downshot is that Amy now has to be paid completely in Chinese money, which means we're hit with major taxes. We're still having half the money go to Hong Kong as it is still a good method to save money, but it is all getting taxed. Which means less pay.

The company, realizing this is a major hit for its non-Chinese employees is trying to make things better. It seems that taxes have to be paid on all salaries, but they do not effect things like reimbursements.

As a side note here, I will add that we have a third Chinese bank which was opened specifically for the reimbursement we received for our plane tickets here. Now that I am a substitute teacher on the pay roll I too have three separate accounts. Add in the account in Oklahoma, and the still not closed account in Indiana and that brings our total bank accounts to eight!

What the company is now doing to help out is allowing us to be reimbursed on all sorts of things. Sort of. We're actually not really clear on how it all works, but the gist of it is we have to save all our receipts.

The added nightmare to the ever growing mountain of receipts is that any old regular receipt won't do. You have to have an officially stamped special receipt called a fapio.

Some places you automatically get a fapio. Like if you take a taxi, they automatically print one for you with a machine printed stamp on it. And certain markets employ a small army to stand at the exits who then look over your receipt and stamp their approval.

But at other places, the process is more difficult. At most restaurants you have to specifically ask for a fapio. These are doled out like discount coupons. You don't get a single fapio with your actual total on it, but rather you get multiple fapios in various increments such as tens, hundreds, and singles. The change is usually rounded up. Sometimes they run out of singles and you get the benefit of a round up to the nearest five.

These restaurant fapios also have a little scratch off game that I have yet to comprehend.

Most supermarkets make fapio collecting even more difficult. At the cash register you receive a regular looking receipt with your products on it and the total cost. To receive a fapio you must then take this receipt to a separate register set aside on one end of the store. They look a bit like an exchange/refund counter you would come across in the states. Here you wait in another line (after having waited in an always enormous line to purchase your goods) at the end of which you present your regular receipt and have a hand written special fapio receipt given to you.

At the smaller markets (like the mini-grocery that we frequent located just outside the LQ) you cannot turn any old receipt in for a fapio. Since most purchases at these stores are small, it is seen as a waste of paper and time and money to get a fapio for each purpose. Instead we have to wait until we have a large quantity of receipts which can then all be exchanged for a single fapio.

Or something. Who really knows what we're doing, or why we're doing it? We do what people tell us to and hope it comes out for the best. Which at this point means collecting tons of receipts, trying to keep track of where they all come from (which is actually difficult since they're all written in Chinese and we're not the best at remembering where we spent each little bit of cash) and hoping this will somehow make more money appear somewhere.

Since all of us have to keep track of fapios, we have had some interesting experiences doing things together. There is often a lively discussion on who gets to collect the fapio at the end of a long taxi ride or dining experience.

Only in China as they say.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Shanghai Diaries: Halloween Party

I have never been much of a party person. I don’t like bars, I don’t go to clubs and come Saturday night you are more likely to find me at home watching a movie, or at a quiet bookstore sipping hot chocolate than you are at some hot night spot. Bars are too smoky, too loud, and too full of drunks. Clubs always play terrible music at volumes that don’t exactly encourage casual conversation. Both contain far too many people and way too much chaos to make me comfortable.

I much prefer a small setting with a few friends that I can converse with - if not on a meaningful level then at least with some humor and interest. I married a woman who is much the same. My dear mate despises clubs and bars as much as I do, and while she does profess a desire to go somewhere from time to time, she rarely produces where that somewhere might be.

Thus we tend to stay at home, playing games, reading books, and watching movies. Now and again you might find us at a restaurant getting some fancy food (and me complaining that it’s too stinking loud to have a decent conversation) or at the movies, or more often than not sitting in a bookstore. Don’t look for us at the hip places; we don’t even know where they are anymore.

I say we’re homebodies. My wife says we’re boring.

There is an exception to this no-party rule. Once a year my wife and I dust off the dinner plates and throw a big pumpkin carving party. We both love Halloween and since we don’t have kids, this party is a fun way to do something childish and still feel like an adult.

I was a little worried about this year’s bash, as we’re living in China and everything is a little more complicated here, but everything turned out really well, and it just might be one of our best parties yet. There was some concern, at first, that we might not find a pumpkin. While in the states every super market carries huge lofts of giant pumpkins the entire month of October, none of the markets around here seemed to have any.

With a little more than one week before the holiday a few of the more western markets began selling a few pumpkins (and I do mean a few, one store had maybe 5 pumpkins in stock). Creatively, my wife and a few others didn’t let the lack of decent pumpkins bother them and bought some brightly colored squash instead.

The other problems involved the fact that none of the stores were selling pumpkin patterns or carving tools. The patterns weren’t too much of a problem as we could find some on the Internet and print. The carving tools were a bit distressing. In the States we have a large collection of little miniature jigsaws, scoopers, shavers and other tools all designed to create interesting, intricate pumpkin carvings. Here we had a set of steak knives.

For reasons that aren’t really clear to me we have more friends in China than we did back in the States. More friends, but not any more space. Pumpkin carving takes more room than your typical standing around drinking parties and there was no way we could invite everyone. Discretion was the word and we invited as many as we could and told everybody to keep it hush hush as to avoid making any non-invitees angry.

The music was hand selected, the decorations hung, the designs printed and the day came. We had an interesting collection of people as two couples have wee ones (a first for our pumpkin party, and a sure sign that we, and our friends are getting older). Another young lady had never carved a pumpkin before in her life.

I had picked out a nice large pumpkin that was more width than height. It was a little different than the pumpkins I am used to carving as it wasn’t exactly orange and it had a extremely thick shell, but was mostly hollow. The shell was so thick, in fact, that I broke my knife trying to get the top off.

The shape of the pumpkin was such that I had a very difficult time thinning the shell with my scooper. This created a difficult carving situation, but I prevailed in the end. Creating something that at least looked like a ghost, if not exactly what was on my picture printout. We all scooped and sliced and carved as best we could until slowly we began to finish. Carved pumpkins found their way to the dark porch, candles lighting their insides with “oooh” and “aaahhhs” from the crowds.

As is tradition, we each voted on our favorite pumpkin and the winner received a lovely prize (a collection of DVDs.) It was really a lovely party, and even though I had worried about China’s ability to have a crackin’ Halloween party it showed us a rather good time. Now the candy has been eaten, the mess has been cleaned up and my wife and I are ready to go back to being boring.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I'm Sick, Round Whatever

Let's recap. I went from starting my annual six months of coughing/sneezing/generally having terrible sinus trouble and/or a cold to feeling perfectly well. Two days later I got struck with the vomiting/diarrhea decision. Then got better. This week I have picked up the six month cold. My head is full. My nose runs. My body aches.

Yesterday I spent the entire day laying on the couch moaning. Today I'm up and about a little, but still feel rotten. I canceled class today to recover, but I wont really recover. I will spent all winter generally feeling crappy.

Such is life (mine anyways.)


My career as a writing tutor is over. I got a call from one of the parents Monday saying they no longer need my services. Well, really what she said was something more akin to "something, er...come up. I'm very sorry. But you...teaching....something happened." I twas me that had to interpret and say that she no longer needed me as a tutor.

Her english is ok, but I think this was too much for her. She didn't know how to tell me I was fired without looking bad. And looking bad is a big no-no in Chinese culture. So I have no idea why I'm fired, but fired is what I am.


I was really beginning to feel ok in this town. I had the teaching two days a week, and now I was going to have the tutoring. I liked it. I was working a good full time week, making a little money and still had time to write.

How many times am I going to get a job in this town only to have it leave? I'm teetering on what to do now. I either want to go out and get a million tutoring jobs to keep myself busy, or quite the one I have and say forget it.

But I'll wait to decide when I actually feel half way decent.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Strange Shopping Experience

Street vendors are a way of life here. Pretty much everywhere, day or night, if you are out and about you will see all sorts of people selling all sorts of things right off the street. Need some cheap DVDs or CDs? Go over to that corner. Watches and umbrellas your thing? Then head down to this street. Whether it is food or socks or books or turtles that you need, you can probably find it being sold on the streets of Shanghai.

Right outside the living quarters gate is a little Sichuan place that pretty much all of us frequent for supper. Right outside the restaurant usually resides this adorable old ma selling various potted plants. He has a small selection of mums, cacti, aloe and other things. We have purchased from him before because he is cheap, the plants are nice, and he’s just darn cute.

Like so many things in China, actually purchasing or plants is a source of frustration and amusement. We stand there for twenty minutes trying to decide which plan is for us, the old man does an interpretive dance to try to persuade us to buy half a dozen and then we both haggle over price while neither of us understands what the other is saying.

The other evening we went to dine inside the restaurant and were placed by the large window which happens to be right next to plant guy.

My wife made the mistake of catching plant guys eye.

I can’t blame her really as he was right outside, the plants were looking nice, and who doesn’t look out the window when they are sitting right next to it?

Still, mistake it was.

Plant guy first smiled then lifted up a plan to give my wife a better view. Then he began lining up plans beside the window to offer us an entire selection. There were four of us eating and we each laughed, shook our heads in the negative, and tried ever so hard to not look at him again.

Plant guy moved more plans into the sill and lifted them up for us to see. Let me tell you it is quite difficult to not look out a big window while there is an old man waving plants at you. But we did good and didn’t look, or at least when we did look we shook our heads to indicate we weren’t interested.

All the while we were all eating our food and engaging ourselves in conversation. Just as my wife was in the middle of giving a long schpeel on how her graduate work is going, plant guy enters into the restaurant carrying a little cactus. For a moment, my wife simply couldn’t understand why everyone thought her dissertation on participles in old French was so amusing.

Then she saw plant guy and his cactus. When we were through cackling we assured the old man as best we could that we had no need for a cactus, and he left. Not one to take no for an answer though, he soon entered in again with an aloe plant. In order to show us the aloes great usefulness, he began rubbing the plant against his old, wrinkled, unshaven face. My grandmother swears to the wonderful effectiveness of the aloe plant, but I’m not sure it could do anything for that mug.

Once again we assured the old man that we didn’t want such a thing and again he left. By this time we were done with our meal and we got up from our table. But the old man wasn’t through he already had another plant and was headed inside. As we paid we entreated him that we weren’t interested and he let us be.

Once outside, we stopped by his shop and bough a little flower.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Another Job

I think I mentioned briefly before that I got another gig. I am now tutoring three children in all things writing. Two of them are Chinese Americans, and another one is from Hong Kong. All of them are struggling a little bit with their writing and the moms want them to have extra help.

I will be doing this once a week after school. What's nice is that one of the moms picks the kids up from school and she's offered to give me a ride to their home. This will cut down on the taxi money. What's bad is that they place they live is in an odd place which means the taxi can't make a left out of their home to my home. Which means we have to ride way down the road, take an exit, make a u-turn and get back on the main road to me. Which means more expensive taxi.

Class was fine. They are good kids it seems, and by the time they get to me they are too exhausted to put up a fight.

We did a very basic lesson today and I'll have to figure out what I'm going to teach them next week. More prep work. Yuck.

Everybody is getting sick at school which means I'll be doing more substituting and then probably getting sick again. I think if the two tutor gigs I have work out I'll kill the subbing. I'm just not fit for getting random calls and having to come to work out of the blue.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Last week I started to get sick. I had a sore throat and was coughing and was really thinking my annual bout of crazy allergies was coming.

Then I got better. I felt great over the weekend and thought maybe I had hit a good delay.

I even accepted a substitute thing for Monday. Then Monday actually came and it was all over. About 5 in the AM I turned over and realized I wasn't feeling too good. Then I got hit with the diarrhea. Then the vomiting. Is there anything more fun that sitting on the floor of the bathroom trying to decide whether the urge to poop or vomit is more pressing.

Three major bouts of that and I felt better. Couldn't substitute and spent the day watching movies and moaning.

Yesterday was more blah, but nothing major. Today I feel good and did the tutoring.

Before I get to that I have to admit that there was a small part of me that was glad I wasn't substituting. It is probably a horrible thing to even have a part of me that preferred vomiting to teaching, but there it was.

I have this small part of me that is begining to think that I'd like to be a teacher, but that small part of me says I need schooling and training and some bloody idea of how to do it.

Which leads me back to today. We did a four hour session with my two boys. Here's the funny thing, with the sickness and business of the weekend I didn't do much preparing. Here's the funnier thing, I assigned homework last week out of their text books, and they only have one copy of the text books. That means I had to leave them there, and thus have no books to actually prepare a lesson out of.

I winged it. I made up some environmental stuff for geography and worked from memory for English. Then we just opened our books and read from there. This worked better than I thought but it was still a nightmare.

The oldest boy is alright, he usually looks bored, but he at least pays attention and doesn't act up. The youngest is a little hyper active and so is all over the place. The way it works is I teach one child one subject, while the other one sits in the computer and works on some busy work I give them. Then they switch.

Since they are in such close proximity it is difficult to keep them on task. This is especially true for the one I am not actually teaching. And more so for the youngest.

Four hours is a long time to keep their attention. Especially when you are not that prepared.

There is no detention. They don't get grades. There is basically no punishment I can give them. I have to encourage, cajole, and make false threats. Today I had the youngest in the corner not being taught. He had some work to do, but a computer was near and it took his attention. He likes to play games. I had to ask him multiple times to turn it off. Then I turned off the computer. Then he turned it back on like I wouldn't notice. So I had to move him and me and the oldest sat by the computer a little cramped.

I was so ready to get out of there.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Music Makes The Difference

On Saturday Amy and I went to Carefour for some non-grocery items. We went seeking some good speakers, a mobile phone, and a washing machine. We knew we weren't going to buy the washing machine, but wanted to do some pricing and checking out of the models.

We did and realized we don't know much about washing machines. Most machines here don't have the little middle device that helps keep the clothes separated. This makes the bucket look like a...well a big bucket. They say you have to put your clothes in a bag or something or otherwise they will stretch out.

Prices were under a thousand mostly, which puts them at around a hundred bucks or so. Which is good, I guess.

We then realized we were even worse at judging cell phones. In the States neither of us had owned a cell phone until this last year. Then we only got one because Amy was making a long commute and we wanted one for emergencies. We went with T-Mobile because they had the whole sim card like thing where we didn't have to buy ourselves into some long term plan.

I have one now, and I do have to admit that I like having one, but also have to admit that I didn't pick out the phone. It is an old one of Brians and he's letting me use it.

This is to say that we've got very little experience deciding on what kind of phone we want. This was painfully obvious when we started looking at them yesterday. It didn't help that all the specifics were written in Chinese. We sat there looking at these phones wondering which one was for us. Some of them flip, and that's fun. Some of them play mp3s and that's nice. Some of them take pictures and that's definitely something I want. But which one is best?

Beats me. We decided to wait a little longer and have someone help us.

Poor old people don't understand today's technology.

I did get a decent set of speakers. They aren't anything fancy, just a woofer the size of a bread basket and two other little speakers. It costs maybe 30 dollars but that makes a ton of difference.

Before all we've had are the laptop speakers and these teeny tiny ones Amy bought for her classroom. The quality on both stinks. Sure I have decent headphones for the iPod and I listen to them all the time, but it is nice to have something with some volume that can fill the house up with music.

And have some bass. Filling out the bottom end has been missed.

Having these speakers is awesome. I've been playing them almost non-stop since we bought them. I love music. It makes me feel better. It takes the edge off. It makes me happy (and excited and sad and moody, but happy none-the-less.)

The speakers have made our apartment a home. And that's nice.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Feeling Better

I feel better. Mostly. My throat no longer hurts, but I have that typical Mat Brewster tickle that makes me cough. I say typical because pretty much six months out of any year I cough and cough and cough. It is a sickness. It is annoying. It is pretty much unavoidable.

Last night we went over to a friend's house and had a chili supper. It was in celebration of another friend who has moved to the UAE. She moved there not long after we made it to Shanghai. She isn't really our friend as we don't know her well, but she's friend with pretty much all our friends. So we chilied then played games. Or they played games and I went home. I feel better now, but then I felt like crap.

Today I had another class this morning. It went pretty well. I did a lot of prep work for it yesterday. I went in early this morning so I could print out everything. Like a moron I gave them homework that was from the book. Which means they had to keep the book. Which means I don't have the books to prepare next week's class.


I also met one of parent's involved in my other tutor session. I'll be teaching writing to three boys. Should be a pretty good gig as it won't take a lot of prep work. I just need things for them to write about and then do a little teaching on sentence structure and what not.

You could say it was a good day.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sick of Everything

I'm trying my darndest to get sick. It started with a little tingle in the throat last night which moved into full blown pain this morning. The head hurts and the body aches. It isn't enough to keep me from work tomorrow (unless it really blows up tonight) which will actually probably make it worse in the longer run, but I gotta work.

This isn't really emo, or even interesting for that matter, but I keep promising to write more and this is definitely more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Emo Anybody?

There is a musical genre called emo. It is typified by introspective, intensely personal lyrics and emotional music (hence the "emo" from emotion.) This now applies to all sort of things like blogging.

I have been thinking about doing more emo blogging. That is to say to really talk about what I'm feeling and get more personal with everything. Part of why I don't blog here much is that I am afraid of saying to much.

I know my parents, and my parents-in-law read this and I don't want to upset them. If I have a bad day and I write that I hate China and life and everything (which may be how I feel) I don't want these folks to get all upset and worried. So instead I write about my jobs and random things that we do. And frankly things just aren't that exciting.

Thus I have been thinking of doing a little more daily experiences and feelings. I don't know if this will help me blog more, as I just don't think about blogging here much. But it might help, and I like the idea of making things more personal.

So parents if I start talking about hating something or being really emotional about it, don't fret. I'm OK. I'll make it. Things will continue on and I'll come out at the end.

More Word Stuff

Remember the two boys I was tutoring in English/Geography/History. Remember how I got fired? We'll I got rehired. Basically the boys didn't like the home-school program. It was a much bigger program with lots of kids. Unfortunately, most of the kids weren't my boys age and so they didn't like it.

The mom did see things she liked and this is making it better to me. She has turned one room into a classroom and given me access to the computer/scanner/printer to create more interesting materials.

Yea Me.

I also just got another job tutoring three boys in English (mostly writing.) It will be two hours a week.

I like the idea of this arrangement as it will allow me to make a decent amount of money, but at the same time enable me to keep blogging and writing and whatever else I like to do. It is also quite flexible which enables me to do other things as well.

The only problem is that this second class is on Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 which is also when my Chinese class takes place. I tried to work out another time with these ladies, but it just wasn't too be.

Truth is I didn't really like Chinese class anyways. The language is very difficult. They deal mainly in tones and each sound has about four different tones. So you could say the exact same word (spelled exactly the same) but it will mean four different things depending on the tone used.

This is what Chinese class has been about. We haven't really learned words so much as tones. This is all fine and good except it isn't very useful to our daily lives. I know Americans who speak Chinese, but get the tones wrong. Context helps a lot.

Eventually we discussed this with our teacher and now we have started talking about real world situations. Now the problem is everybody just asks random questions. Like one person will think about how yesterday they went to a restaurant and ordered a particular dish. They will then ask how to say that dish, or how to say something else in a restaurant setting.

Then someone else will think about bargaining at the fake market and will ask about that.

It is all so random that it hurts my head. I need order and to stay on task in learning situations. This is just irritating me. So I'm not sure I'll really miss Chinese class.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Shanghai Diaries - Food

The new edition of the diaries is up, and it is all about food.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I'm Really Bad At This

Seriously, I’m terrible. I’d apologize, but I don’t think anyone is reading anyways.

Let’s see, my sister had her birthday last week. We decided to have the party on Friday. A bunch of us got a van taxi and headed out into the main city. The taxi driver was a little nutty. He took a bit of a fancy to our friend Dan.

Dan is a big fella. Well over six foot tall. The taxi driver immediately noticed this and asked him if he played basketball (he doesn’t.) We decided to laugh at the taxi driver and ask him if he knew kung-fu.

It was all in good fun and everybody laughed. Then the driver offered Dan a cigarette and took his picture.

The food was Italian and it was very good. We all had a nice time, but unfortunately Amy’s belly decided it was time to go before everyone else had ice cream. So we headed home early.


I got another hair cut this weekend. It is such a lovely thing for you get a shampoo, head massage, back massage and cut for very little money. Look out for a longer post on that.


We bought our TV, I can’t remember if I wrote about that. The school provides cable to everyone, though there is only one English channel. There is also a French channel, though it has been acting funny lately.

Tonight while flipping around we came across a Jackie Chan flick. It was in Chinese, but with Jackie Chan it doesn’t really matter. It was lots of fun. Chan fought off a group of monks followed by these crazy chicks in tights. The chicks were obviously stunt men for most of the time, dressed in ill fitting tights and bad wigs.

Gotta love Jackie Chan!

Um, yeah, that’s all.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

My Kids

After three days of substituting I had a break today. As much as I was looking forward to the day off, I kind of missed those kids. They were exhausting, and rambunctious and often incredibly annoying, but sort of heart warming too.

I taught fifth grade science, which was easier than it sounds. The teacher had left very detailed notes on what to teach, which was mostly let them prepare for a presentation. The kids were mostly good, if a little rowdy.

There were only a couple of problem children, and they weren't really that bad. One wanted to constantly brag about what cool stuff he had. In answer to my question of where they usually study he responded, "in front of my 27" widescreen, LCD television." And when asked when he studies he noted it was usually after watching a really funny movie and playing a really violent game.

Obnoxious, but not difficult.

The other annoyance was a child who wouldn't pay any attention to anything. He wasn't really rowdy, but he was never listening.

Other than that they were really sweet kids, especially my home room. Those kids were full of energy and interest in school and joy.

It made me want to go back to college and get my education degree. Well, when I wasn't wanting to strangle the kid in the back who kept talking during everybody else's presentation.

Yeah, that was the other hard thing. I had to grade a presentation. I haven't graded anything. Ever. And now I had to give grades on a five minute presentation for fifth grade science. All I can say is I was lenient.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Door Closes, Window Opens

Last night I got a text from the mother of the two boys I have been teaching. It said that over the holiday she had met with a group of homeschooling. Turns out they do a whole group teaching thing and she enrolled her boys into it.

Meaning I am out of a job.

While I was surprised I can't say that I was really shocked.

The fact that she found another group isn't really surprising at all. It was a bit of a blow to my ego though. I fully realize I am not the most qualified teacher, or the best at that job. But I thought I was starting to get somewhere with them, and being unemployed again kind of stung.

It didn't last long though. This morning, at 7, I get a phone call from the school where Amy teaches. One of the fifth grade teachers was stuck in Taiwan due to the typhoon. He needs a substitute for the next three days and they hoped I might fit the bill.

Truthfully, I am not good at quick changes. I tend to make little mini plans in my head about the upcoming days. Today I had planned to work hard on the new blog, do some house cleaning, and make some phone calls about other tutoring jobs. I wasn't expecting a call so early, and I was irritated at having to change my plans.

I was also scared. I've never substituted before. Would I be expected to teach? For real? What was the subject? How would I do?

I walked out the door to see that the typhoon (oh sorry it was downmodded to a tropical storm) was in full swing. The rain went splish and splahs. The wind went WOOOSH with a wallop.

I arrived and talked to the administration lady who called. She handed me the teachers "emergency substitute" plans and a print out of actual lesson plans for the next couple of days. Then she said "have fun."

I had to remind her that I had no idea where I was supposed to go. I had really hoped I might get a few instructions on what the heck I was supposed to do, and how the whole system worked, but I got none.

I arrived at my class and looked over the lesson. It was a pretty quickie on the ways and means that students do and should study. He's having a test next week and I guess he wanted to talk about study habits.

The school works by having a home room for the kids. This is sort of base ground for the students. They come to this class first, and again in the afternoon. They leave their books there and come back to collect or deposit them as they go from class to class.

They sit in this class for the first twenty minutes and then head to their first actual class. I had a very brief lesson plan for this period which amounted to "what did you do over break?"

The truth is, I had no idea of any of this information when I arrived. The kids showed up and I had my lesson plans. So we talked about what they did on break, and then a bell rang. The kids then got up and lined up by the door. I sat down and looked at my plan for the next period.

The kids continued to stand there. Then they got really quiet. Then they complained they were going to be late. Then someone finally piped up saying "are we dismissed?"

Of course they were. Who knew I was supposed to dismiss them?

The first real class came and they were mostly good. A few kids wanted to talk to each other and not pay attention but no one was really disruptive. Most everyone was very interested in the lesson and enjoyed participating.

The second class was more of the same.

Then I had a long break as my kids had Chinese and I wasn't due back until nearly 1. I came home and had lunch and rested before going back.

My third class was a bit more restless. They wanted to do their homework in class and make airplanes and not pay attention. I had to do a lot of shhh-shing and "be quiets." They weren't really bad just restless.

One little boy was very interesting. We were talking about studying and when asked where he studied he said:

"Right in front of my 27" widescreen plazma TV." And later when asked when he usually studied he said something about after he is done watching a funny movie and playing a violent video game. Most of what he said seemed to try to show how much cool stuff he had.

At one point he told me his parents lived in Canada and he was living with his grandparents where he would secretly watch TV instead of studying. Suddenly I could picture him at home with grandparents who have no idea what to do with him and parents feeling guilty about shipping him to China and thus spoiling him with big presents.

The rest of the classes were pretty uneventful. My home room kids came back at the end of the day for a two hour period. They too were a little restless, and I pretty let the ones who didn't want to pay attention not pay attention unless they were noisy.

All in all it wasn't a bad day, but I'm not sure how teachers do that day in, day out.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

From The French Concession To The People's Square

Since we weren’t able to really take a trip anywhere over the holiday, Friday we decided to explore a part of Shanghai known as the French Concession. I’m not really sure why they call it that, as there weren’t a lot of French people or stores there, and my book says there never were, but it was fun anyways.

We got slightly lost and so we didn’t actually manage to see any of the main attractions of the area, but as a whole it is a cool little place. Very artsy and full of cool local shops.

Afterwards we ventured towards the People’s Square which is the heart of the city and is full of big buildings that get lit up for the night.

I don’t really have much else to say, but enjoy the pictures.

None of us really knew where we were going, but luckily we had a map to help us get lost.

The Amy Store.

It really is a pretty section of town.

Creepy looking apartment complex.

A saxophone and a kick drum. Perhaps the most unusual two instruments paired together I have ever seen from a street performer.

You can find socks everywhere in Shanghai. Lots of street vendors sell them, and here is an entire shop devoted to the footwear. I'm not sure why you'd want your socks to be tasty, but if you did, I have found the place to go.

The Special Olympics are in town and they have erected all sorts of little statues in their honor.

This is outside a big financial center. I have no idea what it is.

A pretty park.

Amy enjoying some milk tea with her donuts.

You meet the strangest of people on the streets of Shanghai.

Random art work on a street corner. I thought it was interesting that they'd choose to have this girl on the phone so scantily clad.

Even China has "Mom and Pop" stores.

The French Concession did remind us of France in one way - it has beautiful tree lined streets

This was taken from the subway exit at the People's Square stop. Sorry the photo is slightly blurry, but you can see the mass of people all smashed into the walkway there.

A walkway over one of the major highways in the area.

I don't actually know what that building is.

Gotta love Samsung.