Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Midnight Cafe

I know I continue to be a slacker around here. Basically we have already slipped into monotony. Daily life is pretty boring. And unlike when we went to France, I have no desire to write about my daily boring life.

Alas, I suspect a few of you would like to hear those boring details to keep up with the Brewsters. So, I am going to make an effort to write on a more consistent basis.

For the moment though, I want to introduce my new blog. For a long time now I have been saying that I was going to buy my own webspace and have a real blog, not some little free thing from Blogger or Wordpress. Well that time is now, my friends.

Please jaunt over to the new place, The Midnight Cafe and have a look around. It isn't entirely finished. I'm still working on the overall look. My friend Kellie is creating a new banner which will replace the silly picture of all those people that you see now. I'll also surely get a better picture of me (though I kind of like my tongue stickign out pose.) There will, I am sure, be more and more edits as time passes. But the content is up and it's pretty good.

I went in an imported all my old posts so most of what you'll see has already been read, but I'll be adding new stuff all the time. It will be pop culture centric so unless you care about my opinion of movies and music and links that make me laugh, you'll probably want to stay around the Shanghai Cafe.

But if you want a silly place to hang out and talk about the pop culture, you are more than welcome to come and join.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Shanghai Diaries: Work

All apologies for being such a slacker her of late. I've got not real excuses except I'm pretty boring, and I've been working hard on something I'll tell you about later.

For now feel free to read the new Diaries. It's all about my work situation.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Locked Out, Briefly

The front door to our apartment locks automatically, and so we have to be very careful to make sure we have a key with as when we go out. I have gotten into the habit of making sure I grab my key as I prepare to leave anywhere. Typically Amy also grabs her purse, which contains her wallet, which holds her keys.

Every time Amy and I go out she asks me if I have my key. Every time she asks I say "yes."

Well, almost every time.

Tonight, Amy was doing some school work, and I laid down on the couch to watch the 40 Year Old Virgin. I'm not really sure why I decided to watch this other than it happened to be on TV Links and thus free to watch. Our selection of DVDs weren't appealing to me, and with Amy unavailable I wanted to watch something I knew she'd never agree to.

Within a few minutes of watching, Amy came in from her work asking me what I was doing. Knowing this was the end of the movie, I told her we could watch something else. She had other ideas - mainly to go on a walk.

I put on my shoes and grabbed some DVDs we needed to return to Bethany. Then we walked out of the house. No "did you grab your keys?" No answer in the affirmative. This of course means I had forgotten my keys. The one time Amy forgets to ask it the one time I forget to bring them.

As we were walking, Amy did not bring her purse and thus her keys. All of this we realized at about the bottom of the stairs to our apartment. We walked to Brian and Bethanys hoping they knew of some way to get back in.

We knocked there, but they weren't home. Luckily along with the DVDs (but no keys) I had also remembered my phone (but not the keys.) Getting a little frantic now I called Bethany, but got no answer. Or rather, I got no ring. I then tried Brian and again got nothing. Mobile service can be a little spotty so I walked a bit and started to dial again. But before I could Bethany had called me.

We discussed the matter and she said that we could talk to security who would call a guy who would change our locks and charge us 50 RMB.

Then we remembered that Bethany at one time had a key to our place. Before we moved in she had obtained one so that we could look the place over before we signed the lease. We were almost certain she had returned it, but decided to have a look anyways.

Bingo, she still had it. And we're now safe at home.

I think I'll let Bethany keep the spare key in case this happens again.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Awesome Picture Of Shanghai

I didn't take this picture, and I'm afraid I don't know who did, but man, that's a nice shot.

(If you do happen to be the copyright owner, and don't want me posting it, or would like credit, drop me a line or make a comment.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don't Drink The Water

Tap water in Shanghai is undrinkable. It is chock full of...I don't know bad things. Sick things. Bacteria and what not that will make you very ill if you drink it.

Or so they say. I wouldn't know as I'm not about to try it.

They say, in fact, that it is so bad that you can get sick from even using it when you brush your teeth. I have friends who used to get stay-home-and-puke sick from using the water in this manner. (Obviously the didn't realize this was the problem at first, but when they stopped, so did the sickness.) Others say they get weird things like canker sores from using tap as teeth brushing fluid.

Basically it is good enough to wash your body, wash your clothes, and wash your dishes. Otherwise you might as well throw it out.

For drinking water we have to buy those big water bottles you find in the local office cooler. We have the little dispenser too (although ours doesn't cool, but it does heat!) Most people go to the local market where they have to pay a large deposit for the dispenser and then go back to for ordering refills.

We have some other local guy, known through whatever secret channels my sisters has. We didn't have to pay a deposit for the dispenser as the same sister seems to have had an extra one lying around. The bottles are ordered by phone and cost 14 RMB which is slightly less than two dollars.

Ordering the water has become quite an interesting task, as I don't speak Chinese and the water folks speak no English. That handy little sister of mine wrote out a little phonetic chart for me to order the water. She even wrote the translation of it underneath so I'd have a clue as to what I was saying.

In the end, as per usual, I still don't have a clue.

The setup usually goes something like this. I call a number, someone answers. I quickly run through the little schpeel Bethany wrote for me and then pause. The person on the other end says something I can't understand, and I repeat the last two lines of my Chinese (the first part was basically "I want water" and as they are the water people, I figure they already know this part.)

I listen very carefully to what the Chinese then say because often they are repeating back to me what I just said (which is the part about where I live.) I then repeat some more and add "ok?"

When I am lucky they say "ok" back and we're all set. When I'm not so lucky they say something else I don't understand and I resort to reading the whole thing again. Sometimes several times very slowly.

I am quite sure I totally butcher the pronunciation and tones of the Chinese, but usually they do get what I'm saying and we end with both of us using agreeable "oks." Sometimes I'm still not sure they get it but I don't know what else to do so I hang up and sit around hoping they show up at our door.

So far they always have.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Some Fine Dining

Since we have arrived in Shanghai Brian and Bethany have been inviting us to Sunday brunch. As we don’t meet together as a “family” until late Sunday afternoon it gives us all sorts of time to have lazy Sunday mornings.

Yesterday we finally took them up on it. The Canfields came along and we all shuttled in two cabs to the Café Du Monde. This is a very pleasant, little restaurant we often go to on Tuesdays as they offer half off to teachers then. My sister has some kind of card that gets her half off on any day during September and so we were happy to enjoy some really cheap food.

As it was a pleasant morning we sat out on the terrace. The café was reasonably full, but not so much so that we didn’t give a second thought to it being slow or needing to go somewhere else.

We ordered our food – I chose the pancake meal with two cakes, hash browns, eggs and toast. Everybody else chose an assortment of lovely sounding breakfasts. Then we waited.

And waited some more.

We got our beverages, mine being a nice glass of tea. Interestingly when you order a regular tea in many restaurants here you can also get it with a little jar of liquid sugar. Instead of having little packets of dry sugar that doesn’t dissolve, they have it in liquid form which manages to mix into the tea making it quite sweet.

Then we waited some more. Then we watched our waiter climb onto a motobike and drive away – he had a delivery it seems. I jokingly laughed that we’d have to wait for him to come back before we got our food.

I would have cried had I known how true that statement was going to be.

20, 30, 40 minutes rolled on by and still we had no food. While most restaurants in China way overstaff themselves, this one seemed to be short handed. There were two waiters on duty and one of them was still out on his delivery. It still wasn’t really that busy, so I expect the cooking staff was underdeveloped as well.

Finally the waffles began arriving. Too bad I didn’t order one of those! Our waiter then came back and still I had no food. Slowly the rest of the dishes came, and somewhere around an hour after I had ordered my dish arrived (the very last dish of our group, thank you very much.)

It really was quite good though. The pancakes were buttery and fluffy and delicious. The eggs done just right and the bacon and hash browns were all yummy.

Despite our irritation over waiting it was good food and really good company. The bill came and the manger gave us sixty percent off for our trouble. My total was like 80 RMB which comes to just barely over ten bucks.

Not bad for a huge meal for both me and Amy.


After services we went with some friends to a Sichuan place. That’s a type of Chinese food that is really spicy. As usual when we eat Chinese we ordered around ten different plates and then shared it all communally. It really is a nice way to eat a meal, and this time it reminded me of being at my mother-in-laws for Sunday dinner. The food was totally different, but there was lots of it like Sharyn always makes and we each just dug out of the bowls until it was all finished.

Each plate comes out separately and we ordered a lot – spicy pork with peppers, French fries done Chinese style, honey glazed chicken, broccoli, rice and several other big dishes. It was delicious and filling.

The restaurant was full and thus it was very loud. We had to resort to shouting at each other at first, but as the food came out we settled on filling our mouths and bellies. I ate until I was full and then there were two more dishes yet to come!

As we all ate everything we simply split the bill evenly. Our total: 20 RMB. That’s about 2.50 American! You can’t eat at McDonalds for that in the States, and that more than filled both Amy and I up with much better food.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Changing Jobs

I quit the crazy tutor lady. I though awhile about keeping her on as the job was easy (if annoying) and the money was good. In the end I realized that at a minimum she would be keeping me late most nights which means no Chinese class (did I mention I'm taking a Chinese class?) and less time to spend with Amy and eating alone most nights.

Also knowing her and her schedule it would mean working most weekends. So I decided it wasn't worth it.

I am now teaching two boys in the morning. They are British brothers, aged 11 and 12 respectively. They've been in Shanghai for a few years, and are very much into sports, specifically football (soccer.) Apparently they are good and had the opportunity to be a part of a specialized group. The only problem was that this group meets every afternoon which puts a strain on school. So their mom has hired private teachers to get their education in, in the morning.

I teach English, History and Geography. The kids are well behaved and so far it is going well. I am constantly amazed at how difficult teaching is though. I can handle the english lessons quite well as we're covering basic grammar right now. But history is proving difficult as it is British history and I am not so well versed in it.

Each night I have to study up just to keep a little bit ahead of the class. But it is fun and I'm learning and enjoying it.

I've just been hired on as a substitute for the school Amy works at. I don't know how much work I'll actually get since my morning teaching will keep me from substituting full days. But I think I can catch the jobs where the teachers have to leave for a half day in the afternoon.

I also had an opportunity to work at Microsoft as an editor. I'd love to get work as an editor and of course Microsoft is a huge company, but I decided to decline. Basically the job was way on the other side of town which would mean at least an hours commute one way which would basically kill my experience here. And ultimately the pay was terrible. I would have made more staying with my first tutor, worked half as many hours and actually been able to see my wife.

I'm a little torn, because I'd like to work and make some extra cash so we could pay off our bills and save some good money, but at the same time I don't want a job that keeps me away from home a lot of hours and makes me not really enjoy China. You can call me lazy, I'll take the name.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Shanghai Diaries - Special Bootleg Edition

The new Shanghai Diaries is up, and it's all about buying cheap bootlegs and such like.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our Home (Is Starting To Look Like A Home)

Over the weekend we did a little shopping. Last weekend we had gone to IKEA and bought a little dresser type deal that we figured would work well for sitting an oven on. This weekend we bought the oven. As you can see, Chinese ovens are very small.

None of the apartments in the LQ are fitted with ovens, and so everybody has to buy these little bitty jobs. They sell them everywhere, and in fact it is relatively rare to see shops selling the big ones, though I do believe they are available.

I don't really know why this is, but if I had to guess I'd say what we'd call a traditional oven is a relatively new concept in China. When we eat Chinese it is fried or boiled food, and not baked. So my guess is that traditionally the Chinese don't bake things, and so ovens are probably typically bought by foreigners. And since the apartments are probably not fitted for real ovens, the small ones have to do.

I could be completely wrong though. Maybe they just like small ovens.

Whatever the case, we have a small one. It does cook to high temperature and will fit enough food for us to enjoy.

We also got a coffee table. This one was given to us for free. Some new found friends we meet on Sundays had this table and decided they no longer wanted it. I suspect it was due to having a new baby girl in the house and not wanting her to hurt herself on the sharp corners.

It is amazing what a little extra furniture does to a place. Before we felt a little like refugees with such a bare living room, but now we have a little table to put our feet on (and all sorts of other junk) and a little oven.

It is starting to feel like a real home.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Why I Love China

I know that I complain a lot about China and the culture and everything gone wrong. But sometimes there are things that I absolutely love. This is one of them.

My friend Sara invited me and Amy to dinner tonight. We ate at a Muslim noodle place. It is located not far from the school, but just far enough to get a glimpse at real China. The street is lined with shops - food, grocery, beauty parlors and all sorts of things. There are guys on the street selling a variety of cooked meats and breads. And there are just people everywhere.

Buying. Selling. Loitering. And a little boy with crotchless pants. He's maybe 2 and his pants literally have no crotch or bottom. This looks weird and hilarious, but it is common here as the kids don't do diapers, they just let loose in the bushes, or the grass. Easy clean up I guess.

There is something in the air - something dirty probably, but something exciting and strange and utterly fascinating. We're still a little close to the homogenized, Americanized place that we call home, but for a short walk it will do. (And don't get me wrong, if we didn't have the homogenized place to live things would be much worse, but every now and again I like to see a glimpse into what China is really like.)

We go into the noodle place which doesn't have a real menu, only big pictures on the wall - all in Chinese with prices next to them. We have absolutely no idea of what anything is. It is all noodles with vegetables and/or an unknown meat.

None of us speak the language so we point at the pictures. Since the pictures are on the walls and up high, Amy and Sara try to point from a distance to their pictures. This works in an approximate way, so they have to use more sign language to get the waitress to understand they want the picture on the top and not the one under it. I walk to the wall and sort of leap up to my picture.

All of this makes the locals look in and gawk, and laugh at the crazy foreigners.

Sarah gets a nice mess of noodles and vegetables. Amy has noodles and beef and chicken, but the chicken is bony and thus kind of gross. I get noodles and potatoes and beef.

It is really, really good. Darn good. Some of the best Chinese food I've had here.

The total for me and Amy is 16 RMB which is just over two dollars! And we have enough to take home.

On the way back home Sara stops at a guy on the street selling DVDs. You see these guys all the time selling bootleg DVDs or books or music. They get all the latest stuff, sometimes even before they do in America. For instance, they had the double disk, expanded edition of Death Proof (Quentin Tarantinos bit in the double feature Grindhouse.) That sucker doesn't even come out for another two weeks!

The problem with the street vendors is that they come and go so quickly the quality often lacks. And lawd knows when you are buying illegal, bootleg DVDs you want good quality. I happen to know a guy who owns a real shop (as in really in a building with walls) who happens to be just behind the Living Quarters. So we go and enjoy.

It isn't a big shop, but it is much nicer than the little buggy guy on the street. He's got lots of cool movies and he speaks English as well which is great. Typically he has good quality stuff and he'll let you know how good the DVD is if you ask.

And I like buying my bootlegs from a local guy who I can get to know.

DVDs start at 7 RMB and go up to 10 RMB for the higher quality stuff. That's a dollar and a dollar and a quarter for those keeping track. They also have all kinds of cools sets - like the collected works of Woody Allen or every Best Movie Oscar winner since the beginning of time and TV. Lots of TV.

Some of the TV is bootlegs of the official seasonal DVDs. Sometimes they are fresh off the DVR, booted right off the TV. Like my sister got a copy of the first season of 30 Rock way before they were selling the official version, complete with the little station identification symbol at the bottom and mini ads for some upcoming show. All because it was taped right off the TV during the original run.

Yeah, that's not perfect, but the price is right. They also are big on complete series and such like. So I bought the complete Sopranos (excepting the last season since it just ended) and they're selling boxes sets of X-Files and West Wing and the Simpsons up until now. Etc.

It's all cheap. X-Files goes for about 500-odd RMB which tuns into about 70 or so US dollars. 500 is a bit number no matter how you slice it, but considering you can hardly buy one season of that show in the States for 70 bucks, getting every season is a pretty good deal.

So yes, so far I like China because I can get good, cheap food, I can see babies without crotches in their pants, and I can buy boogleg DVDs on the cheap.

It aint France, but it has its charm.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Teaching Situation

Here's a shocker: I'm thinking about staying with my crazy tutor lady. The thing is, while she is sort of stuck in her ways and the classes are as irritating as they are boring, they are not difficult. I go, I read, She repeats. Time passes slowly. But the money is good and I could use the money.

She's actually in Switzerland for the next 10 days, so I'm going to think about staying. I'll probably cancel anyways, but I am considering it.

Today I had my first class with two other students. There is a family from the UK here with two boys who they want to home school. The mom is friends with a friend of mine here and so I got the hook-up.

I got word last night that she wanted to meet this morning. I went in to culture shock hypothermia. I had already been feeling a little blue and the overload of Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams on the iPod didn't help. Plus we've been trying to sell our car back in the states and suddenly, in the middle of making plans with my students, I had to figure things about with the car.

Mom found a buyer and so we had to start coordinating between two banks and two continents etc. So I had a big freak-out in the I Hate China mode.

The family live really close to here, just down the street actually, so that will make it great. I actually got lost on my way. The directions I had were a little vague and I first went to the wrong building, then I called her and we both got turned around so I walked way out of the way. But then I found it.

She is really nice and well prepared, so I won't have to do a whole lot of preparation for each class. The boys are friendly and a little rambunctious but they are at a rambunctious age. I think it will work out nicely. And it is just morning hours, so I'll have the rest of the day to enjoy.

I'll be teaching English and Geography and History. I've already learned I'm going to have to go over cursive writing again, as I haven't written in it since like the 9th grade. I'm also going to have to brush up on my British history as they really don't want to learn about American history.

How did I become a teacher again?