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.