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.
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.
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 was...um...interesting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.