Friday, May 30, 2008

Shanghai Diaries - Olympic Fever

I have written another diaries. This time it is all about the olympics.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Shanghai Diaries - Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

When my wife and I moved to Shanghai some nine months ago, we knew we would eventually move back to the States. The plan was to stay for one, maybe two years with the possibility of extending that for another year or two. After that we knew we would have to come home.

As anyone who has spent an extended time in a foreign land can tell you, there are good days and bad. The good days are clear and beautiful. They make like home. The bad days roll up on you like rain and make me wish I was anywhere but this strange land where everything is different and nobody understands.

Having lived on foreign soil before, I knew all about both types of days before we left and as such promised myself not to make any final decisions on how long we would stay for at least six months. Even so there days when I was sure I wanted to live in China, and days when I wanted nothing more than to catch the next plane out.

We have been thinking it over these last couple of months and we have now decided to head back home and start fresh. It was a hard decision, but this seems like the best option for now.

There are a great many things I love about China and those things make me want to stay. Shanghai is an interesting and incredible city. We have seen and visited many fascinating places and it will be hard to go back to what will surely feel like the terribly mundane back in the States.

Money is a great pull as well. We now make far less money than we did in the States, and yet it goes a lot farther. Half of my wife’s check (and she is assuredly the breadwinner in China) goes to an account in Hong Kong which we do not touch. Yet we still live quite large.

We dine out nearly every night, we travel primarily by taxi everywhere, and we continue to buy all sorts of crap from DVDs to fabric to footwear without giving it a second thought. We travel all the time and we are still saving thousands of dollars.

That’s a hard thing to walk away from.

I also really love the people here. I’ve mentioned before that we live in something of an ex-pat compound, and it is something like summer camp, if not paradise. Culture shock is eased by the familiarity of western faces. Friends abound. I can’t leave my home and walk to the corner store without seeing someone I know and having a friendly chat. I have made many friends among the Chinese as well and everyone is always exceedingly friendly.

Like I said, it was a hard decision to make.

I am not a man of great ambitions, but I do hold a few small dreams. For as long as I can remember I have longed to own a modest house on a small piece of land. I want to grow flowers and potatoes. I want to sit on my front porch, sipping freshly made iced tea, while I watch my kids grow old. I want to sit there with my wife, whom I love more than life and watch the sun set over the horizon. It isn’t much of a dream, but it is mine.

Truth is I continue to get older, but the dream seems to get farther away. I simply can’t see how China gets me any closer to it. So, we’re going home on July 28. We’re not sure what we’ll do once we get there, I can only hope. And dream.
Fear not, gentle readers. I still have just over two months left in Shanghai and there are still many stories to tell. The diaries will continue on for that time and I hope you will continue to read.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Night of the Living Mosquitoes

We live on the third floor and are generally pretty bug free. Alas, last night was not ours. I hit the sack about 11:30 and within a few minutes my wife was groaning and yelling about mosquitoes. A moment later I could hear one.


In my sleepy state my mind imagined it way over by my wife (even though of course my ears would never be able to pick up their sound from feet away.) Then I imagine that it must have flown in front of me and I swat above my mid-section. Why I think this I don't know but as soon as I swat I realize how dumb my swat was.

Nothing. Quiet. I try to sleep. The wife groans again and swats.


This time thinking clearly I swat against my face. It must be near my ear for I can hear it and I'm not in the position to clap so I must squish him against my face.

Gross. Maybe I'm not thinking so clearly.

More trying to sleep. More buzzing. More swatting.

Nothing works. After a good swat they stay quiet for a bit. Just long enough to get comfortable really then it starts up again.

Eventually I turn on the light and find the sucker on the wall. Swat. Squish. Dead.

At last, now we can sleep.


Dang, another one. I turn on the light, find two on the wall and they go squish.

Lights out. Almost sleep. Buzz, lights, squish.

On this goes for an hour. I search the house looking for an entry point. The windows have been open all day but we have screens. I check them searching for small openings and find none. The bathroom screen had been up but Amy shut it yesterday afternoon.

I turn on a light in the kitchen hoping to move them in there. Then I shut the door. Then I shut out window and turn on the air.

We had been in sheets, but with the air conditioning we need a cover. Turn on the air and have to cover up. How's that for efficiency?

More buzzing. This last one is sneaky. He buzzes but when I get the light on he's not on the wall like the rest. I don't believe I ever got him, but about 1:30 I found sleep.

I woke up with several bug bits on my arm.

Dancing the Night Away

The other night we went to a little Korean place down the way for supper. As we rode down the road in the taxi, a couple of blocks before we hit the restaurant we noticed a large group of Chinese folks doing something that looked like Tai Chi in a large square. Curious we decided to take a better look after supper.

If you go to any large open spaces in the mornings just about anywhere in China you will see people out doing some variation of yoga. When I spent the night at the aquarium we found scores of people doing these little exercises all over the grounds when we awoke. It is just something you do.

Well, apparently they do something a little different of an evening. What appeared from a distance to be more of the same sort of morning stretches, turned out to be more like a Chinese version of a country line dance. They were located in what appeared to be some sort of outdoor community space. There was a large concrete slab in the middle where one could hold a variety of events from concerts to a small fair. There were a smattering of small stands located at the edges for people to sit, and to one side was a gazebo, with a smaller slab of concrete next to it.

Inside both slabs were gobs of people. At the gazebo they were playing fast-ish music with a slinky sort of swing beat. Couples were gathered and while not exactly swinging they were twirling and two-stepping with all their might. Interestingly most of the couples were women with their men gathered about the floor watching curiously.

In the main square a different sort of music was being played. It was slower, and more rhythmic. The people were all lined up in a grid and doing these fancy step moves. It really was very line dance-esque and completely fascinating to me. The wife, my friend, and I moved to the edges and tried a few moves. Most of the steps weren't too complicated so we picked up some of it pretty quick.

The problem was that each song only lasted a couple of minutes and with each new song there was a new dance. Just as I would learn one step, a new one would appear. A kindly older man eventually came over to us and began teaching us the steps.

It was so much fun I gathered up more friends a few nights later and we tried it again.

I've mentioned before how we live sort of a sheltered life. Shanghai is a very westernized city and our little compound feels like a little expat oasis. It has been such a joy to go out these few times and experience a little real China.

I can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Drip, Drip

Since living here we have had at least three different leaks. The pipes leading to the water heater leaked, the pipes under the sink leaked, and the pipes behind the toilet leaked. Now we have another one. This time it is the big PVC pipe in the ceiling above our bathroom.

The good news: the drip falls directly into our toilet, leaving no mess.

The bad news: the drip falls directly into our toilet, and thus my ownself when I'm using said toilet. I don't even want to think about where this water is coming from, like where it has been or what it contains.

I talked to maintenance yesterday. This morning they sent one guy up who looked confused. Normally maintenance puts little plastic booties on over their shoes when they enter. This guy seemed to have none and looked at me sheepishly when he knocked like he wasn't gonna come in. I told him to anyways and showed him the problem. He had a bag full of metal pipes which were worthless on the PVC. Then he showed me two work orders. One was for the floor above me, and one was us. He showed me both and said something I couldn't understand then split.

Later two men came in and took a look. They stayed a minute then motioned upstairs. I assume they went up to the floor above to investigate the leak. Moments later they came back down and said something or other. I assume the people weren't home.

They don't seem to be willing to go into others apartments when the owners aren't there, here. I guess we'll wait until tomorrow. Or something.

Until then if you see me with a wet back, don't ask.

Monday, May 12, 2008


I've already gotten some questions about it, so I wanted to update my readers. We are fine. I didn't know there even was an earthquake until well after it happened.

I tutor a couple of kids every afternoon and as I was leaving I ran into their mom as she was coming home for work. She speaks a little English, but not a lot and so our conversations are always a little funny. Today was no different.

"Hello, are you ok from the RQ?"

"The what?"


"I'm sorry, what is that?"

She yells at her boy and he says that yes, RQ is right. I still haven't the slightest idea what she is talking about, but her girl finally comes down and explains it was an earthquake. She then tells me her office all went to the streets where everyone was out walking about looking scared. It was an odd feeling to hear of a quake like that. Like I wasn't sure if I was understanding correctly, and wondering if everyone was OK.

Turns out it was a big quake, but way south of here. Though they say some people felt it here, and the big skyscrapers were evacuated. I didn't feel a darn thing. the death toll keeps rising so keep everyone in your thoughts.


This has been a weird week for disasters. Mom tells me over the weekend the little town where I used to work was wiped out by a tornado. There wasn't much left of the town anyways as it was mostly cleared out after the mining left, but man its weird to see pictures of places I used to hang out at everyday destroyed.

Keep all that in your thoughts, too.