17 December 2008


I'm sitting here in the Shanghai Pudong airport about to board my flight for the U.S.

I just got a nice little preview of America as I went to buy a bottle of water. An obnoxious, overweight, silicone-enhanced woman with a Texas accent apparently wasn't getting her fried potato fix quickly enough. As I waited in line at the Burger King, she had a meltdown because the fries weren't coming quick enough. She shouted angrily at the kids behind the counter: "Naw uh, if them fries are all gone, I'm a be pissed. Uh uh, I been waiting for too long now, I'm tellin ya. NAW, you ain't gonna give them fresh ones to him, are you??? I's here first! Now shit, that ain't right. I been waitin'!!!!" All of this was obviously in English (or a dialect thereof). The completely bewildered Chinese employee did his best to placate the rude American, "please wait moment, more come soon, sorry, sorry." I cringed as she went on, "NAW UHHH, come on y'all, now's about time, I BEEN WAITIN'!!!!" So, America's presence in the Shanghai Pudong airport is an impatient Texan heard accross the terminal screaming at a fast food outlet...

That said, I am definitely looking forward to spending some time back in the States. I wish that I knew exactly when I were coming back, and I wish it were going to be for 2 weeks instead of 4, but that's outta my hands. Second to seeing friends and family, I'm mostly looking forward to the food. A nice steak, fresh salad, good bread, cheese, YES.

What I'm not looking forward to is the next 15 hours in coach in a crowded 747. I considered going for one of the business class upgrades that sell on eBay for $300, but decided against it at the last minute.

OK, last call for boarding....

16 December 2008

Merry Christmas

You know it's Christmas in Shanghai when.....

You walk into a convenience store and are greeted by an aggressive techno remix of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" blasting at maximum volume. I could barely hear the clerk tell me how much I owed. No joke. Isn't there a law somewhere against making techno remixes of biblical hymns???

12 December 2008

Small Victory

After nearly 2 months of showers that were always warm but never quite hot despite the tap being all the way on hot, I just pushed a random button on the compact water heater in the kitchen and now the water is scalding hot!!! YES!

Anyway, it has been somewhat of a slow week here. Not too busy with work, thanks to the global economic crisis! It is a really interesting place to be, seeing the effect of the crisis first hand. Every day there are reports in the paper here about how bad the economy is. China's leaders met in Beijing a few days ago to work out a stimulus plan to pump some life into the sluggish economy. Just yesterday the headline in the Shanghai Daily was "China's Exports Record First Decline in 7 Years." This week China Eastern Airlines got a cash injection from the government of about $500 million. Sounds like a bargain compared to what the U.S. auto industry (and inevitably the airlines are next...) is asking for! There are frequent reports of factories in Guangdong province, the center of China's export-focused manufacturing industry, closing down. GDP growth in Q3 2008 slowed to 9%, down from highs of 12% during the same period last year. Foreign investment in China fell 36.5% last month from the same period a year earlier.

Behind all of the numbers, the ramifications are huge. For the first time in recent history, the Eastern coastal cities are now seeing reverse migration, as factories close and migrant workers return to their rural hometowns. Crime seems to be a real concern; especially as the Chinese New Year holiday approaches and people look to return home. Apparently crime in the cities always rises at this time, as people steal to finance journeys home, but this year people are saying it's worse because the economic situation and factory layoffs have made people even more desperate. I have been warned by several people to be especially careful.

On a lighter note, my friend Christian from Bates arrived on Tuesday, so we've been hanging out and he's in the process of trying to land a job and an apartment....not as easy as it sounds but he should get set up in a week or so.

Last night we went out to dinner with one of my Chinese friends. He took us to an awesome barbecue restaurant. It took about one and a half hours on various buses for us to get there, proving how big this city is, but it was well worth it. I said barbecue, but don't think Texas. It's not anything like pulled pork and ribs, but rather food grilled on a stick over charcoal. Every bit as delicious. We had lamb, beef, chicken wings, cauliflower, garlic shoots, sliced potatoes, meatballs, and it was all awesome. Washed down with cold beer, it was a delicious meal. It was just the skewers of crunchy chicken and pork cartilage/joints that I couldn't quite get excited about.

It's hard to believe that I'm headed back to the U.S. so soon, and that I've already been here for 2 months. I'm just beginning to get settled and feel at home, and now leaving! Although I'm definitely looking forward to some of the conveniences of American life....and the food!

Lastly, I saw this creatively named description of the bathroom the other day:

09 December 2008

Sunday night I went to dinner at a Chinese friend's house. Actually a friend of a friend. Rebecca met a guy named Fubin in Changsha, and when he moved to Shanghai he called me and invited me for dinner. He's 22 and lives with 5 other people his age, and they all work at the same IT company here in Shanghai. Anyway, they/the apartment reminded me of the movie L'Auberge Espagnole. 6 of them living in a crowded apartment, always joking and making fun of each other, smoking a lot. They made a delicious dinner, although it was conspiculously absent of meat (aside from a half stick of the processed Spam-like product that is available here), and explained that they can't really afford meat. They each had about a million questions for me, wanting to know about every possible aspect of life in America. They were laughing a lot and Fubin, the only English speaker, explained that they were all just really "excited, nervous, and happy" because it was the first time they had spoken to a foreigner. I even got one guy to demonstrate his gong fu for me.

05 December 2008


Last night I went out with my friend Joshua who has been living here for 11 years. We went to a few different places and finally to the Cotton Club, a long-running jazz club here that is pretty well known. It's a dark and smoky place with a good band and a laid back atmosphere. You enter and immediately feel like you've stepped into the past, to some kind of golden age before everyone came to Shanghai, before the nightlife scene was dominated by mega clubs blasting techno, back to some civilized Colonial era where people still remembered when there were signs in the public parks that read "No Dogs or Chinese Allowed." Putting aside the obvious negative ramifications of Colonialism, there's something romantic about the place that recalls Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s when it was known as the Paris of the East. Not that I'm advocating a return to those times or justifying the injustices of the concession era.

We were with a bunch of Joshua's friends, including a German named Werner (pronounced Verner) and his young Chinese girlfriend who spoke perfect English and definitely had some stories. These were all people who have been here a long time and live here permanently, expatriates in the true sense of the word, not just kids who come for a year or two.

When we got to the place it was full. Apparently the people I was with have some pull, because as soon as we entered a waiter appeared with a table, threw on a fresh table cloth, and placed it right in front of the stage. Certainly it was not my presence that elicited such hospitality. It reminded me of the scene in Goodfellas, with the awesome tracking shot when they enter the old Copacabana through the kitchen, and the staff makes room and places a table front and center for them. Shots and beers appeared and I didn't pay for a drink all night. Werner's girlfriend told me stories about strange things in Shanghai, including the lesbian waitress and the Chinese singer. More shots and beer appeared. An American who sounded kind of like Nina Simone was performing old jazz songs, and she was followed by a Chinese girl with a strong voice who did a pretty convincing rendition of Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah. It was an interesting night and a slice of Shanghai that I hadn't seen before.