27 May 2009


I bought a painting a few weeks ago, looking to do something about the very bare walls in my apartment. See the photo above. I think it’s a pretty cool painting, and at 400 RMB (about $50) for a 3 foot X 4 foot oil painting, you can’t really beat it. Notice the oh-so-subtle intersection of an image of Chairman Mao with the ubiquitous symbol of capitalism, the 12-digit UPC barcode. Anyway, the other day ayi was admiring the painting and asked me how much it cost. Oh no, it was really cheap I said, only 400 kuai, I picked it up while walking along Huai Hai Lu the other day, I said very casually. As soon as the words came out of my mouth it struck me, only the day before I had paid her 400 kuai. For a months work. Oops. What can you really say at that point? Oh, no, I mean I’ve been saving for many months for this. Yeah, right. So I guess it’s idiot comments like mine that fuel the notion among Chinese that all Americans are filthy rich and use $100 bills as toilet paper.

That brings up the whole subject of having an ayi (maid who does laundry, cleaning, dishes, other stuff around the house), but that’s another post. Anyway, the whole incident would have fit right in on the very entertaining (in the way that it is entertaining to watch others go down in flames) FML website, but I didn’t have the time to post it.


Speaking of shark fin soup, there was a huge shark tank at the club that I went to on Saturday night.  There were about 30 small sharks in a huge tank.  That’s the Dom Perignon champagne bar in the background.  Only in Shanghai...

Shark Fin Soup

Yesterday, for the second time in a weeks (it must be in season?), I was served shark fin soup at a business dinner.  This is local delicacy which is very famous and seems to be enjoyed by everybody.  The soup is made of shark fins, in a thick gelatinous broth that seems to be laden with MSG.  Cilantro, bean sprouts, and vinegar are served on the table and you doctor up your individual bowl of soup accordingly.  This is not a cheap dish.  Kind of like the Shanghai hairy crabs that I wrote about before, it is a delicacy and you pay for the privilege, about $100 for a small bowl at a nice restaurant.  The soup tastes OK.  In my opinion it is nothing spectacular.  The shark fins themselves are fibrous and kind of stringy; they don’t have much flavor.  No big deal.

Well, the problem is with the method uses to get shark fins.  I had heard from someone recently that they simply catch a shark, haul it on board, saw off the fins, and then dump it back overboard.  Without its fins, the shark can’t swim; it sinks to the bottom and dies.  I kind of doubted the veracity of this story.  Kind of like the one guy who insisted that in Hong Kong they sell babies to make soup.  That’s another post.  Anyway, this article from CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/12/10/pip.shark.finning/index.html) confirms that the method used to gather shark fins is indeed pretty problematic:

To satiate the appetites of upwardly mobile Chinese, fishermen traverse all corners of the Earth's oceans in search of sharks or, more specifically, their fins. Because space is limited on fishing vessels and shark bodies are bulky and not considered as valuable, fishermen often catch the sharks, saw off their fins and toss the sharks back into the water. Without their fins, sharks cannot swim and they sink to the ocean floor, where they're picked at by other fish and left to die.

Upward of 100 million sharks are killed annually, almost entirely for their fins for shark fin soup.

So what to do?  As somebody’s guest at a meal (especially in China) it is rude to flat out refuse to eat something.  You have to at least try it.  Plus, one person orders for the whole table, and ordering shark fin soup is a way of showing respect for the guest by ordering a very expensive soup, and thus being a good and generous host.  Also, by the time that bowl of soup lands on the table, that shark (to put it harshly) has landed on the ocean floor.  So refusing to eat it at that moment has no effect other than to snub your hosts and let the soup go to waste.  So you might say, take a stand, lecture the table on why you think it’s problematic to kill an animal for one small part and then throw it overboard to starve at the bottom of the ocean.  Well, that’s easier said than done, especially in China, where politically correct American ideas about food politics and animal cruelty are simply not understood and too foreign to have any cultural relevance.  In a country where widespread famine killed tens of millions just a generation ago, it’s more like, aren’t we lucky to have enough to eat now, not how was that pig feeling when he was slaughtered.

At least when we kill cows and pigs and chickens we eat most of the animal.  Does that make it any better?  Maybe there’s really no distinction between eating a burger (which I don’t plan to give up anytime soon) and eating shark fin soup.  I’m sure most vegetarians would argue that it’s not much different.  Anyway, I haven’t yet decided my course of action for the next time I’m served shark fin soup, but I’m thinking about it.

26 May 2009

The $10,000 BMW X5

See the two pictures above.  The first is the BMW X5.  The second is the Shuanghuan Sceo, a Chinese made SUV.  Surely the resemblance isn’t merely coincidental.  I have seen a few of these on the roads here but this was the first time that I managed to get a picture.  This is just one example of the many “cloned” cars that roam China’s roads.  Take a popular car from a famous international brand, copy the design almost exactly, manufacture cheaply, sell in the local market for a fraction of the cost of the genuine imported article.

To some this is shameless disregard for intellectual property.  After all, BMW surely invested a good amount for a design staff for the original car.  Shuanghuan, of China’s northeastern Hebei province, sidestepped that detail, and instead focused on their strength, cheap manufacturing.  So to others it is just an example of the ingenuity of a developing country doing its best to compete on the unlevel playing field of the global economy.

Here’s a link to the car on Shuanghuan’s website, proudly proclaiming that the Sceo “adopts the style of romantic, vigorous and powerful, and it shows out the vigorous and sport of the youth, and guide the vogue of the current.”  Sounds like a pretty good deal.

I know one thing, when I bought The Wrestler and The Girlfriend Experience on DVD yesterday from the guy on the corner for $1 each, I definitely wasn’t complaining.

The Great Firewall

In a really annoying development, the kind folks behind the Great Firewall of China have decided to block Blogger (any .blogspot domains) so that is why I have not updated here in a while. I finally figured out a way to post through email. We’ll see if this goes through!

Things here have been good recently. Work is picking up and I’ve been busy. The weather has been OK although it’s starting to get more hazy and hotter every day. It’s already high 70s to low 80s most days here. The good thing is that I’ll be in the U.S. for most of the month of August so I will avoid the worst of it.

Local news....Nancy Pelosi is in Shanghai and Beijing this week, meeting John Kerry and a bunch of Chinese officials in Xi’an for talks on the environment and economy later this week. I hope at least that she gets conned by the tea scam. This is where a really friendly local comes up to you in a public place. They say that they want to practice their English and make new friends, would you like to go have a cup of tea? They take you to a predetermined teahouse, where they have an agreement with the owner. You drink tea together, pleased with the new friend you’ve made, impressed by their near-flawless English, enjoying the afternoon. Then, when you say you better be going, you’re presented with the bill, which could be around 1000 or 2000 kuai, depending on how badly they want to rip you off. This is like $150-300. The door will be blocked by some serious looking Chinese dudes. You are forced to pay, and if you don’t have enough money, believe me, they know where the nearest ATM is and they’ll escort you. This happens pretty frequently to foreign tourists here, including to one kid on my trip back in 2006. I like to think that I’d be able to get away, flip over the table, charge through the kitchen, and bust out the back door running. But apparently it isn’t that easy. Anyway, I hope Pelosi gets taken by this scheme!

I went to the most elaborate KTV I’ve ever been to last week. It was modeled after Buckingham Palace. It was fronted by an enormous marble staircase and the building looked like a palace; it was huge. The waiter and hosts were wearing coat and tails. The waitresses (xiao mei) were dressed in white gowns like princesses. The traditional attire did not however extend to the drinking girls (xiao jie). Anyway, it was a pretty luxurious place that I’d never go to on my own but not bad for a night on somebody else’s dime.

12 May 2009


Today the first case of swine flu (H1N1) was reported in China. It was discovered in Chengdu (capital of Sichuan) in a man who was returning from the U.S. People here (and around the world) are really much more concerned about this than I think is necessary. I was just talking to a friend and he said deadpan, as we were ending our conversation, "well, if this like SARS then we all dead, so have fun while you can." OK then. Oh, and I ate pork for dinner last night, which people are now warning not to do.

Now I don't want to laugh in the face of swine flu, lest it hear me and seek me out, but is this really a big deal? What are there, a few thousand people sick around the world? 60 deaths? And those that have it get a mild flu? Anyway, this kind of stuff isn't taken lightly here, so I'm glad that the government is quarantining the passengers from the flight that the infected man was found on, but in reality, riding in a taxi in Shanghai poses far greater risk to life and limb on a daily basis than swine flu does.

06 May 2009

Thursday Night in Shanghai

In keeping with my laziness of just posting other people's stuff today.....here's a really entertaining event listing, courtesy of SmartShanghai. It's what I'll be doing tomorrow night. Obviously, I was hooked at the mention of the Talking Heads. Plus it's at C's Bar, home of just about the cheapest beers in Shanghai at 10 kuai.

Baijiu Robot: Robot Panic!

685 Dingxi Lu, near Yanan Xi Lu

Swine Flu. Economic Meltdown. Global Warming. The Death of Western Capitalism. Hype. Join Heatwolves and Mau Mau for their most ghetto party yet. Dance in baijiu and broken glass to Italo Disco, Electroclash, Rick James, disco bullshit (nu and old), Talking Heads, and some hard Brazilian drug dealer booty bass. No cover. Free baijiu in the alley by the la mian. Starts 10pm.

Lucy's Birthday

This great short story was written by a Chinese guy nicknamed Domy. It's an account of Lucy's birthday party. Lucy is a foreigner teaching English in Hunan province. My friend Rebecca also went to the party and passed on the story to me, so I thought I'd share. It's a pretty entertaining piece of work.

Lucy's Birthday Party

The moment I was offline yesterday afternoon, I swallowed my dinner as quickly as possible and took a taxi directly to the so-called Folk Bar. It was a new word for the taxi driver. He just dropped me off near the walking street and drove off. I had to hold the bouquet of flowers and the folded banner (with Happy Birthday, Lucy on) in my arms and searched for it. It took me almost 15 minutes to find it. It was a bangalow, just across from the Golden Time on Jiefang West Road. It was a small bar with the foreign style. The music makes people intoxicated. Most of the songs are country music, my favorite kind.

The instant I got inside, I found more than 15 foreigners there. I guessed they were all coming to attend Lucy’s birthday party. I went to the bar service counter and handed the flowers to the waiter there. At first sight the waiter looked foreign, so I told her in English who I was and that he had better hind away the flowers and put up the banner. Later I found he was actually a Chinese like me. But he seemed to know so much English. He could speak to me in English. That may be the reason why so many foreigners would go to this bar for chattings so often.

When the banner was put up, many eyes fell on it. “Happy Birthday, Lucy!” Shouts and cheers rose from the crowd. “A good idea!” someone cried out. Hearing this, I felt so proud ‘cause it’s my idea!

Later, I began to find a seat. The bar was small. But there were seats enough. Not big ones, but the rows of chairs along with the counter. With a glass of purified water, I began to find someone to chat with but they had been chatting already. I had no other way but to interrupt them and introduced myself. Most of them are Americans. And when they heard my name, they were kind of surprised. They said they had heard about me. Maybe Karen and Lucy mentioned me many times before them when they were chatting.

It was only 7:40 p.m. They would not come until 8:20. During the long waiting, I had to be associable, so I began to hunt for the objectives to talk about. Otherwise waiting for Lucy and Karen’s arrival would be boring.

I walked around in the dark light and met several acquaintances. One is Menjiao, who is now my co-worker, an artist. He taught fine arts in our school. And he had a great talent in drawing pictures, I think. He showed me the gift she would send Lucy --- a card made by himself. The cover is so special. It looks like a drawing, but with Lucy’s name inside. Very funny and creative. Another is Bridget, a beautiful lady whom we sang and danced in a karaoke hall when I treated her friends. She had a good memory. She recognised me immediately. She remembered me maybe just because of my singing talent. Haha… When I was puzzled and asked her for her name clumsily, she said she knew me and then she hummed to me “every shalalala…every wowowo…” Then we laughed. Yes, no wonder she sounded so familiar to me.

I was then introduced to some of her friends sitting around us. It was hard to remember their names. Rebbeca and Luke left a deep impression on me. Rebbeca is a beautiful young lady, seemingly a little girl. She looked like a teenager, like my senior kids. But she said she was 23! She had a large mouth and a prominent nose. Her smiles are a little exaggerating and charming. She said she is teaching in Hengyang, where I am from.

Steve is my old friend. He is now working in Fuzhong. We had dinner and sang songs together several times. He looks cool with his head bald. I don’t know whether he does it on purpose or natually he has no hair. But he is really humorous. I kidded with him, asking how many girls are after him. He said a little. When I corrected him by saying, “You mean, a few.” He laughingly said “yep”. Then we both laughed heartily.

Bill and Jane came a short time later. They are both my collegues. Bill was a very considerate woman. She came without having dinner and besides she had to be at school that night according to the planned schedule. But considering that she was invited to attend Lucy’s birthday party, she felt it hard to refuse. Jane was the very one who spent her birthday that night. She said she had just had dinner with her family. I felt very excited. How nice of the two! They could not come if they explained to Lucy. When I told it to Lucy and Karen, they were really moved. I was lucky to have such nice collegues.

Before Lucy and Karen came, several other foreign friends joined us. They were from different corners of Hunan province. Huaihua, Xiangtang, Zhuzhou, Liuyang, Loudi, Hengyang, Changsha. Approximately, the number of foreign friends climbed to 20.

Lucy finally came. Screams and blessings roared in the bar. Someone started the song “Happy birthday”, and everyone present joined in singing. The scene was very touching. I guess it must be the most meaningful and unforgettable birthday party for Lucy. It was a surprise party. And it was really a surprise for HER!

Everyone hugged Lucy. Everyone sent their blessings to her. She was happy. And we were happy, too.

Time passed quickly and we took a lot of pictures and chatted for almost two hours. We felt we had better leave first. After all, they knew one another better and had a lot to share. Only at the weekends can these foreign friends go out for relaxations. Living and working in a foreign country for such a long time is really not easy. Let them talk. Let them have fun themselves. We said goodbye to them and left the bar at about 11.pm.

It must be a sleepless night for Lucy and her friends!


Well it has been a while since I've posted here. I'm back in Shanghai now after two weeks in the U.S. in mid April. Before that I was in Korea for a few days. Being back in Shanghai has been great. The weather here has been really great since I got back.....it has been sunny, blue skies, and 65 degrees here literally for 12 or so days since I arrived back in Shanghai, with the exception of rain showers last Saturday night. It’s been really unbelievable. No smog, no haze, light pollution, really great. So that’s been nice. I figure we'll be paying for it though when it is 90 degrees and oppressively humid and hazy in July and August.

Not much else to say at the moment. I'm just realizing that all I've talked about is the weather which is really pathetic...so I'll try to redeem this by posting some photos.

Hong Kong Harbor view at night

Rugby Sevens bar scene...this picture doesn't really do it justice

The Cungking Mansions, where we were going to stay until Caroline chickened out

Night view of the new Shanghai World Financial Center, currently the second or third tallest building in the world

This guy was standing outside the bar with his pet monkey the other night. When it's him and an old lady begging for money, guess who gets the dough? Come on grandma, don't you have any skills or tricks? No? Just a paper cup? Sorry, this dude has a monkey that does flips and retrieves things and climbs up my leg. With all the beggars and homeless people here, you really need something to set yourself apart.

The remains of one of the frogs I ate for dinner last night. It was pretty tasty. I was the only one in my group of dining companions that did not eat the head (missing on this guy) and torso too, but just the legs.