Friday, December 31, 2010

Warmly Welcome 2011

It's been a pretty good year. Jia and I both found new jobs this past year, and are living much more comfortably than at the beginning of the year. We expect everything to go a little smoother in the new year.

My first New Year holiday in China was spent in Guangzhou. Jia and I had been dating less than month and decided to take two days outside Shenzhen. Seeing as I only knew a handful of words in Chinese, Jia was my tour guide. She took me through the main sites--the Tomb of the Nanyue King, Guangxiao Temple, Chen's Folk Art Museum (where I purchased a miniature Statue of Liberty because it seemed so out of place), and Xiu Park.

Guangxiao Temple was a highlight of the trip. It was my first experience in a Buddhist temple. Unfortunately, when we revisited Guangxiao before leaving China, the temple was undergoing renovations and much of it was closed off. The first visit was much more memorable.

Monday, December 27, 2010

White Out

It was a pretty wild snowstorm we had yesterday. It wasn't much until around 4pm, but it dumped plenty of snow around the city. The wind was howling last night, creating some large snowdrifts. It was an adventure just walking down the street--the sidewalk in front of my building is dry, but a few feet away the snowdrift grew to almost two feet.

Fortunately, my car was not buried under two feet of snow like some others.

Both cars were parked next to each other for the entirety of the storm, and only one is completely buried.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Right Vote

That's one way to ensure a favorable ballot.

According to China Daily, Putian, a city in Fujian province, launched an online opinion poll asking netizens whether they were satisfied with government departments. It sounds like a great way for the government to see which departments need improvement. But, like most governments in the world, they weren't really interested in listening.

Netizens who voted "dissatisfied" for the majority of the 79 departments listed were met with a notice from the website stating that their vote "does not meet the requirement."

The Putian vote was definitely better than a previous online poll for a city in Jilin province that only provided the choices of "satisfied" and "very satisfied."

The lesson here is, if you're dissatisfied with the government, don't vote.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Exclusive Squatters

I'm surprised this exists in China, but I am surprised it didn't pop up in Shanghai or Shenzhen first.

A mall in Chongqing has introduced an exclusive restroom for its elite shoppers. According to the Telegraph, shoppers spending 5000RMB can have access to the toilet. The article doesn't mention if this is a one-time deal or if shoppers have to spend 5000RMB each time to relieve themselves in the harmonious toilet. There's also no word on whether or not it's a squatter.

Friday, December 03, 2010


Sometimes I discover photos I forgot I took.

Looking down from Buddha's head in Leshan wasn't the best idea. I don't particularly like heights and it was a long, slow walk down the stairs to the feet.

Along the way down, I encountered one of many coincidences in my relationship with Jia. I had just taken my parents to met her in Xinjiang before heading to Sichuan. In front of us in line to see the Giant Buddha was a woman and her daughter from Xinjiang. She spoke English, and we had a pleasant conversation on that slow walk down. While talking with her, I received a text from Jia--she met two people from New Jersey on her train ride back to Shenzhen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Perch

On my first visit to the Great Wall at Mutianyu, I hiked as far as I could up the mountain with the time I was given by the tour guide (not nearly enough time). As I walked up the higher reaches of the wall where few tourists ventured, I came across some kids enjoying their time on the wall.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Broadway

There are some perks to teaching at a college in the NYC area. I've been impressed by the activities that the college has for students and staff, but I haven't been able to attend anything until now. Unfortunately, I missed out on trips to the Natural History Museum and a Buddhist monastery outside the city.

Jia has asked a few times to see a Broadway show, but she's worried that she won't understand what's going on. It's part of why I've been reluctant to take her to a play (I don't like musicals, I think they're cheesy). However, thanks to the student/faculty activities committee, I can now take my wife to a Broadway show that she'll understand: Blue Man Group. There is nothing for Jia to understand about three blue guys playing improvised instruments.

Since the theater is in one of my favorite neighborhoods, we may combine our Broadway experience with dinner at Crif Dogs and a beer at McSorley's. That would make it a classy evening.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Hidden Shrines

While wandering on my own in Bangkok I discovered a few things. The first was that our hotel was near nothing other than a dirty clothing market. The second was that I really had to walk to find anything of interest.

After a couple hours of walking, I stumbled upon a small shrine. It was down a quiet side street and had no noticeable signs. I also didn't see anyone to talk with about what I found.

From its appearance, I could tell that it was a shrine for people who have died--some of the photos were of people in military uniforms. I also noticed that there was Chinese on parts of the shrine, though I couldn't read any of it because it was written with traditional characters. What interested me most was that it was a mosaic constructed from broken dishes--the craftsmanship of the images was amazing. I still wish I knew more about it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Dangerous Dates, continued

In response to a couple comments on the previous post about the sort-of-secret relationship Jia and I had during my first year in Shenzhen, I've decided to add to the story.

I spent most of the first summer living in the school apartment, which was also the storage space for the few returning teachers. All the other apartments were filled for a month with visiting Americans who were working at the summer camp in the unbearable Shenzhen summer. Jia worked six days a week, often until after 8pm, which meant I didn't see much of her. I spent plenty of time sitting in my air conditioned room, having a few beers in an air conditioned restaurant, or wandering through air conditioned shopping centers. I also continued studying Chinese in preparation for my parents' visit in August.

Part of my summer plan was to introduce my parents to Jia. Since Jia and her mom wanted to spend their brief summer holiday in Xinjiang, I planned for a few days in Urumqi. The other foreign teachers asked if I was going to meet Jia on my vacation since they all knew she was from Xinjiang. I figured there was no harm in admitting that we were at least friends (sooner or later they'd find out about our relationship).

As some of the teachers were leaving Shenzhen after their year at the school, we celebrated their departure. A few of the more gossipy foreigners loved to discuss our co-workers' love lives--and, of course, it came to me. Seeing as they were leaving, it was safe to let them in on my little secret. They weren't surprised--and one of them was fairly certain there was something going on between Jia and me because she kept running into us at odd times.

By the time the new term started, Jia agreed that it was safe to tell the foreign teachers about our relationship as long as they knew it couldn't get back to the Chinese supervisors. There were also two Chinese co-workers who were kept our relationship secret from the rest of the staff.

Friday, October 22, 2010


If we had known what Malacca was like, we would've stayed more than a day.

After spending a couple days around Kuala Lumpur, my parents, Jia, and I took a taxi to Malacca, a quiet colonial town less than two hours outside the Malaysian capital. The hotel concierge helped us find a friendly driver for a reasonable price (and his car ran on natural gas). When we arrived, he even offered to pick us up the next day after dinner for the same price.

Malacca is a walkable town, although the heat and humidity take some getting used to. After the noise and traffic of KL, this was a great place to relax. And we relaxed in between the sights--we found great food near the hotel and cafes along the river. And like everywhere else in Malaysia, we found the locals to be very friendly.

In America, we love to talk about diversity and tolerance, but we've got nothing on Malacca. On one particular street near the central tourist area is a beacon of religious tolerance. At one end of the street is a church. A little further down is a mosque, which is next door to a Hindu temple. A short walk down from there is a Taoist temple across the street from a Buddhist temple. I have never seen anything like it before or since.

On the same street, we found a shop that sold Buddhist paintings, furnishings, and other items mostly imported from Dharmsala. The shop owner was from India. He explained that he first came to Malaysia to visit his brother in Kuala Lumpur, but decided to stay after seeing Malacca. He pointed out the houses of worship outside and said he couldn't find a more peaceful street.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dangerous Dates

I recently came across a few blog posts about dating in China--in particular, one at ShanghaiShiok caught my attention. And I realized I never wrote about my experience of dating Jia (though I use the term "date" loosely).

Jia and I began our relationship as co-workers and friends. She took it upon herself to plan a few weekend excursions around Shenzhen with Winnipeg and me. Of course, office gossip caught up with our friendly relationship--oddly enough, I wasn't the foreigner mentioned in the gossip.

By the time our relationship turned romantic (about a month after my arrival in China), we decided to keep things quiet. It sounded like a good idea, as I didn't know where it might lead. A month later it was apparent that we made the right decision to keep it quiet--Jia's boss warned her about hanging around foreigners. In a staff meeting for our Chinese colleagues, the boss made some veiled threats of termination if the Chinese staff spent time with the foreign staff outside school-approved activities. Not wanting to end our relationship, Jia and I kept it a secret.

We casually met at the bus stop, avoiding anyone we might know, and pretended that it was a coincidence that we were taking the same bus to other parts of Shenzhen. Somehow, we turned these chance meetings into dates, even though I had to fight with Jia to pay the bill at restaurants. She always found a way of either paying for part of a meal or paying for something else to even things out between us.

The most difficult part of our quiet relationship was explaining my travels. I took some impressive trips that first year, and had to claim that I took them alone (as well as hiding photos with Jia while using the school computers to email home).

We maintained our secret for the first seven months, though a few of the foreign staff guessed there was something going on (in particular, the foreign couple we kept running into late at night, which forced me to make up some lame excuses). Even after the summer, our relationship was kept quiet from the Chinese staff--even the other foreign teachers knew not to mention it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Same Difference

Most days I wonder if there is any difference between teaching ESL in the U.S. and China.

When I taught at the graduate school in Shenzhen, I was given an attendance policy that was supposed to be strictly enforced, even though it was a lenient policy. There was no official policy for tardiness, but my department agreed that students would be counted absent after 15 minutes, which really pissed off some students. Most students showed up on time, but there were also the habitually tardy.

Now, I've been given a much less lenient attendance policy (two absences per class and four lates equals one absence). I've repeatedly told my classes about this policy. Still, a few of them are habitually late. I also have a few who have already failed the class (it's not even mid-term) because they've missed too many classes. And I'm fairly lenient on the tardiness--I give them a few minutes before I mark them late.

The only significant difference I see between my current and previous students is that the current ones are much more active in class and usually ask questions. In a year and a half at the grad school, I only had a few students who regularly asked questions (mostly clarifications of assignments).

One aspect I miss about the grad school is the communication. We had a small department and held weekly meetings to discuss the classes and any administrative matters. Unlike most meetings in China, these were not boring or useless--my boss only made the meetings as long as they needed to be, which occasionally meant the meeting lasted a few minutes. Now, if I have any problems or concerns, I have schedule a meeting that somehow fits my schedule as well as my supervisor's.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Busy Streets

My first trip to Macau was almost a year after I arrived in Shenzhen. If I had visited the city earlier, I might have tried to move there instead of staying in Shenzhen.

On that first trip, I traveled with Jia and her mother during the October holiday--it was their first trip outside of mainland China. We rushed through Macau in two days, visiting as many non-casino attractions that we could (of course, we also stopped in a few casinos, but we only gambled 20RMB).

I always enjoyed the sight of the Lisboa (before the Grand Lisboa opened across the street) in the distance as I looked down Avenue de Alemeida Ribeiro from Senado Square.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Working the Beach

During my short stint at the training center in Bao'an district, I was treated to a day at Dameisha. We were promised fun on the beach and plenty of food. The weather was terrible during that May holiday--it rained, and, like all days in Shenzhen, it was horribly humid. But, it was my first trip to Dameisha, and I was excited (I definitely had my expectations set a little too high).

There wasn't much of interest by the beach--and there wasn't much more when I returned a year later. It reminded me of Seaside Heights without the boardwalk (another destination I don't plan on ever revisiting).

As it was the beginning of the national holiday, it was crowded. I expected plenty of tourists, but I wasn't prepared for all the local factory workers. When it came time to have our beach barbecue in the designated area next to what appeared to be a landfill, I realized we were surrounded by people who rarely get a day off work. I also realized I didn't want to eat anything that the training center had provided--the meat and vegetables were mixed together and had been sitting on the hot bus all day. I ate a few things that were purposely overcooked in an effort to avoid illness.

Unlike my other foreign co-workers, I decided to take the free bus back to Bao'an. In hindsight, I should've taken a public bus with the others. The company decided the bus would stop elsewhere in Bao'an to make it more difficult to get home. I split a cab with a Chinese co-worker, but found that she lived in an area I didn't recognize. Of course, I had no idea which way the taxi driver was going and ended up paying much more than I should have. It would've been easier to take a taxi back from Dameisha.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Beach Weekend

I'm not much of a beach person. I prefer hiking in the mountains to sitting in the sun. But, I decided to take a weekend trip to Cape May--it was my first time there (and I've lived in New Jersey for 24 years), and I got to share the experience with Jia.

For some reason, all the small hotels I called prior to our departure were booked for the weekend. However, I was convinced that I could find a guesthouse or bed and breakfast that had a room available when we arrived. I was right. After searching for about 20 minutes, we found the May Caper--an older guesthouse across from the beach. It had no amenities: no TV, no air conditioning, no breakfast. It was in need of some repairs, but it was comfortable enough for a night. And, our second-floor room included a large balcony overlooking the ocean.

After a short walk on the beach, Jia and I rented bikes for the day and rode around town. We stopped along the pedestrian mall, which was rather disappointing as it had nothing I'd consider interesting or unique. It was much more interesting to ride on the side streets and admire the Victorian architecture of Cape May.

We gazed at the lighthouse before sunset from the end of Beach Avenue--we would've stayed longer, but we had to return the bikes by 6. With a little time before sunset, we drove out to the lighthouse. Unfortunately, we arrived a little too late to walk up the lighthouse. But, it was still nice to walk on the beach around it.

Sunday we drove out to the zoo. This was probably the most exciting zoo Jia has ever visited (I'll have to take her to the Bronx Zoo sometime) as she's only visited her hometown zoo, which I didn't know existed.

Before returning home, we made one last stop in Avalon to visit my friend's deli for lunch. I regret getting the larger hoagie--he stuffs his sandwiches with more meat than is really necessary.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Meet the New Boss

When I first moved to China I thought I was moving to a communist country. I quickly realized how little labels mean there.

On a trip to Dameisha, I came across this advertisement. Somehow I doubt Karl Marx would approve (or even see the humor in it). I especially like the knock-off sports car logo in the bottom left of the sign. I wouldn't be surprised if the school's curriculum included reading "Jewish Business Secrets," a popular book that has little basis in reality.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Class Demographics

After three weeks of teaching ESL writing and grammar at the community college, I've noticed more differences between my current and past students. Of course, some of the differences can be attributed to the location.

Overall, my current students are more motivated. That's not to say that my students in China weren't--I had some amazing students there who were more motivated than any student I've ever encountered. But, there are fewer unmotivated students here in New Jersey (I also only have 45 students instead of 300, so the percentage might be similar).

To go along with the motivation, my current students are much more talkative in class. Aside from my time at the language mill in Shenzhen, I never had students who actively participated in class--including the few highly-motivated students I taught at the graduate school. On the first day of class, I was shocked by students volunteering to read in class. And, the willingness to answer questions without me looking through the class list to call on specific students makes my life easier. Of course, this also leads to numerous questions from students, some of which are difficult to answer.

The best part of teaching at the community college is that all of my students are at about the same level. Again, aside from my time at the language mill, all my classes in China had mixed levels in the same class--I've had students who were nearly fluent in English mixed with students who couldn't speak a complete sentence.

This has made me realize that if I go back to teach in China (or any other country), I want to teach English and literature majors at the university level. It would definitely be more enjoyable.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lunatics Holding Us Hostage

I thought it was over after that idiot in Florida got his 15 minutes of fame for planning to burn copies of the Koran. Now, more idiots are coming out of the woodwork and threatening the lives of every American because of their disregard for tolerance of anyone other than themselves.

The first is an pastor in Tennessee who has decided to burn the Koran to "save their souls." The second is the most hated church group in America: Westboro Baptist Church--those so-called Christians who protest at soldiers' funerals with highly offensive slogans about gays. These people are going to burn the Koran because the idiot in Florida decided not to.

How is it that a few lunatics can garner so much attention that it endangers an entire nation? Maybe the government can sponsor a trip for the lunatic fringe to the rural regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan...and leave them there.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Calming Effects

Things are a little less hectic around here. Our new apartment is now furnished (though we still need a few more bookcases and some art on the walls), and I've started teaching again at the community college.

It feels a little weird being in an ESL classroom and having no Chinese students, but that's not the demographic of the area. I was surprised that I have relatively few Spanish speakers in my classes, and quite a few Arabic speakers. Fortunately, most of the students who showed up for the first day of class were enthusiastic and determined to do well, which should make my job easier for the semester.

Everything that's been going on lately has made it difficult for me to put together the sixth issue of Terracotta Typewriter. I hope to have it finished next week--I just need to write a book review and lay-out the poems and stories.

This Friday photo is a reminder of my favorite destination in Bangkok, because it was the least crowded tourist attraction. I visited Wat Arun twice, once with Jia after our engagement and once with my parents, and was just as impressed the second time around. I found Wat Arun to be a relaxing and quiet temple in the middle of a busy city. Sometimes I think I could use a place like this nearby.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Flood

One thing I was definitely unprepared for in China was that I would encounter quite a few Pakistanis studying at Chinese universities.

The first few I met were friends of my wife--they were studying medicine at her university in Xinjiang and attended our wedding. They were finishing up their program when we met, and they were very happy to have people with whom they could converse in English. One was arranged to be married to a woman living in Denver, and he was unsure of how he could get to the US or if she would return to Pakistan. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to see them after the wedding.

The second group of Pakistani students I met were at the graduate school in Shenzhen. The first time we met was at the campus Christmas party. I saw them a few more times around campus. And, during my last semester there, we participated in a humiliating badminton competition. They were all engineering students, and finished up their programs last year (or so they expected).

As far as I know, all of those young men returned to Pakistan. With news of the epic flooding, I wonder if they're safe. Even if they are safe, their country is in crisis and needs help. I'd like to remind my readers that toward the bottom of the sidebar of this blog is a link to the Red Cross and they do accept donations for international aid.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Bus Through Sichuan

I took plenty of bus rides during my time in China. Fortunately, most were uneventful. I don't have the horror stories of overcrowded overnight bus trips, or getting stuck in the mud like Johnny Vagabond (whose post reminded me that I hadn't written this story yet). But, my first long-distance bus trip from Chengdu to Songpan was still an experience that I recall with a bit of humor, though it wasn't quite as amusing during the trip.

Jia decided that our best route to Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou was to take a morning bus to Songpan, stay overnight, and head to Huanglong the following morning. During the May holiday, the buses were crowded and tickets were difficult to come by, but Jia managed to get us two tickets on what she claimed was a "second-class" bus.

It was rather hot for an early May morning--I was tempted to wear shorts, but I knew we'd be heading north into the mountains--and I was sweating by the time I got on the bus to find that it had no air conditioning. A breeze would've been nice through the open windows, but we sat in the parking lot for more than a half hour.

For the first few hours, I tried to sleep, but the old bus shook too much for me to get more than a few minutes of rest. I enjoyed the scenery through Sichuan and saw terraced fields along the river for the first time during my stay in China (but not the last time).

As we rolled down the road out of Chengdu with a fresh breeze, half the bus lit cigarettes to help them enjoy the ride. It wouldn't have been so bad had the passengers smoked a few cigarettes on the way, but they didn't. They decided to chain smoke during the entire 11-hour ride. This included the driver who sat below the "No Smoking" sign. At least the windows were open.

The open windows became a mixed blessing as we drove into the mountains. Snow was still on the ground, and a few flakes fell along the ride. The windows would not close--they were stuck. I packed my jacket in my backpack, so I had some warmth, though I had to share it with Jia because she didn't have one.

On this trip I discovered the secret to making money as a bus driver or ticket-taker in China--pick up hitchhikers. During the first three hours, we stopped to pick up another 10 passengers along the road. The driver and ticket-taker split the cash and most of the new passengers had to sit in the aisle. As we came to a checkpoint, the passengers in aisle were told to lie down so the police wouldn't see them. We passed through the checkpoint without incident and the passengers resumed sitting on their bags.

As this was a second-class bus, there was no toilet on board (I was spoiled by the nice buses with toilets and movies on the short trips to Guangzhou) and we had to stop a few times in villages--usually when someone requested that the driver stop. I avoided using the public toilets as long as I could. On the first two stops I browsed through the local shops that sold snacks and cheap souvenirs--Jia and I bought some dried fruit for the ride. By the third stop, I gave in. I paid my 5 jiao to use the toilet housed in a wooden shack. It was dirty and dark, and the floorboards creaked. The toilet was little more than a slat removed from the floor. I looked down at the hole and peered clear down the mountainside. I laughed as I thought I paid for what I could've done outside off the edge of the cliff.

We arrived in Songpan in the early evening. We bought our tickets for the earliest bus the next day and inquired about hotels--we were pointed to one right across the street. We wandered the town and hiked up part of a mountain before dark. We slept early in our hotel that had no heat and boarded a much nicer bus in the morning that took us to Huanglong.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Evil Plot

The Republican gubernatorial candidate in Colorado Dan Maes claims that Denver mayor John Hickenlooper's quest to make Denver more bike friendly is a plot for UN control of America.

According to the Denver Post, Maes believes that because Mayor Hickenlooper agreed to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, along with hundreds of other cities and towns around the country, that anything suggested by the UN council would infringe on our personal freedoms.

Maes told his 50 supporters in a Denver suburb, "This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed." He added, "This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms."

So, Maes believes that it's a bad idea for Americans to drive less and bike more. Instead of saving money on gas and getting more exercise, we should all get fat and drive gas guzzlers because this is America and we have a God-given right to be fat and wasteful.

At least he has conspiracy theorists on his side come election day.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Turning the Wheels

I visited Jiuzhaigou in 2006 (my first full year in China), and I'm still fascinated by the park. It is the only place in China that I want to visit again (once is usually enough for any place).

Just outside Shuzheng village, where we spent the night, were these Tibetan mills.

The Tibetans channeled the rivers through chutes that powered small turbines that spun prayer wheels. They engineered a way for the water to pray.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Twisted in Shenzhen

Yesterday I heard about tornadoes in Shenzhen. I never heard about tornadoes in Shenzhen while I lived there, and this was quite shocking as it was actually three simultaneous tornadoes. And this came shortly after we were scared by warnings in the New York City area (one touched down in the Bronx). It really has been some unexpected weather lately.

Fortunately, I haven't heard anything about injuries in Shenzhen. The tornadoes were in Shenzhen Bay near Shekou--only a few miles from my last apartment. I guess these would be better classified as waterspouts as they didn't make landfall. According to the Shenzhen Daily, it is the first recorded in Shenzhen (though no word on how far back those records go).

There are some amazing photos of the tornadoes in Shenzhen here (captions are in Chinese).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Colorful, Cool

As we've experienced the hottest July on record here in New Jersey, I want to reflect on cooler times. (Funny how I was thinking about warmer times during the frigid winter.)

Still one of my favorite trips through China, Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou were beautiful. The calcified pools of Huanglong were amazing, though we arrived before the snow melt, so most of the pools were dry. It just gives me another reason to go back (next time I'll be sure to not take the 11-hour bus ride from Chengdu).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Chinese Wedding

A few days after Jia and I obtained our Chinese marriage certificate, we celebrated our wedding in Urumqi with family and friends (mostly hers).

Before the celebration, we had a few more things that needed to be prepared. Jia had already booked the hotel--the Yindu Hotel, which was one of the nicest hotels in the city. To save some money, she contacted a friend who worked at another hotel to supply us with soda, wine, and baijiu (he agreed to buy back any unopened bottles). After picking up the drinks, we went in search of firecrackers--we had to set off a long line of them before we entered the hotel for the reception--and purchased a roll of 1500. We also had to purchase cigarettes to be places on each table--I didn't want to buy them, but I was told that guests would be very disappointed if we didn't have them (fortunately, most of Jia's friends were kind enough to smoke outside).

Jia stayed with her aunt and uncle who lived just down the street from our hotel, so it was easy for me to pick her up. Because my Chinese wasn't too good, I didn't have to play all the painful games that grooms must endure on their wedding day. Traditions include refusing to open the door until the groom answers questions and slips hongbao under the door, hiding the bride's shoes, and other obstruction tactics courtesy of the bride and groom's friends. The worst test I had to endure was carrying my bride down four flights of steps to the car (why couldn't they have lived in a building with an elevator?).

The firecrackers were lit as our car arrived at the Yindu Hotel. We stood at the entrance, waiting to greet our guests as they arrived over the course of an hour. We got to see how other people in Urumqi celebrate their wedding as another couple hosted a ceremony next to us. We had a bit of a laugh as we saw the bride in her Western-style white wedding gown next to the groom who wore dress slacks and short-sleeve shirt and tie. I was tempted to offer my services as a stand in with a tuxedo--they could later edit the photo with his head.

Before I arrived in Xinjiang, Jia also hired a photographer and MC for the day. I was a little confused about the MC, but Jia explained that he was just there to host the reception and provide a little humorous fun. To prepare me, she told me what questions the MC would ask so I could prepare my answers. Unfortunately, he spoke too quickly and didn't go in the order I was told--Jia had to translate a lot for me. He asked me questions like "How tall is your bride?" and "What size shoe does she wear?" The MC also came with a local musician from the university--she played a few instruments and was quite impressive.

After being roasted on stage and exchanging rings, dinner was served. Jia and I didn't get to enjoy dinner as we made our rounds and toasted our guests with wine and baijiu. My brother was disappointed as he thought he'd have to drink for me, which is the custom for the best man. After we toasted everyone, my brother made his rounds and tried to toast Jia's friends who became scared by the foreigner who wanted to drink baijiu.

I finally got to shovel some food into my mouth after two dozen drinks. I wish I could've eaten earlier because the food was excellent (or so I was told).

It was still early when the celebration ended. We decided to continue the party elsewhere after changing at the hotel. We rented a huge room at the local KTV--it had a projection screen and foosball table. We enjoyed more drinks and a buffet for a few more hours with about half the guests.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Wedding Story

Jia returned from her business trip to China, and it was just in time as we celebrate our anniversary in a couple days (the Chinese wedding anniversary). And I realized I never wrote anything about our weddings (Chinese or American--yeah, we had two).

The summer before I started working at the graduate school, Jia and I planned our wedding--actually, she did most of the planning as I had no idea what needed to be done in China, nor could I communicate effectively in Chinese to know how to plan a wedding. All I had to do was set a date for my family to fly to China and pay for the whole celebration. The date was one of three lucky dates my mother-in-law obtained from a monk at a Buddhist temple.

A month prior, I had to visit the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou to obtain a notarized document stating that I was not currently married to anyone else, which then had to be translated and notarized in Shenzhen by a disgruntled government employee who questioned why he should notarize such a document even though we were paying for the service. After pleading with the notary for almost an hour, he agree to stamp the document so we would stop bothering him.

I met my parents and brother in Beijing and we flew out to Urumqi, as Jia's hometown is a two-hour bus ride from there. Before we could have our wedding reception, we had to visit the government office to obtain our marriage license. We only had four days between the license and the reception, unlike Jia's friends who waited almost a year for their reception. While my family was treated to an extended foot massage, Jia and I took a bicycle taxi across town with her friend (it was her job to take photos).

The government office was not what I expected. The first room had a lot of wedding decorations for sale--this was where we got our forms to fill out and our photos to be included in the marriage license. We then entered a larger room to wait our turn. We were the only couple getting married. The room was split in half by a banister. Jia explained that our side, which had rows of chairs in pairs, was for weddings, and the other side, which had a line or chairs around the perimeter was for divorces. I think the setup would be a great idea in Vegas.

When we were finally called to the desk for our marriage license, the clerk reviewed our documents to ensure everything was in order. She then insisted that we read a statement that claims we are not related--I thought it was funny, but the clerk insisted that I read the Chinese, which Jia had to help with as I only recognized every third character. A simple statement that should have taken two minutes took ten. The clerk disappeared for a few minutes to prepare our marriage license. When she returned, she proclaimed us husband and wife (or so I assumed considering my limited Chinese abilities). The first thing I did was look at our marriage license, which is written in Chinese and Uyghur. The clerk looked amused as Jia and I posed for photos with our marriage license in front of a large government emblem.

That night we celebrated with a banquet with Jia's relatives and friends--it was partly to make up for those who couldn't travel to Urumqi for the reception. We finished off the evening with a night out at Clone City--a large club featuring plenty of shanzhai (counterfeit) alcohol. Jia's friend had a ticket for a free bottle, and I was excited when it arrived at our table as it looked like Jack Daniel's. However, it turned out to be Jack Conte and it smelled like baijiu (my brother and I didn't drink it). They did have real alcohol, which was sold next to the shanzhai bottles (the price difference was a few hundred Yuan for the real thing and 10 Yuan for fakes). We decided to settle for Tsingtao.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Off the Coast

It really isn't surprising to anyone who has lived in China or follows the news of the country. But, this article popped up today about foreign companies leaving the coastal manufacturing areas of China.

The article begins with tales of workers demanding higher wages and better working conditions, such as the Honda plant strike in Foshan. It then goes into the attractiveness of sending some of the manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. or Mexico, or even some other Southeast Asian countries that don't have the manpower or infrastructure of China.

It only glances over the migration of factory jobs to inland cities. These cities are cropping up because of better roads and transportation improvements that make such factories competitive with their coastal counterparts. Inland cities are also more attractive to migrant workers because they might be closer to home and the standard of living is much lower, enabling workers to save more money. These cities are also attractive to smaller businesses and factories because the costs are lower--construction, rent, and wages are significantly lower than in places like Shenzhen and Shanghai. Only some of the rising cost of business in major cities is attributed to the rising exchange rate of the Yuan--the minimum wage increases in the regions plays a more important role.

Around Spring Festival, China Daily ran an article about the lack of returning employees to the major industrial cities of Guangdong Province. The estimated shortage of workers was in the hundreds of thousands. There was speculation then that the employees who didn't plan to return to their jobs were searching for work closer to home. Of course, Spring Festival is also the time of year for job hopping around China, which means most factories were already searching for new employees.

The next phase of the migration of factories is converting the old factory districts. What will become of the enormous factories around coastal cities? Some of these structures were built to accommodate more than 100,000 workers. What can be done with structures than take up so much space? In Shenzhen and Guangzhou, private schools and universities are opening up outside the center of the cities--Shenzhen has three top-tier graduate schools that share a campus in the northern city limits; and Beijing converted its old factories near the airport into the 798 arts district.

A silver lining to the exodus of manufacturing jobs from major cities may be that the heavily inflated real estate market will become more reasonable. Of course, such predictions have been made before and nothing has changed. In the coming year I'm certain there will be more predictions about real estate, the Yuan, foreign business, and overall manufacturing from the "experts" that will be proven wrong, just as they have been in the past.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Textbook Coincidence

I got an e-mail the other day offering me an adjunct position at the community college--they want me to teach two classes (though I was hoping for four) of high-level ESL writing and grammar. I scanned the syllabus to see what I'd be teaching for the semester and realized it's the same writing course I taught at the graduate school in Shenzhen. What really surprised me was that the writing textbook is the same as the one I used in China, though I think it's a newer edition. I just have to hope that the newer edition has updated and more interesting sample essays. In the event that the textbook really isn't updated, I do still have some resources to substitute into the course.

At least I'm familiar with the material and should have an easy time planning for class in the fall.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Things I Miss About Shenzhen (5)


I'm reminded of lychee season (though it usually starts in early June), and I really miss seeing them for sale on almost every corner of Shenzhen. Plus, there was the crowd around the lychees at Carrefour, which prompted me to avoid shopping at peak hours (which was almost anytime of day).

It's possible to get lychees, and other tropical Asian fruit, here in Jersey City, but it's prohibitively expensive. The cheapest I've seen is $5 for a pound. Fortunately, I took a trip to Chinatown and found lychees at a more reasonable price of $2 per pound. They're definitely not as good as they were in Shenzhen--the pits are larger in the varieties sold here and they're not as sweet.

I was tempted to make some lychee sangria like I did in Shenzhen, but that would require me to not eat all the lychees I bought. I also enjoyed making the sangria with dragon fruit, which is much more expensive in the US than in Asia (usually $5 for one).

On the bright side, I don't have to deal with the extreme heat and humidity of Shenzhen this time of year, which is worsened by the nonstop rain.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Guards

I still dream of returning to Bali. It was too beautiful and friendly to forget, and four days was not nearly enough time to enjoy it. One of my favorite things around Bali (besides the beautiful views) was the sculptures--the Hindu influence around the island is amazing.

This temple guard was photographed at Ubud Palace. Our tour guide didn't know what to call it. He did, however, explain that its purpose depends on the color of the cloth that is wrapped around it (I think black and white means it's a destroyer, but I don't remember what any other colors mean). When we visited Tegalalang, Jia convinced me to purchase a colorfully-painted wooden temple guard for $7.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New Friends in the City

I decided too late that I could go to TBEX and the event was sold out. I was looking forward to meeting all the travel bloggers in New York. Of course, I found out that there was some disorganization and I could've crashed the party without anyone noticing.

Fortunately, I made plans Sunday night to meet at least one visiting travel blogger--Jen from Solo Travel Girl. I was especially interested in meeting Jen because she was one the first regular readers of this blog.

We met up in Chinatown and found a small dumpling and noodle shop on Mott St., Wonton Garden. It felt like a Mainland noodle shop with a nice selection of dumplings, wontons, and noodles (unfortunately, they didn't have Lanzhou la mian). I was surprised by the amount of food they served for $5--those were big dumplings for any restaurant. Afterwards, we headed down to the Whiskey Tavern on Baxter for a drink.

I was surprised that Jen brought me a gift: homemade mango chutney. After trying it on fish and rice, I can safely say that it tastes amazing. The jar Jen gave me will not last two weeks for my wife to try when she returns from China.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Drinking Independently

Wednesday night I attended the Indy Spirits Expo at Touch in New York. I was given tickets by Dave at Orange V vodka, whom I met a month earlier at the Micro Distillers Odyssey. I tried Orange V again and was impressed that it tastes like real oranges mixed with high-quality vodka.

Unlike the Micro Distillers Odyssey, the Indy Spirits Expo didn't have any seminars and fewer distillers attended (it was mostly sales reps). However, there were more spirits to sample this time around. I was disappointed that there weren't more cocktails being served--since the Micro Distillers Odyssey was part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, there were plenty of bartenders mixing creative cocktails. The Indy Spirits Expo was also more crowded than the previous event--fortunately, I was able to show up an hour earlier than most attendees.

I discovered a few new spirits that were interesting and impressive. My first sample was Calisaya, an Italian liqueur distilled from cinchona bark--it was a bit sweet and would be great mixed with some neutral spirits. I also found some flavored vodkas from Hamptons Vodka--the chocoraspberry really tasted like chocolate and raspberry. The distiller mentioned that he has a deal to begin distributing these vodkas in Shenzhen.

I was happy to find two spirits made in New Jersey--Love Potion #9 and The Spirit of Liberty. The Love Potion was much sweeter than the Calisaya, but had a pleasant, smooth flavor. The Spirit of Liberty is a bourbon cream liqueur--it's smoother and a little lighter than Irish cream that uses Irish whiskey. I was also told that The Spirit of Liberty has a longer shelf life than Irish cream and doesn't need to be refrigerated. It even comes in a bottle shaped like the Statue of Liberty.

The most creative of spirits at the event would have to be the Scorpion Mezcal. I'm not a fan of tequila or mezcal--my stomach turns at the mention of it--but I had to give this a try. I was surprised to find that it had a pleasant aroma and a small scorpion at the bottom of the bottle (I was told that it is edible, like the worm in a tequila bottle). I took a sip and my stomach didn't turn--it was a smooth spirit.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Farewell Food

I was informed of some sad news from Shenzhen. My wife is going to spend a few weeks there on business and is planning to meet a few of our friends who are still there. She was looking forward to eating at our favorite Xinjiang restaurant, which was across the street from our last apartment. However, J. informed us that they closed. We're guessing the closure was not due to a lack of customers--they were usually busy. J. says a lot of the restaurants on the street have closed (we didn't ask about the sex shop or prostitution shop that were neighbors of the Xinjiang restaurant).

It's not the first time a favorite restaurant has unexpectedly closed in Shenzhen. When we first moved to Nanshan district, there was a great Xi'an restaurant just outside our complex gates. It was also crowded for dinner, but shut after a holiday. It was a confusing closure. Usually, when a business closes, it is immediately gutted. This restaurant still had the tables set up--with decaying garlic still in bowls on each table. There was never a sign about the closure, and we never saw the owners or staff again. Almost a year later, nothing changed inside that storefront.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Window to a Wall

My favorite part of my first trip to the Great Wall was the quiet--once I got past the third signal tower at Mutianyu, the crowd thinned out. The cool wind blowing through the mountains was a welcome relief from the choking heat and humidity of Beijing in August.

Inside the signal towers, I let my sweaty shirt dry as I caught my breath. And during those breaks I was able to meet a few friendly Mainland tourists who spoke just enough English to match my Chinese ability at the time. It was a more difficult hike, but much more enjoyable than the following year when I visited the Badaling tourist trap.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dragon Boats

If there's one regret I have from my time in China, it's that I never went to a dragon boat race. I was always busy or in the wrong part of the city. My first year, I was in Hong Kong and wanted to go to the festivities for Dragon Boat Festival, but the weather prevented me from venturing far--it was definitely the worst weather I experienced on my trips to Hong Kong.

The only part of Dragon Boat Festival I experienced was the consumption of zongzi--the glutinous rice snack in a triangular shape, wrapped in a leaf. I enjoyed zongzi much more than mooncakes, but they still weren't the best holiday snacks. This year, my wife's friends gave us some homemade zongzi--filled with meat and vegetables. They were better than the ones we used to buy in Shenzhen, but I still didn't like the gooey glutinous rice.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Theme and Such

This blog is almost five years old (it will be in a little over a month). When I began, it was because I wanted to write book, TV, and movie reviews. I wasn't even contemplating a move to China at the time. And then I left for Shenzhen three months later.

So, now I have a new reader-friendly theme. The first one was boring and I was lazy about changing it because I really didn't know how to use the editor on Blogger effectively. The second one was better, but was still lacking. This one is a great improvement, but I still want to make a few changes and need to find where the code is to change those parts.

After browsing some of my older posts, I decided that it would be a good idea to start tagging a few posts as "waiguoren's picks" so new readers can find some of the better posts among the more than 600 that are currently here. Please be patient, it will take me some time to find my favorites.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Strangers on a Bus

A post over at the Art of Backpacking got me thinking about encounters with strangers. Unfortunately, in a city like Shenzhen it was difficult to find kindness in strangers--it was usually overshadowed by the behavior of China's least friendly city. However, one encounter still stands out (there was also another encounter much earlier in my adventure in Shenzhen).

I was on my way home and had to switch buses. As I was used to having a metro card, I didn't check to ensure I had enough cash on me to take the 2 Yuan buses. Of course, I didn't have my metro card that day. As I got on the second bus I searched for my change and came up with only 1 Yuan. I was sure that I must have a coin stashed in a pocket of my backpack, but only came up with two quarters left over from my trip to the US. The only other money I could find was a 50 Yuan note, which was no good on an exact change bus. I also knew asking for change for a 50 from the passengers would be futile (a 5 or 10 would be easier). (On a slightly related note, I once had to pay a ticket girl with a 100 Yuan note for a 2 Yuan bus ticket and was amazed that she had enough change.)

One passenger saw my plight and offered me 1 Yuan. She was very kind and spoke decent English. She was also surprised when I thanked her in Chinese and began a small conversation for the twenty-minute ride home. I gave her the two quarters that were in my backpack. She told me I should get a metro card, and I explained that I have one but my wife had taken it that day.

I thanked her again as I stepped off the bus and felt better about Shenzhen for the rest of the day.

Friday, June 04, 2010

June 4, 2010

Photo taken August 2006.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rest at the Temple

Our rest stop on the hike up the plank staircase through Huanglong (黄龙) in Sichuan province was the Huanglong Temple. It was impossible to stop to rest anywhere else as it was the May holiday and the tourists took up the benches along the routes to rest and use their oxygen tanks that were purchased upon entering the park.
The temple was quiet as most tourists walked around the outside, spinning the prayer wheels. It was an enjoyable moment of rest before hiking the rest of the way up the mountain and looping back down to catch our bus that would take us to Jiuzhaigou. Unfortunately, we walked back and forth between the two parking lots at the entrance searching for that mythical bus--everyone seemed to think the bus we wanted was at another location. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Even the Losers

My apologies to Tom Petty...

Chinese media is buzzing with stories of a few losers. The first comes as a bit of a surprise: unpopular micro-bloggers are paying people to be their fans. These people are paying others to manipulate the number of followers to their micro-blog on Sina.

I know that there are a lot of people whose social skills are lacking, but is it really that difficult to make friends online? To add some perspective, I use the Chinese micro-blog and have 124 followers. That's not bad considering how infrequently I use it and the fact that I write 90% in English (I originally planned on using it to improve my Chinese).

Our next candidate comes from Shenzhen. Shenzhen Daily reports that a man blames a Jissbon condom for ruining his sex life. While using a condom that supposedly would help extend sexual performance, he suffered pre-mature ejaculation, followed by depression. Jissbon refutes the man's claim that it was a faulty condom. As proof that China is opening up to Western ideals, the man filed a frivolous lawsuit against the condom maker.

Note: Jissbon is a Chinese condom brand made in Wuhan. They have the most amusing logo of a smirking condom wearing sunglasses.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dying for a Job

I've tried avoiding writing about this topic, but I can't ignore it any longer. What is wrong with Foxconn? It was reported that yet another employee committed suicide by jumping from the factory in Shenzhen. That's the 10th confirmed suicide attempt by jumping and eighth successful suicide since January. The seventh suicide at the factory was just over a week ago. Never mind that Foxconn had a history of such problems before this year.

Just this year Foxconn established a suicide hotline--a service that was long-overdue for a company that employs 420,000 people in Shenzhen. It also encourages employees to regularly work 12 hours a day to earn a decent wage in one of China's most expensive cities. Never mind that Shenzhen is a very difficult place to make real friends among the throngs of migrants all hoping to make quick money and return home.

When you combine long working hours with an isolated lifestyle (most employees live in dorms on the factory grounds) and employees under the age of 30 who are probably away from home for the first time, depression is likely.

It has gotten so bad at Foxconn that the state-run newspapers are writing editorials about how to fix the company. The government is investigating the company and attempting to prevent future suicides.

Unfortunately, suicide among the young population of Shenzhen is not uncommon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spirited Odyssey

Sunday I joined the Micro Spirits Odyssey, part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, courtesy of In With Bacchus and Dave from Orange V Vodka. It was an all-day event with tastings, seminars, and food at Butter restaurant.

I'm not much of a cocktail or liquor drinker--I do enjoy bourbon and Scotch every now and then, but a bottle will last six months in my house--so, this event was not necessarily geared toward my tastes. However, I was surprised by what I found. All of the spirits being tasted were produced by small distillers (mostly from New York), and most of the people working the tables were the distillers and owners of the spirits.

There were a lot of fruit-flavored spirits and cordials at the event. I never realized what a difference real fruit makes in the distilling process--it tasted nothing like the flavor liquors I'm used to; it was far superior. Thanks to Philadelphia Distilling for providing me with my first taste of Absinthe (Vieux Carre), which was a fairly enjoyable spirit. Unfortunately, it's difficult tasting straight liquor all day and only the Macchu Pisco table had a cocktail ready for tasting. I had to go to the bar for the rotating cocktails.

The cocktails being served were nothing like what I've seen at the bars. They were muddling fresh fruit like blueberries and strawberries and adding flavored bitters. Some of these drinks had six or seven ingredients. One in particular had too many flavors. The only one I really enjoyed was the Darling Clementine, made with Colorado rum. Of course, I also missed out on trying a few others.

The biggest surprises I had during the day were courtesy of Greenbar Collective and Long Island Spirits. Greenbar makes Crusoe organic spiced rum, which was the smoothest rum I've ever tasted. And it had a great mix of distinct spices. They also make Jasmine and hibiscus liqueurs, which are quite sweet but would make great cocktails. Long Island Spirits changed my opinion of vodka--they produce LIV potato vodka (made from Long Island potatoes). I was resistant to trying vodkas because I don't really like the taste. But LIV had a light, smooth, and pleasant taste--a vodka I would actually enjoy drinking every now and then.

Unfortunately, most of the spirits at the event are not available in New Jersey yet. But I now know there are spirits out there that I can enjoy.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Contrasts Among Mountains

I wish I had more time in Songpan. It's a beautiful, quiet city in Sichuan. But, we only had a few hours to walk around as we arrived late in the day and left early the following morning. We did hike a little way up the mountain before it got dark. If there weren't so many other places to visit in China, I'd like to revisit Songpan--it's a nice place to relax.

Some places are amazing as you see the contrasts of the old and modern.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Joys of Social Media

I can now add social media consultant to list of job titles that includes writer, editor, publisher, proofreader, professor, and a few other things I haven't done in a long time. Social media doesn't sound like anything important, but it has provided some great opportunities in the past. I have also met a few people whom I wouldn't have otherwise encountered.

Like most people I started out using social media to catch up with friends--moving across the US and then to China created some distance, and social media allowed me to keep in touch with a lot of people. Twitter came out while I was still in China, and I managed to find a lot of friendly and helpful people. It was because of people I met through Twitter that I was able to create a functioning Web site for Terracotta Typewriter. Many of the same people have also helped to promote the literary journal.

When Jia had her visa interview in Guangzhou, I was able to meet up with one such person. We met at the foreign-friendly Ikea cafeteria for coffee (that was the first time I ever set foot in Ikea anywhere in the world). I met him again at our favorite Guangzhou restaurant a few months later as Jia and I made our farewell rounds. I was then introduced to another person I had "met" through social media.

Most recently, I met with a larger group of people (most of whom were connected with Twitter) at Congee Inc. in Chinatown (who knew I'd find congee that I actually enjoyed eating). Everyone at our dinner meeting had spent time in China (at least one was on the way back to China).

I'm certainly looking forward to TBEX in New York (though I waited too long to buy my ticket and it's sold out) so I can meet a few of the travel writers I've encountered online. And if anyone can get me a ticket for TBEX, I'd be even happier.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Hike to the Temple

During my first two years in Shenzhen Jia took me to Phoenix Temple (Fenghuang 凤凰), which was the nearest Buddhist temple to our community in Bao'an. Shenzhen has very few temples compared to other cities in China, but that's mostly because it's a very young city. Phoenix Temple is a young temple--the buildings are only a few years old--but the location supposedly has a longer history for Buddhists.

Getting to the temple was not easy. We took one of the older bus routes through the more isolated sections of Bao'an district. There were still farms in this area--mostly lychees and bananas. There were even bee keepers along the road selling honey. The boxes the bees were kept in were propped up by beer bottles.

It was a long walk up the winding road--it felt much longer than it really was because we always went when the weather was hot and humid. We were one of the few groups that didn't drive up. Fortunately, this gave us a chance to see the sights along the way, like my favorite sign in all of China. I still don't know why they would sell stupid chickens and ducks or why anyone would want to buy them.

Phoenix Temple was one of the least interesting temples I visited. But, it did provide some great views of Shenzhen on a clear day (if you're lucky enough to find one of those rare days).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The China Price

I noticed over the last couple weeks that garlic became more expensive. I usually spent $1 for a sleeve of five heads of garlic. Now I've seen prices rise slightly by 25 to 50 cents. Not a big deal for a lot of garlic (and we do use a lot in our cooking).

In a news brief in the Shenzhen Daily, it seems the price increase is more alarming. In the city of Shenzhen, the wholesale price of garlic has doubled in the past week to 7 Yuan per half kilogram (close to a pound). Considering most of the garlic around here is imported from China, and a sleeve is about a pound, the price increase is actually quite minimal. This could lead to a greater price hike in the next few weeks in the US.

I just hope I don't have to change my recipes to include less garlic.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Peace of Mind

This week's Friday photo is again from Malaysia--this time from Penang. I found this billboard along a busy street after we visited the Thai and Burmese Buddhist temples.

The fence with barbed wire doesn't seem inviting for those seeking inner peace.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Brain Damage

All this time I've been studying Chinese on my own and making little progress. Who knew all I needed was a good migraine. Supposedly, a British woman speaks with a Chinese accent after suffering a severe migraine. And it might not be a load of BS. There are documented cases of what researchers call foreign accent syndrome. The only encounter I've had with FAS is with people who have recently spent time in Ireland--I think the Guinness gets in their heads and turns them Irish.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is It Considered Mail Fraud?

China Daily ran a story about customs seizing about 37,000 fake products in the out-bound mail--seven times the amount seized in 2008. From the article, it sounds like all of incidents were through China Post and not through international shipping companies (though that detail is left out).

It sounds like the post office isn't doing its job. From my experience in the post offices around China, they check every parcel before it gets sealed and stamped, which can cause a person to wait a long time to send something as simple as a postcard. And they do have some rules for international mail, as my wife and I discovered.

Jia wanted to send a small package to my parents after our wedding. Part of the package was a DVD of our reception. Unfortunately, the videographer used a DVD label that had pictures of Mickey Mouse--a blatant infringement of intellectual property. China Post wouldn't allow Jia to send the DVD because it would get seized by customs--she later took it to a Kodak store and had them write it to a blank DVD without a label.

We also had a similar experience when shipping a few boxes of our belongings via DHL before we moved to the US (see previous post).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Satanic Verses

After our walk through the small rainforest in the center of Kuala Lumpur that surrounds the KL Tower, we walked along a narrow street on our way to other parts of the city.

I was surprised to see graffiti in English with this sentiment in a country as diverse as Malaysia. It was also rather unusual to see this across from what appeared to be a Catholic school.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Too Many Cars

Shenzhen Daily ran a couple interesting articles about the city's traffic today. The first was about the growing concern about traffic and how residents are overly-optimistic because the traffic is better than in Beijing and Shanghai. I'll admit that Shenzhen's traffic is much lighter than Beijing's, but it's still pretty bad.

The article claims that there are now 1.5 million registered vehicles in Shenzhen--this figure doesn't include the electric bikes, small motorized carts, and cars with fake license plates. The one problem I have with the article is that unlike past articles it doesn't mention anything about the Special Economic Zone and the rest of Shenzhen--usually such articles only focus on the Special Economic Zone (Does anyone know the area of the entire city? Is it more than 2000sq. km.?) Also, the last time I read an article like this it separated the numbers between private vehicles and taxis and buses. From what I remember about a previous article a couple years ago, 1.5 million sounds like the number for private vehicles.

Although the roads will supposedly reach maximum capacity with 2 million cars in 2012, the city is still working to extend the subway system. Unfortunately, as I found out from my students, drivers in Shenzhen are unlikely to forgo driving for the convenience of mass transit (it's all about face).

The other article was about a family suing the city police for negligence that caused the death of two people who were hit by a bus that drove through the highway median to avoid debris on the road. The problem with this accusation is that there are very few traffic cops on highways in China--they mostly stay at check-points along the roads (no speed traps like we have around here). I'm not sure what a reasonable amount of time is to remove a 22-ton piece of steel from the roadway, or if the police are responsible for its removal. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gone Fishing

Do you know where your fish is from? There are plenty of people who want to buy fish that is local (or at least domestic) because they think it helps the economy and it's the green thing to do. Well, maybe it isn't. From CNN again, comes an article stating that fish caught in Alaskan waters is shipped to China for processing before returning to the US for consumption. Looks like my salmon traveled more than I did in the last year.

This is really a surprise. A few weeks ago I was at the grocery store and noticed a package of frozen salmon that was significantly cheaper than the thawed fillets being sold in the seafood department. The package had an American flag on it, and some cheesy American-imagery name. But, it also said "Product of China." I was confused because I know salmon is not a local fish in China. I thought that maybe someone opened a salmon farm in China or the US was allowing Chinese fishermen in the Alaskan waters. Turns out I was wrong about both.

The question now is, how long does it take to process the fish and get it back for sale in the US?

Friday, April 09, 2010

What Are You Selling?

CNNGo ran a short interview with a fake watch and bag salesman in Shanghai. It's not all that informative or interesting, but it got me thinking of my encounters with these people.

On my first Spring Festival trip with Jia to Shanghai, I got sucked into some very touristy areas that had plenty of shops that I wasn't at all interested in visiting. In Yu Yuan, I was accosted by many people who shouted in my face, "Hello, friend, buy watch bag." The first time I heard this, I had no idea what the salesman said. The second time I wondered, "Why would anyone want a bag for their watch?" I asked Jia about it and she stopped at the next salesman. She explained that they were selling watches and bags, not watch bags.

Fortunately, the hawkers in Yu Yuan were far less annoying and aggressive than their counterparts at the Shenzhen Commercial Mall.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Unhappy Shenzheners

An opinion column in the Shenzhen Daily reminded me about the lifestyles of Shenzheners. The headline says it all: "An Unhealthy, unhappy lot of money worshippers?"

It's no secret that people in Shenzhen care more about money than anything else. They also love to show off how much money they have, hence the desire to own larger cars to haphazardly drive through the overcrowded roads and sidewalks. I once asked a class about the possibility of people in Shenzhen driving less as the bus system was extensive and the subway was set to expand. The response I received was that the people would never abandon their cars for public transportation because the car owners would lose face if they didn't drive. And they have to continue purchasing more expensive cars because they have to show that they're more successful than everyone around them.

Around the same time that I asked my class about the growing car culture, there was a survey claiming Shenzhen as the most unhappy city in China. Most of my students agreed--very few seemed to like living in such a large city. That was a change in perception from the beginning of the year as most students were new to Shenzhen and loved the idea of living in one of China's modern cities. It usually took a month or two for the honeymoon phase to wear off. Most students hoped to move back to their hometowns or cities nearby--very few wanted to stay in Shenzhen after graduation. Those who wanted to stay in Shenzhen said it was because they could earn more money.

One reason why most Shenzhen residents are unhappy is because it is a migrant city--a lot of the people are far from home for the first time. Combine that with the fact that many residents came from small towns and villages, only to be dropped in the middle of an enormous, busy city. Adapting to that change in stress can be difficult for anyone. And then there's the pressure to succeed in Shenzhen--there are constant reminders of how much money people should make in the city. Quite a few new malls opened while I lived there, and I couldn't afford to buy anything in most of the stores--it made me wonder who was keeping the stores in business.

The detail of the Shenzhen Daily article that caught my attention was that it called residents physically and mentally unhealthy. With the stress of work and long hours in the office, Shenzheners aren't getting enough exercise (not to mention the plague of pollution). And those constant reminders of how everyone makes more money is taking its toll on the sanity of the people.

It's not really Shenzhen's fault. The city is always an afterthought. It's stuck between Guangzhou and Hong Kong, with Macau nearby. With all the wealth and history that surrounds it, the city suffers an inferiority complex--it's the younger brother that can never be as great as its siblings.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Flight of Garuda

One of my favorite parts about traveling through Asia (though still far behind the food) is the sculptures--the religious and cultural images adorn so many sights are amazing. My favorite from around Bali is Garuda, the bird god depicted in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Tegalalang, we came across a shop that specialized in wood sculptures of Garuda, ranging in size from a few inches to enormous (the largest one took up almost half the shop). My wife bought a small one at an inflated price in Ubud and regretted asking the price in Tegalalang, as it was half the price. The large sculpture in the shop was the nicest I saw in Bali, but I wasn't allowed to take a picture of it. I got the next-best image of Garuda--it was in the lobby of our second hotel.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tides of Change

My parents picked up a copy of National Geographic's Journey Into China, which was published in 1983. I haven't gone through much of the 500-page book, but I immediately flipped to the section on South China to read the writer's impression of the region as well as look at the photos of places I've been. I'm not surprised that two of the most prominent parts of South China are Gulangyu and Xiamian--islands in Guangzhou and Xiamen that are home to colonial-style structures.

On the journey through Guangzhou, the author, David Pearce, mentions that it is the center of a growing import and export industry--at the time they produced bicycles, watches, and radios. He also mentions that Beijing eliminated customs duties to and from Taiwan in 1979. The quote that accompanies this is that "There are no politics in business." Quite a change from what is in the news lately.

I'll have to read through more to see how some of my favorite destinations have changed in 27 years.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mobile Homeless

Shenzhen Daily is taking an interest in the plight of the migrants. It highlights the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the region, even though many new buildings have no residents. People who can afford housing tend to purchase multiple apartments and seem unconcerned when they can't find tenants--a lack of flexibility during rent negotiations leads to many empty apartments. This has led to workers, such as the ones in the article, to live on the streets.

It was not uncommon to see laborers all around my neighborhood in Nanshan district--they picked through trash for recyclables or potential building materials; they offered one-time services to residents and businesses. But many of these people seemed to disappear at night. Most of these people could be found by the reclaimed land of Shenzhen Bay--they slept next to piles of styrofoam and other reusable materials on a road that was inaccessible to traffic. Along side streets in the neighborhood, people slept on cots hidden by bushes and trees. Down the main road, next to the Guomei parking lot was a shack set up against a small power station--no one seemed to notice the family living inside, and they never bothered anyone on the street.

While there are still many opportunities in Shenzhen for the migrant population, it has become less popular. With more factories opening in the interior of China, migrants are choosing jobs closer to their hometowns, thus creating a job shortage in cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou. The minimum wage in Guangdong has risen over the past few years (in Shenzhen it was 800 RMB/month in 2005, it's now over 1000 RMB/month), but the cost of living has skyrocketed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

You're to Blame

I don't know why I read opinion articles anymore--they just make me want to bang my head against a wall. Political commentaries are the worst with mangled and bastardized "facts" and statistics that suit the particular writer's point of view while ignoring any contradictory argument no matter how well-supported it is.

But the opinion piece I'm referring to today has nothing to do with politics. It's about how Peter Hessler has ruined another foreigner's experience of living in China (yes, there have been others with this complaint). China Daily ran this article yesterday (which was posted elsewhere online a week earlier):
Peter Hessler singlehandedly ruined my life in China.

I've never seen Hessler, author of the bestsellers Oracle Bones and River Town, but I eke out a bitter existence every day in his footsteps.
Sounds rather harsh. Fortunately, the writer added a little bit of what passes for humor in some circles. The real complaint is that all the stories expats love to tell their friends back home have already been told by Hessler in one of his three books. There's nothing left for foreigners in China to do to impress the folks back home. Hessler previously issued an apology for "ruining" the China experience for everyone else.

After reading his books (I'm almost done with Country Driving), I can say that he didn't ruin anything for me as an expat in China or as a writer. I have many stories to tell that Hessler never experienced (or at least didn't write about). With the size of the country and how quickly it changes, there will be plenty of tales for foreigners to regale us with.

I met Peter Hessler at an author event at Asia Society last month and have exchanged e-mails with him (he is a very nice guy). He admits that there are still books to be written about China--but writers have to search a little deeper to find them now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Not Quite Chinglish

The worst trend I have noticed over the last few years is the lack of appreciation for the editor and proofreader. I frequent freelance job boards and see a preponderance of job posts that pay less than minimum wage for editing, proofreading, and writing. These are no longer viewed as skilled positions. Businesses believe that anyone can do these jobs and are starting to outsource the work to non-native English speakers. These businesses end up with text that reads like gibberish.

The other day I started looking at the descriptive tags for wines in Jersey City. Here's one that I found:
Delicate notes of mature fruit and floral emerge, while the sapore is fresh thanks to one balanced acidity, very supported from one good wealth of body and structure. For its fragrance the wine is ready to the commercialization and to it since drinks the successive spring to the grape harvest.
 Does this make any sense to anyone? The copywriter for that winery should be ashamed and unemployed. And there were other tags and labels that were almost as disgraceful as that one.

Monday, March 08, 2010

For the Women

Today is International Women's Day, which doesn't mean much around here as most women still have to work. In honor of the day I thought I'd share a few sites managed and written by women (particularly sites I find interesting).

Solo Travel Girl -- Written by Jennifer Huber, a world traveler who has frequently stopped by this blog.

Freelance Writing Jobs -- Created by Deb Ng, a fellow New Jerseyan who is also a friendly and helpful writer. She also published one of my articles on the site back in November.

Aimee Barnes -- A New Yorker who spends a lot of time writing about China. She writes some fascinating articles, and she's one of the few bloggers I have met.

China Sports Today -- News of sports around China, written by Maggie Rauch.

Thechannelc -- Mostly tech posts, but some other interesting posts as well. Written by the humorous and friendly Carolyn Chan, whom I met in Shenzhen.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Going Slow

It's been a busy week since I last posted. I've finally gotten myself back into a reasonable creative writing routine and I'm trying to work my way up to consistently higher daily word counts. Rather than going about in my usual fashion of working on a dozen manuscripts at once, I'm taking the time to focus my attention on one until it's finished. This also means that I will limit my distraction time on this blog and social networks.

Though it was finished a few weeks ago, the new issue of Terracotta Typewriter is online. As always, I'm looking for new work to publish in the next issue, which I hope to have complete in May.

I've also been refocusing my attention on my Chinese studies. Listening to Chinesepod as background noise and reading the same chapters of my textbooks again and again have not helped me make progress since returning to the states. Since Jia convinced me to start a new Web site to teach non-Chinese cooking to the Chinese, I've decided that I need to learn more vocabulary and grammar related to cooking (mostly because Jia doesn't have a lot of time to translate the site between work and studying). So, I'll do my best to start translating the posts at Laowai Kitchen on my own and ask Jia to edit my attempts at written Chinese. A lot of the posts on the site are about traditional foods that we take for granted, but I'm also experimenting in the kitchen--usually with positive results.

And because it is Friday, here's a photo of the inspiring beauty of the Fujian countryside. This group of tulou on the hillside was our first stop on our morning journey through the region. Most tourists have photos from above and below the group--the Chinese think it looks like four dishes and a soup from above (I agree, it does resemble a Chinese table setting).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

End of the Festival

Today is Lantern Festival, the end of Spring Festival and the lunar new year celebration.

We had a nice small dinner at home after making a trip out to the Asian market--it was quite crowded, but I'm not sure if it was because of Lantern Festival or just a normal Saturday as we usually go on weeknights. I was told that I had to eat the traditional 元宵 (yuan xiao), glutinous rice balls filled with sesame paste (though this year I only had to eat two). These little balls of goo are not high on my list of enjoyable Chinese delicacies--they're a little more pleasant than mooncakes.

The rest of my Lantern Festival was spent doing laundry and watching the US-Canada gold medal hockey game. I predicted yesterday that it would be a 3-2 overtime game, but I got the winner wrong. It was still a great game to watch.