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.