The Unforgiven

Nihao everyone.  My first full week in China and it has been crazy busy.  Like, it is 4pm on Sunday and I am now ready to start my weekend.  In the words of my old friend, Bon Jovi (just kidding, we are not really friends):

Sitting here wasting away…at this old computer.

I have to generate a business analysis which has driven me completely mad.  I collected my data last week, and started yesterday at 7am thinking I would knock it out by noon.  I stopped because I was half blind at 6:30pm, started again this morning at 8 and I just finished.  Mostly.  Of course, as usual, I was my own worst enemy.  I rewrote the thing probably 5 times, and cannot stop “tweaking”.  Anyhow, work is over for the weekend and I am ready to RELAX and have some fun.  Or at least make a little dinner and watch a dvd.

It has been a few months since I was last here, and, unfortunately, my language skills did not improve while I was away.  I asked about Mr. Zhou (and pronounced it like “ow” with a sort of “zh” sound in front of it) during a meeting.  Blank stares around the table.  Come to find out, this is pronounced “joe”.  I am never going to get this.  But the meeting went great despite my linguistic failures, and hopefully we are on track for a large wind project.

I noticed a couple of days ago that the ceiling in the second bathroom was leaking.  Not a heavy leak, but a steady drip……drip……drip.  So I asked the building manager to have someone come check it out.  Considering some of the construction around here, I was afraid that maybe the ceiling would come down on my head while I’m doing my hair.  Better safe than sorry right?

So yesterday the doorbell rings.  I go open the door, see the workman, raise my eyes – he raises his eyes – our eyes meet – instant recognition.  OMG.  It’s the guy who responded to my little mishap when I blew up the stove the first day I moved in (for those new to the blog, go all the way down to the first post).   So what do you suppose was the first thing out of his mouth?  It sure wasn’t Nihao!

“What you do now?” he asked.

“What? Nothing” I said.  ”I didn’t do anything”.

He walked to the bathroom muttering under his breath (in Chinese) and I am 10,000% sure it was about me and I am 100,000% sure it was not nice.  I am not sure of his name, but I would bet that the English translation would be Mr. Grouchy Pants.

And seriously, how many years has it been since the whole stove incident?  How can he even remember that far back?  And do you think I am the only person who has ever blown up a stove here?  I will forever be remembered as that western idiot who could not manage to work a Chinese stove properly.

I am unforgiven.

He said it was the plumbing.  The plumber came and said it is the air conditioner.  The air con guy came and said it is the plumbing.  I give up.  If I go in that bathroom, I’m gonna wear my hard hat.

The maids came yesterday while I was plugging away on the computer.  I had my iPod on my Latin playlist – it keeps the blood moving during marathon computer sessions.  Plus, I have a wooden floor in my home office and a chair with rollers.  So when I need a wake up break, I can do a sort of wiggle-roller salsa in my chair around the office.  Anyhow, decided to take a break so one of the ladies could clean the floor.  I walked into the living room and almost fell apart laughing.  The maid was pushing the broom around and doing a sort of Chinese salsa-cha cha J.Lo kind of thing.  She was so embarrassed that I felt bad, so I decided we all needed a break and I taught them a little salsa.  Is it any wonder I have a reputation in this complex?

So I decided to try to go back to a modified vegetarian diet.  I have done pretty well with the exception of a small slip in Beijing that involved red curry and chicken.  I am not in love with the produce at City Shops as it is prepackaged and many times I find the rotten side is facing the bottom where I can’t see.  So as I was walking back from Paris Baguette I peeked into this doorway that I have passed probably 100 times.  I have always wondered what was in there, but it is dark, you cannot really see anything from the sidewalk and truthfully, I was a little afraid to go in and see.  I mean what if it was an opium den, or gambling room or something equally nefarious?  I could get myself killed right?  I think I might have had a little sun stroke as it was about 100 degrees with 100% humidity, but for some reason I made a right turn and walked on in.  Produce paradise!  The place is a farm to market hall with stalls where the farmers sell their fruits and veggies.  I am in love!  Got some cauliflower, edamame, asparagus, bananas – you name it I got it.  And really cheap (even though I am sure I pay 3 times what the locals pay).

They had fresh dragon fruit – which has been my favorite for the past few years, but I had never bought one fresh.

Yum yum yum yum.






I have also had a few requests to see what my apartment looks like.  This photo is taken from my balcony looking in.







And this is my little kitchen (different one than the one I blew up the stove in – I changed from a high-rise 1 bedroom to a lower rise 2 bedroom for the same price).







So I think it is time for a little R&R.  I will leave you with a photo I took last evening of a gorgeous Shanghai sunset.

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A Serious Violation! Sorry Sandi Smith.

You know how it is when you kind of get into a routine and the world goes by day after day without you barely even noticing? Everything is pretty much the same?  It is impossible to tell one day from the next?




And then one morning you look up and see….



BLUE SKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!




And you know today is going to be a very special day.  Actually, this is the only day that I saw blue sky for an entire month, so I was feeling pretty darn groovy.

Why do I never see it coming?

I had finished my mails and was almost ready to head out to the office when the doorbell rang.  Now, before we proceed, a little background information.  The following photo is the two trashcans in my kitchen.  You will note there is one normal can, and one with Chinese writing and pictures on it.  But I am not completely ignorant and can figure out the normal one is for general trash, and the other can is for the stinky organic garbage.  Simple right?







Since I cannot figure out how to actually describe what happened when I opened the door, I am simply relaying our conversation to the best of my recollection.  At least this conversation was in English!

She:  Hello.  I am Citizens Community Association Leader

Me:  Okay.  Hi.

She:  You have been noticed kitchen trash violations.

Me:  Okay.

She:  Why you not repair kitchen trash violations?

Me (glancing into kitchen to make sure that my kitchen trash was not up to no good):  Um. Kitchen trash is okay.

(At this point I realized that she had a clipboard with lots of writing on it, but what caught my eye was the notation in bold at the top of the page 5-6B which is my apartment designation.  Uh oh.)

She:  We write you many times on kitchen trash.

Me:  Um.  Okay.  Um.  I did not see writings about kitchen trash.

She (getting a little angry):  What wrong with you?  We write you.  Tell you.  Give you bags.  No cooperate.  Bad to environment.  Bad to neighbors.  Bad.

Me (now I am confused):  Okay.  I use bags.

She:  Use wrong bags.

(Now the light bulb sort of goes on in my head – but my next thought is – WTF?  How can she know what bags I use?  Are they SPYING on me?  Again?  Seriously?  Are we really talking about kitchen trash here?  And again, why would they know which bags I use?  The trash collection cans are on alternate floors and everyone dumps their trash into the cans. How do they know it is ME using the wrong bags.)

Me:  Um.  One moment.

I go get my trash bags.  They are provided by the landlord and so I believe they must be the official trash bags right?  I bring them to the door.

She:  Wrong bags.  Kitchen trash other bag.

She then turns to her associate who I had not yet noticed and grabbed a roll of bags out of his hand and thrust the bag roll into my face.

She:  Correct bags.

Me:  Okay (taking the roll)

She:  Who are you? Give me name.

Me: Sandi

She:  What family name?

Me:  Smith

She:  How to spell?

I spelled it out and she carefully noted this information on her clipboard.

She:  What nationality?

Me:  Canadian.

This response elicited an eye roll from Ms. Leader.  Apparently Canadians are NOT specialists in taking out kitchen trash in China.  Again, information noted carefully on the clipboard.

She:  You have IE?

Me:  IE?

She:  Yes – IE.  Live here?

Me (light bulb goes off again – IE is Aie which is Aunt in Chinese):  My IE does not live here.

She:  Where IE live?

Me:  Connecticut.

She (getting very angry now):  No IE live in Connecticut.

Me:  Yes – I promise my IE lives in Connecticut.  Why do you want to know about my IE?

She (now leaning forward trying to see into the apartment):  IE.  I need talk to your maid.

Me:  OOOOOhhhhh.  Maid.  Yes I have maid.  No she does not live here.

She:  Where she live?  What her name?

Me:  I don’t know.  I have many maids.

She:  No many maids.  1 maid.

Me:  No really.  I promise.  My landlord provides the maids.  They are different all the time.

She (apparently extremely frustrated with me and out of patience):  You use the correct bag now on.  If you do not, must report to Citizens Community Association.  You know where is?

Me:  Um.  Okay.  Sure.

She:  You cooperate Ms. Smith.

Me:  Who?  Oh – right – Okay.



In case you are ever in China, here is the official kitchen trash bag for the stinky organic garbage.



The moment I closed the door the remorse set in.  Why did I give a phony name?  In the US, you can get in big trouble for giving authorities the wrong name.  Crap.  What have I done.  All she has to do is to go to my landlord and she will learn my real name.  Damn.  Is she really an authority?  Is kitchen trash bags a serious violation here in China?  I better get out of here.

I collected my stuff and quickly left the apartment.  As I turned to take the route to the subway, I realized that I would be more exposed and that I could be more easily followed. I walked around the building to another exit and caught a taxi.  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t followed.

So much for feeling groovy.  Perhaps it is time to go back to the US for a while.  The good news is that I leave on Wednesday to fly back.  The bad news is that United still has not given me my upgrade.  I got a short, lame email of congratulations on hitting the million miles.  But no upgrade.  Yet.

But hey – I am an eternal optimist – keeping the faith.  As long as I can get out of the country without producing a Canadian passport in the name of Sandi Smith.

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Sincere Apologies to All Water Vendors!!!!

As most of you know, I have been studying Chinese now for the past years.  My best teacher is Wallace, although (if you read my earlier posts) he is not always terribly impressed with the results.

I was realizing the other day that when I am running about by myself or with westerners, I do all the talking and get us what we need or where we need to go.  Mostly.  I am actually pretty impressed with myself (except for the whole Wallace – Cai Hua – thing which I am still embarrassed about).

Anyhow, aside from Wallace, I have a secret weapon which helps me learn and remember my words and pronunciation.  I have a notebook that I write the words down in pinyans (western adaptation of Chinese characters), then I write the definition and finally the phonetic pronunciation.  Works like a charm.  Mostly.

For instance:

Shray = water = shra (long a)

And then numbers like:

Yee = 1 = as in yipee (same sound)

Ar = 2 = like ARE

San = 3 = sand without the d

Get it?

I have lots and lots of words and phrases in my book and can combine them as needed to make sentences, and, purportedly, make sense as I am getting around.

As mentioned, I am the one speaking Chinese when I am with westerners.  It is alot of fun to put my colleagues in the taxi and advise the driver to go to “Shiliton Hua Shan Lu Puxi” (the Hilton on Hua Shan Road in Puxi – right Janet?) or to tell him “Pudong Geecha” (Pudong Airport).  But the most common thing I find myself asking for is water, as in Shanghai, we are walking or taking the metro everywhere, basically building up a healthy thirst wherever we go.

Sooooo – if you and a friend are walking in Shanghai and you both want a bottle of water – here is a quiz – what would you say?

Ar shray – right?


Ar = two (2)

Shray = water

Totally makes sense right?

Now – if you say this once, and get a blank stare it is certainly because the kind water vendor is shocked at this western lady speaking such amazing Chinese – right?  I mean I half expected him to get out the phone and call the Chinese version of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader and sign me right up.

Now – the one thing you have to understand is that I learned the words for water and numbers YEARS ago.  Yes – for the past few years I have been able to walk up to a water vendor and ask for ar shray.

In typical western fashion, and to be 100% clear, at the same time I ask for “ar shray” I provide the numeric indicator with my left hand (visualize the peace sign) to be 100% sure we understand each other.

I was walking with Wallace when we decided we needed a couple of bottles of water.  I suddenly realized that I did not need Wallace to take care of this little chore.  Nope.  I, the Chinese speaking wonder of the western world could take care of business.  We walked up to the kiosk and I said “Wallace – I’ve got this.  Been doing this for years.”

To the kiosk operator I proudly said:  ”Nihao.  Ar shray” (accompanied by the hand gesture for clarity).

Wallace got this horrified look on his face and grabbed my hand and said something very quickly to the kiosk operator.  I have to admit, I was a little put out.  I mean, how hard is “ar shray” to say?  I was 100% sure I got it right.

When we moved away from the kiosk (with ar shray by the way) Wallace scolded me very seriously.

Apparently, I have been walking around Shanghai saying to each and every water vendor something like “you stupid”.  Seriously.  For years.

Now if you are teaching a foreign person your language and there is a particularly – um – nasty hand gesture when accompanied by a certain word that sounds like ar – you would probably mention that to your student right?  OK – I do recall some discussion about “ar” and “leeowngkeh” – and the two meanings of 2.  But seriously, if you could say ar or leeowngkeh – which one would you use.  Right?

So another serious fail.  For years.  So many water vendors, so many insults.  I cannot believe it.

But there is one thing.  I have not gotten my butt kicked – not once.  Yet.

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PIZZA – Gangnam Style

OK – who here outwardly cringes every time they hear Gangnam Style?  Come on – show of hands.  I thought so.  Just about everyone.  In my case the cringe is accompanied by comments like “Seriously” or “Are you kidding me?  This guy again?” (and those are the nice comments).  This guy is everywhere.  In the stores, the TV – even in the freaking White House.

Now who here also finds themselves freakishly fascinated by this tune, and maybe even catches yourself doing a little toe tapping, head bopping or even the dreaded pony ride?  Yep – me too.  Although I would never admit it in public.

So here I am at lunch.  In Shanghai.  At Mr. Happy Pizza (by the way – if you ever get to Shanghai or Beijing and want a nice pizza – I highly recommend Mr. Happy Pizza.  I also highly recommend the mushroom soup).  My staff is with me and we are just relaxing, enjoying the conversation and the food.  Taking a well deserved break in the midst of the frenzied work day.  Basically lunch nirvana.

Then it happens.  The first notes of that annoying song blast out of the strategically placed speakers.

OMG.  Seriously?  Are you kidding me?  What is this?  Pizza Gangnam Style?

Then the most unbelievable performance starts.  I know that not one of you would believe me so I managed to snatch the phone out of the purse and catch a little bit on video.  The wait staff are prancing around the restaurant doing that Pony Ride move.  At this point I am LMAO.  Then the pizza cooks come out.  Well, have a look for yourself – just click on the link below.

Pizza Gangnam Style

Only in China.

And for my FB friends who got a sneak peek at this, sorry, believe it or not I accidentally uploaded it to FB.  In China.  Where you cannot even get on FB.  I have no idea how I did this.  Thought I was sending it to my computer.  Sigh.

I decided to make a little video of my complex from my back balcony.  Just to give you a taste of what it looks like here.  Every morning rain or shine the ladies are out doing their fan dancing.  I have to apologize for the finger in the camera shot at the beginning.  One fine day I will figure out all this technology!  Click on the link below and enjoy my morning!

Shanghai Morning


Had a really nice day yesterday.  Got up early, did some work and then off to Tianzifang to meet up with Janet and Peter.  Had AMAZING fondue at Glissmatten (yep – another gem in Shanghai.  Real Swiss fondue.  Be sure to try the classic chocolate.  Aside from the apples, bananas and the usual you also get dragfon fruit which I never thought to dip in chocolate but a complete oralgasm).  Did a little shopping and then off to the subway to go back home when to my delight I saw CITY SHOPS (western food market)!  Woohoo.  I had no idea there was a City Shops on Line 9 at Dapuqiao station.  This totally saved me at least an hour as my plan was to go home, drop off the stuff I bought and then hoof it to City Shops in Pudong at Liujiazhui.  That is around 15 minutes walking from my apartment each way.  But thank my lucky stars, there was one in the underground.  Unfortunately, this shop is not set up like the other one so I reckon I spent twice as much time shopping as usual – meaning – no saved time.  And of course I did not have my list so I forgot stuff like cream for my coffee.  And coconut milk for my curry.  But hey – Spargel Soup (asparagus) and a tuna melt later, dinner was done.

Speaking of cooking, those of you who have followed this blog will remember the famous box heist.  When my box of items was pilfered in the left luggage area at the complex?  You remember, I was so mad about the place mats?  Anyhow, one of the other things taken was my measuring cup.  I had brought one from the US in both cups and ML.  Again, those of you who have followed me will remember my skype with Peter trying to figure out how to use the paper cups with the volume of 455 ML to make my darn Rice-A-Roni.  Anyhoo – realized I forgot (again) to bring a measure cup so I asked Wallace where I can buy one.  He patiently explained to me that Chinese do not use measure cups, only a spoon, as Chinese have experience and do not need measure cups.  OK.  But this silly American needs a measure cup otherwise the risotto will be hard or mushy, the Rice-A-Roni will be a mess and I will have a nervous breakdown.  I went to the kitchen shop and as Wallace said, no measure cups.  However, I found a water bottle that has markings for both cups and ML – problem solved.  I was so happy I made hard boiled eggs over toast just so I could use my new measure cup to make bearnaise sauce (yes – I brought a bunch of Knorr sauces with me – you can take the girl out of the US but…).  There is a saying that goes “Necessity is the mother of invention”.  I have taken the liberty to rewrite this saying as follows:  “Westerners living in China are the mother of invention”.

This week will be crazy busy.  We have meetings tomorrow out at Tonglee – the factory is an 8 hour drive from Shanghai each way.  Wallace is trying to find a way to take the high speed train for part of the route to save time but not sure it will work.  BreakBulk Expo Shanghai is later this week.  I have a panel to moderate on Thursday – light topic – Dockside Liability.  Good thing I brought my maritime law primer with me.  Have to finish up my notes so I don’t sound like a complete doofus.  And lots of my global colleagues will be here so have meetings set day and night, which is actually really fun as I get to see so many of our agents and vendors from around the world in one place.

So I will say sayanara for now and get at it.  Next week – same time same place.

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Up In The Air!

I imagine just about everyone has seen that movie with George Clooney right?  So I departed Houston, bound for China, with 998,208 lifetime flight miles with United Airlines.  Woohoo – gonna be a million miler.  I had requested my free global upgrade (I received 6 of these in January, along with 2 domestic upgrades due to the fact that I spent about a kabillion dollars with United last year).  I was surprised that I did not show the upgrade, but certain that I would get it on check-in.

I made sure my hair was perfectly coiffed, I looked comfortable but stylish and was ready for what I was certain would be a wonderful reception by the UA staff and crew.  I secretly was thinking that maybe when I got to the airport I would be upgraded not just to business first, but maybe that one lone free seat in the secret Global First cabin.  You know the one.  The cabin you cannot see unless you are a “Global First” passenger with the golden ticket.  Maybe even a red carpet.  For sure an in-flight announcement at the moment the plane passed that million mile mark.  A glass of champagne delivered to my seat by a pilot that looks like Brad Pitt, or maybe even George Clooney.  I was ready people.  And so excited.

I arrived at the airport for checkin with a huge smile on my face.  I entered my reservation into the kiosk, and waited for the attendant to check my Chinese visa so that I could complete my checkin.  Got my boarding passes.  No upgrade.  Hm.  I asked the attendant and she told me that the flight to SFO was booked full in first, but that I should check at the counter in SFO and they would issue my upgrade there.  Hm.

Arrived SFO late and made the mad dash to terminal 1 from terminal 3 (seriously, does United think it a good idea to make passengers perform an aerobic event prior to boarding a 14 hour flight? Good grief.).  Ran to the counter with the huge smile back in place to have my visa checked and get, I was certain, my upgrade.  Visa checked.  No mention of upgrade so I had to ask.  They told me they would come get me but that I should board right away.  No mention of million miles, no mention of nothing, just told to board.  Row 30 Seat H.  I have renamed this seat the “Bathroom Alley Monitor Seat”.  So of course I boarded.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.

No upgrade.  No glass of champagne.  No pilot.  No announcement.  Not a word.  Not even a thank you for spending all your money with us.  Nothing.  Nada.  Bupkis.  Just a small bottle of cheap chardonney handed over by an overworked flight attendant.

I am so disappointed.

Don’t they know who I am?  I am a million miler.  Shouldn’t that mean something?

And don’t get me started on the whole Bathroom Monitor Seat thing.  I mean, seriously, I never realized the Bathroom Monitor phenomenon.  Apparently when one sits in this seat, after a period of time, one begins to note who uses the bathroom and how frequently.  I am pretty sure that poor guy from row 26 had a touch of tummy-itis.  And what is up with the lady from 22?  She must have gone every 30 minutes.  I figured that she might have a little eating disorder or something like that going on.  But I am pretty sure the teenager in 24 was up to no good.  He went in there so many times I began to give him the stink eye to let him know – I was watching.  I was keeping track.

And people – DO NOT LEAN ON THE BACK OF MY SEAT.  My head is there.  You pull my hair and annoy the living daylights out of me.  Go lean on your own seat.  I swear this happened like 20 times.  And why were they so surprised when I smacked them off the back of my chair.  Just because there is no chair behind my chair, and it is positioned next to Bathroom Alley, it does not mean you have the right to lean on the top of my head.  Jeez.

Today I decided since I did not get my “Up In The Air” moment, I would at least look at my United account and revel a little in the million miles posted.  Um.  Still at 998,208.  WTF?

It only got better.  I arrived to my apartment and was unpacking.  I opened the door to the closet in the hallway to hang my coats and one of the doors fell on my head.  No screws in the top hinge.  I wonder what, exactly, the apartment management thought was gonna happen when I opened it.  Midnight, and still cannot sleep so think – how about a nice cup of herbal tea.  I plugged in the kettle and realized, it is broken – of course only after trying it in every outlet in the apartment.  I had to microwave my water.  I know that sounds silly, but I prefer my hot water out of a kettle.  I just do.

But today all is better.  Kettle – replaced.  Hinge – screwed.  Have some work to do and some errands to run.  But, although cold, the sun is shining and I have BANANA NAAN.

OK – let me explain.  I just call it banana naan.  I went to dinner last night with one of our colleagues, and he took us to the Chinese Curry House which I adore.  We got the crispy eel (sound gross I know but tastes kinda like potato chips with a yummy sauce), curried veggies, spicy shrimp and banana naan.  Actually, I looked at the menu and they call it “Banana Throw Bread”.  I am not sure what they throw it at, and I probably do not want to know, but it is devine.  Banana is layered into a very thin naan type bread.

The best part is taking home the leftover banana naan.  So here is my recipe for what I call “Banana Naan French Toast”.

In a sauce pan, melt butter and a bit of sugar.  Bring it to a simmer.  Drop in the banana naan (or I suppose you can throw it in if you want to be traditional).  Let get a little tiny bit carmelized.  Yum yum yum.

On that note, I will leave you today and go eat my breakfast.  I love the comments you leave – so please feel free.  More next week.

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Peace Corp HERE I COME!

It has been a long time since I have posted, everything has been so crazy.  But I just had to make the time today to sit down and write about this past week of my life.  A few months ago I agreed to host a woman from Rwanda for a week in my home and work life.  The request came through the International Economic Empowerment of Women organization - the Peace Through Business program  ( check it out people) via the National Association of Women Business Owners.  I struggled with the decision as it is a big deal (in my world anyhow) to take a week “off” of normal life to bring value to a mentor relationship.  But finally I figured that since I would be in the country and actually in Houston during the required time, I would go ahead and give it a shot.

If I attempted to write everything that has happened this past week - funny, poignant, intense, familial, emotional, intellectual and well – everything – it would take me until tomorrow and your eyes would be rolling into the back of your head.  I will say that I am a different person today than I was last Saturday while standing in Bush Airport waiting for Josephine (Phina) to arrive.  I am sitting at work and I am overflowing with emotion – gratitude, sadness, happyness, concern – my mind is full of ideas about how we can band together and cure all the ills of the world (anyone who has spent an evening over a bottle of wine with me knows I have LOTS of ideas on this issue).

I realize that alot of folks think I am a bit idealistic and maybe even naive – and you know what – you are right.  Before this week I was a bit ashamed of this part of me, but actually, I have come to embrace this peculiarity of my personality over the past days.  I mean – without optimism and hope and wishes and dreams – what’s left?

But hey – enough about me.  I want to talk about Josephine.  She is one of the kindest, nicest, beautiful, smart, strong, sharp and sincere women I have ever met.  She is from Rwanda, although her family fled to Uganda during the time of genocide.  She taught me so many things this week about life and myself and our place in this world.  It was surreal, we could discuss the fact that 1,000,000 people (mainly Tutsis) were murdered in Rwanda during 100 days starting April 1994, and next topic was the various merits of the contestants on Master Chef.  Crazy.  But the point is that she was so open and shared her life with me.  We visited my charity and had a heartbreaking meeting with a women who was there with her daughters through no fault of her own.  But there is a hopeful ending to her story.  I do not want to give any other details – but everyone – please pray for “E” and her girls.

And she is patient.  I had a little gathering and she so graciously answered the 10,000 questions everyone asked her about life in Rwanda.  She gave a talk to my staff and did not even get offended when one of my guys asked her how many cows her husband had to pay her family for her hand in marriage (8 is the answer).

From my side, although they called me the mentor, I really think that we mentored each other.

So Josephine, THANK YOU for one of the best weeks of my life.  I know that you are going to continue to have a successful career and personal life.  You will always have a friend here in Houston (or wherever I am).  I look forward to working with your company as partners.  And I am absolutely convinced that you will knock their socks off in Washington DC over the next days.  You are the perfect person to present to all of these important people.

And please – say hello to the Rwandan Ambassador from me.  I do not know him yet but maybe some day.  And please give Forrest Whittaker a hug from me.  I don’t know him either but hey – getting a hug from him can’t be all bad right?

Peace out friends!


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Is there a hidden camera somewhere???

I am seriously beginning to think that there are hidden cameras around this place and that I am now a star on a Chinese game show or reality TV program about a crazy American trying to live in the Chinese style.  Seriously.  There are just some things I cannot explain or even begin to understand.  I KNOW someone must be setting me up and filming the whole thing.  I believe that the producers of the show are setting up road blocks all around me – just to see how I react.  But it really should be a crime to use major appliances as a weapon.  I mean, I have been doing this whole apartment living thing here in Shanghai now for well over a year.  You would think I would have figured everything out by now right?  Wrong.

For instance, the clothes dryer.  Yes – we are back on the subject of laundry.  Everything has been going so well.  I put the clothes in the washer and they come out the same size and color as when they went in (well – except for Nikki’s load but I do not take responsibility for that as I was not the project manager).  They go into the dryer and come out fresh and clean and ready for another wear.  Normal, right?  And all of this within a reasonable time period (those of you who have been reading my blog from the beginning will remember the 7 hour cycle for one load in the past).  So what could possibly go wrong?

I put my clothes into the dryer, set it and walked away.  A while later I realized the dryer had stopped.  I thought it was rather quick but hey – works for me.  Except the clothes were soaking wet.  Hm.  I reset the dryer again and lo and behold – within a minute it stopped again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Even a firm smack on the side of the dryer yielded no results.

I looked at the face of the dryer (see photo) and a light was lit next to the label “Water Tank Full”.  Now – this made no sense to me.  This is a separate clothes dryer.  Not a washer/dryer combo.  So why the heck would it have a Water Tank?  And why would it be full?  It took me quite a while to find this Water Tank.  The process required much head scratching, some highly creative expletives and some banging on the dryer to make it spew out said Water Tank.  But finally (actually to be honest – the next morning) I found the Water Tank.  Indeed – it was full.  After about an hour I figured out how to extract it from the dryer, emptied it, got it back into the dryer and reset the dry cycle – and voila - the clothes dried.

I am still very confused why Chinese dryers have Water Tanks, but hey – I have added the merit badge of Chinese Dryer Slayer to my girl scout sash.

So Friday I was getting ready to go to the office when there was a knock on the door.  Standing outside were two very official looking guys in uniforms.  The only word in English they could say was “internet”.  I immediately looked for an escape route.  Apparently the Chinese authorities have found out that I am using Facebook from my phone…  I am 100% sure I will not like the accommodations in a Chinese jail, but unfortunately they were blocking my only route out of the building (unless I want to jump off a balcony from the 5th floor – but I doubt I like the hospital either).  So I did the only thing I could.  I got my dictionary and started trying to explain myself in Chinese.  Of course this did not work.  So Plan B.  Call Wallace and have him talk to the men.

Come to find out they were there to upgrade my internet.  Woohoo!  Maybe it will actually work now.  Of course the fact that the internet cable is tapped into the satellite and then run completely around the apartment, over and around every door and corner before entering the wall in the second bedroom – MIGHT have something to do with the poor performance.  So I was pretty excited thinking that maybe they would remove all the cable and actually provide something resembling high speed internet.  The building manager came to stay with the guys while they worked and off I went to the office.

I got home Friday night and just wanted to sit down, turn on the TV, boot up the iPad and relax.  Do you suppose I got to do that?  Nope.  No TV.  No Internet.  Nothing.  John was sitting calmly on the couch watching me rant and rave like a crazy woman running around the place only to learn that the cable was still run all over the apartment.  Finally I did the only thing I could do.  I unplugged everything that could possibly relate to the satellite, internet, TV – everything.  And guess what?  When I plugged it all back in – everything worked.  Ha!  Gotcha.

However, if you are considering an internet upgrade in China, please note that the black box does not work any better than the green one.  Not one little bit.

At that point I took a very good look around the apartment for hidden cameras.  .  And through all this – John sat calmly on the couch watching me lose my mind.

Friday was a special day for another reason.  It was Wallace’s birthday.  I knew what I wanted to do.  In the morning I went to Paris Baguette on my way to the office to procure a Chocolee Dan Gao (chocolate birthday cake for the unitiated).  I also prepared John and I to sing Happy Birthday in Chinese.  Yup.  Figured it out all by myself.  Taught it to John and away we went.  The song is sung to the same tune we use in USA, so that part was easy.  And the words are simple too:

Kuaile Shengri Wallace.  Kuaile Shengri Wallace.  Kuaile Shengri dear Wallace (forgot to learn “dear” in Chinese).  Kuaile Shengri Wallace.

So we presented the cake and sang our little hearts out in the office.  To which we received some applause but in the background there was a serious rumble of chuckling going on.  So of course I asked “Did we get it right?”.  Wallace – ever polite (remember the whole grabs flowers thing) said “almost”.  Come to find out we sang in backwards.  You see I translated it literally from English to Chinese.  But actually Chinese say “Shengri Kuaile”.  I forgot that whole rule about adjectives.  Oh well.  I think he got the message.

By the way, speaking of water, you will note on a previous post that my hot water heater in the apartment went out, and it was deemed a fatal situation combined with a massive plumbing issue – so I had to change apartments.  Saturday morning John is getting ready for his flight back to USA.  I was sitting peacefully in the living room playing with my iPad when he walks out and says “You are probably not going to be happy about this, but there is no hot water”.


Firstly, of course I will not be happy about this John.  Who would?  Unless you are some freak who loves showering in ice cold water!  And SERIOUSLY?  No hot water AGAIN?  I sincerely believe that 2 hot water heaters within 10 days of each other must be some sort of record right?  Luckily Wallace arrived at that moment to collect John for an airport run so we had him call the apartment management.  A couple of hours later the repairman showed up.  It took him all of about 10 seconds to relight the pilot.  Color me embarrassed.

And then there is the chocolate chip cookies.  I KNOW 100% for certain that I converted the fahrenheit to celsius properly.  I know it for sure – but the poor cookies were totally black on the bottom.  So again, I am pretty sure someone changed the knobs so that when I set 175 degrees celsius, it was really 225 degrees.  I am pretty bummed about the cookies.

The most logical conclusion I can come up with is that I am being set up.  I don’t think there is some kind of artificial intelligence between my major appliances resulting in a conspiracy against me.  I mean – that makes no sense right?  Right?

Or maybe I am just paranoid.

Anyhow, off to have Sunday brunch at the Westin (voted best brunch in Shanghai for like the past 100 years).  I have always wanted to do their brunch so am really looking forward to a good old American chow fest.

I wonder how to say Eggs Benedict and Mimosa in Chinese!

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A Conversation with the Maids

OK – so first you need to understand the system here.  Early each morning we get up, make coffee and go straight to the computers to catch any issues before the folks in USA go home.  Sometimes this take a few hours to get everything taken care of.  So sometimes, we are still in pajamas if the maids come early.

That is what happened today.

Nikki and I were working in the study when the maids came to the door and started talking to us.  We were having a slight problem understanding them as they were speaking Chinese.  So we started trying charades to figure out what they wanted.  The maids were pointing at Nikki’s bathroom door.  Then they started pointing at the front of their pants.  Then they started pointing at their bottoms.  Then they started pantomiming pulling their pants down.  All the while chattering in Chinese.

During this time Nikki was checking the back of her pants to see if anything was out of order.

Suddenly it hit me.  By utilizing my command of the Chinese language and extensive experience in Chinese charades – I got it.  I said:

“Nikki – I think they want you to pull down your pants and show them your bum.”

I so wish I had a picture of her face at that moment.  She looked at me with the whites of her eyes showing in absolute horror and said “What?”.

At this I started cracking up (seriously LMFAO), tears rolling down my face.  The maids just looked confused.  So at that point, the shorter maid literally grabbed her pants and pulled them down.

At that Nikki and I just fell apart – laughing so hard we coulod barely breathe.

Come to find out the maid was wearing heavy tights under her pants and was hot and wanted to use our bathroom to take them off.  So of course I said “ha” (sure).

And that is just the start of the day.  After the maids left we went to our showers.  Unfortunately, the water never got hot.  Never.  Not even a little bit.  So a cold water wash down and asked Wallace to call the apartment managers to fix the hot water.

At this point Nikki was in a bit of a mood.  We went to get some lunc and she tried the ATM which refused to spit out any money.  Then there was a crazy man standing in the bushes by the sidewalk jumping in place, shaking his hands and talking crazy (I assume what he was saying was crazy as there was nothing normal about his actions).  Then at lunch there was a strange girl sitting at the table next to us with two small dogs dressed in sweaters and bow ties (I swear).  She was eating her food and also putting food in her mouth and then spitting it out and feeding it to the dogs who were in her lap.  At one point Nikki looked at me and said “I think I am over China”.  The day ended up with us retiring, sans showers with nary a drop of hot water to be found.

The week did get better though – we were moved finally (after 2 days) to another apartment which turned out even nicer than the first.  With hot water.

Porn for the deaf

If I have to pick the funniest event over the past two weeks, it would have to be the subtitles on our “underground” dvd’s.  As the mother of a deaf daughter, I feel highly qualified to speak on this subject.

In my apartment there is a dvd player, which is a life saver as the satellite works only when it feels like it.  So I purchase dvd’s to keep me company.  I bought probably 15 dvd’s (about 1.25 USD each) in the underground market.

Nikki and I decided to put in We Bought a Zoo.

The dvd player was programmed to show subtitles (my old apartment dvd did not do this).  Now the language of the movie is English, and the subtitles are English.  So the only assumption we could make is that these were for the English speaking deaf community.  Reasonable right?  Unfortunately, the person who did the subtitles did not speak English.  Some of the strangest and funniest subtitles:

Movie:  We Bought a Zoo.  Spoken line:  There’s six.  Subtitle:  THAT’S SEX.

Movie: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  Spoken line:  I know, I miss him too.  Subtitle:  I AM WHEN TO WITH THAT.

Movie: One For The Money.  Spoken line:  I have a gun.  Subtitle:  I AM GONE.

So for those of you with deaf friends or family, DO NOT SHOW THEM UNDERGROUND DVDS FROM CHINA.  You will psychologically damage them for life -and perhaps even ruin the young ones so that they become serial killers when they grow up.

If anyone wants to borrow a dvd, let me know.

Luckily we did have a high five moment.  We could not take the subtitles any longer so we studied the dvd controller.  Now realize, it is completely in Chinese.  We picked a button and pushed it.  Up came a menu and Nikki said “I think it is that one”.  So I scrolled down and clicked what I believe is “OK”.  Another menu came up.  I looked and picked the character with the fewest strokes (logic dictated this as “off” has only 3 letters right?).

And off went the subtitles.  High five.

I really wish that I could relate all the funny, stupid and fabulous moments of the past couple of weeks but nobody would have enough time to read the entire blog.  Suffice it to say that Nikki survived her first trip to China, shrunk some clothes and turned one shirt a pretty new color, ate local Chinese food (noodle shop near work has YUMMY soup balls), figured out the metro and how to buy a ticket and acclimated pretty well in my opinion.

John arrives later today.  I am really considering turning the subtitles back on the dvd player….

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They seriously stole my placemats?

Nihao and greetings from Shanghai.  Fresh off the flight Monday evening – straight to the new pad.  I swapped apartments – let go of the 1 bedroom plus study in the highrise for a 2 bedroom plus study in a lowrise, but facing the river.  Got it for the same price so figure I made a pretty good deal.

Nikki joined me for part of this trip and I figured that it would be an entirely new adventure to have someone else with me sharing the pad.  Especially someone who had never been to China before.  I reckon there will be a plethora of blog fodder during her stay.

You may be wondering about the title of this blog.  So am I.  OK – so I have this box that I leave in China.  I do not want to leave it in the apartment as it is shared so I give it to the office to hold in the left luggage room.  It contains non-perishable food items, personal products like a blow dryer and ear swabs and assorted kitchen items for the western minded cook.  Included in those kitchen items are 4 bamboo-ish placemats, a lint roller and a can opener.  Well, at least the box used to contain those items.

When we arrived, I unpacked and then tackled the box.  I was dumbfounded when I opened the box (still sealed) and the placemats, lint roller and can opener were missing.  I cannot explain it.  The only thing I can think of is that either David Copperfield stayed in Yanlord Gardens and needed these things, or some Chinese cook is now in possession of my placemats, lint roller and can opener and learning to prepare Spaghettios or something.

Boy was I pissed.  You see I had to conquer the whole Chinese department store thing on my first trip as a temporary citizen to procure the western cooking gadgets that I needed – and this is NOT an easy task in Shanghai.  I was even more pissed when I found out I had to pay 60 rmb for 2 placemats to replace the 4 I lost.  And don’t get me started on the can opener.  They are as rare as high speed internet in these parts.  But at least the Chinese chef will not get any lint in his food.

But – for the sake of not being a whiny biatch, I got over myself and off we went to do the necessary chores required when one does not stay in a hotel.

First stop, Paris Baguette.  After breakfast, Nikki decided she could live in Shanghai.  I swear she had an oralgasm.

Off to City Shops for groceries.  Normally I am just shopping for one, but with Nikki here and then John coming after she departs, I went a little – well – overboard.  After checking out we hauled the bags and backpacks out the door.  I am not really sure what happened while we were shopping – I mean I know intellectually we have to carry all this stuff back to the apartment, but reality set in as we tried to pick everything up and start walking.  We made it 1/2 a block and surrendered to the inevitable and got a taxi.  Failure #1.

This apartment has western user-friendly appliances mostly.  Except for the stove.  What is it with me and Chinese stoves?  The cook top does not light.  We tried for probably 15 minutes to light the stove and finally found the correct combination of movement and timing to light the burner.  In case you ever stay in Bldg 5, Apt 6B – here is the secret.  One person has to place their right hand on the knob for the desired burner, and lean far back out of the way (the gas comes out under serious pressure).  The other person should hold the lighter in their right hand while keeping hair, clothes and anything else flammable away from the burner.  The leader then calls out 1 – 2 – 3 – GO.  At the exact same moment person 1 must press down and turn the burner knob 45 degrees to the left while person 2 sparks the lighter next to the burner and then quickly (as in nanoseconds) pulls her hand away from the burner to avoid a trip to the hospital.  Person 1 must then hold the knob down for 5 seconds and then slowly, very slowly release the pressure and then turn the knob an additional 45 degrees.  If the timing is not perfect, the burner will go off and you must repeat the above until you get it right.  I wonder what I am going to do after Nikki leaves.  I wonder if my neighbor will help.  Either that or I am on cereal and pop tarts for the rest of the trip.

Despite the technical difficulties, the Thai Red Chicken Curry was amazing – if I do say so myself!

Wallace invited us for lunch the next day with the family.  Abby is so dang cute and I even got an Ai Sue this time.  This is the first time she has ever said my name – normally she just calls me Aunt (Ai).  We had a good lunch (mostly – except for the bullfrog) at Super Brands Mall and bid goodbye after eating as Nikki and I wanted to walk home.  I took her along the waterfront (Pudong Bund) as it was a nice day.  I played tour guide a little bit – pointing out this and that along the way.  At one point I highlighted a riverside restaurant called The Red Dot that I had eaten at when John was in Shanghai last.  Nice Italian restaurant.  Nikki looked at me – dead serious – no joke and said:

Is it an Indian restaurant?

If you don’t get it – just think about it.

So I got an iPad 2 to replace the iPad 1 I had.  It has a neat feature called Face Time.  I Face Timed my sister and realized that I could show her the apartment (which is hard to do on Skype from a laptop).  So I walked around to show her the apartment and then the view.  Note to self:  OPEN THE SLIDING GLASS DOOR BEFORE TRYING TO PASS THROUGH.  Failure #2.

At least Nikki got a good laugh out of it.

On Thursday, the gang at the office suggested a Noodle House for lunch.  I saw the evil gleam in Wallace’s eye when he told me they could bring something back for me.  I could see they wanted to get Nikki alone in the Noodle House.  So I said I would also like to go – thinking that this would negate any evil plans to ply Nikki with beaks, feet or other exotic body parts.  I have to say we loved the dumplings with the soup in them.  Yummy.  But then came the noodles.  Now I love wanton/noodle soup as much as the next person, but when I looked down and saw the tiny little shrimp swimming around and looking at me with those tiny black eyes – I could not do it.  Neither could Nikki.  Our eyes met and we instantly started to try to stiffle our laughs.  Wallace then told Nikki that these shrimps are very expensive and considered a delicacy, and that they were very good for woman health.  At this point Sullivan started cracking up and we figured out that Wallace was still trying to stick with his evil plan.  Henrik ate my soup.  Wallace ate Nikki’s shrimp.

After lunch, Nikki said she could not live in Shanghai.

They invited us to dinner.  I stayed home and sent Nikki out on her own.  Sorry Nikki.

So the blog would not be complete without a discussion about the maids.  I figured that since I have used the apartment without incident for the past couple of trips (at least as far as they know),  things would have settled down around here.  I got a false sense of security as, due to Tomb Sweeping Holidays, no maids were in sight the first couple of days.

Thursday came and the cleaning maid came.  No problem.  Friday came and the linen maid came.  This is where things get weird.  Nikki and I were heading out to the office when she arrived.  When we got home later than night from the office and I went into my bedroom to change, it was really freaking cold.  I realized that the maid had opened my windows and left them open all day and evening.  I thought that was weird.  I checked Nikki’s room but there were no open windows.

So – apparently I stink.  That is the only explanation we have been able to come up with.  Nikki doesn’t stink as they did not open her windows.  But apparently I do.  I shower every day, brush my teeth and keep up my personal hygiene duties.  But apparently despite my best efforts, I stink.  Too bad you cannot buy Febreeze here in China.

Nihao: Ok so my turn now  - China Nikki style… (not for the soft hearted) I knew this was going to be fun when we got off the plane after a year long trip over and I immediately was being pushed around – note to self do not get in front of the Chinese when they are in a hurry.

Firstly, let me point out and hope I do not offend anyone here but, come on – RED DOT… ?? It has to be Indian – why would it not and I think that I made a very valid question at the time. Although, I would like to think I was kind of joking!!! Red Dot, clever and to my defense while walking back from underground market today Sue pointed out that the owner was standing behind and BAM – yep he was Indian. So, there is logic I believe to my question, as the name.

Second, Sue is not crazy  “she who wipes face with sanitary napkins” as, they are well, very good napkins. Really they are – and I am still having a hard time trying to figure out how they are used otherwise. We use them to this day for the coffee spoon as they are pretty absorbent, just saying. Going to leave that one at that before, I go on the tyrant I did with Sue about these dang things.. I am however, taking a few back home so, everyone can see exactly how these can be well – misinterpreted.

Third, the maids really do come, I believe to keep an eye on the crazy American now, Americans - which I feel makes them even more uneasy. And everytime the maids come, things shrink, I am not kidding. I had the biggest / softest towels and now I am using what I would call a hand towel to dry off with and a pillow that you would let your poodle sleep on. Oh well, things could be worse I guess. I will add that I heard nothing but, where are my placemats, who would take my placemats for days before thankfully we found a store that sold placemats. Although now, the issue is that they were so dang expensive – which I agree but, apparently Sue is extremely keen on her placemats. I think we should keep this on our list for Birthday and Christmas items. She is right – good luck to you finding a can opener without going on Mission Impossible 6 to get one: Can someone please send a can opener to Shanghai.

Fourth, Wallace is pure EVIL – yes Wallace you are pure EVIL!!! Noodle house was hilarious, absolutely hilarious – those itty bitty expensive shrimps were the size of your pinky nail and thank god for Sue (I know the first time I have ever said that one) she knew what the boys were up to by asking me if I wanted to join. As I did tell them that I wanted to try as much of the food as possible that I can when in China so, I guess no pity for self inflicted wounds. Except there is a line but, boy will they cross it especially with me. It is good fun though – if the shrimps were shelled and were not staring at me with those little precious baby eyes I could eat them – I felt like they were just so sad so, I couldn’t do it. Dumplings with soup in them were however, delicious!!! I want them again.. At least Wallace has an adorable child to make up for his evil ways!! :) At dinner that evening, I felt very special as this is not even a restaurant that they have taken Sue or John (big boss) too. Very authentic Shanghai food and majority of it was unbelievably good – radish soup, seriously who would think of this and would think it was good, but, was delicious, whole fish sauteed in some kind of spicy sweet sauce (skin and all) GOOD, duck GOOD, pig meat with skin, meat and fat GOOD… Pig liver that was according to Mr. Evil – Chinese tender beef, I knew something was off on the beef as I could not taste the beef but, afterall it was not that bad… I think it is the thought of what you are eating – if you do not know and think it is Chinese tender beef, not too shabby actually. Pig stomach – which when it came out I said to myself and apparently showed on my face “I don’t think I am going to like that” – looks like stomach or something of that nature – I tried it, could not do it. I think I should get mega points for at least trying, after all we are in China and I do not want to eat Western food ALL the time otherwise, what’s the point. I have learned now that I know this is going to be fun when you either a) have no menu to look through or b) have a menu in all Chinese and no photos… Photos should be mandatory. Have to try some things – cannot wait until AWEA, I told the boys that in America there is a saying that goes a little something like this “Pay back is a biatch”.

Lastly, I thought the Europeans / Scandinavians knew how to make their sweets but, I tell you what – they certainly DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING ON THE CHINESE!!! I am not a big sweet eater and is a good thing I do not live in China as I am afraid I would be about 500 lbs for all the sweets I would eat. Some of the best candy, chocolate, cake, fruit rolls, etc etc that I have had in all of my 27 yrs. SERIOUSLY – come to China and eat some sweets!!!!

On that note, I will conclude my take on China for now.. We do have a whole week to get through and I am sure that some more stupid things will come out of my mouth and I am sure that I will have to have one last joke played on me before I leave to go back to America. Note: we WILL be having Paris Bagette for breakfast or brunch everyday this week, that place is capital F – antastic.

Keep well and we will continue the saga later this week.


Oh – and Happy Easter to those who observe.  To the rest, Happy Sunday!

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Let’s Call It The Bucket List

Hi everyone.

Been a little while.  Had a few things to do – like become a grandmother (thanks kids).

Again, if you prefer not to get these mails just let me know.  Actually, I am trying to set up my blog.  A friend of mine did all the hard work, but the problem is that I have no idea how to post to it.  Gonna focus on that when I have a moment.

Anyhoo – greetings from Mongolia.  It is 4:30AM, I woke about 3 hours ago and STILL cannot go back to sleep (yes – there is a reason for this).  So please keep this in mind, and do forgive, if I sound more irrational than usual.

This little missive is going to be titled “The Bucket List”.

I have always wanted to go to Mongolia.  Seriously.  Always.  Since I was a young girl.  I remember watching a show on TV when I was about 10 years old about the people and lifestyle in Mongolia.  I never wanted to run away and join the circus.  Nope.  I wanted to run away and join the NOMADS!  What a cool life.  You can ride a horse or camel everywhere, live in a tent, have a campfire every single night and wear these really cool hats.  And you got to race the horses (or camels, your preference) and use these really big swords.  Sometimes even at the same time.  And the tents.  These are NOT your run of the mill Coleman style tents.  These are HUGE and beautiful and they even have rugs.  And your whole family and even some neighbors get to live in them – together.  Every night is just one big slumber party.  I was fascinated after that show and read some books about the mighty Khans (and even learned the proper name is “Chinggis” – which by the way spellcheck tries to change to “cringes” – appropriate no? as in he who makes people…nevermind).  I remember fantasizing about being a Nomad and fashioned a sword out of cardboard and foil (boy did I get in trouble for that one – who knew she needed the foil for dinner).  I remember stalking my dad when he was working in the backyard and assaulting him with my sword and my entire made-up Mongolian language.  I still don’t get why he didn’t know I was a Mongolian Nomad – seemed obvious to me.  And by the way, truly proper made-up Mongolian requires a lot of grunting and yelling.  This is a long way of saying, Mongolia has been at the top of my bucket list since I learned what a bucket list is.

This went on for some time until I read “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” and then tried to build a stoop outside of my bedroom window (like Frannie Nolan – you read the book right?).  They don’t have stoops in Manhattan Beach, California.  But I digress.

So you can only imagine how excited I was when we won a big project in Mongolia and I HAVE TO COME!!!!!!  WOOHOO.  I tried to keep the enthusiasm to a low roar because I did not want everyone jealous.  I mean after all, who doesn’t want to go to Mongolia right?

My first inkling of a doubt came from an email from Wallace which told me to “bring many extra clothes because it is -26 degrees today”.  Hm.  -26?  BELOW zero?  Hey – I live in Houston.  I no longer own true cold weather clothes.  But I figured I could buy one of those really cool hats in the airport on arrival, so no problem right?

When we descended over Mongolia the site literally took my breath away.  It was really gorgeous.  This sweeping vista of plains and mountains and plateaus.  All covered in snow.  And from the looks of it, LOTS of snow.  Then the windows froze up and you could not see out any more.  How does that happen?

Have any of you ever experienced true cold?  No – I mean REALLY FREAKING COLD?  The kind where your eyes hurt, your nose bleeds and it feels like tiny knives are piercing any exposed skin when the wind hits you?  I have once before, but seems that I had sort of forgotten about that.  And you want to know the worst part?  The part that seriously and completely pissed me off?

No really cool hats on sale at the airport.

Not one.  Not even a stupid hat.  In fact, not even a shop in sight.  Nothing.  I think I lost the tip of an ear on the way to the car.

We raced along the – um – road – from the airport to town.  There were these totally awesome beasts (not really sure what they were – maybe a weird cow) with this really long shaggy hair.  And I thought – I have arrived.  A few minor wardrobe adjustments and I am going to live out my Nomad fantasy.

Intellectually I realized that Ulaanbaatar is a city.  But when I read up about it I learned that it had been moved 3 times in history.  The last in 1924.  Nomadarama right?  What I did not fully appreciate is that since the last time it was moved was in 1924, the building would be NEWER than that.

When we crossed the bridge that enters Ulaanbaatar, I felt – really underwhelmed.  Nary a camel or horse in sight.  My childhood fantasy came crashing down around me and I was dumbstruck looking at what Pittsburgh probably looked like 25 years ago.  But hey – this is just one road right?

We arrive at the hotel.  Now to Wallace’s credit, he had told me the hotel was fine but the best part is the Indian restaurant (understanding completely that Indian food is the way to my heart).  We arrived at the Puma Imperial Hotel.  Too cool right?  Cool country and a hotel named after a pretty cool cat.  Now – before I go on, I want to say that the hotel is just fine.  Really.  I mean it.  I have had MUCH worse (remember Lianyungang and the unidentifiable mini-bar products and the – um – men’s and ladies – um – comfort products ((in multipacks)) in the bathroom?  I still have the card that a woman – a very nice woman I am sure – slid under my door offering me in room – um – services.).  Anyhow – this is my lifelong dream and I am not going to prejudge anything.  Although I have to admit was a little relieved that they were unable to arrange the tent hotel that I requested.  Seriously – you can do that.  It just seems that you cannot in the middle of Ulaanbaatar.  In the middle of winter.

And Wallace was right.  The best thing IS the Indian restaurant.  The buildings here were built with no heat or cooling.  Really – not kidding.  If you live in arctic conditions you seriously don’t have heat?  That is not 100% correct – I am exaggerating.  There is a fan in the room for summer and a space heater for winter that you can plug in.  The problem, apparently, is that when too many people plug in the heater, the electric goes out.  And it kind of gives me the creeps.  I mean in USA (the world of warning labels) doesn’t it say NOT to sleep with the space heater on?

Hence the reason that I am up at 1:30AM.

So I need to make a nighttime visit to the loo.  I am in the (really freaking cold) loo and the lights go out.  Completely.  I feel my way back to the bed and click the Dumb Phone (it is still NOT in my good graces) and check my light next to the bed.  Because it is completely rational that the light next to the bed might work when the rest of the hotel is in complete darkness.  So now I am completely awake.  The power actually came back on about an hour later, but no internet.  And speaking of no internet, I tried to call the front desk to ask them to reboot the server.  It was closed.

So I have meetings tomorrow on about 4 hours of sleep.  No way to do mails.  No way to even post (if I actually knew how to do that) or send this.

I am sitting in my pajamas, heavy sweater and the bed blanket.

Oh – forgot to mention the pillows.  Too funny.  You know those itsy bitsy pillows you can buy to put on a very small chair for an accent?  Well those are the ones they have here – on the beds.  Before dinner (tasty Indian) I test drove the bed.  Not gonna work.  So after dinner I asked the man at reception if I could have 1 more pillow please.  Lots of charades later he pointed to the elevator which I took to mean – GO TO YOUR ROOM.  Off I went thinking I had lost the pillow battle.  Lo and behold – 15 minutes later there is a knock on my door.  Could it be?  A pillow?  Yes it was, in the hand of the man from reception who then pushed into my room and looked around.  Seriously.  What kind of crazy Kama Sutra did he think I was planning?  With 1 extra pillow?  Alone?  He even looked in my bathroom to see if anyone was there.  Of course I was completely embarrassed and tried to express through gestures that I have a sore neck and shoulder and that did not go well at all.  I have no clue what he thought I was trying to say, but his eyes got wide and I am sure the words he said translate into something like “She Devil”.


I closed my door (the one with no lock – will attach a photo of my “key” – need to come in? – just stick something steel like a dogtag in my door – no problem) and laughed my freaking butt off.  You know when you look at your dog, and you think – I wish I knew what you were thinking right now?  That happens to me a lot in my travels for sure.  Not that I am saying these wonderful people I meet around the world are dogs, but with the language barrier and looks I get sometimes I really have to wonder what they are thinking.

And the language.  Firstly, Chinese does not work here.  Not even MY Chinese.  The writing is in Cyrillic.  But apparently not really Russian and apparently the local people (I know this because one told me) do not accept the written language as it is not theirs.  The native language is not the same as the written language.  It is completely different and now the children are being taught this in school.  Although I still really wish I had gotten past the “A”s those many years ago when I tried to learn Russian.  Have not yet had a use for Astronomika or Agronomika.  I have spent some time considering this in the past few hours (nothing better to do even with the additional pillow).  I think it is a way to control immigration.  I mean, Mongolia does not have an immigration problem.  There are only 2.9 million people in the entire country.  1.7 of them live here in Ulaanbaatar.  Nothing else makes sense.  And they are not the only ones nobody can understand.  Look at Finland.  No immigration problem there either (sorry Kari).  I think I am on to something.  If I ever win that dinner with Obama I think I should bring this up.  Might solve a few things around the homestead.  Not that I am saying immigration is bad.  But just imagine if you had this crazy written language that nobody knows, combined with a spoken language that is completely different that the written language – that nobody knows, and you made people at least learn basic communications.  I’m just saying.  They would move to France instead.

Time to hit the shower to defrost and then try to get some coffee.  I have a long day and night ahead of me.

If anyone has a really thick winter hat with flaps that come down over the ears and maybe some fur and maybe long around the neck, I am at the Puma Imperial hotel in Ulaanbaatar.  Please send it to me.

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