Nihao Everyone!

Hi everyone:

Here is the legal disclaimer – if you do not want to get these bloggy mails, either let me know or delete them.  I am trying to figure out how to actually do a blog, but I am about as computer literate as an 18th century monk so – one fine day…….  Although a friend is hooking me up so maybe sooner than I think!

Firstly – I apologize to my facebook friends.  Forgot to put change my status to “Banished to the land of no facebook”.

Anyhow – let’s get started with where we left off.

Got to my apartment on Saturday afternoon – LONG flight.  Seems like it gets longer every time although I think that is a function of me getting older.  Was happy to see that things are pretty much the same – pretty much.

The cooktop cover on the stove was put in the upwards position, and a pan was left sitting on the range top.  Like that would ever happen again – seriously?  I blew it up, paid for it, they replaced it (and a much nicer one I might add) – so did they seriously think that I would blow it up again?  Maybe they think it is a strange American ritual to blow up the stove the first day in China.  Had to shake my head and have a little laugh.

Now – for those of you who doubt me, I can proudly tell you I cooked dinner Sat AND Sun night here.  Yep – enjoyed a fabulous frozen pizza on Sat (understandable as I could not make City Shops on Sat).  And on Sun (after my trip to City Shops) a wonderful can of potato leek soup and a piece of frozen garlic bread.  OK – so took the lazy girl route.  But I did pickup fixins for risotto which is on the menu for the weekend.

Another weird thing – no more buttons on the toilet.  Completely changed it – brand new toilet.  Now I am button free.  Again – I have to ask – did they really think that would happen again?  And how could they know what happened?  I cleaned up the mess.  Seriously.  Do they have cameras in here?

Now the really weird thing.  My plates shrunk.  I swear on a stack of bibles.  When I left they were full dinner sized plates.  Now – my cell phone nests snugly in the plate.  I sent a mail asking where my plates were.  I was told firmly to look in the kitchen.  I explained that the ones in the kitchen were the small offspring of the plates I used to have.  They told me to look in the kitchen.  I took a photo of the plate with my cellphone to prove my point, but of course my cell is not working here for some reason so I cannot send it to anyone.  Looks like I am on a diet for the duration.  I had two pieces of toast for breakfast.  Took two plates.

And the maids.  I got here literally late Saturday afternoon.  They came yesterday and changed the linens.  Hm.  And today, to clean the apartment.  It is only Monday.  Again, I am NOT a dirty person.  So me thinks they are back to their sneaky ways and spying on me.  I can just see the maid bulletin board – “she who wipes her face with sanitary napkins is back – be on alert”.

Oh – and one other thing.  For those of you who remember the whole “flying panties” episode from earlier this year – they moved the clothes drying rack to the FRONT balcony.  Guess they are now going to give prizes to the one who collects the most big American panties!  Seriously?

And the last apartment note – the landlord gave me a bottle of champagne.  Yep – in a very nice ice filled bucket with two glasses.  Hm.  OK – the ice melted so I washed the bucket.  The bottle is in the fridge.  The glasses are still sitting on the counter and I am trying not to knock them over and break them when I wash dishes.  Not sure if they were happy I am back or hoping I would stay drunk the whole time and not blow anything up.  Weird but nice.  I guess.

So Sunday I figured it would be fun to have a “Chinese immersion” day.  Spend a nice lunch and afternoon with 8 of my closest Chinese friends.  Do lunch the real Chinese way and get reminded of my love for this country.  Can you say noodle house?  Speak a bunch of Chinese and try not to piss anyone off.  Exactly what the doctor ordered.

So – I am sure you guessed it.  Spend the afternoon at ……………… California Pizza Kitchen.  Seriously.  Menu is not the same exactly, but REAL pepperoni – I swear.  Not the normal Chinese pepperoni.  And the Thai Chicken Pizza?  YUMMY – the same as home.

Did get to speak Chinese and did not piss anyone off.  But got a lot of blank looks and a few laughs.

And got to see my goddaughter Abby.  She is a pistol.  She was eyeballing the sponge bob square pants balloon from the moment we arrived.  Of course it was tied to the chair of a little boy at the next table.  Within an hour she was walking around the restaurant with – yep – the sponge bob balloon.  Personally, I think she takes after me.  Except for the looks of course.  She is really cute!

So today back to work.  Unfortunately I slept until 0730.  I should note that I went to bed at 2000 (8 pm) so it was a little surprising I slept so late.  But at least it was Monday and I did not have a million mails backed up.

Had a really good day – went to the office, got stuff done and arranged the trip to Dalian for tomorrow to have a look at the windmills we will load out next week.  All in all great day and had a lot of stuff to think about on the way back to the apartment.  Only problem is, the auto pilot was not yet working.  Decided that it was stupid to take a taxi at rush hour.  The traffic would take me at least 30 minutes.  So of course the smart thing to do is take the Metro (subway).  I am a tall American woman and have learned how to get onto the subway without waiting for 10 trains.  I can just wade through the masses and get on the first train.  The office is only 2 stops away so literally the Metro takes 3 minutes.  And then a walk of about 10 minutes.

So you may be wondering then if it is a 3 minute Metro ride and a 10 minute walk … why the heck it took me 1 hour 20 minutes to get home.  GOOD question.

Again – apparently the auto pilot is not working, or just needs to be rebooted.

You see when I got off I automatically walked to exit #4.  Unfortunately, this is the exit for the OFFICE metro stop – not the HOME metro stop.

Duh.

Then I (for some strange reason) was not paying attention and went into lemming mode.  Yep – just followed the crowd.  After a while I started looking around me and realized that I had NO IDEA where the heck I was.  I looked for my landmark which is a really tall building outlined with blue lights (at night of course) and a big hole in the top of the building.  Uh oh – nowhere to be found.  I dead stopped and after getting rear ended by about 20 people tried to get my bearings and realized I had  no clue at all where I was.  Seriously.

So of course, smart girl that I am – I kept walking thinking that surely I would recognize something – anything.  Nope.  Nothing.

I realized that the best thing to do (ok – the sissy-girl thing to do) would be to get a taxi.  Unfortunately I was waived away by at least a half a dozen taxis.  They would not take me (and yes – they had the green light on top so they were looking for business).  I admit that maybe I looked a little harassed – but not crazy or anything.  Why wouldn’t they pick me up?  I have to ask Wallace about this.

Maybe they figured that I was a stupid American who obviously looked lost but lived close and they did not want a short fare?  Who knows.

Anyhow after realizing that there was no taxi in my future, I walked a ways further and saw Union Square.  Then I realized I had been walking parallel to my apartment the whole time (and a few blocks north – at least I think it is north).  So FINALLY I saw Puchang road, and then I saw the big building with the blue lights like a beacon in the wilderness.

OK – a little dramatic but my feet were killing me and my shoulder was about 2” shorter than when I left the office due to a heavy briefcase.

And by the way – don’t the Chinese learn about music?  I mean – why did the guards look at me like I was crazy when I walked through the complex gate singing Halleluiah?  Have they never heard of Cohen?

So I made it.  I walked and to me that is a gold star on the cupcake of my day.

Gotta go soak a couple of dead dogs (my feet), eat some dinner (yippee – minestrone soup) and get some sleep as I have to be up at 0400 for an early flight to Dalian.

But I am happy to be back even though I seem to be a dismal failure at life in China.  But as long as they put up with me, I will keep coming back.  Although they did refuse to renew my visa (seriously – the Houston Chinese consulate told me no) – which expires Nov 18 (well before I return to the states) – should I take that personally?

Maybe blowing up major appliances is a felony here….  I didn’t think of that before now.

If I suddenly disappear – please look for me in the blowing up appliances jail here ok?  Or, maybe I am just being paranoid.  You decide.

Hopefully you will hear from me end of the week.

In the meantime, take care and write back.  I love to hear from you all!

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Sunday in Shanghai

Hi everybody!

First of all, Happy Easter and Happy Sunday!

When I woke this morning I realized that this is my last Sunday in Shanghai – at least for this episode.  Time really does fly.  Seems like it was just yesterday that I was blowing up the stove on my arrival.  Anyhow, I am actually a little sad that this experience is coming to an end this week.  Despite the silly I Love Lucy-esque experiences I have had here, I found that I have really grown fond of the China I have gotten to know from a new perspective.  When staying in hotels, it seems that one is insulated from “real life”.  I don’t think that on previous trips I had gotten to see how hard the Chinese work, not just in their jobs but then also when they get home.  What I have taken for granted as essential in my USA life, I see now that much of this is a luxury or a real convenience for the typical Chinese.

You know, it is kind of funny how the mind works.  Despite my best attempts to get into all sorts of trouble here, I am realizing how quickly I have gotten used to the differences between our countries.  For instance, the other day I needed a bathroom break.  When I walked into the public restroom, I thought “Wow – a real toilet” with surprise.  The second surprise was the full roll of toilet paper.  I was so happy when I sat down to attend to business.  Only later did I realize that I had come to expect the dreaded hole (which my 50 + year old knees find quite difficult to handle) – the difference being instead of thinking “Oh damn, another hole” – I had come to expect this and just deal with it.  It might not seem much, but I realize today that the whole week was full of surprises.  Wow – they have Coke Zero.  Wow – they sell American Hot Dogs (not – by the way – not at all – not even close and I really do not want to know what those chunks in the dog were).  But the mustard was real yellow mustard – just like home.  So guess what?  I thought – hey – they have American mustard and ate the dog.  And – best not to think about the chunks.

I did my laundry last weekend and only shrunk a couple of things, no lost underwear and no water running freely around the apartment.  I cooked pasta, Thai curry and all sorts of other things without having to call the emergency services.  This Easter morning I will make my version of eggs benedict, that I call “Sue Benedict”.  I will meet Wallace and his family for brunch later, go shopping at the underground (yes Nikki, I will go see if I can find your requested item today) and then work this afternoon on all the RFQ’s I have pending.  Sounds pretty much like a normal life right?  I think so too.

Overall, I think this experiment has been a resounding success – and one that I am actually anxious to repeat (well – maybe not all the little adventures).

This week I think I will leave you all with some “wisdom” from my experiences in China.  These are some key lessons I have learned this past month and I hope they will serve you well should you have the chance to spend a little time in these parts.

Crossing the road

Your mother told you to look left, look right, look left and then cross.  OK – here is how to do it in China.  Wait for the green walk light.  Look left, right, left, right – watch out for the car driving the wrong way on the road, dash in front of the bus and then come to a screeching halt on the white line between the lanes, dodge the motorcycle which just zoomed around the bus, run like heck for the middle of the road.  Catch your breath.  Run halfway across the remaining asphalt, stop short and wait for the two cars, motorcycle and bus that are running the red light, come to the final lane and carefully – very carefully – cross once all the cars with the red turning light make their turns.  Green walk light = run very fast or die.

Want a snack?

The Chinese are masters at packaging.  Really.  If you doubt this, have a look in any store.  The POS packaging here is absolutely beautiful.  However, this can also be a serious trap for the uninitiated.  If you just need a little snack, a little something something to tide you over, beware.  There are rows upon rows of shiny, colorful bags of treats.  It would take hours and a dictionary to try to decipher what everything is – so you have to browse by intuition.  However, you will find on all these bags the universal sign for what things are.  There is one key difference though.  Those cartoon characters on the bags?  They are not necessarily the “spokesman” for the brand (think Cheetos – do you really expect to find tiger parts in the bag?  – of course not – you expect to find cheesy neon-colored crunchy non-food items that turn your mouth and fingers orange permanently).  However, in China – in many cases they are indicative of what you will find inside.  In particular, there are shiny purple bags which have a delightful duck on the bag sticking his tongue out at all the children who look wistfully at the bag and beg mommy to get them one.  Donald Duckish really.  I fell prey to this marketing ploy.  I just needed a little snack and figured something sweet would fit the bill.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the bag only to find dried duck tongues.

Taxi!! Taxi!!

Do not take the red taxi.  Not in any city in China.  Just don’t do it.  But in China, we visitors and ex-pats need our taxis.  So here is a guide.  Let me preface this by saying that most taxi drivers are honest hardworking guys and gals.  However, there are some……….  Anyways, look at the meter when you get it and make sure you can see the price.  Along the way it could be that suddenly you cannot see the price any longer.  Maybe suddenly a piece of paper jumped over the price and stuck there (weird how physics work here in China).  When you get to the destination and are told to pay 100 RMB, you must look at the price.  If that pesky paper is still covering said amount, assume your most expressive “really?  seriously?  do you think I just fell off the boat?” face and take your index finger and make a small swiping motion (like you use on the iPad) toward where that pesky paper still lingers.  Typically the driver will then sheepishly remove that pesky paper and you will see the fare is 18 RMB.  Pay the man his 18 RMB and then give him a 5 – 6 RMB tip and say “good try”.

The next piece of advice is – DO NOT TAKE BLACK MARKET TAXIS.  Not in China (and frankly – not anywhere in the world).  If you are not sure why should not take a black market taxi, you probably should not be traveling outside of your own town.  If you need further information, just ask John Timmons.

And do NOT take motorcycle taxis.  If you have any questions on this matter, ask Kari (Tuk Tuk) Maki.

Pizza Hut is Fine Dining

I have found the most amazing restaurants here in China.  But – one must remember that even if the restaurant claims that it is German, it does not really, necessarily mean that you will transported to Hamburg in the middle of Okterfest.  You may actually end up with “schnitzel” that is a paper thin piece of pork which has been battered and deep fried and surrounded by greasy fried potatoes.  Proudly served by attendants dressed in lederhosen.  Just remember, you are in China.  So suck it up, eat what you can and go on to the next restaurant.  You may be surprised.  You may find the best Indian food you have ever partaken of in your life – even considering all the meals you have eaten in India (Masala Art Pudong).  I swear I had an oralgasm when I tasted the Chicken Tikka Masala and Sag Paneer.  So I advise patience and tenacity.

Now – let’s talk about Pizza Hut.  Some of you may remember getting a disturbing photo from me last December of the “Pizza Hut Elves”.  For those who did not get the photo – the two story PH in Beijing was manned with wait staff all dressed as Santa’s elves.  Seriously.  Here in China, PH is considered along the lines of fine dining.  Most of you probably saw that old movie with Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone called Demolition Man, where Taco Bell was haute cuisine.  Well – it is not quite at that level but PH here is revered (along with KFC but that is another story – and by the way – DON’T DO IT).  The point is that the charming thing about Chinese restaurants in larger cities is that in many cases, the wait staff is dressed (think packaged here) to express the theme of the restaurant.  My favorite bakery/cafe here is called Paris Baguette.  And yes, the staff is all dressed in beret’s and striped shirts.

The point being is – maybe you do not get the Italian feast you were looking for.  But the ambience, the funny differences in the food preparation (and contents) and the presentation make for good fun and a good dining experience, even if you really did not like the food.  In the USA, I think we have forgotten to have this kind of fun with our food be it Pizza Hut or Chasens.  So I say, enjoy.  Have some fun and find your golden nuggets.  There are many and it is sure that if you stay away from McD and Burger King, you will surely find your dining nirvana.

Enough of the “advice”.  Time for me to go make my breakfast, get ready and meet up with the Cai family.  And start my last week in Shanghai.  I am sorry this is winding down.  I am thinking of all the things I wanted to do and did not get a chance to.  Although I did the Shanghai Zoo yesterday.  I fell in LOVE with the red pandas.  They are adorable.  Oh – one more piece of advice.  If you go to the Shanghai Zoo, you will walk around a very beautiful property.  However, you must remember there are cultural differences here and it could be you might find some of the displays a little disturbing.  There is an area called “pets”.  If you are western, best to stay away from this area.  When they say pets, they do mean pets.  And the displays go against our cultural upbringing.  So when you see the sign, turn around and walk away.  Go see the Giant Pandas.  I was thinking of the aquarium for later today but think I had enough at the zoo yesterday.  Enough said.

I am off to get the most out of this last week here.  Although I miss the family and my home (and especially the pool which I hear is 85 degrees and waiting for me) I will also leave a little part of me here.  This final missive from my journey brings back to my mind all the fun and funny and weird and crazy things I have experienced, so I sign off here with a smile.  I want to thank everyone who responded to these mails.  Your funny comments brought a smile to my face every time.  And connected me back to my home a little too.  It is much harder to be homesick when you are in an apartment instead of a hotel and sharing your experiences with those back “home”.  But hey – this is not all sadness here.

After all, in the words of the “Terminator” (which is probably what the apartment building management calls me) – I’ll Be Back!

Take care and a big bauzhu from Shanghai!

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Shanghai – I Speak Wonderful Chinese!

Hi everyone:

This week’s mail a little early as I found out yesterday (when I returned from Beijing), that I am needed by a client and have to go back tomorrow morning.  Oh well.  At least it is a fairly short flight.

I spent this past week in Qingdao, Beijing and Tanggu (Tianjin TEDA area).  Every meeting went really well, one was more than 7 hours and another was 6 hours – so the business side was really good.  Qingdao is a really beautiful seaside city.  Although in the hotel restaurant when I asked what the soup of the day was, they said they had to telephone the chef as they did not know.  I figured that was not a good sign and passed on the soup.

In Beijing, we stayed in a hotel that is called “The Emperor”.  Rooms do not have numbers, they are each named for a Chinese Emperor.  Problem is, my Chinese is not so great (despite what I may think) – and without a room number I found myself face to face with a Chinese couple as I was trying to enter their room after dinner.  Oops.  Mine was Song Shen Song and theirs was Shen Song Shen or something like that.  It probably would not have been so bad if our flight had not been horribly delayed.  I slipped down to eat just before the restaurant closed at 11 pm.  I am thinking they did not care too much for the American mid-night wake up call.  Nope – did not make any friends.

Thursday night was at the Renaissance.  Yep – just like home.  Almost.  The bed was SOOOOOO soft and there were about 10 American channels on the TV.  The guys had to drag me out of there kicking and screaming (well – not quite but you get the drift).

This week was all about Chinese lessons.  Some of you know that I have been studying Chinese for the past two years.  Unfortunately it seems that I missed a very important key at the beginning of my studies.  The Chinese staff here is very polite and I have realized that they do not want to correct me.  At least until this week.  You see, I really thought that I was doing great with the Chinese.  I mean, everyone seemed to understand me – they all nod their heads and smile.  So I have gotten bolder and bolder these last days.

I decided that it was not polite to use my staff’s American names in meetings, when I am using the Chinese names of the clients.  So, in a big meeting and I used Wallace’s Chinese name.  Cai Hua.  Easy right?  Except the room went silent for a moment, and then everyone cracked up.

I called the poor boy a vegetable.

Seriously.

The worst part is that Henrik was in the meeting too (my guy in Beijing) and so for the next 3 days he repeatedly called Wallace ”vegetable”.

Herein the correction.  On the flight to Beijing yesterday I was studying.  I actually figured out what happened with the whole vegetable thing.

Cai Hua = Wallace’s Chinese name

Caihua = cauliflower

So I really did not call him vegetable, I called him Cauliflower.  Much better right?

So we decided that I needed to go back to basics and learn the key the to Chinese language.  Finally on the flight last night, the light bulb went on and I understood.  However, there is a far stretch between understanding and execution.

Now – to set this up you have to know that Wallace and I were sitting across the aisle from each other on the airplane.  Middle seats in Chinese domestic flights are NOT your friend, so we plan the seats this way so we are not numb on arrival.

Now – armed with this new understanding of the Chinese language and feeling very confident about myself, I decided to redeem myself and say a sentence in Chinese using Wallace’s Chinese name.

Now I know you are all thinking that I called him a vegetable again.  Nope.  Not even close.  In fact, it is so much worse you won’t believe it.

I opened my mouth and said (translated to English):  Good morning “grabs the flowers”, how are you today?

Now – grabs the flowers is not so bad really – in English.  In Chinese it means something altogether different.  And – um – not very nice.  You see the WAY I said it is slang for a man who – um – let’s say – grabs – young women/girls.  I am thinking your imaginations can fill in the blanks.

I just wish I had a photo of his face.

Unfortunately, about 5 rows of Chinese people around us heard me and everyone turned to look at Wallace.

He did indeed respond to my question though.  He said (in English):  You are not allowed to speak my Chinese name.  You must call me Wallace.

Of course I had NO idea what the heck just happened.  His poor face was bright red and he was just shaking his head at me.  I felt terrible.  But of course, I still had no idea what I said.

Finally after everyone went back to whatever they were doing, he explained my faux pas.

Serious oops.

I explained that I only wanted to honor him by using his proper name – and he said I can honor him better by not using it.  After the shock wore off we actually had a good laugh about it and then lectured me for the remaining 45 minutes about using the proper tone.  You see I had the pronunciation right, but the tone wrong.

So today as I am doing my laundry (4.5 hours per load – I found today that the washer is ALSO a dryer – who knew?) I have been practicing my Chinese tones.  I am pretty sure I have it right.  I have two days to practice before I am back and see him again.  And I am bound and determined to get it right this time.

Time to sign off, order some incredibly hot Indian food to kill my cold and prepare for the flight tomorrow morning.

I hope you all have a great weekend.  If anyone is interested in Chinese lessons when I get back, let me know.  I come pretty cheap.

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Shanghai Life – Part 2

Nihau everyone.

(Elaine – this one might be slightly on the “R” rating side so read it before you let Francesca).

Greetings from Shanghai – a nice Sunday morning although smoggy like crazy.  Think we need some heavy winds, or maybe a gas mask.  I really hate having to chew my air before I can breathe it.  But no matter.  The temp is pretty warm and there is either a bike ride or Shanghai Ocean Aquarium in my near future.

The bad news first.  I got the bill for the stove.  The good news is that it costs only 400 RMB for the replacement ceramic stove cover thing and labor for installation and repair.  The funny part is that they did not install the ceramic stove cover thing – nope – left it off.  Like that would ever happen again – I mean who would blow the stove up twice?  Really?  (John – does TransGroup let one expense stupidity?)  Probably not, although I have to say for 65 USD which is what 400 RMB equates to, the price was definitely worth the comedy relief.  And seriously, shouldn’t they have told me about the whole cooktop thing in the first place?  Information = no explosion.  Oh well.  Guess I have to suck this one up.

Along the same vein, I think I am being watched.  Seriously.  I am NOT paranoid.  The maids here are very efficient.  They are supposed to come 3 times per week.  They are now coming 5 times per week M – F.  I know!  What is up with that?  M-W-F cleans and T-TH changes linens.  I am NOT that dirty of a person to warrant a daily maid service of my apartment.  Therefore, I truly believe that the management has enlisted an army of maids to keep tabs on me.  Can one go to jail in China for blowing up a major appliance?  For using – um – feminine protection to wipe ones mouth?  Listen guys – if I suddenly stop communicating, CALL THE USA EMBASSY.  And for the record, I bought REAL napkins so that whole feminine protection thing is no longer an issue.  Although I do admit that I still use them for my daily coffee ritual.  They make a perfect place to put the wet spoon after stirring.

This week I thought I would pass along some fun facts about life in China.  You will note there are a couple of photos attached – will get to those later.  I managed to get through the week without destroying any major appliances (although I am hoping that management does not notice the dent in the dining room table leg – let’s just say that when your mom told you not to ride your bike in the house, there was a good reason for it.  Although once again, I think management should have connected the brakes to the bike.  Connected brakes = no crash into dining room table.).

I traveled to Shenyang to visit with a client.  Shenyang is not my cup of tea – very industrial area although the hotel was pretty nice.  My guys have figured out that I like the western style hotels and do their best to find them in our price range (the single $ in the travel book).  Although the multipack of condoms and “Lady” and “Man” – uh – amenities – in the bathroom kind of creep me out.  I have to wonder what was going on in that bed before I checked in.  Best not to think about it too much.

Anyhow – the best part of the week was City Shops (thank you Belgin and Wallace).  I finally found the international grocer and – man – did I have a ball in the shop.  They had Rice a Roni!  Swear.  And frozen Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.  Frozen Mac n Cheese and even corn on the cob.  Of course, you have to remember that I am in a furnished apartment where the only cooking supplies I have are a large glass spoon (think Chinese restaurant soup spoon only alot bigger), a bamboo spatula kinda thing for the wok and a rice server spatula thing.  No measure cups or anything like that.  I will share this complete ridiculous skype chat (sorry Peter – but if you keep bagging on me about the napkins, I will keep copying your skype chats) below regarding City Shop.

[4/6/2011 6:07:34 AM] Susan StGermain: http://www.cityshop.com.cn/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/TopCategories1_10601_10051_-7
[4/6/2011 6:07:42 AM] Susan StGermain: found what should be my shopping mecca here

[4/6/2011 6:15:10 AM] Peter Stehr: you know
[4/6/2011 6:15:17 AM] Peter Stehr: this site has made it perfectly clear to me
[4/6/2011 6:15:23 AM] Peter Stehr: if I had had a doubt:
[4/6/2011 6:15:34 AM] Peter Stehr: There is still A LOT I have to learn about women
[4/6/2011 6:15:51 AM] Susan StGermain:  i don’t get it

[4/6/2011 6:16:12 AM] Peter Stehr: apparently women have completely different needs than I thought
[4/6/2011 6:16:23 AM] Peter Stehr: I clicked on “Ladies Products”
[4/6/2011 6:16:31 AM] Peter Stehr: and expected … well, Ladies products
[4/6/2011 6:16:49 AM] Peter Stehr: I didn’t know that inlcuded Star Red Wine Vinegar and Bumble Bee Red Salmon
[4/6/2011 6:17:33 AM] Peter Stehr: I thought maybe I’d find your napkins here

[4/6/2011 6:20:51 AM] Susan StGermain: oh – you are such an ass
[4/6/2011 6:21:34 AM] Susan StGermain: but in order not to gross you out i will not tell you what some women do with vinegar
[4/6/2011 6:22:05 AM] Susan StGermain: OMG – THEY HAVE BAGELS
[4/6/2011 6:22:24 AM] Susan StGermain: i am SO going here
[4/6/2011 6:22:35 AM] Peter Stehr: hahaha
[4/6/2011 6:22:44 AM] Peter Stehr: amazing how finding a website can cheer you up
[4/6/2011 6:23:18 AM] Susan StGermain: yeah – stupid huh?
[4/6/2011 6:24:53 AM] Susan StGermain: FROZEN MAC N CHEESE
[4/6/2011 6:25:09 AM] Peter Stehr: (rofl)

So what to do?  I want the Rice a Roni – really want it.  But no measure cup.  But hey – I don’t hang around engineers for nothing.  I found paper cups where I could read (despite 100% Chinese writing) the volume is 255 ml.  The directions on the Rice a Roni are in US cups.  Easy peasy right?  The following is a copy of a real skype with Peter (a European friend in case you do not already know him and the star of above Ladies Products Skype) who I figured would understand the whole ml thing:

[4/8/2011 5:53:46 AM] Susan StGermain: you would not happen to know how many millileters in a cup would you?
[4/8/2011 5:53:59 AM] Susan StGermain: i need 2.5 cups of water.
[4/8/2011 5:54:05 AM] Susan StGermain: no clue how many millileters
[4/8/2011 5:55:02 AM] Susan StGermain: ok so there are 236.59 ML in a US cup.
[4/8/2011 5:56:18 AM] Susan StGermain: I need 2.5 cups so I need 591.475 ML but I do not have a measure cup so therefore I bought paper cups which have a volume of 255 ML so therefore I need to have 2.3195098039216 of my paper cups.  Right?
[4/8/2011 5:56:22 AM] Susan StGermain: dang – cooking is hard.
[4/8/2011 5:57:51 AM] Peter Stehr: one sec
[4/8/2011 5:59:10 AM] Peter Stehr: sounds correct
[4/8/2011 5:59:29 AM] Peter Stehr: who’d have thought that to cook properly one needs a university degree
[4/8/2011 6:02:04 AM] Susan StGermain: shit
[4/8/2011 6:02:09 AM] Susan StGermain: this is difficult

So as you can see I am coping here like a champ!

And – BTW – the Rice a Roni was HEAVEN!!!!!

I have had a lot of comments regarding the – um – bathroom facilities – here in China.  As those of you who have been here know, the hole in the floor is not your friend.  I have learned (free tip here) that if you are in a public place or office building or whatever, look for the handicapped bathroom.  You will get a proper toilet, although maybe you do not want to sit on it.  And of course you probably need to make sure you carry tissue with you at all times (another free tip)!

Anyhow – now we get to Photo #1 – the one titled Shanghai Toilet.  This toilet resides in my master bathroom (the one I cannot shower in because it floods so I have to use the guest shower).  Now – look at the photo.  See all those buttons on the left?  Well, they are all written in Chinese.  And they have some curious drawings under the Chinese words.  Now – as I have been – uh – sitting on the throne for the past week – I have been eyeing these buttons.  I was DYING to know what they all do.  Now – remember your mom telling you not to push the buttons (I sense a theme here)?  Yeah – well my curiosity got the better of me Thursday night.  I pushed them.  Yep – pushed a button and pushed it hard.  I truly wish I would have taken a picture of me with water dripping down my face.  Because you see, I was not SITTING when I pushed the button.  Nope.  Standing.  Bent over the bowl eagerly waiting to see what happened.  And of course, once the button is pushed…..  I need to learn the Chinese writing for “STOP” or “CLOSE” or “TURN OFF”.  The more buttons I pushed the worse it got.  Until it just stopped.

Took me 20 minutes to clean the bathroom and then of course I had to shower.  Chinese toilet water cannot be healthy.

Now – photo #2 is the face of my clothes washing machine.  Anyone know how to use it?  I did two loads yesterday (seriously – ALL DAY yesterday), basically through trial and error – yes – pushing buttons.  The first load took more than an hour and the washer was still filled with water.  So tried another button.  And then another.  And yet – another.  After having to wait through numerous cycles – 3 hours later I found the button which drains the water.  Seriously.  Why don’t Chinese clothes washers drain the water and spin the clothes as a matter of completing a cycle?  Why push another button?  I don’t get it.

And of course, the Chinese do not believe in clothes dryers.  They believe that hanging your clothes in the smoggy air is much healthier.  I learned something new yesterday (last free tip for this mail).  Do NOT hang your underwear on the top rung of the clothes dryer hanger thing that is outside next to the washer on the balcony on breezy days.  I am SO not going downstairs to look for the 2 missing pairs.  Healthier my butt.  But in a sick way, I wish I could see the face of the gardener when he finds two big pairs of American panties in the garden.  Priceless.

Well – it is time to hit the shower and start my day.  Instead of getting lighter, the smog is getting lower so think that the bikeride is probably out.  I am leaving Tuesday for Qingdao.  Wallace asked our potential client to book us a room nearby.  I am scared.  The last time that happened was in Lianyungang and there was seaweed and dried fish in the minibar.  Yum.

Hope you guys all have a great week.  Take care and more later.  Loved getting your comments back by the way – keep sending them.  And again, if you do not want these mails, let me know and I will take you off the list.

I will leave you with a couple of new sayings I learned this week:

Wo bu mingbai (I don’t understand)

Cesuo zai nar (where are the toilets)

Jiuming (help)

Kuai canjin (napkin)

Yihou jian (TTYL)

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My Life in Shanghai – Part 1

Hi everyone.

I thought it might be mildly amusing, slightly insightful and maybe a little bit of a diversion to jot down some of my experiences living alone in Shanghai.  From the absurd to the boring, everything I will write is the unvarnished truth – even when it puts me in a bad light (the usual result).

If anyone does not want to receive these mails, let me know and I will remove you.

As a forward, let us note that I think of myself as a seasoned traveler, having spent much time on the road – typically in strange and “exotic” places, one who can take care of herself, get around, make friends anywhere.  Basically a cool chick with a very broad ability to blend in with the local surroundings.  Having said that, 3 days into my month long Shanghai odyssey I have learned just how full of baloney I really am.

I am calling this missive:

Where have all the napkins gone?

Day 1 – April 1 – April Fools Day for sure.  Or maybe just Fools Day.  I arrive in Shanghai to start my month of Chinese immersion.  I arrive at my new apartment in the Pudong district of Shanghai, totally excited and anxious to start this experiment.  Gorgeous apartment.  I sit at my desk and gaze out the window at the Huangpo River and the skyline of downtown Shanghai ablaze in the night sky.  Romantic huh?  I decide no going out to dinner for me.  Nope.  Gonna cook my first meal in.  Too bad they did not teach me how to use the stove.  After shopping in the convenience store, I pack away my meager purchases which cost almost 500 RMB.  I looked everywhere for napkins.  Nothing.  Don’t the Chinese use napkins?  They always have them at McDonalds…..  OK – forget the napkins.  Let’s make pasta.

After the stove exploded and the emergency guys left, I sat on the floor and laughed my a** off for probably 20 minutes.  Not 8 hours in Shanghai and I have already managed to destroy a major appliance.  Great start.

For those of you who have not heard the story – let’s just say that the ceramic “cooktop” on Chinese stoves is really not a cooktop.  It must be removed to cook.  Kinda of think they should have told me about this little factoid.  Apparently when gas heat is applied to the bottom of said ceramic cover – they tend to blow up.  Into about a kazillion pieces.  I am truly grateful that I was in the other room when it happened.

Although the management asked me not to cook, I felt challenged by this Chinese stove.  I successfully turned the oven on (Celsius is NOT easy kids) and baked myself a frozen pizza bread.  Ha – take that Chinese stove.  I win.

However, I will admit that the towel rack fell off the wall in the bathroom, I flooded the same bathroom when I took a shower, the handle broke off the kitchen faucet and the lock on the sliding glass door broke.  But hey – compared to the whole stove thing – not so bad right?

Finish the day doing e-mails as I realize that the only thing slower than my internet is my hot water heater.

Day 2 and off to Shenzhen for meetings with a client.  I have nothing good to say about Shenzhen.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Wait – there must be something.  Uh – nope.

Get back to Shanghai and stop at a different convenience store.  Yahoo – napkins.  Strange packaging and even stranger napkins but hey – at least I now have napkins.  When I arrive back at the apartment, I can see that the management repaired the stove so now the cooktop can be used (although they did remove the ceramic cooktop – which resulted in probably 10 minutes of hysterical giggling on my part).

Once again I face the Chinese Cooking Dragon and successfully heat up a can of soup.  Woohoo.  No explosions and to make the meal even better, I had my napkin.

Day 3 and the maid comes first thing in the morning.  I can see she regarded the remains of my breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, and furtively inspected the cooktop (like I had not already learned my lesson – seriously).  Suddenly I see her taking away my napkins.  Nooooooooooooooooo.  I ran after her only to realize that she was putting them in the bathroom.  How weird.  Why do Chinese keeps napkins in the bathroom?  As much around me that does not make sense, this took the cake.  I had to ask her why she was putting my napkins in the bathroom.  Admittedly they are very strange, but they are my napkins and they belong in the kitchen.

Well, as you might imagine, English is not her strong suit and Chinese certainly is not mine.  However, through some pantomime and cruelly annihilated Chinese from my side I got my question across.  Truly – it took me about 5 minutes to figure out why she was laughing hysterically, tears running down her round face.  Yep – you guessed it.  These were not the type of napkins one uses in the kitchen.  I believe the politically correct term is “feminine protection”.

After we regained control of ourselves and dried our faces I realized to my extreme horror that my reputation in this complex is going to go from bad to worse.  I did not have the words to beg her to keep this to herself.  From now on I will wear big sunglasses, a floppy hat and tried to hide from my neighbors.

My Chinese name has gone from “she who blows up Chinese stoves” to “she who wipes her face with Kotex”.

Lovely.

So – today it is raining and cold.  Too bad as I was going to take the bike thoughtfully provided to me by the management (who are probably hoping I will kill myself on it) for a nice long ride along the river.  Oh well.  I suppose I have better things to do today.

Visit the dvd store and stock up, find a real store to buy a few things which will not cost 500 RMB and finally – you guessed it – BUY SOME NAPKINS.

If anyone knows where to buy napkins in Shanghai – please let me know.  On the other hand, I guess I can just visit McDonalds……………..

Hope that you all enjoyed a peek into my life as I fail miserably as a Chinese transplant.  Good thing this experiment is only going to last a month.

Have a good weekend and love from China!

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