Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Vacation

So it's finally here! Christmas Vacation, and we are taking full advantage of the situation! We leave tomorrow morning to go to Chengdu, Tibet and Harbin. Pretty much we are covering the entire width of China. We will return to Shanghai on the afternoon of January 1, 2009.

A special thank you to my dear friend Valerie for the best Christmas present ever... another post will follow later about that with pictures.

If we have access to high-speed internet at our hotels, we are going to try to use Skype to contact friends and family. But there is a big emphasis on the 'if' at the beginning of that sentence.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!!

Love, Jim & Rachel

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Falling into a new routine

We have settled into a routine of life since we are both working now. I had a funny experience the other day that is sort of the result of the monotonic pattern our lives have taken.

No one, not even the locals, trust the tap water in China, so almost everyone uses 5 gallon bottles. The only thing you can use the tap for is washing clothes, dishes and to shower. Everythng else you use bottled water for, even when you rinse your mouth after you brush your teeth. At our work places, you won't find water fountains that would be common in the states, but you have bottled water stations around almost every corner.

Since we have to use the 5 gallon bottles, we're never wasteful in our usage. The only problem is that we use more than 1 bottle of water per week, usually 1.5. So we don't have to worry about running short we keep three 5G water bottles at any time. We go to our apartment clubhouse (the management office) to order, pay for and set up delivery of the bottles.

We live in a large apartment complex. Speciffically we live at 1599 Ding Xiang Lu, Building 19, Apartment 1301. Yes, we live on floor 13, but thirteen isn't unlucky in China. Instead, four, 14, 24, etc are, because the word for 4 sounds like death.

To give meaning to this address let me say that there are at least 30 buildings in the complex, which each has 26 stories, and each floor in a building has 2 or 4 apartments per floor. I would estimate that about 1/6 of the buildings have 2-story apartments. At this point, the math teacher in me wants everyone to compute the minimum and maximum possible number of apartments in our complex. Hahaha...

Since the name of this blog is Shiner to Shanghai, its worth pointing out that there are more people who live in our apartment complex than do in Shiner. I'm not sure what the latest census results are for Lavaca County.... To add to the size of our complex, the developer is now in the process of building Phase II of the complex: it will be at 1399 Ding Xiang Lu and is almost equal in size to Phase I we live in.

So Monday night, after I got home from work I had to go order water bottles, a normal event in my life now. I was told they would be delivered by 7pm, which was more than an hour away. I was walking home from the clubhouse and walked into the building by catching the door from a family that was walking out. I held the elevator for a lady who entered the building behind me, and she was thankful. Once she was on, I tried to use my access card that was still in my wallet to access the other floors of the buiding. It didn't scan, which sometimes happens, so she scanned her card and hit the button for floor 21 and I hit the button for floor 13.

I stepped off the elevator at floor 13, and heard the elevator shut behind me. But it didn't look like our floor. I turned quickly to see what floor the sign by the elevator said, I was on floor 13. There was the sounds of a family resonating in the hallway from one of the apartments, which is typical on our floor. The smell of Chinese food, a normal smell on our floor, filled the air. I checked the sign again, still floor 13, but not our floor.

At this point, I start to think, "What's wrong? I'm in China. I'm in an apartment building. Is there a hole in the space-time continumum? Am I caught in a bad episode of The Twilight Zone? Or is it just that my flux capacitor is broke?"

I went to push the down button for the elevators, which were now on floors 21 and 6. While the one on 21 returned to 13, I waited anxiously, and tried to act suave. I tried to pretend like I was supposed to be there, like I was in control, all the while trying to ignore the thoughts that were racing through my head at an ever increasing rate. This entire act was for no one, as I was alone in the common area. The elevator arrived, I jumped on and hit the button for the ground floor. Once on solid ground I jetted out the front doors to inspect the building number. 26, not 19. I entered one building too soon.

I laughed it off as I continued what should have been my original stroll home. But I looked over my shoulder at the same time to make sure know one else was aware of my mistake. I was still alone, and felt confident that I had hid my own silliness.

The water arrived on schedule Monday night, but I honestly forgot to tell Jim about my time warp incident until Tuesday evening. He got a good laugh out of the situation. He almost made the same mistake once, but was unable to gain entry to building 26, and figured it out at that point. He couldn't beleive how long it took me to figure out what was wrong.

Hope you got a laugh out of it too.

Taxi Adventure in Xian

I've been meaning to post about this and in the last post, Jim alluded to our taxi adventure in Xian during the first weekend in October.

So we arrived at the Xian airport after our flight was delayed in Beijing, we collected our bags and made our way to the taxi line in front of the airport. We had printed the address of our hotel in Mandarin from the website we used to book all of our travel accomodations to give our taxi driver. (A tip given to us by other expats in the past.) The airport was about 40 km from the town, so we were anticipating somewhat of a drive to get to the center of Xian where we where staying.

As we approached the front of the line, the driver at the front was really excited to see us - which should have been a sign. Like I said, we anticiapted a drive, but the fare of the cab ride should have been considerably less than a similar ride in Shanghai, since Xian is a smaller city compared to the major metropolis of Shanghai. We saw from the sticker on the back window that the initial rate was less than that of Shanghai's; Shanghai's base rate is 11RMB, whereas I think Xian was 8RMB. (I don't recall exact numbers, because I have waited too long to post this... shame on me.)

We loaded our things into the trunk, hopped in the backseat and were headed towards the walled city of Xian. After about 7-10 minutes from my seat behind the driver, I noticed something was wrong with the meter that was supposed to be tracking our fare: the amount the fare was increasing by was not constant. At first we thought it had to do with the rate at which the driver was travelling since most cabs in China accrue fares by distance (when your moving) and time (when you are at a standstill). Maybe the cab's velocity wasn't contant, but we on a highway... and the jumps were still too sporadic for this to be the case. Sometimes the meter would increase by 2RMB, others by 7RMB (almost the base rate!), or some other amount in that range. Jim couldn't see the meter from his seat so, I was calling out the intervals the price was increasing, and we were both trying to deduce a pattern or something logical from the sequence I was muttering.

Then I noticed the meter did not have a fa piao printing from it. A fa piao is an official government issued Chinese receipt, that are used by all businesses in China; they are also used by the government to collect business taxes. Businesses pay the government their taxes and in return are given carbon triplicate booklets for the fa piaos. Taxis are given rolls what can be thought of as 'official adding machine tape' to use in the meter which are used for the fa piao. In Shanghai if a taxi driver cannot produce a fa piao, you are free to leave the taxi without paying.

So at this point in the story, we are on a highway somewhere in rural China, but near Xian, trying to deduce a pattern for the meter, find a reason as to why there is no fa piao, and figure out what our next step is. We realized that we were at the mercy of this driver until we were closer to Xian.

When we did arrive in a more densely populated area, since Jim's Mandarin is a bit better than mine, he started to tell the driver that something was wrong with the meter. The driver started talking to Jim as if he were a native Chinese language speaker, and kept driving us to our final destination.

Jim told the driver to stop the taxi, and we would get out. The driver pulled over, started to talk to us and kept the meter running, which was now around 100RMB. Jim brought up the issue of the fa piao, and the drive showed us that he had pre-printed fa piaos, similar to what you get in restaurants.

We would have just bailed and taken our stuff, except everything was in the trunk, with our passports - the only form of identification we have in China. Jim kept trying to talk to the guy and I tried to keep my blood pressure low. When the conversation of broken Mandarin wasn't going anywhere, the driver called his 'boss' who spoke English and put him on the phone with Jim.

Jim explained the situation slowly and calmly, and the boss tried to tell us we were almost there and the toll would be no more than 150RMB. (Recall the meter is still running and is now near 110RMB.)

By this time, I had had enough and decided to try something else I had learned from other expats. I pulled out my cell phone and called 110. 110 is the Chinese 911 for problems that require the police's attention. 112 is for fire, 114 for the ambulance; there are others but those are the important ones to know.

Once connected, I asked in Mandarin for someone who spoke English, and I got someone whose English was a tiny bit better, but who quickly reverted to Mandarin. So I just said "Yingyue (English)" into the phone until I got someone did speak English. I briefly and slowly explained the situation, and the man on the other end asked me to put the driver on the phone. (Jim was still on the phone with the boss.) I handed the phone to the driver and heard the police screaming at the driver. I was handed my cell phone back and told the driver was going to drive us to a taxi park and we were to only pay 100 RMB.

Jim handed the driver's phone back to him. Having quickly conversed about the situation, we decided it was best to cut our losses now. At this point I think the driver had been shamed pretty harshly by the police and was happy to end the ordeal as well. Jim paid the 100RMB, collected the fa piao and told me not to exit the taxi until he had gotten all our bags from the trunk.

Jim got the bags, I hopped out and another (legitimate) taxi was pulling up behind us. We got in and rode the rest of the way into Xian and paid another 15RMB.

Moral #1: Be wary of excited taxi drivers.
Moral #2: Always know the number of the police in a foreign country.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our Visit to Xi'an

Xi'an City
Originally uploaded by jimwink

Sorry about the lack of posts lately. To be honest, going through the pictures takes some time and we have just been lazy about posting them. Here are the photos from the last two days of our vacation to Beijing.

For this part of the trip we decided to go to Xi'an (shee-on). This is the home of the famous Terracotta Warriors. We ran into our first problem at the airport. For some reason the flight was delayed. Not sure what the real reason was, but it put us behind about 3-4 hours. So we landed in Xi'an a little after noon and after a crazy taxi ride, we arrived at the hotel. I'll let Rachel blog about the taxi ride. It needs it's own post. After settling into our hotel my first priority was making sure we had time to see the terracotta army so we scheduled to have a personal driver come and pick us up first thing in the morning. Then he could take us straight to the airport after we were done. I wanted to go early to try and avoid the crowds as much as possible. After everything was set we had the rest of the day to ourselves to just explore. First on the list was the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower which happen to be just across the street from where we were staying.
The Bell Tower was built in 1384 by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as a way to provide an early warning signal to the town by rival rulers. It also marks the geographical center of the this ancient capital. The wooden tower is the largest and best preserved tower of its kind in China. It is 118 ft. high. It stands on a brick base which is 116ft long and about 30ft high on each side.

The Drum Tower located within walking distance was in 1380 during the reign of Emperor Hongwu of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and was renovated twice in 1699 and 1740 in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The intersting part of the design of the Drum Tower is that it is was built without any nails. The Drum Tower was used three times a day to notify the towns people. The first was at sun rise when the gates to the town would be opened. Next was at sun down to close the gates and the last was at midnight.

Terracotta Warriors
Originally uploaded by jimwink

The next day we set out for the Terracotta Warriors at 7 in the morning. The museum opened at 8:30 and I wanted to try to beat as much of the crowd as possible. We got very lucky and arrived early and was able to get some great pictures.
The story of the First Emperor is so fascinating. I had the opportunity to watch a special on T.V. about a month before our trip and learn about the life of the first Emperor and the amazing story behind why he wanted to build the life size army. Here is a more detailed look at his life on Wiki.

Also if you get a chance, watch the Discovery Channel special that I saw called 'The First Emperor: The man who made China'

Here is a short summary of his accomplishments. He is known as the first emperor uniting warring states into a single country which became what we know as China. Soon after, he established a system of weights & measurements, a common currency and a single written language. He also built the first version of the Great Wall and a national road system. As he became older he became more fearful of death. He felt that the people he conquered would come back to haunt him which lead him to order an army which could protect him in the afterlife, the terracotta army. He also wanted immortality, which his alchemists tried to give him, by feeding him mercury. They thought that mercury had special powers so it was mixed into other foods to make it digestible. This however just added to his fear and delusions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Beijing Day 3 - Forbidden City & Olympic Green

Forbidden City
Originally uploaded by jimwink

On our third and last day in Beijing we went to the Forbidden City and the Olympic Green. The Forbidden City was built during the Ming Dynasty from 1406 to 1420. It served as the home for 24 Emperors and their families over a span of 500 years. It took over a million workers to construct the 980 surviving buildings over an area about 180 acres. The city is surrounded by a wall and a moat. The wall measures about 25ft high. The moat is about 20ft deep and 170ft wide. The dirt that was removed for the moat was used to build Jingshan hill just north of the Forbidden City.

After visiting the Forbidden City we went north and climbed Jingshan hill. The view from the top was amazing. It overlooks the Forbidden City and offers a great view all around. After walking and climbing it was time for lunch. Rachel found a place in our guidebook but it looked too far to walk. We have tried several types of transportation methods while in China but this time we decided to try a rickshaw.

After lunch we headed north again, this time by taxi, to the Olympic Green to see the Bird's Nest and Water Cube. While no events were going on at the time it was amazing how much these structures have become such a tourist attraction. They were absolutely beautiful and must have been amazing while the games were here. Next stop - Xi'an

Click on the photo to see the rest.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beijing Day 2 - Great Wall

Great Wall
Originally uploaded by jimwink

On our second day in Beijing we set out for the Great Wall. It is about an hour and a half drive from where we were staying. We leave the hotel at 7:00 in the morning and pick up a few other people who signed up for the same tour that we did. After gathering everyone together we head north to the Simatai section of the wall.

The Simatai section is about 5km (3 miles) long and has 35 beacon towers. Each tower would accommodate between 10-20 soldiers. If any tower or part of the wall was attacked they would start a signal fire. Other towers seeing the fire would also start a fire and then join to defend the wall. In a very short amount of time several hundred warriors could be summoned to help.

The Simatai section was constructed under the supervision of Qi Jiguang, a famous general in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Also it is said that this is the only part of the Great Walls that still has the original appearance of the Ming Dynasty.

After spending a couple of hours there(not long enough but we were with a tour. Next time we will hire a driver), we went back to town and had the bus drop us off near Tiananmen Square. It was hard to say if there were fewer people but it was neat to see at night.

Click on the picture to see the rest.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Beijing Day 1 - Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven
Originally uploaded by jimwink

After checking into our hotel and grabbing a quick lunch at a nearby restaraunt, we decided to try and visit something close by. Our hotel was on the south side of Beijing and the nearest tourist attraction was the Temple of Heaven. Just a twenty minute walk.

The temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty, to offer sacrifices to the heavens. It was built larger than the Forbidden City because the Emperors of the time believed they were the sons of heaven so the Temple of Heaven must be larger in size.

The Temple of Heaven is enclosed by a long wall. The northern part is in a semi-circle shape representing the heavens, while the southern part was built square to represent the earth. The northern part is also higher in elevation also emphasizing that it was closer to the heavens.

Click on the photo to see more pictures from the Temple of Heaven.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Upcoming Vacation

Jim and I are getting excited. We have a 5-day vacation planned to Beijing and Xian the week of September 29 for the week of China's National holiday!

The first two days of the week are professional development days for me at school, so we're leaving on the morning of October 1 and return to Shanghai the evening of October 5.

Jim's trying to learn everything about the new camera (imagine that) before then so he can take awesome pictures. (No word from the camera market about the older camera yet.)

It will probably take us through the following weekend to get the blog and photos loaded to the website.

Camera News

Jim's camera died. It wouldn't even power on. The battery was fully charged so Jim took the whole thing apart to try and fix it. He checked to make sure that power was making it to the circuit boards with a multimeter and checked the internal fuses to make sure they weren't blown. Everything checked out but it was still dead.

I wish I could have taken a picture of the dissassembled thing. Oh, but the irony involved. How can you take a picture of a camera, when your only camera is in a million parts? There were tiny screws and parts everywhere. I stayed at least 2 feet away from the coffee table for fear of bumping it and sending pieces flying and rolling everywhere accross the wood floors.

So this Saturday, as an early birthday present, we purchased a Sony DSLR-A700 for him. He is dorking out about the camera. From the recommendation of a friend, we were able to buy it at a camera market for close to $150 less than what's available in the states. It does have a serial number and its taking nice photos, so we're pretty sure it's legit.

While at the market, we found a camera repair shop, so Sunday we took the old camera there. Maybe they'll know something Jim didn't. The charge is about $45 dollars, if they can fix it and they would call if it costs more. It will be ready by next weekend, so we'll report back. Once fixed it will either become my camera, or we'll resell it on EBay when we return to the states.

The market also has shops where you can get photos printed and framing shops. We want to get a few printed and framed to hang in our house. We are open to receiving suggestions of photos you like from our Flickr site.

Our Flickr Site

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blog Status Update

I've been meaning to post this for awhile now. I realize the posting frequency has drastically dropped off. I understand that I am not holding myself to the level I should as self-proclaimed blog editor-in-chief. And for this I apologize.

There is however a very good reason for the sudden decline in posts... I got a job! In China! This may be old news to some, but I'm not sure if everyone was aware.

I am teaching as a semester long substitute at Shanghai American School in the outskirts of Puxi. I have two preps: Algebra2/Trig and Core Pre-Cal. The position is called a substitute but it's a full time position as I'm filling for a gentleman who is on medical leave through at least January.

So how does this contribute to fewer posts? Every weekday morning I leave the apartment at 6am to catch a shuttle bus 2km away from our complex. The shuttle leaves at 6:25am and arrives at 7:30 while the school day starts at 8:05am. The folks who know me know that in order for me to leave by 6, I'm waking up by 4:45. The nice thing is since Shanghai is east of Beijing, and all of China is in the same time zone (i.e. Beijing time), the sun rises around 5:30.

I pretty much repeat the same process in the afternoons, although the commute takes longer since we travel on Shanghai's busiest road: the Yanan Elevated Road. Think of it like I-35 around downtown Austin during rush hour. Fun stuff, only I ride on a 32-seat bus with some of my coworkers. The other really cool thing, I don't pay a single RMB to ride the shuttle, as the school covers 100% of the cost. But I usually take a taxi to the stop in the morning. In the evenings I walk or take a taxi, depending on how tired I am, and/or how the weather is.

I arrive home most days between 6-7, and I'm usually pretty tired. Then we cook dinner, and I like to try to workout at the gym. The experience has made me appreciate everything Jim did from January until May.

The school is pretty cool. It's the oldest international school in Shanghai. It first opened in 1912, but closed in 1949 due to the Cultural Revolution. The doors reopened in the 80's when the rest of China opened to the rest of the world. One of the school's goals is to be the leading international school in Asia by 2012 - some say it already is. It's an American curriculum (as the name says), but it has a very Asian face. The students are not Chinese citizens, but expats' kids. Mini Terminology Lesson - Jim & I are expats. It's from the verb expatriate: to withdraw (oneself) from residence in one's native country. Anyways, close to 60% of the school's student population is Korean.

If anyone wants to know more about the school, the website is:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Guilin Vacation: Day 3

Longsheng Rice Fields
Originally uploaded by jimwink

On the final full day of our vacation to Guilin, the weather and my health decided not to cooperate. We had thought that we would walk or ride bikes along the banks of the river by our hotel in the morning, but the early thunderstorms put a damper on those plans. The rain was followed by either food poisoning from a bad milkshake or a reaction to anti-malarial medicine for me. Needless to say, we kept indoors our hotel room reading books or snoozing.

At noon, we had arranged for a rental car to pick us up and drive us to the Longsheng Rice Terraces, a 2.5-hour drive from the hotel. (Ugg…) I was feeling better and the heavy rain had stopped. The drive was uneventful, but the scenery was awesome at the rice terraces.

The rice fields look different during each season of the year; the summertime is when they are green. The sky was a combination of overcast and foggy, but it was neat to see the fog move in and out, as we climbed around the terraces. We also saw some of the ethnic minorities that were featured in the light show from our first night in Guilin.

We did not actually make it to any of the “lookout spots,” as we did not allocate enough time for this event. We also both want to see the rice fields in the spring, when the rice is first being planted and the terraces are full of water. If we go back, we plan to stay at one of the guesthouses in Longsheng. That said, if anyone is up for the adventure, we’re willing to take you along!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Guilin Vacation: Day 2

Li River Boat Ride
Originally uploaded by jimwink

On the second day of our Guilin trip, we first headed out for a motorized raft ride on the Li (pronounced Lee) River. After the 45-minute bus ride to the destination, we found that the scenery before us is featured on the back of the 20RMB bill. The raft ride was advertised as being a bamboo raft, but the Li River has a stronger current than the Yulong, so for sturdiness sake (and probably ease of construction) they use PVC for the raft and furnish it with bamboo chairs.

Lawnmower engines that were converted into boat engines powered the boats; the drivers would steer by placing the engine left or right in the water. This ride was not as peaceful as the ride when we had a gondola-like driver. The scenery was awesome, we saw: magnificent landscapes, people on the shores washing clothes, ducks on the water and banks, and water buffaloes swimming to name a few.

At the southern most point on our raft ride, there was a small market place set up on the shore. The neatest thing here was the fishermen who had cormorant birds on bamboo poles. The men (we saw only fishermen, no fisherwomen) tie the birds to bamboo poles and let the birds do the fishing. Jim was upset because after we took pictures, the man started asking for money. I told Jim we should just pay the 4RMB ($0.58) and be done with it, which we did.

Buddha Cave
Originally uploaded by jimwink

We ate a late breakfast back in the town and then headed back to Yangshuo to go on a cave tour. The cave we toured, features two paths a dry cave and wet cave. The cave is called the Buddha Cave and it gets its namesake from one of the first formations you see, a large Buddha. When we entered the cave we were told to put hard hats on (understandable) and take our hiking shoes off and put house slippers on (what?!?!). So we did as the Chinese do and put on our vinyl slippers. A French couple was also on the tour with us, and they were as stunned about our required cave apparel as we were. After about 5 minutes in the cave, we realized this was a very Chinese experience, as this type of tour would never be approved for tourists in the states. OSHA, the ADA, or some other governmental agency, would have major objections to tourists crawling through tunnels 2.5 feet in diameter, scaling down formations 5 feet tall with only a rope.

While conquering these feats, the tour had a photographer who would snap photographs. So for instance while trying to navigate down a stair-like rock formation, the flash would go off and blind us at the most inopportune time. When we reached the end of the dry cave, we found out that the tour was not circular in nature, but an out-and-back course. Thus, we now had the opportunity to do the opposite of every action we just did.

Eventually the slippers made sense, when we started the path into the wet cave and we were walking through waters anywhere from ankle-deep to upper calf-level. The water was clear and cold. Not sure if we would drink it though.

Jim slipped at one point, while telling Rachel to be careful of her footing. He scraped his elbow and knee, but the camera was OK!! At the end of the wet cave, there is a mud pit; the locals call it a mud bath and claim it’s good for your skin. They jump in with their bathing suits; we decided not to.

Of coarse at the end of the cave tour they tried to sell us pictures. Jim did a little bargaining and was able to buy the whole set for 30RMB ($4.36). Instead of burning a CD though, they put it on one of our memory cards. Click on the pictures to see the whole set. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Guilin Vacation: Day 1

Yangshuo Vacation
Originally uploaded by jimwink

The aforementioned mistery vacation was to Guilin, China. We left Thursday evening and returned Monday afternoon, which left us three days for intense Jim & Rachel play time.

Guilin is in the province of Guangxi, and the area where we stayed is called Yangshuo. Our hotel was the Li River Retreat, and was about 2km out of the town of Yangshuo.

So the first day after breakfast, we met up with our tour guide, YuLing, and headed out. We rented bikes, rode through Yangshou and made our way to the Yulong River. The bike ride was nice, even though the sun was already scorching. We stopped along the ride for photo oppurtunities.

At the Yulong shore, we took a bamboo raft ride downstream. The raft driver (who navigates the raft like a gondola driver does a gondola) put our bikes on the back of the raft, and we sat in rinky-dink bamboo lawn chairs in the middle of the raft. There were some small 'waterfalls,' and on two of these the embankments we were passing over was too long for our driver to just push us over. So Jim & I had to step off the raft and help edge the raft over the edge and hop back on before it went over. The guide would hop on at the last minute. Anyways, on our first hop off the raft, I almost had a nice swim in the Yulong because I started to slip on the algae present.

At the end of the raft ride we met back with YuLing and rode our bikes to Moon Hill, a scenic outlook spot. You can see Moon Hill from various parts of Yangshuo, but we heard it was great to see from the top. So we walked up the 800 steps to see it. The funny thing about this is when you pay to go to the top of Moon Hill, you get a 'dedicated' tour guide to go with you. From our observations, the prerequisites for becoming one of these tour guides listed below:

1) female.
2) at least 65 years old.
3) able to scale 800 steps faster than most Westerners/toursists.
4) able to carry a 1 cubic foot styrofoam cooler full of assorted beverages while completing #3.
5) constantly fan your tourist while completing #3.
6) some conversational English (desired in order to sell goods from #4 and offer rest brakes to the whimpy tourists).

The guides were very polite and helpful, teaching us various Chinese words for things we didn't know: bird, butterfly, tree, etc. An interesting note about the beverages they carried: the price varied with where you wanted to buy it. Two bottles of water at the top of Moon Hill was 20RMB, whereas two bottles back at the bottom at the end of our trip was only 10RMB. I guess that's a pretty basic lesson in the Law of Supply and Demand.

After Moon Hill, YuLing took us to a local restaurant where we sampled the local fare: beer fish. We enjoyed the meal, especially after the busy activities of the day. After our late lunch, we headed back to the hotel to get some R&R before our plans that evening.

Impression Liu Sanjie
Originally uploaded by jimwink

In the evening we headed to the Liu Sanjie lightshow, which is performed at least once every night, employs 500+ people and showcases how the local minorities live off the land. The entire show takes place on bamboo rafts or floating docks. The man who choreographed/directed this show was also responsible for the opening ceremony at the Olympics. Needless to say the show was fascinating; we tried to take pictures to capture the moments but this is one of those experiences that photos cannot fully encapsulate. That said, if anyone wants to go see it, I think we would both be game on going back.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Coast Bike Ride & Craving Comfort Food

The last weekend in July we headed off on a bike ride for the coast. The roundtrip was about 52 km, or 32 miles. The ride took longer than we expected, but we didn't really have a clear path laid out. Rather we just found our way around different neighborhoods as we went. The Shanghai summer heat may have slowed us down too, but we took plenty of water breaks to stay hydrated.

We have more pictures from the trip, click the picture to the right to see more.

After the bike ride, we were both pretty famished and craving a good 'ol home cooked meal. But I was not about to lift so much as a finger in the kitchen. So that evening, we hopped on the metro and headed to the far west-side of Shanghai, HongCiao. We had set our eyes on a restaurant called Bubba's Bar-B-Q. We reasoned that even though the restaurant caters Texas-style BBQ, it would be hard for it to measure up to our standards, but still worth a shot.
The food was good - Jim had brisket and I devoured a half-rack of pork ribs. ... The real reason we made the journey: we heard rumors that Bubba's served bottles of Shiner Bock Beer. Jim said if we could find Shiner, he would even drink one. Those who know how little alcohol my husband consumes, know how much of a statement that is. :)

Alas, the Shiner beer at Bubba's was fictional. Later while surfing some expat websites, Jim thinks he may have found a venue that serves the dark brew, so we plan to investigate this claim as well. If we are unsuccessful, it will be one of my first indulgences when we return for 2 weeks in late August. Heck, I'll probably indulge even if I do find it over here.

This is a photo of a little boy who was riding the metro on our way home from Bubba's. He was a cute youngster, even with his mini-emperor haircut. He would stare at us, but look away whenever we looked at him. Eventually, we were able to start a game of peek-a-boo with him. Obviously, I am wanting to show of my ever-increasing Photoshop skills with this photo too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lost in Translation

Last week I followed up with our Chinese teacher, Flora, about the death threat I received when I was shopping at the market with my friend Suzanne. At first Flora was a bit confused by why the sales girl would have told me that, then she realized what the salesperson meant to convey.

Apparently it has to do with a Chinese phrase that doesn’t translate too well to English, as the direct translation is very close to “I kill you.” What it is supposed to communicate is:
“You are my friend and I am offering you such a great deal, that if you do not take me up on it I will have to kill you, because you have clearly lost your mind.”
Flora reassured me that the phrase is only meant figuratively, not literally. She also commented that the sales girl must not have a very good command of the English language since she used the very direct translation. Flora is very adept at explaining the details (or what we consider idiosyncrasies) of the Chinese language and culture. Flora rocks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Shopping, negotiating… and having your life threatened

Negotiating a good deal when shopping in China is always culturally acceptable. The only places you really can't negotiate are stores like supermarkets, book stores, department stores, etc. But even then, the worst that can happen is that they tell you “No,” and you are forced to decide if you want to pay the price on the sticker or not.

To me negotiating feels totally unnatural, and it has taken awhile for me to feel comfortable at the markets. The only things we heavily negotiate on in America are vehicles. And here, securing a purchase price for an everyday item can turn into that sort of fiasco. It feels wrong to ask for a lower price, even if I know they are marking up the price 300-600% if for no other reason than that I’m a lăowài (foreigner).

Negotiations last for several rounds and, the general rule of thumb I’ve heard is to start at 10-15% of their asking price (or of the price that you think is reasonable). From there you work your way up to a price you’re comfortable with paying. It’s typical for negotiations to get heated, which does not put a ceiling on my already environment-induced elevated blood pressure.

Last Wednesday, my friend Suzanne and I were out and about Shanghai, and we had some extra time on our hands so we decided to hit one of the markets. Suzanne has been here since February, knows where various markets are and is excellent at negotiating.

We went around looking for deals and heard “Lady, you want purse, bag, watch…” to no end. Towards the end of our trip Suzanne spotted a boutique-like shop and saw a dress in the window she liked. While she tried the dress on I perused the racks. And then the sales girls speaking very good English swept in on us: Suzanne’s dress turned into four more, and I went from looking to trying on 3 shirts, and a pair of trousers.

We decided on the items we liked and negotiations began. The main sales girl, we’ll call her Mei, was upset because we didn’t want to buy everything we tried on. Suzanne’s negotiations weren’t going as well as she would have liked, so she dropped out of the game. This is a common tactic; if they really want the sell they will drop the price to get you back in negotiations.

But Mei turned her attention to me and my simple tunic. She started trying to sell me the top for 710 RMB, or just over $100. I laughed at her offer and told her that it was not that nice of a shirt and offered about 30 RMB ($4). Her rebuttal was that it was real silk and her priced dropped not more than 20 RMB. I told her it was not real silk, but more like a gossamer. Then she told me that I didn’t know what real silk was. Insults are common in the process, and you just have to know how to play them.

I told her I did not want the top and started to leave. Mei then blocked my exit to the store, but she started to negotiate with me more, dropping her price now in increments of 80-100 RMB. She kept asking what my ‘final price’ was, I was inching my price upwards in intervals of 5-10. When I reached 65 RMB ($9.52), I decided I had enough arguing and enough insults and that it was time to leave. But she blocked me again! So there I was, being blocked in a store by a Chinese woman who weighed no more than 105 pounds. I really would have had to knock her down to get by her. Suzanne is watching all of this from her post outside the store.

I told Mei I needed to go, as I had somewhere else to be. Mei told me that, “If you don’t buy this top, I kill you.” Wow a death threat, I was in total shock. A split second later I see Suzanne who is now in stitches, and then I realize that this too is part of the game too. So I told Mei, “No, I’m bigger, I kill you if you don’t let me out of the store.” Mei was irked off and was still asking me for my ‘best price’, hers was around 200 RMB.

At this point another sales person (she said she was the store owner) stepped in and started to appeal to me that the price I was offering would not cover their cost of purchasing the shirt. I told her fine, that they could sell the shirt to someone else, but I was not going to pay more. Negotiations went on a little more with this woman, but guess what … I got the top for 65 RMB!

Below is a picture of my newest purchase. The picutre doesn't do it justice, so I'll try to get a picture of me in the top sometime.

Suzanne said I drove a good deal.

The difference between 65 RMB ($9.52) and 200 RMB ($29.29) seems small, especially considering the turbulent past the Chinese have endured. At times, you have to wonder if it is worth your time, as the above adventure took at least 35 minutes. But they don’t lack business sense; they will let you walk away if your price is too low.

Part of it too, is how much are you willing to play the game too. A German mother/daughter came in the store after us, and Suzanne said she heard the mother settle on 400 RMB for a pair of sandals.

In the end I always wonder… Did I overpay? If so, how much? And, how many washings will my shirt survive? But this is an experience, which I can say I am definitely having.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dragon Boat Race

Dragon Boat Race
Originally uploaded by jimwink
This particular event is not held during the same time as the national Dragon Boat festival but instead is a competition between the companies in our business park. AMD had two entries in this years event but unfortunately one team had to drop out, which I was a part, because everyone couldn't agree to a practice schedule. Oh well. It was fun to witness the event and cheer on our co-workers. Click on the picture to see the others in the set.

Here is a little history about the national Dragon Boat festival held every year.

Excerpt taken from here

The festival was gradually derived from all of the suggestions and the story of Qu Yuan is certainly the driving power to make it a great festival today.

Like other Chinese festivals, there is also a legend behind the festival. Qu Yuan served in the court of Emperor Huai during the Warring States (475 - 221 BC). He was a wise and erudite man. His ability and fight against corruption antagonized other court officials. They exerted their evil influence on the Emperor, so the Emperor gradually dismissed Qu Yuan and eventually exiled him. During his exile, Qu Yuan did not give up. He traveled extensively, taught and wrote about his ideas. His works, the Lament (Li Sao), the Nine Chapters (Jiu Zhang), and Wen tian, are masterpieces and invaluable for studying ancient Chinese culture. He saw the gradual decline of his mother country, the Chu State. And when he heard that the Chu State was defeated by the strong Qin State, he was so despaired that he ended his life by flinging himself into the Miluo River.

Legend says after people heard he drowned, they were greatly dismayed. Fishermen raced to the spot in their boats to search for his body. Unable to find his body, people threw zongzi, eggs and other food into the river to feed fish, so hoped to salvage his body. Since then, people started to commemorate Qu Yuan through dragon boat races, eating zongzi and other activities, on the anniversary of his death, the 5th of the fifth month.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Zhujiajiao Bike Ride

Zhujiajiao Bike Ride
Originally uploaded by jimwink

Rachel already told you about the first part of our trip in an earlier post (pudong to puxi). Keep in mind that we had already ridden 20km by the time we reached the start of our group trip to Zhujiajiao. Zhujiajiao is a water town about 45 minutes west of Shanghai. After we arrived, the tour guides unloaded our bikes, made sure everyone had water, their lunches and we were off for another 25-30km ride. Rachel started out great but it was soon apparent that the morning ride was just a little too much for her backside to endure. She toughed it out though and in the end appreciated how much fun it was to go site seeing on bike. The beginning of the ride was really muddy so I didn't have my camera out but there was an incident where Rachel fell off the bike and almost ended up taking a swim. I think at this point Rachel was ready to quit but she knew the only way home was to get back on the bike and finish the ride.

Click on the picture to the right to see the rest of the photos.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!!

I just wanted to take a moment and wish everyone a Happy 4th of July, from China. I've thought more today about what the day really means than I think I ever have in the past. It has been weird, being in China today knowing that this day means something to me that most Chinese would probably not understand.

Today I joined some friends in Puxi learning how to play Mahjong - playing with tiles is totally different from playing on the computer. From my first experience of the game it seems to be very similar to dominoes, if not a little more involved. For more information see: Just incase anybody is wondering, I didn't gamble, we just used chips to keep score and in the end they meant nothing. I didn't do too bad considering it was my first time.

I met some new ladies too, and after the games this morning a group of us checked out some of the market places. I still get overwhelmed when I step inside one of these places because there is so much merchandise.

One of Jim's American coworkers is throwing a 4th of July party tonight that we will leave for in a little bit. They are supposed to have BBQ and fireworks. I'm looking forward to the BBQ, but know it won't compare to Uncle Andy's. I am really excited about the fireworks, since this is the place that they were invented. They sell them year round here, the Chinese culture uses them for celebrations well beyond those classified as national holidays. I think it is common for them to use them at weddings, after the birth of newborns, etc. From what Jim has said the stuff that vendors will sell to any guy on the street here is amazing. I wonder if they will have sparklers...

I hope we get to take some pictures. I also still intend to post pictures from our bike ride last Saturday.

So again, Happy Fourth of July & God Bless America!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pudong to Puxi & Our First Chinese Offense

On Saturday we signed up for a guided bike tour in Zhujiajiao, a small neighboring town of Shanghai. Jim had been on a different ride with the group before (see posts from May). The group was to leave the meeting place in Puxi at 10am on Saturday, so Friday night we mapped out our bike route to the meeting place. We left Saturday morning at 8am, figuring we were allowing ourselves plenty of times to bike to Puxi.

We phoned ahead when we realized we were going to be late, which in the end was only 15 minutes. So what led to our tardiness? Neglecting the facts that Jim was almost side-swiped by a crazy taxi driver, and I was almost the hood ornament for a black sedan, there was one event that set us back the most.

We were stopped and issued tickets by a policeman for riding our bikes on Beijing Lu (Lu = Rd), a road that is not supposed to be traversed by bikes. Sure there were signs with a bike and a non-smoking-like slash through it, but seriously, who looks at signs when travelling the streets of Shanghai? We thought about just taking off in a different direction for about 30 seconds, but then came to the consensus that we didn’t want to be fugitives on the road in socialist/communist China.

There was another Chinese person that was getting a ticket for the same offense, but when the cop started to write our tickets, we drew a crowd of locals, and I felt like part of a circus act.

Another Chinese man approached and helped the officer translate. He told us that the police officer was a very nice and good man and was doing this for our safety. The police officer was upset too because we didn’t have registration numbers (I think like a license plate) for our bikes either – we haven’t figured out where to get those yet, but we will. By the end of the event, the translator and the police officer both said we were there “pengyou” or friend.

When the officer asked my name, I replied, he rolled his eyes and he just handed the notepad directly to me. The same happened to Jim. We paid our fees to the police officer: 5 RMB each ($0.73). We received our tickets (mine is shown below) and receipts, and were allowed to continue our paths as long as we walked our bikes while on Beijing Lu... We cut a street north and hopped back in the saddles.

The ride to the meeting place turned out to be right at 20km = 12.4miles. Up to this point, the most I had rode in one event was about 18 km. So I was still looking at the 25 km we had signed up for with the group.

We just hope there is no court date associated with this violation, because we have no idea how to proceed if so. We’ll ask our Chinese tutor tomorrow, just to be safe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And the winners are...

The winners for identifying the unknown plant, listed in order I received the responses are: Kristin, Lyndsie & Josh. Turns out the plant is an elephant ear, a type of caladium.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Byproduct of the Rainy Season

Late May through June is the rainy season here. The nice thing is that as long as the rain hangs around, the heat stays away.

This past Saturday evening the rain had let up for a while, so Jim and I decided to go out to eat. We went to a restaurant/sports bar that one of Jim’s colleagues highly recommended. We decided to sit outside and enjoy the evening and stay away from the Saturday night crowd. The food was good and we’ll probably go back.

Anyways, it turns out that large quantities of rain brings the same thing to eastern China that it does to south central Texas… mosquitoes. Ginormous mosquitoes. Jim noticed them while we were waiting for our food, and then I began to scratch.

We finished our meals and hung around still talking. We didn’t feel the need to take off; I figured I was still itching from the bites I had already received - not that I was having all the blood in my body sucked out by blood-thirsty predators. I brought insect repellant with me to China, but the thought of using stuff didn’t cross my mind before Saturday night.

So below is a picture of my blood-drained scarred calves from today, Monday. I do apologize for them being so white – I hope no one is blinded while reading this entry. But at least they’re not hairy!!

Just incase anyone is worried about Jim, he did get some bites, maybe three, four tops. What can I say, I’m too sweet!!

Sprucing Up the Apartment

Street vendors are a common sight here in Shanghai. I’ve seen the guys selling plants and have wanted to get some, but the problem is always how am I going to get the plant back to the apartment.

On Friday, Jim came home and told me that there was a plant-vendor outside our apartment building. We perused the selection on his bicycle-powered plant shop, and decided on two plants, a peace lily and another unknown-to-us species, both pictured below.

We ended up paying 100 RMB ($14.54) for both, a good deal for some Westerners. Through our limited Mandarin, and some good charades, we did communicate with the salesman that the unnamed plant does not require direct sunlight.

If anyone can tell me the name of the other plant, I’ll bring you a reward from China… Maybe some chopsticks or some other token for your hard work.

I realize that I may have created questions about the means of transportation of the street vendors, so I’ll try to get some pictures for future posts.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Becoming a Permanent Resident of China (Parts 1 & 2)

Part 1
Most Chinese visa’s are only valid for 60 days, and in order to stay longer you have to either (a) leave the country and return (b) or apply for permanent residence. My visa is multi-entry and is valid for one year from the date I received it, but still only allows me to stay for 60 days. I was lucky to get the multi-entry visa when I did because China is tightening the requirements due the Olympics. Jim had the pleasure of completing this entire process first.

In order to apply for permanent residency, you have to have a temporary residence card first. So the first week I was here, I had to register with the local police department in order to become a temporary resident. Apparently I was supposed to do this within the first 48 hours of being in the country, but there was a mix-up in getting the paper work all together. Instead, the process was completed in about 72 hours, so for about 24 hours I think I was an illegal alien in the People’s Republic of China. (Sshhh… don’t tell.)

Part 2
AMD helps with the entire process and they arranged for me to have my medical examination this past Wednesday… this was a fun experience. My appointment was at 8am, and I was “Patient #5.” I had to supply my passport, three passport-sized photographs and Jim’s company’s business license for being over here.

The exam started with me changing into a hospital robe (booties over my shoes) and putting my stuff in a locker. From there they took my height and weight, and collected a blood sample and took my blood pressure (112/77 – even after having my blood drawn). I had an ultrasound, and they asked me if I ever had any surgeries. When it came time to have my vision checked, they tested to see if I was color blind and to see if I could tell which way the E’s were facing. From there I had an EKG and a chest x-ray.

All of this happened in “a hospital,” and all the other patients were going through the same stuff I was. It didn’t feel like a hospital, but like a hallway with a bunch of exam rooms off of it. Remember I was patient 5, and it didn’t seem that everyone else was going through in the same order I was. I think the women might have been following one path, and the men a different path. From comparing notes with Jim, we did have the exact same stuff done.

Jim compared the process to cattle being herded. Personally, I felt more like a mouse trying to run in a maze, because there was no clear order.

It was explained to me in the Culture Shock class that this is the legal avenue that the Chinese government uses to check if those applying for residence have HIV or AIDS or not. Apparently, a positive test result is the only thing that will have your application be denied.

The results of my exam will be delivered to the apartment next Tuesday. From there I will take: the temporary residence permit, my passport, my marriage license, my exam results, more photographs and some cold-hard cash to some government office to apply for the permanent residency. Like I said, this was a fun experience.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Culture Shock

On Tuesday, I went to an AWCS-sponsored event called: Culture Shock Shanghai. The event was from 9am – 2pm. The lady who taught the course has been in China for right at 10 years, and I believe she did one/two semesters of college here too. She is one of the partners in a small firm that offers cross cultural training. Their website is

The course topics included: The role culture plays in our lives; How culture shock affects us, and strategies for success; Understanding China: Geography, people, language, government, economy, society, and history; How does Chinese culture influence behaviors?; Guanxi and Face; Successful relationships with Chinese.

Anyways, the course was very helpful. It is great to finally have some frame of reference for dealing with the Chinese and understanding their perspective. Rather than go into explaining everything full-force in this post, my hope is to incorporate some of the concepts in future posts to give more insight to the situations.


Early last week, I found out about an organization for expatriates in Shanghai, it’s called the American Women’s Club of Shanghai (AWCS). So to describe it, I’m cutting and pasting their own description from their webpage:

The AWCS is a social non-profit club focused on enriching women’s lives while living in Shanghai. The Club supports social functions such as monthly luncheons and coffees, cultural day tours and evening events as well as soft fundraising for local community outreach groups in Shanghai.

If you are interested in knowing more about them their website is:

During the summer months, the club sort of becomes more dormant because a lot of the ladies return to the states with their children. That said, on Wednesdays, they do have a weekly Summer Coffee Morning. So last week I ventured off by myself using the buses and metro (subway) to find the ladies in Puxi. I felt a bit like Little Red Robin Hood – wandering through an unknown location to find a place that was supposed to offer me some comfort.

I tackled the bus and metro systems like I have been a major city dweller for years. After correcting the error of wandering the wrong way on one of the streets, I found the meeting place. Before I even left Pudong, I figured the worst case scenario was to become lost, hail a taxi and have them deliver me to the coffee shop. I was glad that didn’t happen. It was a nice event and even nicer to interact with a group that I felt more connected to than the Shanghainese.

The ladies were all pleasant, but maybe not my typical crowd. When talking to another acquaintance, she summarized the group as “Veteran Expat Wives,” which is pretty accurate. They are definitely full of information about the city and willing to share it, which is nice to a newbie like myself.

There is another girl, Suzanne, who I feel as though I have much more in common with and is closer to my age. She has been in Shanghai for about 4 months and only recently found out about the AWCS. She has sort of taken me under her wing, and after today’s coffee she and I went to lunch and then did some shopping at one of the pedestrian malls. We ate a Japanese-style noodle house, where we both had the lunch special (including iced tea) for $6. At the pedestrian malls the most common phase you hear is “Missy, you want watch/purse/bag/shoes/etc. I give you great deal.” So I got to practice my “Bu yao” (don’t want) quite a bit.

Suzanne is traveling to Beijing next week, but I figure I’ll still go to the coffee and maybe explore the Xintiandi neighborhood of Puxi more by myself.

Monday, June 9, 2008

IKEA Stuff

Here are pictures of the larger IKEA items that led directly to the Rogue Taxi Driver incident. I’m proud because I assembled them by myself.

I think Jim was impressed with my skills too.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jim's Haircut

Today, Sunday, Jim got a haircut at a different salon than where he usually goes. He typically would pay about $27 but today he paid $8.60. Both of those prices include the tip too. Here are his before and after pictures. I wanted to take photos for laughs, in case the haircut wasn’t as good, but it turned out OK.

Disclaimer: Jim has not seen the pictures below. He got me a copy of Photoshop Elements 6.0 for my birthday and I have been playing with it a lot. I don't think Jim has ever wanted his picture to be taken at Glamour Shots... I may temporarily lose posting privileges for doing this.

Rachel's Bike

Jim and I went to the Giant bike shop in Pudong to get me a bike on Saturday. On the way there, we walked with Jim’s bike so we could both ride our bikes home. The part I haven’t mentioned is that there was an 80% chance of rain on Saturday.

So while we were shopping, it started to rain – hard. When we finished we tried calling for a taxi several times, but the lines were all busy. After waiting for the rain to let up for over 30 minutes, we decided to just go for it.

At first, I was scared to ride, because of the rain and the crazy drivers. Remember the markings on the roads are merely suggestions. But the nice thing about Shanghai is that most streets have dedicated bike lanes, which most drivers actually observe. The streets were pretty empty, so we were getting some funny looks from the people in shops lining the streets. But by the end of the ride, I was waving at them and exclaiming “Ni Hao!”

Here is a picture of us soaked on our balcony after the ride, and a picture of my new bike.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Rogue Taxi Drivers

On Monday, Jim's last day of vacation, we went to IKEA. On the way there we took the subway, which, luckily for me, posts every stop in Pinyin, the Chinese-style of writing that uses Arabic letters. Jim also helped me get a "transportation card," which is a debit-like card that I can now use for any subway, bus or taxi.

Fast forward to the end of our IKEA shopping trip...
We were loading up some of our larger items onto the cart and were starting in the direction of the checkout lanes, when we were approached by a man with very broken English carrying an IKEA delivery service brochure. Now, we were planning to use the delivery service to have some of the larger items delivered back to the apartment so we could take the subway home, so we started conversing with the man. About a minute into the conversation, we realized he was wanting to charge us a rate comparable to what IKEA charges customers who live outside the city (120 RMB = $17.30). When we told him we were Shanghai-based, he told us it would cost more because we live in Pudong.

Quick Geography Lesson: Shanghai is divided into two parts by the Huangpu river that runs through it. 'Pu' means river, 'dong' means east, and 'xi' means west. So Pudong is to the east of the river and Puxi is west of the river. We live in Pudong, and IKEA is in Puxi.

We argued with him that the rate inside the city was the same, regardless of which side of the river you reside, as it stated in the brochure. At this point, he started to tell us that the rate included shipment of our goods and us. Jim was trying to communicate with the man in a mix of English and Chinese, when I realized exactly what the guy was... a rogue taxi driver!! I stopped Jim and told him that the man wasn't employed with IKEA, rather he was an illeagal taxi driver. He was just trying to rip off what he thought were stupid Westerners. Jim realized what I was saying and we told the guy we weren't interested and started to walk away.

The faster we walked away, the faster the guy's price dropped. He kept trying to close the deal as we waited in the check out line, which ticked me off even more. In the short time I've been here, I've become somewhat accustomed to being stared at, but with this guy haggling us, even more people were staring.

So we checked out and went home. The checkout process was enough of a hassle that we skipped the delivery service and found a 'real' taxi to take home, which as it turns out was the best thing to do.

Here's a breakdown of what our choices were:

  • Real Taxi Ride: 55 RMB = $7.94.
  • Illegal taxi driver's original offer: 120 RMB = $17.30
  • Illegal taxi driver's final offer: 70 RMB = $10.11.
  • IKEA delivery & Subway: 72 RMB = $10.40.

I know it's only change, but every penny (or RMB) counts, right?

Illegal taxi drivers aren't uncommon here, we had a similar encounter at the airport on Saturday when we arrived. We were walking out of the terminal with all of our bags, and almost immediately we were engulfed in a sea of taxi drivers making us ludicrous offers to go back to our apartment.

The flat rate they "promise" isn't the only problem, since they aren't licensed with the government, they may or may not have meters, which may not be correctly callibrated.

So the next time you're in China, keep a vigilant watch for rogue taxi drivers

A Visit to the Jin Qiao Market

Sunday afternoon, we made our way to the Jin Qiao (pronounced Jin Chow) market, which is about 2 miles from our apartment, and Jim introduced me to the bus system. As mentioned in an earlier post, buses are one of the cheapest ways to get around - one way costs 2 yuan, which is about $0.29. Since it is the most economical form of mass transit, it usually means that there is standing room only. But on Sunday afternoon we were actually able to grab a seat on the way home.

The market place is very similar to that of Thumb Plaza. It has a Carrefour and several restaurants. It also has a store called Pines which specializes in stocking western goods with astronomical mark ups. For example, Pines had the McCormick seasoning packets (taco seasoning, meatloaf seasoning, gravy mix, etc.) for around $2.50 each. Now don't be fooled, these are the same 1-1.5 oz. packets that you find in the spice section of any grocery store in the states.

They also had a wide array of imported beers. That said, I haven't seen any Shiner on the shelves yet. :(

Jim says the other thing about Pines is that they don't consistently restock the shelves with the same items. So if you love {insert hard-to-find item name here, i.e. Kraft Mac & Cheese}, and you see it there one day, you better buy it then.

We walked out of Pines with saran wrap and fresh-cut green beans. Apparently, French-cut green beans are more common here and Jim knows I prefer the fresh-cut, so we indulged on the last 2 cans they had in stock. :)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Safe Arrival

Jim and I arrived safely on Saturday in Shanghai around 2:30pm. The flight to Shanghai went as well as any 14 hour flight can go. I really wanted to call some friends and family to let them know we arrived, but since it was 1:30am Texas Time, I decided to hold off on the phone calls. (Texas Time is equivalent to Central Standard Time, but I like the ring of Texas Time better.)

A special shout out to Bobby Kneifel for taking us at 2:30am on Friday to the Austin-Bergstrom Airport so we could catch our 6am connecting flight to Chicago's O'Hare.

My first 20+ hours in China have actually been very western-like. Last night, since there wasn't much food at the apartment and neither of us felt like cooking, we walked to Thumb Plaza, a local market place, and had Papa John's for dinner. We shared half of a large pepperoni pizza and brought the other half home. The pizza was good and very similar to the what we have in the states, although I think it might be greasier.

This morning we went back to Thumb Plaza for breakfast and to do some grocery shopping. We at a Cafe du Monde, a restaurant/coffee shop that originally started in the French Quarter in New Orleans. I thought it was interesting that they have Happy Hour every night. :)

We did our grocery shopping at the Carrefour, which is a French version of a Super Wal-Mart. We did a lot of our shopping in the 'international foods' section, which included items from the U.S., France, Italy, Japan, etc. The annoying part is that they cover the nutritional information on the packages with stickers in Chinese, so I guess I won't be watching labels that closely. Jim had told me that there was a wide array of toilitres available here before we left, and sure enough, I was able to find Pantene shampoo and conditioner, Neutrogena face wash, and Oil of Olay body wash. Yeah!

The hard part too is that everything we buy we have to carry back to the apartment. It's only about 0.5 mile away, so the distance isn't bad. It is just different than throwing all the bags in your trunk. We have some cloth shopping bags for carrying the items back, and Jim usually takes his super duper Swiss Army backpack to carry the heavier items like milk, juice and larger canned goods.

We are going to take the bus or the subway to go to the Ikea in Shanghai in a little bit to see about finding some hangers, storage bins, etc. The bathrooms in the apartment don't have much for storage, and anyone who knows me knows I need storage. After that, we are going to go to a different market that is in the opposite direction of Thumb Plaza. Apparently it is very westernized also. I really want to post what stores are at the plazas, but I figure if I don't, they can be topics of posts when I go exploring when Jim goes to work.

I think it will be a wise investment for me to get a collapsible push cart for when I go shopping by myself. Truthfully, I was scared about the idea of shopping by myself, but even after our first trip, I'm feeling more confident about the process.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Xicen Bike Ride

Xicen Bike Ride
Originally uploaded by jimwink

Over the May 1st holiday (Chinese Labor Day) I joined a group for a nice 35-40km bike ride next to the Xicen canal. It is about a 45 minute drive west of Shanghai. The ride was mostly flat but it was a great day for a relaxing ride. And it provided many photo opportunities as you can see from the photos. Click on the photo to see the others in the set.

The exciting part of the trip came when it was time to go home. We arrived back at the bike ship around 6:00p.m. and I decided to ride my bike back home. The trip home included a trip across the river which I had not done by bicycle yet. I was told that I would need to find the ferry stops and take the ferry across. To make a long story short - I spent three hours trying to find the ferry stops or finding a taxi that would take me and the bike back across the river. I was ready to give up and find a hotel for the night, but finally, one taxi driver agreed to take me and the bike.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Hi everyone. Just wanted to let everyone know that I am OK here in Shanghai. The earthquake hit near the center of China around 2:30 in the afternoon. I was at work and my co-workers and I never felt it. Our building is only 3 stories high but people in high rise buildings reported they could feel the building swaying. I found this map on-line which shows where the epicenter was and I marked where Shanghai is located with the arrow.

Friday, April 11, 2008


I have not been fishing here yet and would probably would not eat anything that I caught, but for some it is a way to get food on the table. My bike ride to work brings me next to this river and along the way I have a seen an interesting fishing method. I plan to ask my Mandarin teacher how to ask if they have caught anything to see what they say.

Notice the man to the right. He is pulling up the catch of the day or in this case an empty net. He would pull up the net about every ten minutes or so. The best part is, no bait is needed. I am not sure what the sign says but I would guess it says 'No fishing allowed' or 'Do not swim or fish. Polluted water.'

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Delayed & Cancelled

These are the last two words a traveler wants to hear when you are checking in but ones I encountered during my last trip. In mid March I was able to take my first trip home to spend at home and to do some work in Austin (not to mention visit the local Mexican food restaurants). The trip home was great. Rachel was off for a couple of days for Easter, so I planned my off days during the same time. The weather was perfect and overall was a much needed taste of home.

So, where does delayed and cancelled come in? Well, on my trip back to Shanghai my wife and I headed for the Austin airport at 2:45 A.M. so I could check in at 4:00 and leave at 6:00 A.M. The process starts at the self check-in terminals which is where my problems started. Right away the machine tells me that I need to wait for an attendant to help me. When one finally arrives they take my passport and head towards a computer terminal and after a minute I was informed that my flight from Chicago to Shanghai was cancelled. OK, I thought, flights are cancelled all the time and I'll just get rerouted. Sure enough after a couple more minutes I was presented with a couple of options. The same flight for the next day was already full so I could wait for two days and take that flight or I can switch airlines in L.A. and take China Eastern to Shanghai. It would put me in Shanghai a few hours later and I would lose my frequent flier miles but I would still get there during the weekend.

The flight to L.A. was a few hours later so they issued Rachel a no-seat boarding pass. It was just a pass so she could go through the security check point. We ate breakfast together and then she was off to a friends to get some sleep. My flight to L.A. was on time and all I had to do was check-in to find my new gate number. The gate was 120 and my ticket said the flight would leave 12:30 P.M. It was only 10:45 and I had some time so I ate lunch at the airport. After arriving at the designated terminal I found the flight time had changed to 1:30. No problem, it's just one more hour before a 14 hour flight. As 1:30 started to approach I expected they would start boarding but soon after there was another announcement. "There has been a delay of the flight for a special reason", was the announcement. "Please go to Gate 110." So everyone heads towards gate 110 where we see the sign say that the flight has been delayed until 3:00. Gate 110 was just a holding area. I guess they weren't sure when the plane would be ready and they needed the other gate for flights that were still coming and going.

During the wait a few people had found out that the flight was delayed because one of the engines had a problem and they were waiting for a part to come in. We soon got another update that the flight was now delayed until 4:00 P.M. and then again to 5:00 P.M. About 5:30 P.M. the final word for the day came in and they said the flight was cancelled for the day. Please go out to the check-in area for new instructions. After standing in that line for almost another hour I found myself with a voucher to the local Hilton hotel where I would staying for the night. The new flight had been rescheduled for the next day at 3:00 P.M.

Well I get to spend another day in the U.S. but I was pretty much stuck at the hotel. For a hotel stay it was pretty nice. The meals were paid for and they offered buffets for dinner, breakfast and lunch. I didn't have to worry about transportation since the hotel used a shuttle service.

After a restful day in L.A. and a large western style breakfast I was ready to get back to Shanghai. I stood in line again to get my new boarding pass and while waiting I heard the dreaded words again 'the flight has been delayed until 4:00 P.M.' Here we go again, I thought. Luckily I packed enough clothes in my carry on luggage to last me for a couple of days if the flight was cancelled again. I recognized several people in line who didn't plan so well. This time I decided to pull out the laptop and do some work to pass the time. 4:00 P.M. soon approached and yes you guess it, the flight was delayed again until 5:00 P.M.

I was completely expecting the flight to be cancelled again when around 4:45 they said they would start boarding. It didn't leave at 5:00 but we were on our way to another terminal this time by buses and we were up in the air around 5:45 P.M., finally!

If you are counting it was 2 cancellations and 6 delays. I finally made it Shanghai, Sunday evening around 11:00 P.M. and back to the apartment around 12:30 in the morning.

To put a cherry on top of the whole experience I discovered that I left my charger for my razor at home. Back to Carrefour tomorrow.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Transportation is one of the things that I think most people take for granted. I know, I sure did when I was home. It is very convenient to get into your car and just go to the places you need to. Here in China, I have had to resort to other forms of transportation. Keep in mind that a trip to the store usually means a trip back home first to drop off the goods before venturing out to the next destination. It seems like I spend a lot of time just traveling to and from home to get things done. But with so many trips I have had the chance to experience each form of transportation and have some conclusions for each.

Taxi: Small 1-6 passenger sedan. Fast and lightly armored.

Pros: Readily available when it is not rush hour or when it is not raining. Fast, if traffic is light and will get you closest to your destination.

Cons: The most expensive form of transportation. A trip to work about 10km will cost around $4.00.

Bus: Multi-passenger carrier, heavily armored.

Pros: Very cheap - about $0.30 a ride. Fairly reliable. You can expect the bus to be at the stop around every 10-15 minutes. Less often on the weekend though.

Cons: Very crowded during rush hour and when it rains. Limited range. Must switch buses if you want to go somewhere further away. All the signs are in Chinese characters so if you can't read it you have no idea where it goes. I have taken a bus from work which was headed in the right direction just because I couldn't get a taxi. Luckily one of the stops was at a nearby subway station.

Subway: Fast and efficient. No need for heavy armor.

Pros: Fast and inexpensive. Can expect another train within 5-7 minutes. Reaches many parts of the city. Not subject to traffic jams so time is of minimal concern.

Cons: Will get you close to your destination but you may have to rely on a secondary form of transportation to get there. Usually very crowded.

Bike: 1-2 passenger with no armor.

Pros: Very maneuverable and fast. Most roads in Shanghai have very large bike lanes so it is easy to avoid traffic jams. If I use the bus, subway and shuttle to go to work it takes about an hour to get there. But I ride I can usually get there in 25-30 minutes. Very cheap to maintain and use.

Cons: No defense against wild taxi drivers or buses. Easily stolen if not locked to something permanent. No protection from the weather. Bring rain gear and another change of clothes.

A picture of my bike. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . These kids found a fast way down the stairs.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

文可吉 – Wen Ke Ji (My Chinese Name)

With more and more companies establishing businesses in China it is very common for Chinese poeple to take an English name. Most receive a name in school but some choose to change it when they enter the workplace. Last week my collegues started putting together a list of Chinese names for me. Names here are based on Chinese characters and so, have special meaning. In China your family name always comes first so the first part of my Chinese name sort of matches my last name (the first letter, anyway). Here is the meaning for each part and the pronunciation.

文 means gentle; (pronounced - wun, sounds like one)
可 means nice; (pronounced - kuh, similar to wun but with a k and drop the n)
吉 means lucky; promising success; opportune; favorable (pronounced - jee)

wun kuh jee - The real pinyin is wen ke ji

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Apartment Tour

Well this post doesn't have a lot to do with China, in a cultural sense, but I thought some of you might like to see where I am living now. I have also been sick with a bad cold the last few days and didn't go out much, so this is all I could think of to post this week. The apartment is about 126 sq m. (~1350 sq ft.) It has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths and came mostly furnished. I still had to buy a few pots and pans and had to wait for some stuff that we shipped from the U.S.

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View of the front door. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .View from the front door.
Yes, I do take off my shoes everytime I come in now. It's amazing how much cleaner the floors are when you do.

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The living room. The dining area is to the left and the hallway to the right.

Killer Ants on Animal Planet. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The dining area

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From the hallway the first door on the right is the kitchen. To the left is the office.

Second door on the left is the bathroom.

Second door on the right is the second bedroom. On the balcony you can see the washer and dryer arangement. It has the capacity for about 3 pairs of jeans at a time so washing clothes is almost an every other day necessity.

The last room is the master bedroom. In the right photo you can see the dining area again. To the right is some more closet space and another door to the master bath.