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 www.occam.cn.

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. :)