Saturday, August 29, 2009

The blog's title finally comes to fruition.

Let me first say that I made it to Beijing safe and sound. The soft sleeper was small after I had all my bags with me on my bunk, but I was able to fall asleep within about 30 minutes of our departure. I woke up with only a half hour till Beijing and just chilled out till our arrival. I took a Black Taxi (no meter) over to my hostel and got to negotiate the price. My handbook said it would take 120RMB to get to school (a short distance from here). The cab drive started at 150RMB but I was able to get the fair price of 100RMB after telling him that for 120RMB I would just use the Subway. I am really getting into bargaining. Walking away will almost always get you the price you want.

After I got to my hostel I enjoyed some better internet and a quick video chat with Pui. I also uploaded the rest of my pictures as well, but am still working on getting all the captions in order. Once my feet were a little rested I headed out for a bite to eat. There are a lot of foreign restaurants in this area, but I managed to find a more traditional style Chinese restaurant and ordered 清炒虾仁, a veggie oil cooked shrimp dish that was pretty tasty. After my meal I headed back to take a cruise down the streets of my new stomping grounds. I found a store that had fake crocs in my size and picked a pair up. Once my feet had some much needed relief I continued my adventure, heading back toward a movie theater that I had seen on the way in. My plan was to see 机器侠 (Robot Knight or Hero depending on how you translate) to pass the day away. When I got to the theater I found that the movie wasn't going to be starting until 5:40 P.M. so I headed over to a park and past the time by reading Detective Conan, a manga I picked up at one of the 便利店 (convenience stores in Shanghai). Once 5 rolled around I stumbled over to the movie theater, grabbed a quick snack and drink and headed inside. As in Taiwan, here in China you have to pick your seat before you get inside the theater. So I found my seat and hung out until the movie started. As the start time got closer I realized that it didn't matter where I sat because only about 5 people showed up to the movie. Once the movie stated, I found out why the attendance level was so low... the movie was awful. Bad slap stick humor, terrible special effects, and a laughable love story, but it was a break for my feet so I endured. I found myself being woken up by one of movie attendants, informing me that the movie was over and it was time to go. I felt really embarrassed, but probably not nearly as embarrassed as she was while she was poking me awake.

With the movie over I headed back to my place, stopping along the way for some 小吃 (street food). When I got back to the hostel one of my roommates was around 李雷 (pronounced Li Lei) and we passed the time chatting about anything and everything. Keeping the conversation strictly mandarin of course. We ended up passing the time very well, and next thing I knew it was 1:00 A.M. and time for bed.

Okay, so that brings everyone up the present, but I still need to talk about my last two days in Shanghai. So, let me back track a bit. On Wednesday I hung out for most of the mid morning and afternoon. I hung out in the Hostels restaurant chatting with Fanny and Johnny two of the employees. On Wednesday I was wearing my 我不是护士 (I'm not a nurse) shirt that I got from Sen Lin Hu, and when it was time to head out for the evening I was debating weather or not to change. I said forget it, and trudged out onto the local road. The second I was out of the hostel comfort zone, the starring started. For some reason Chinese people find it very funny to see anyone, especially foreigners wearing anything with Chinese characters on it. Everywhere I went people told me " I am not a nurse." I laughed, agreed and moved on. It was a great idea to wear that shirt because it drew me to interesting a new conversation.

Once I met up with 海马公主 (Seahorse Princess) we headed out on the town. Walk around and just catching up for about an hour. After our stomachs couldn't handle the urges anymore we headed into a nicely packed Chinese restaurant (always a good sign if the locals are eating there) for a bite to eat. Rather than try and guess our way through the menu we just asked the waitress to recommend a few dishes for us, and WOW did she sure pick them. We had a very spicy flat noodle dish, a Bac choi and mushroom dish and a seafood dish that had a variety of items: shrimp, squid, fish balls etc. After the meal we walked around for a bit longer and wound up back on the Famous People's shopping street. That day happened to be Chinese Valentine's Day which made everything that much more fun. People were selling flowers, fake flowers, and all other sorts of goodies to the young lovers that were out on the town. Since both of us were apart from our respective others we decided to pass the time by conducting a small experiment. As I mentioned in earlier blogs this year is my 本命年 (my birth year) which in Chinese tradition is suppose to bring you bad luck. I was told by a few people that you can combat this bad luck by wearing red underwear, sending yourself gifts (via your friends and family) and also wearing strings of red around your neck or wrist. I noticed that a lot of people out and about were wearing this red strings, I didn't check for the red underwear, so I wanted to find out if it was there 本命年 (birth year) as well. The first girl I approached was so freaked out by my interrogative style of questioning that she just shook her head with out muttering a word. My next target, an older women with her child, was a little more receptive, but she too was not born in the year of the ox. My third subject, a lady trying to sell roller shoes, was also not born in the year of the ox, but she wouldn't explain why she was wearing the red because she was too busy trying to sell her wears. My fourth and final subject was much more kind, I should also say that my question got better and better as time went on. I approached her by saying "excuse me, this is my birth year and today I have been having very bad luck. I see that you are wear a red string around your neck, are you also born in the year of the ox?" She explained that although some people wear these things for that reason, in fact everyone can wear the red string, simply because red is an auspicious color in China. I thanked her for the clarification and HMGZ and I headed on our way. We headed into a underground shopping market that sold lots of cheap goods, and it was a total blast. Everyone loved my t-shirt and it got us a lot of attention. I bought a few things (sorry I can't divulge the purchased item as it is a gift) and then headed off to the Bund for a street view of Downtown Shanghai.

Once we got to the Bund we headed over to 蘭 (Lan) an upscale bar in the heart of the Bund where we hungout on the roof top drinking watered down drink special mohitos, and enjoyed an okay view of the city. At about midnight, when the drink specials ended me and some hostel mates headed back home. I wanted to stop and grab another beer and a quick snack as a night cap so I ran into the local 可的 (a quick mart) and ran into a rather drunk, but very nice New Yorker, George, who invited me and my friends over to his place for a drink and a chat. My friends declined, but I decided to go for it and said sure. We hopped into his cab and over to a giant condo complex nearby. George, it turns out, works for DHL as a program director and is living in China for the next two years. He travels all around China working business deals for the American firm. He doesn't speak much Chinese, but as he likes to say 沒關係 (No problem), he does his deals by drinking beer, eating Chinese food, and singing bad english songs in KTV bars. We chatted for about an hour or so before I decided it was time to call it a night. I thanked him for his hospitality and headed back home for some much needed rest. On Thursday I took the morning easy, again giving my feet a much needed break. I chatted some more with Johnny and his friend Mr. Xie. We talked about Chinese past, and its modern development, about old poets and modern art. It was a real treat to hear about China from an older wiser generation, and they were appreciative of my knowledge of Confucius analects and Chinese history. After our chat I headed out for some shopping with my friend 杜金 (Du Jin) the first Chinese person I have met who doesn't have an English name. We passed the day chatting, eating, and doing a lot of window shopping. Near the end of our afternoon we headed to a fake market where I did some hard bargaining for a bag (okay it is a man purse) that I could use to carry the bare essentials while in China. The bidding opened at 480 RMB, and I walked about only pay 120 (about 16 USD). I still didn't get the best deal, but not bad for my first real hard bargaining of the trip. 杜金 taught me a few tricks of the trade, and some decent going rates for the basic items. After buying the bag it was time to get home and hang out before leaving to Beijing. I got home just before a heavy rainstorm and past the rest of the afternoon playing Monopoly in Chinese with some workers from the hostel. We drank a few beers and had a great time just chatting it up until my departure.

Well, that brings you guys up-to-date. I will be sure to keep the blogs coming, but now it is time to re-pack my stuff and begin my adventure as an official student in Beijing.

再見 (Goodbye) for now,
高健


P.S. here is the link again for all my pictures, and there are a few videos as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First reflections on Shanghai

Stepping out of the ditie (subway) you will be lucky to get 5 feet before being approached by a man who is eager to "practice" his english with you. "watch, bag?" are the only words he mutters. In his hand is a leaflet showing all his "store" has to offer. Stopping for just a second might give these guys the wrong impression so I am quick to move past while muttering bu yao (don't wont) with a gusto that decreases as the day wears on.

Yesterday, was a fabulous first day in Shanghai. My friend Denise, a Taiwanese friend from my old stopping grounds, meet me near my place around nine thirty and we started our adventure. First it was a stop off at a local stand for a quick radish and curry filled bun. For the low price of 8mao (about 30 cents) it was impossible to pass up. After that is was off to peoples square to catch the sights of capitalism in its purest form. For as far as the eye can see the streets were carpeted with signs of development and globalization. I was rather hard pressed to find a store that wouldn't be common place in the most upscale U.S. malls. Chinese stores, chinese food, those are rarities in this part of town. My only thought was: welcome to Shanghai, welcome to China, please observe how modern our city is. Everywhere you look is filled with construction, all in preparation for next years World Expo. The city is also covered in haibao figurines. The ridiculous and and tacky drop of water that is the spokestoon for the Shanghai expo.

After seeing the sites of People's square it was off to the old streets and Yu Garden, another area that has developed beyond belief. Although the place was rather beautiful I felt like some of China's wonderful history and culture has been lost in the race for further expansion. I couldn't help buy laugh at the old style buildings that were filled with Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's chain stores. Each one more packed than the last with fatter than normal Chinese children and disapproving Chinese parents who are still trying to figure out how there children can tolerate the crap food they are stuffing their faces with. I don't mean to sound harsh with my words, but I was really taken aback at just how modern this global city has become. I should also say that this city has, for a long time, been called the Paris of Asia. I suppose that modernization, and consumerism are old hat for this place. and I guess if I were to think back, Taiwan had some of these same things, but there still was a strong sense of the old co-existing.

Once we got our fill of classical capitalism we set off to grab a decent bite to eat. Denise decided to take me to a Muslim noodle bar that was really quite a treat. I couldn't resist ordering some spicy dofu and some spicy baicai. It really hit the spot. I suppose I should take the time right now to apologize for the lack of pictures. The internet is so slow here that it takes around a minute to just send an email. Tomorrow morning, I will do my best to add some proper photos to this blog and get things rolling. After lunch we headed over to the train station to fight the migrant workers for a hard sleeper (the cheaper seat) train ticket to Beijing. Well, lets just say that I came to the train station about 5 days to late because the hard sleep had been sold out for ever. I ended up settling for a soft sleeper (a nice upgrade) for about 600RMB, and so now I am officially on my way to Beijing Thursday night. It is pretty amazing to think that so many people in China are constantly on the move looking for any work that they can have. Leaving family and friends behind at the opportunity to earn a less that proper wage. Life is much different hear, I can see that already and I am only on day three.

After the train station we headed over to the Science and Technology Building, not to go inside, but to go underneath where they have a great fake market selling everything your heart desires. Since I was flat out of cash after my pricey train ticket purchase, we just went for a quick look see, but it was still quite a sight. Unlike the night markets in Taiwan this fake market was very organized, and full of all the "name brands" you would find in an issue of Vogue. We only spent a little time walking around and then it was time to head home for a quick shower before heading out for the evening.

After my shower I decided it was time for my haircut as well. I noticed a place very near my hostel that claimed to offer "beautiful hair," but I was a bit leery of wether or not the place even knew how to cut hair; it was that kind of shady. So I headed off to kedi, the local connivence store to get yet another bottle of water, and to my luck there was another hair saloon right next door. This place actually cuts hair, and I went inside and spent the best 20RMB so far. I got a full wash and head massage all while passing the time chatting with a very nice girl from SuZhou who came here looking for work. After the wash a young gentleman came over and gave me a proper short hair cut. Again, we spent the whole time chatting about everything and anything under the sun.

Last night me and Denise went out to a proper Shanghainese restaurant. Our destination was Restaurant Art Salon, a rather swanky upscale place that boasted artwork all done by the owner. The food was served in small portions and price was a little steep even for a "wealthy" laowai (foreigner) such as myself, but I forgot about all that the second I tasted the Ten Thousand Year Green veggies, the garlic baked spinach, and the amazingly delicious shrimp dish. All the food was just to die for. To top off the evening it was out to Zapatas, a hot and hip expat hangout in the French Corridor of Shanghai that had great drink specials and an outdoor seating area that was filled to the brim with the local foreign crowd. There I was exposed to the life of business in Shanghai, meeting expats from all over who are working for the banking industry, Exxon mobil and the like. It was great to mingle with them all. I of course ended up having the most fun just chatting with the locals about all things China, in Chinese of course, and ended up getting a great lesson in the difference between su yu and cheng yu the two most common types of Idioms within the Chinese language. Later in the evening I some new friends from the hostel I am staying at decided to join in the festivities and we danced the night away, taking a cab home at about 3 A.M. which isn't too bad for a Monday night party in Shanghai.

The next day I was suffering from the good old sore feet syndrome. That wasn't going to stop me from at least getting a bite to eat so I headed off in search of some grub. The place I went to on Monday had already closed its doors and I couldn't be bothered to head back to the Hostel so I decided to head off to People's Park for a nice relaxing stroll. As I exited the Subway station a young man by the name of Qiao Bao asked "hello, how are you?" is okay English. I replied in my mother tongue but was quick to switch to Chinese thereafter. It turned out that Qiao Bao was waiting for his friend Wang Hui Hui, a highschool student from Su Zhou who came into Shanghai for the day. When Wang Hui Hui arrived Qiao Bao informed me that the two of them were off to a tea shop to better understand China's ancient tea culture of which today's youth are not so adept. Much as I had hoped, they invited me along for the experience and I was so glad I joined them. On our walk over to the tea shop Qiao Bao gave me a 15 minute history lesson of Sun Yat-Sen and his great overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. Once we got to the tea shop stepped inside a room that seem to be from dynasties past. There we enjoyed a taste of eight different types of tea. With every new tea we were taught the proper way to enjoy the various varieties, and taught what remedies each tea was said to posses. The first tea we had, a famous Wu Long tea, was said to be used by Huang Di (the famous yellow emperor) to help his breathing and adjust his Ying and Yang.

Once we had our fill of ancient tea, and after my pocket book was considerably lighter, we headed back toward People's Park to a great restaurant from some proper Chinese food. We chatted the afternoon away while munching on various veggie dishes and a nicely prepared fish that was served head, skin, bones and all. After lunch it was time to say good bye to my new friends and head back home for the rest of the afternoon, but not before being stopped on the street by a few young girls from Hunan (Southern China) who were eager to practice their english with a "very gao (tall)" foreigner. I gave them a sentence or two in English and then launched back into Chinese for the rest of our brief encounter.

Once evening hit it was time to head out again, and Denise took me out once again to see the nightlife of Shanghai. This time it was off to VUE a hip bar on the 38th floor of a business building that was over-looking the waitan (The Bund). The view was amazing, and the drinks were stiff and cheap. We passed the night away with a bunch of her expat friends. Chatting about all things China and exchanging some of our best stories from experience's past. The night couldn't have been better, but at 11:30 my lack of sleep from the night before was catching up to me. Me and some new friends grabbed a cab and literally got taken for a ride. The trip home which should have been about 20RMB ended up costing 43RMB by the time our drive got done taking the "quick" way around town. The whole time my new friends and I were telling the cab drive how much of a jerk he was for taking us the long way, but there was nothing we could do but wait till he got us to our destination. The one nice thing about the experience is that my friend grabbed a receipt from the cab driver so that we could call in a report him for what he had done. In Shanghai, if you feel a cab driver has taken you for a ride you can call and demand a full refund for the trip. Generally this keeps the drivers pretty honest, but our cabby must of thought that we didn't know the policy. He was less than happy when we asked him for our receipt at the end of the journey.

Well, that is all I got for now. Tomorrow I am going to take it easy and get some laundry done and prepare for another night out with friends. I am meeting up with Hai Ma Gong Zhu (Seahorse Princess) a friend from Summer Camp for a nice dinner on the town. After that who know what we will do, but I am sure it will be a good time.

And now finally some pictures!!!!!!!!
(please follow the hot link) I am still working on making the photos look good in the blog so bear with me) Captions should be up as well.

cheers,
高健

Monday, August 24, 2009

In Shanghai safe and sound!

Well after an 8 hour delay and a 14 hour flight I have finally made to my hostel in Shanghai. Check in was a breeze, and as advertise, my room had hot water to use. The flight was rather uneventful, I slept most of the way, which is going to make for a brutal first night of staying awake the whole time. At least I will have some beers to drink, and hopeful a bit of international company. After getting into Shanghai I met a gentlemen who was kind enough to share a cab into the city. Because of my late arrival I was unable to check out the maglev (one of the fastest trains in the world) but after a 30 minute cab ride I arrive at the hostel. It feels great to jump right into my adventure with a confidence over my language skills. I haven't had to use english yet, which feels so strange as opposed to my arrival in Taiwan last year. I am not sure what I will do tomorrow, but I am sure that I can figure out plenty of things to do. Even though I have just arrived, I feel right at home here in China. The people seem a bit more reserved, and I saw a mother giving her child a bath outside her storefront, but it has a very similar vibe to Taiwan. Not much else to report yet, and I haven't even taking a picture yet, but don't worry my photo reel will be updated very soon. For now I think I am going to have a much needed pijiu (beer) before I start to figure out what I should do tomorrow. I might also add a trip to Suzhou (a 40 minute train ride outside of Shanghai) before my stay here in Shanghai is over. I am excited at the prospect of being an adventure in a foreign land once again.

Well, time to get that 2 dollar beer and start making new friends!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blogging from the airport.

Well, it is 1:47 PM and I am still stuck in the Chicago airport. I would be ticked off about the whole situation, but I guess it is all a part of the mafan (troubles) that you have to cope with while spending time in, or making your way to, China. So, rather than get down about the situation, I have making the best of it. I am hanging out with a ton of new "friends" who are enjoying teaching me some new phrases, and just chatting to pass time. I realize that I don't really need to go to China to keep studying Chinese, I just need to be the only yang ren (ocean person) around, and people will inevitably speak Chinese with me.

My bad luck took a turn this morning as well when I ran into Xiao Gu (his blog can be found by clicking here) a friend of mine who is also China bound. He was taking the Hong Kong flight and taking a train from there, but it was great to catch up for just a bit, and give a few nervous english teachers some quick advice about having fun in China. It is funny, but I feel like I am in a bit of a different sphere. I feel more comfortable chatting with the Chinese people, than I do with the English teachers (on my flight) who speak little to no Chinese and are worried about every little detail of living in China. They way I see it, this is all just a part of the overall adventure. No matter what kind of obstacle is in my way, I will try my best to overcome and have fun while doing it. Well, time to get back to chatting about benmingnian (本命年 my birth year) and all the things I forgot to do that caused the late departure. Because next year is the year of the OX I should be more cautious when approaching new situations i.e. wearing red undies, or wearing a red bracelet. Guess next time I fly I will be more cautious of the my inner wardrobe choices.

Talk to you all when I get to Shanghai. Fear not, I am still China bound!
Gao Jian

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pre-flight blog

Looking back at my Taiwan blog I find it truly amazing that less than a year ago I was in living my life in Taiwan soaking up the wonders, and joys of Asia; and also discovering a little bit about myself along the way. But that was then and this is now, and this blog is for my trip to China. I depart tomorrow and head for Shanghai where I will be visiting with some friends that I met while in Taiwan, and while at Sen Lin Hu the Chinese summer camp I worked at this summer. After Shanghai, I am off to Beijing where I will be studying at Beida(北京大学). I will be taking two classes taught in English, and a Chinese course. When I am not at school I will be conducting my internship with CNN's Beijing Bureau. I am not entirely sure about what I will be doing with CNN but I am ready for any and all adventures.

There is no mistake that I have chosen red to be the color this blog. Much like a hong bao (red envelope) that is giving during to children during Chinese New Year, or the lanterns that hang in the temples. Red is the color of luck, it represents the desire for prosperity and happiness. I hope that my trip to China is filled with both of those things. This blog will chronicle my time in China. I hope to use this as an outlet for my adventure, for a way to observe and comment on China (or at least Beijing), and the lives of the common folk, the Laobaixing (the old hundred names). It is getting late right now, but I just wanted to get this blog "officially" up and running. Look for plenty of posts in the near future. Thank you everyone for your support, and I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures in Beijing, China.

Gao Jian
高健