Monthly Archives: April 2004



John and I celebrated (kind of) our one-year wedding anniversary today. One year, schmon year, a scant 12 months. I actually prefer to go by our real anniversary date: August 23, 1996. I know, ’96 was ages ago. I was just a sophomore in college for crissakes! So anyway, I ordered a “western-style” cake, which I biked to pick up this morning. After taking extreme precautions to ensure the safe arrival of our precious wedding-cake substitute, I was extremely disappointed by the blandness of the cake and the flavorless 2 cm-thick layer of frosting, i.e. whipped eggwhite. So lame. I mean, where was all sugar, butter, and cream?

We both spent much of the morning working. I prepped for my classes this week, while John caught up with his to-do list. I received a call from my Duke bud Matt Collin. Matt just got into NYU B-School, so he’s heading up to NYC come summer. NYC seems to be the place now– first Ali and Pitch, then Tricia, now Grace, Matt, and Rira.

In other news, John and I followed our weekend trip to Beijing (we missed the SARS revival by a week!) with two days in Hangzhou. We went with my cousin Ya-Ya and her hubby Wangjian. We took a 2-hour train ride to HZ Saturday morning and returned Sunday night. Of course, the return train tickets were sold out, so we had to take the bus. Though this ride wasn’t as bad as the endless 20-hour bus journey to Beijing, it did take 4 hours instead of the quoted 2. Damn road construction, I tell you.

Regardless, Hangzhou was a dream. So very beautiful. The West Lake is surrounded with old cypresses and willows. Since 2002, the area government has focused on jazzing up the area to attract retail and tourists. In China there is a saying: In the skies, there is heaven. On Earth, there is Hangzhou and Suzhou. We took lots of pics. I’ll let you know when they are uploaded. John and I were a little frustrated the first day, as we wasted most of it trekking around town accomplishing logistics (getting a hotel, getting bus tickets, etc.), trying to save a few kuai. Unfortuantely, efficiency is a foreign concept over here. Drives me insane. It’s always just about price. Forget convenience, value, or service. The second day was better. We split up and met later. John and I got tons done: walked more around the Lake and took in more scenic stops. We rode the bus to Nine Creeks, went through a small park, and bought Longjing tea (a specialty of the area). My cousin was surprised we did all that in a few hours. 🙂

John and I will definitely be heading back to HZ in the near future.

Back from Beijing

Back from Beijing

John and I are back from our three days in Beijing. Awesome city. And unexpectedly different from Shanghai. Wide roads, people of all shapes and sizes, clean, generally very well mannered. Guess it helps to have a bunch of Red Guards to keep things in check. Anyhow, the journey begin with an incredibly affordable bus trip. According to all my research, the bus trip was half the cost of the train (but same duration) and a quarter the cost of the plane ticket. Since it was an overnight, it seemed reasonable to try the sleeper bus. Well it was quite a mistake, though the situation certainly could have been worse. Honestly, the sleepers were quite comfortable. Basically, there were three rows of 2-ft. wide, double-level sleepers running the length of the bus. There was A/C, tv’s, booklights… the trip started off not bad. Then we realized the booklights didn’t work, the sound system and volume had only one setting for the entire bus (blasting from 5-11 pm), and the toilet didn’t flush. People started smoking on the bus (even though smoking is prohibited) and soon the air carried the odor of smoke, urine, and feces. Besides that, the sleeping arrangements were quite comfortable. The bus made all kinds of undesignated stops–once at a gas station to load up a bunch of cargo, another time to drop off people on the roadside, another few at smaller township busstops. Around Shandong, there was road construction. According to the bus ticket seller, the bus was scheduled to arrive in Beijing at 8 am Friday morning. When we loaded onto the bus, the driver said 9:20 am was more likely due to road construction. Well, we didn’t arrive in Beijing until 1 pm. So the 14-hour journey dragged into a 20-hour journey. But John and I stayed in good spirits. No sick poopies, no nausea. What more could you ask for, right?

When we arrived, the sun was incredibly strong. Within minutes, my face felt tanned. We got into a taxi (all red here and noticably smaller than those in SH) and boy did the Beijing dialect hit me like a ton of rocks. Couldn’t understand what the hell the driver was asking. All I could do is repeat the address and point to the hotel location on the map.

We stayed at the Fangyuan Hotel, listed in Lonely Planet. Excellent location, but a bit shabby. Reminded me of my summer dwellings while in college. We washed up and then headed out for the Forbidden City, only a 10-minute walk away. The place was huge. I mean, the scale, the detail is mind-blowing. Makes you feel like a total lazy, stupid ass to think that people so long ago accomplished such a grand feat. And this was just the beginning of our state of awe. I mean, we did all the touristy Beijing things… but they are all must-see. It’s really a shame that the Cultural Revolution blasted away so much of China’s history… some of it is just gone forever. Still, those of you who can, you have to experience the greatness of what remains (or has been rebuilt/restored). Really.

John and I befriended the owner of the travel agency in the hotel. A 40-something man named Mr. Yang. I’m not sure what he liked about us… I think maybe he was fascinated with me being Chinese American. Anyway, this guy was awesome. He drove us around all day Saturday and Sunday and he was like an encyclopedia of Chinese history. He was very open and inquisitive and so strongly opinionated. It was really cool. A total history buff. As we toured the city, he pointed out all kinds of tidbits about different districts and places where things used to be but are now gone. A fierce opponent of the Commies, he talked about his own transformation from being a staunch supporter to being a demonstrator in Tiananmen. He talked about the government’s lies, hypocrisy, and corruption. It was really fascinating talking to someone so knowlegeable about Chinese history. It’s weird because I think my grandparents know a lot, but they are still of the generation where you don’t talk about things openly. My parents know some, but are mostly unconcerned. And according to Mr. Yang and from my own observations, the current generation of Chinese are mostly indifferent. But communicating with Mr. Yang was very challenging. Not only did I have trouble understanding him through the Beijing accent, I couldn’t get him to dumb his vocab down enough to fully grasp his thoughts. It’s really weird. Admittedly, I was getting a little complacent, feeling like my level was pretty good for getting around in daily life. But after talking to Mr. Yang, I was reminded that to discuss anything deeply, I really need to know more.

Our second day in Beijing, Mr. Yang took us to the Mitianyu section of the Great Wall. We drove through the countryside towards the mountains. The Great Wall was magnificent. We rode the skycable up the mountain then got out and walked the Wall. We walked up to the highest point accessible (we are so out of shape!) and nearly died. The sun was hot as hell but fortuantely, there was a cool breeze. For lunch, Mr. Yang took us to a mountainside hotel/restaurant where he and his friends stay when they go hiking nearby. Had excellent food including a moutain wildgrass, handpicked by the owner’s mother (there’s always a nai working behind the scenes!). John also tasted a shot of liquor (white wine fermented with dates and Chinese herbs).

Next stop was the Ming tombs–burial site of 13 Ming dynasty emperors. Years ago, one tomb was opened by accident, so the government turned it into a tourist stop. I thought of this site as the Chinese version of the Eqyptian pyramids.

On Sunday, Mr. Yang drove us to the Summer Palace, about 40 minutes outside of the city. This was where the royal family escaped the unbearable heat of Beijing and the Forbidden City. Nestled in the mountains along Kunming Lake, this was another massive estate, complete with several palaces, a performance stage, a buddhist temples, celebration halls, gardens, a marble boat on the lake, etc. All of these edifices are so impressive; yet, visiting them kind of made me sad. I mean, the books say 100,000 laborers were used to deepen and widen Kunming Lake. And seeing the materials used to build all these things without machinery– marble, stone, bricks– the opulence of royals is frankly quite sickening. I wonder what they did all day… I mean, they didn’t even have to walk. Their servants carried them all over! And how much of the country’s affairs were they really managing when they were directing construction of palaces and tombs and marble boats.

Returning into the city, we went to TianTan, the place where emperor’s went to pray every year for good harvests. A lot of stone and marble surrounded by a beautiful park full of lavender fields and old junipers and cypresses. By day’s end, John and I were beat. Mr. Yang was kind enough to treat us to dinner and then he dropped us off at the train station. He didn’t even charge us for all his driving on Sunday. A very nice guy. We’ll surely look him up next time we’re in Beijing.

The train, I have to say, was so cushy… especially compared to the bus. And actually, our train was making its debut so everything was new. There was a dining car in the back that had a bar and seating area– like a small restaurant. I slept really well on the train. John didn’t because it got too hot, but the ride was so smooth and by 7:30 am Monday morning, we were back in Shanghai.

Preparing for a Quickie in Beijing

Preparing for a Quickie in Beijing

After surviving our trip to Suzhou, John and I decided we were ready for a bigger challenge. According to weather reports, Beijing is supposed to be stunning this weekend– high 70’s and low 80’s. So earlier this week, we started researching our travel options: plane, train, and bus. Now is peak travel season (we are nearing the national Labor Day holiday which occurs May 1-7), despite the frequency of sandstorms in the capital. Travel fares are much higher than usual. The prices were 930, 500, and 250 yuan, respectively for the three modes of travel. Several of our books indicated that the bus (sleeper) was the same duration as the train (14 hours), thanks to the completion a few years back fo the Shanghai-Beijing Expressway. So we’re gonna do the trip on the super-cheap and cram the essentials into a three-day trip.

Most natives I’ve spoken to say we’re crazy. I guess white-collar natives aren’t fans of the bus. Oh well, we’ll try it out and then figure out how we’re gonna return to SH. That’s right, living on the edge. Winging the itinerary left and right. Well we’re not totally roughing it. We’ll be staying at a two-star hotel… we draw the line at having a private bathroom. But we will forego the laptops for the whole trip. Yes, a true killer for computer addicts like us but I suppose the break will be good for us. I just hope I have all the information I need on my palm pilot. 🙂

Had my fourth SABIC class tonight. I love teaching business writing. Still a ton of work but so much fun. I’m starting now to plan recruiting more work, because my current projects end in June. I’ll try distributing some Move the Brain brochures next week. Wish me luck!

Sunny Days

Sunny Days

Thursday through Saturday were beautiful– sunny and in the 70’s. Unfortunately, John and I spent most of those days running around town for computer equipment. His new ShuttleBug PC, brought back from the USA, had a bunch of problems. After days of troubleshooting, John finally determined that the hard drive was bad. We spent several hours at a smoky, nearby internet cafe (so he could hook the unit up to a monitor). I was suprised to see that it had a diverse set of patrons, ranging from high school kids to adults, hanging out on a Saturday night. Thankfully, John repaired his problem and the ShuttleBug is now up and running.

On Saturday night, John and I watched Lost in Translation. I didn’t like the film. First, no character was particularly likeable. Second, I found Bill Murray’s wisecracks and “humor” insulting. The film also had this American arrogance air to it. I dunno. I was annoyed after watching it.

On Sunday, John and I made our first out-of-town solo trip. Unfortunately, we slept in and got a late start. We took the ching gui (elevated rail) to the Rail station. That place was so packed (and I don’t think it was because of Easter Sunday), John guessed this is where most of SH’s 15 million people are. I was a littel stressed, being in such a hurried environment, unable to read any signs. Fortunately, we had no problems getting the ticket and we were able to figure out our waiting rooms and the boarding doors (by matching up characters on our ticket with those on the lit signs). The train ride was only 60 minutes but I was disappointed. Yes, I guess I was foolish enough to expect the roominess of Amtrak for the paltry sum of 13 yuan. 🙂 The seats were very small and crammed. The people standing in the aisle were often pushed into the seating when vendors came through with their carts of ramen noodles, drinks, etc.

Suzhou was really different. A small city of 5.5 million. Had a quaint feel but the air was notably dustier. Unlike SH, Suzhou doesn’t restrict the use of motorcycles and two-stroke engines. We went to a silk museum but it was really lame (and dead). Then we rented bikes and dropped by the Humble Administrator’s Garden, one of two very famous gardens in Suzhou. It was really beautiful but all the people running around really lessened the effect. I wish we were there early in the morning. The experience would have been much nicer. After that, we walked around some and then headed back to the train station. Public transportation is extensive here, but the waiting game is very inefficient and tiring. And since the Chinese never wait in line like normal orderly people, the experience can really grate your nerves. When I was buying our return tickets, an old grandma (who hadn’t waited in line) kept saying to hurry up when I was asking about the different trains. I got so irritated, I started an exchanged. I mean, go wait in line like you’re supposed to and then you can hurry when it’s your own damn turn. The mentality here is so odd. People push and shove to get through gates but then all the train seats are assigned. I guess people don’t trust that the number of tickets sold match the capacity, because while we were waiting outside, people kept asking the guards if the train would depart without all the people (with tickets waiting in line) aboard.

On the ride back, a sugar daddy and his gal sat in front of us (facing us). Figures. It was a little uncomfortable, because I didn’t want to stare at them (they probably get enough of that) so I had to keep looking up, down, or out the window. And the woman was young– late teens or early 20’s. She was really obnoxious too. The guy was American, probably in his mid 50’s. All white hair. I thought it was kinda gross, but who am I to judge right? The journey back ran into some snags–at one point we were stopped for 15 minutes. No explanations given. We were just glad to get back into SH– for the dogs. I didn’t want to be stuck on a train overnight.

All in all, a decent first trip. We’ll have to look into ways to streamline the process. Maybe buy tickets at satellite offices in advance.

Becks and Posh

Becks and Posh

Who knew I’d fall into the drama of celebrities like Becks and Posh. It’s so out of character. 😉 Ok, so I spend some time every day surfing EOnline and Yahoo Entertainment News, so what? I need something to balance out the horror of Bush’s reign of terror…

So the latest news apparently (and I honestly didn’t follow these two royals until now) is that Becks had an affair with his personal assistant– Rebecca Loos, the daughter of a Dutch diplomat (as if that matters? what, upper crust people always have morals?). Anyway, the setting is described in most stories as this: Becks signed on with the Madrid soccer team and relocated to Spain. Posh and the two kids stayed in England. He had only been there a few months and then voila, the adultry begins. Anyway, I read some article today essentially blaming Posh for David’s infidelity. Yeah, you read me? The writer blames her for being selfish, because she has no reason to pursue her singing career, which is already “dead in the water.” So right, because she’s married to someone who makes lots of dough, she’s supposed to just quit her aspirations and move whereever. Nevermind that England is their home. Oh no. And let’s not forget poor, poor David. Alone in a new city with temptation all around him. “What did you expect Posh?” Well hell yeah, I’d expect my husband to get himself “acclimated” with his little helper too. What the fuck ever. Just another story where, if the affair is indeed true, the guy wrongs his wife; yet, somehow the story gets twisted so that he gets sympathy while his wife gets blame. Such bullshit. Come on! I’m not even a fan of either of them. I mean, the Spice Girls? Sorry, never caught on, but still, this shit put me in a foul mood today. Argh, who are these psychos?

In other news, my legs are totally black and blue. Yesterday, John and I were out walking the dogs. It was a warm night and I thought it’d be great to run Remy around. So I started running and calling her. Well, as has happened in the past, I didn’t see the damn wires stretched out about 15 feet from the nearest tree (to help it grow straight). Like an idiot, I tripped over it and fell on my face. It was a tough fall too. I now have a wire bruise across my shins. Thankfully, I didn’t get a bloody nose, but boy, I got all dizzy afterwards. To make matters worse, today John’s bike fell on me. The handlebar jabbed me in my thigh. Another bruise. Super injury-prone these days.

I had my third SABIC class this evening. Still lovin’ it. The country director actually sat in tonight. I think he enjoyed it so I get to keep the job a while longer. 🙂

Riders of Rohan

Riders of Rohan

Today was gorgeous–warm and sunny with a light breeze. John and I spent the afternoon riding around town. First stop: Ikea. I know, a dreadful starting point, but it’s the ONLY place that sells measuring cups (can you imagine?). And I’m having a killer craving for Alton Brown’s chewy choc chip cookies. I made them last Friday for John’s homecoming, but they were slightly off (apparently drawing measurements on a tumbler isn’t so accurate). Anyway, it was a successful shopping trip: John also picked up a pepper grinder.

In the afternoon, John and I checked out a local park. Beautifully maintained with plenty of trees, a large lake (chock full with tadpoles), and charming stone paths, the New Central Town Park is just a 5-minute ride away. We walked around for about 45 minutes and then it was time again for the Riders of Rohan! Yeah, we’re still riding around like maniacs ringing our bells. John and I were racing down the street and some guy started cheering me on. We’re totally dorks.

The top news of our day? Discovery of a German bakery called Bastiaan. Breads, pastries, cakes, deli meats… we dropped an easy 150 yuan on our carboload of pita bread, apple pie, blueberry pie, soft rolls, and a vegetable quiche. But don’t worry, it’s not ALL for us. We’re picnicking tomorrow with some friends, and we always aim to impress on the food front. 🙂

Flat Tire

Flat Tire

So much for John’s hypothesis that someone is out to get me (my bike always gets knocked over). Today, as he prepared for a groceries run OHO (on his own), John came upon a flat front tire. Totally busticated. For once, my bike was untouched (with its tires were full of air). 🙂

Good thing for John, we’ve already mastered the art of forming guanxi (relationships). So OHO, he walked his bike to our repairman down the street. Actually, his tire wasn’t slashed by a nemesis, as I was suggesting. He just had run over some broken glass (there’s a lot of construction nearby). Needless to say, the puncture was patched at a native’s rate of 2 yuan. And I wasn’t even there to ensure the local rate. Life is good when you have guanxi.

In the mornings, Bubs has been swinging by his jaozi (dumlings) and dan bing (egg pancake) joints. He’s only given them business twice, but already they greet him like an old customer and welcome him warmly in Chinese. They remember his past orders– that he likes hot sauce on his pancakes and buys 4 sun jian dumplings each time. And this personalized attention exists all over– at the produce market, at the stationery store, at the noodle shop, at the bike parking garage. It’s crazy! But we really love it, and we always go back to our peeps.

I had my second SABIC class last night. Boy, business writing is a difficult topic to teach. It’s really no games. We cover stuff like the difference between using that and which, subject-verb agreement for collective nouns and indefinite pronouns, old-fashioned vs. modern business language…. Some of the stuff still trips me up, and I’m a native speaker. But I’m enjoying this job tremendously, because it really suits my anal writing habits. Regardless of whether I’m teaching this class, I often look up these kinds of details. I even brought my college grammar book to China.

I had my first guzhen lesson today. I have a lot of (re)learning to do: the music book uses completely different notations than my old one. Also, I was taught to extend my ring and pinky fingers while plucking with the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Today, my teacher said that made my hand too tense. Now I’m supposed to curl those fingers instead. 🙁

The sound of my instrument is so beautiful. I’ll have to play it sometime for those of you who are connected (if you have to ask, you’re out of the loop!). I have to say I’m glad I spent the money on my guzhen rather than an electric bike.

“I have a condition!”

“I have a condition!”

It’s been terrific having Bubs back in the fold. The only sucky thing is that we are now on completely different schedules. After suffering from insomnia during the last several weeks (I’m not sure if it’s the excitement of work or the frustrations with Bush), I’ve been staying up until about 3 am every night and then sleeping in. John, on the other hand, has been sleeping about 16 hours a day. Of course, he only returned to SH last Friday so jetlag is somewhat the culprit. Still, John keeps insisting that he has some “condition,” some abnormality that causes him to sleep unusually long hours.

He may have had a breakthrough today though. He got up around 6 am and started working away. By 3 pm, his work day was complete. But he went with me to SABIC tonight in Pudong. We didn’t get home till 10:30 pm. Tomorrow will be the true test.