Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Years!

The calendar New Years here seems to be the calm before the Chinese New Year storm. For a city of 20 million people, I have to say that Shanghai was rather subdued last night.

We went to a restaurant that overlooked the Pudong River for appetizers and drinks, and then went onto the rooftop to watch the city fireworks at midnight. The fireworks show was impressive in terms of sheer number of rockets ignited, but lacked the passion of Dad's Hatch Road displays.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Shopping

Now that the holidays are over, I can reveal a few of my shopping secrets. The DVD's almost came from a place called Movie World, but then I looked right next door and saw a video store that was called Move Star: Even Better Than Movie World. And I have to say the advertising was true -- it was better than Movie World.

Maglev Ride

After 48 hours of travel time, I got to take the Maglev train from Pudong airport in outer Shanghai back into town. Maglev, of course, is short for magnetic levitation -- that's right, the train floats and is also one of the fastest trains in the world.

The ride reminded me of Thomas Friedman saying that going from an airport in the US to an airport in China is like traveling from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. We entered through a futurisic looking terminal and there were large luggage racks at the entrances where you could store all your bags. The train hit a high speed of 430kph, or about 270mph, and the ride was smooth and quiet the whole way. For the final quater of the trip it slowed to about 200kph, and at that speed it seemed like were were crawling at a snail's pace. The entire 19-mile trip lasted just about 7 minutes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Back in the States

This is supposed to be a blog about me in China but I didn't want people to think I'd abandoned my writing so here's a quick shot of the log cabin I've been helping Dad reconstruct. Putting floor joists in at right angles has gotten the best of the Guiteras men.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Street Vendors

One of the best parts of Shanghai is the city street vendors you can find on so many corners around here. Once you become accustomed to the sidewalk crowd/chaos they cause and find a few you like, they're actually a great thing to have around. My favorite is the orange cart right outside our office. The owner sells her bags of Mandarin oranges for 10 RMB (about $1.30). Many of the neighborhood shops open right onto the sidewalks, so they essentially operate as open-air sidewalk stores as well and add to the hum of commerce.

Other things sold by vendors within a 3 block walk of work:

Fake nike, adidas and puma jackets
winter hats, mittens and gloves
sweet potatoes (cooked on the spot over a metal drum)
cooked chestnuts
Ginko nuts
live frogs and fish
bike parts

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Interesting culinary experiences

Tried yakitori for the first time the other night. Yakitori is actually a style of Japanese barbecue, but it seems to be pretty popular in Shanghai. The restaurant we went to was a hole in the wall type place with only four tables and a few seats at a bar. All the food came out on skewers, prepared by a single chef behind the bar with a tiny grill (as you can see). Menu included:

beef tongue (delicious)
quail eggs (pretty good)
bacon-wrapped asparagus (incredible)
chicken hearts (terrible)
chicken liver (blech)
grilled ginseng nuts (amazing, why haven't these caught on in the states?)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Balcony Picture

I recently moved to a new apartment. I'm way up on the 35th floor. Here's the view looking north.

Propaganda Poster Art Centre

I visited the Propaganda Poster Art Centre today. Easily the most interesting place I've been to so far in Shanghai. The centre was in the basement of an apartment complex and was very small: just a few rooms loaded with posters and a gift shop. When I got there, a woman said hello and asked how I'd heard of it (it's listed in Lonely Planet). When I asked if she worked there, she said was just signing a few copies of her book for the gift shop. Turns out she was Chun Yu, author of Little Green -- a book about growing up during the Cultural Revolution. Pretty cool!

Anyway, here's a few words from the brochure that I thought were interesting:

For those thirty years (1949-1979) there was one man always shone in the sky like the sun from the east. Chairman Mao Zedong directed the stage of China as a drama master of his political movements, one after another. His last but worst piece is the Culture Revolution that remains in the minds of the Chinese people as a nightmare. The main task of the propaganda poster is to carry out Mao's voice far and wide throughout the country. All these posters were cultivated by the tears and blood of people and have witnessed the happines and bitterness of China.

Today, China is back on the right track towards prosperity again. Shame will it be to forget the recent history. The art center is proud to be the only place in China to have all these posters gathered together here as a part of culture heritage as well as an art treasure to feast the eyes of our audience.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Pie Contest

So it's Thanksgiving. Here's what I did today... The office held a pie contest today to celebrate the holiday. A few photos:

The pie spread. Mmmmm.... pie.

The judges deliberate.

And declare a winner!

It's Jing's peanut butter pie with graham cracker crust. (Pie looked a lot better before it was mutilated)

Kung Pao chicken pie... something you don't see in the States.

I went for the classic... good old apple.

Happy Thanksgiving family and friends. I miss you all and hope you are having a wonderful holiday!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Strangest Taxi Ride of My Life

Leaving work, I flagged down a taxi and got in. In my bad Chinese, I gave my cross streets to the driver, he nodded, and we were off.

After about three blocks, the driver pulled the car to the side of the road and stopped. He said something to me in Chinese. I motioned that I couldn't understand. He repeated whatever he said, this time shouting, and then got out of the cab, crossed the street and started sprinting into a public park.

Alone in the cab, I waited for a minute or two to see if he'd come back. He never did. I guess I'll never know...

Word of the Day

Gan en jie kuai le -- Happy Thanksgiving!

Ask Benny

Apologies, dear readers, for going almost a week without posting. Should be able to make it up to you soon when work calms down a bit.

Here's a video of my Mandarin teacher, Benny.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Badminton in China

If there's a national pastime in China, it's probably badminton. I went on Tuesday night to a massive gymnasium with dozens of badminton courts and nets. (There's also a basketball court, but you have to get permission to play because it might disturb the badminton players.)

Like at a tennis club, players reserve the court for an hour and bring all of their own equipment. There were singles games, doubles games and mixed doubles games. Chinese proficiency in ping-pong is well-known and documented, but their badminton skill is no less impressive. Rallies would last up to a minute with forehands, backhands, drop shots and overhead spikes all employed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weekend Recap

A few highlights from the weekend:

1) I founded the WK Shanghai Jogging Club and organized the first run (approx. 5k) this weekend at Century Park. Our group is novice but committed and gave an excellent effort. We ran around the park for about half an hour, decided we were hungry and went for a late lunch at a Taiwanese restaurant.

Running for exercise apparently is uncommon in Shanghai. In a public park about the size of Central Park on a nice autumn Saturday, we saw no other runners. Zero.

2) Purchased pirated DVD's. There's a store right across the street from my apartment. An Inconvenient Truth and No Country for Old Men set me back 20RMB or about $3. Quality was perfect... I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference if I'd gotten them from Best Buy at home.

3) Went to the South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market on Sunday. Shopping at a fabric market sounds like a stop that Mom might make on her way to the pottery stores in Sanford, but I I got my arm twisted into going with a few friends. The market is housed inside a mall in a busy part of town. Outside, vendors sold all kinds of goods including fighting crickets and medicinal worms (see pictures above). Inside the three-story market, there were dozens of shops, some specializing in coats and jackets, others in suits, others in dresses, others in shirts and so on.

To my surprise, I ended up purchasing two tailored shirts. I picked out the pattern and style (open Windsor collar, French cuffs), had my measurements taken and the shirts will be ready next week. Paid about $16 today and will pay another $16 at pickup. I'm told I could've done better. The market also had belts, scarves, hats, cufflinks, and gloves. I see some Christmas presents in a few people's futures. (Mom, which cousin did I draw?)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fireworks for sale (Dad will love this)

From a blog in Beijing...

Remember those smiley faces and the controversial footprint fireworks that appeared as part of Cai Guoqiang's impressive pyrotechnic display at the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games? Well, this Spring Festival Beijing residents will have the chance to let off a few of their own. According to reports in today's Beijing News, not only will pyromaniacs across the city be able to let off Smiley Faces and Footprints to their hearts content, but they'll also be able to set off all the car alarms in the xiaoqu with the Blossoming Flower. Kids on the other hand are encouraged to play with a Kungfu Panda-inspired rocket. The fireworks will be available at 200 outlets around town in the lead-up to Spring Festival. Though those sold as part of the Bird’s Nest series will not as big as the ones used in the opening ceremony - they've been scaled down for use by individuals.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I got my first taste of Shanghai nightlife on Saturday. First stop was a club called Richy where an American DJ called Shadow was performing. It quickly became apparent that the venue had done nothing to limit the size of the crowd. Packed in with probably 1,000 others in a bar that was built for about 300, we tried to get close to the stage. Wondering what would happen if there were a fire, we reversed course and headed for the exit. "No crowd contol. That's very Chinese," one of my friends said (Chinese nationality, and had grown up in both countries).

Nearby, there was a karaoke bar called Party World. Despite the amusement park name, Party World was actually on the second floor of a luxury hotel (marble floor lobby). Groups could rent private karaoke suites (think Lost in Translation) for the evening and hotel staff would hustle in monitors, speakers and microphones. Most songs were American favorites although there were a couple of Asian selections.

Word of the Day

"mei guo ren" -- "American" literally, "beautiful country"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shanghai Construction

The amount of construction in Shanghai is astounding and apparently the speed of this construction is equally incredible, although I haven't been here long enough to see this first hand.

Just outside my apartment is a large construction site where they are building, I've been told, a new Metro line for the 2010 World Expo (to be hosted by Shanghai -- this will be a topic of a future entry). It's the view I have from the treadmill in the building's gym so I'm going to engage in a bit of an documentary project here. Every morning, I'm going to take a picture from the gym and track the construction's progress. Above my the first picture, taken this morning. I'll post new pictures every week or so. (Hopefully the quality of the photos improves -- something to work on.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Black Market

The Metro stop below the the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is home to the city's largest "black market" of knock-off western brands. Dozens of stores display shirts, jeans, jackets, leather goods, shoes, watches, electronics, DVDs, luggage -- just about everything you could find at a mall in the States.

When you are ready to make a purchase, the store keeper will produce a pocket calculator, spend a few seconds pressing some buttons and then hand you the calculator with a price. You then look at the number in disbelief and punch in a counter offer (helps if you take a few moments to press a lot of buttons and and pretend like you're actually calculating something). After a few rounds of this, you'll finally settle on a number that's around 1/4 of her original offer.

Above are the items I bought. Two sweatshirts and a pair of Chuck's for around$35. Probably could have done better, but not bad for a first-timer.

The Metro

I had my first encounter with the Shanghai Metro this weekend. Took Line 1 to People's Square and transferred to Line 2, which I took out to the Science and Technology Museum for a shopping trip (written about above).

My impressions: First, it was almost disappointingly easy for an English speaker to figure out how to pay and where to go. All ticket kiosks and signage had directions in English, and stop announcements were made in both Chinese and English.

Second, the Metro has the cleanest, smoothest and quietest ride I've ever been on. Though the stations and trains are so shiny-clean that they lack soul, the Shanghai system absolutely out-classes every subway or L system I've seen in the United States.

Third, it was quite crowded on a Saturday afternoon. Standing room only in all of the cars. Makes me wonder what weekday rush hour is like.

Fourth, riders enter and exit the cars in one mad rush, rather than allowing people to exit first. Only a mild annoyance when I was riding but it must be chaos when the trains are truly packed.

Finally, a cool fact: daily ridership of the Metro is about 2.2 million. That's bigger than the populations of all but 3 cities in the US.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Word of the Day

"Ma" -- "Mother" or "To scold"

New Bike

I'll be joining the city's 8 million bikers next week. Here's a look at the trusty bike and basket combo I bought brand new for about $80.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Word of the Day

jiao zi -- dumpling

"xi huan jiao zi" -- "I like dumplings"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"All Things Are Possible"

Asians, Europeans and Americans stop the workday and watch Obama's victory speech in our office. Interesting how many foreigners were so interested in our election.

Giant Toy Statue

A giant toy-like statue near work. It's very tall and very creepy. I haven't been able to find out who made it and how it got there.


Until I can buy a bike, I'll be taking a cab to work every morning. This means dealing with rush hour in Shanghai.

The streets are a loosely organized throng of cars, scooters and bicycles. Generally, cars occupy the middle areas of the streets, while scooters and bikes stay to the right or veer onto sidewalks when the roadway becomes clogged. Pedestrians must keep their heads on a swivel.

The mass of bikes and cars lined up and waiting for a green light.

Here they come.

An intersection gets jammed up.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Perk of the Job

Homemade dumpling breakfast served every morning at the dining table.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

SWFC Tower

On my first full day in China I took a cab with a co-worker to the SWFC Tower. It's the world's second tallest building, but unlike many skyscrapers it doesn't have a needle top so the actual observatory at 1,555 is the tallest by a few hundred feet.

After waiting in a long line outside, we were led to a small room in the building's dark bottom floor by uniformed ushers with a group of about 20. The ushers circled the group around a glass encased model of the tower which stood about 5 feet high. A few words were spoken in Mandarin, the ceiling lights dimmed and futuristic music began to play. The model then lit up and began spinning. As the pace of the music quicked, the spinning accelerated and LED colorful lights shined off the model building in patterns while holograms of black bats, pastel colored bees and Nemo-like fishes swirled around the display. After about 3 minutes of this, the music and spinning stopped and the lights brightened. The usher uttered a few words in Mandarin and then in English said: "This way to the observatory elevator."

When we go to the top a fairly thick fog and rain had settled in over the city, so it wasn't the best day for viewing. Still, what we could see was impressive. Endless seas of buildings and a bustling river all well below us. The nearby Pearl Tower and Jin Mau Building, also some of the world's tallest structures, seemed short. The observatory floor had rows of glass tiles in the center that you could step on and look directly down to the sidewalk and square a quarter mile below.

More Pictures from SWFC

Feet on the glass walkway, the Jin Mao Building, the Pearl Tower, SWFC from below.

Things that are Different

8-packs of AA batteries come with a bonus pocket knife.

Word of the Day

Waigouren: foreigner; outsider

The Flight

UA Flight 857 departs San Francisco at 12:40. The attendants ask that we lower our shades to reduce glare for those watching the movie (Swing Vote, Kevin Costner). Readers have to turn on their overhead light. It's very dark in the cabin and most people are sleeping.

Four hours into the flight I open the window shade for a quick peek at the Pacific. Nope, it's snow-covered mountain tops that plunge into a huge body of water. Siberia. The Bering Sea. This is an unexpected turn of events. Apparently from the west coast, you fly to China via Russia.

(You can just make out the mountains from this photo. Wish I had a better one. Left my camera in the overhead bin and had to wait for the guy in the aisle seat to wake up before I could get it.)