Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Car Crash

Walking out of a convenience store over the weekend, I witnessed two taxis get in a head-on collision. No one was hurt and the damage was minimal, so I (and the group of friends I was with) didn't feel guilty rubbernecking the scene. In fact, we decided that we might was well open the beverages we'd gotten and make ourselves comfortable. It turned out to be a pretty interesting show. A few things that happened:

1) After the wreck, passengers from both taxis got out and started hailing other cabs. The drivers of the wrecked taxis immediately turned on their "taxi available" lights.

2) Even though there was little damage, both drivers kept their cars right in the middle of the intersection at the exact spot impact. Apparently this is a rule in China. You are not to move your vehicle until the police come. This even extends to bike-car wrecks, and not just the bike but also the biker. If you are knocked of your bike, you are supposed to stay on the ground until officers arrive.

3) The drivers didn't seem angry at all. They both got in one of the wrecked cabs and were sharing cigarettes and talking.

4)When the police showed up, the men came over to the sidewalk and talked to them. They agreed that the driver of the red taxi was at fault. The police told the men to go around the corner and settle it. Apparently the driver at fault was to pay the other driver whatever amount they agreed to.

5) After a short minute, the men came back and nodded to the police that they had reached an agreement. The taxis drove away and the policemen left. Problem solved.

Monday, February 23, 2009


When it comes to immersing oneself in a foreign culture, even the most seasoned of world travelers has his limits. My time in China has and will change many things about me. My hair will not be one of those things. The chasm between Chinese tastes in hairstyle and my personal tastes are even greater than the difference between the languages we speak. By my standards, many young Chinese men have hair that is overly-styled and ridiculous. (They probably think my haircut is something that even a scarecrow would be ashamed of. That's okay. It is possible to hate the pilus but love the person.) A fairly common China 'do features closely shorn sides with huge, swooping bangs across the front and a bed-head look at the top. I badly needed a haircut this week but were I to just show up and have a seat, I would almost certainly get something along these lines.

So I needed an interpreter. Luckily (after a bit of persuasion) my friend Dan was a good sport and agreed to help. We walked in and she started talking to the receptionist. I thought I could hear her saying something about "average American male" and "yes, as a matter of fact, he is kind of boring." This was a good start. I was then handed a menu, which except for a few numbers, was entirely in Chinese characters. There was a range of options having to do with how long they spent on my hair and whether I wanted a more experienced stylist. I chose the shortest option from the least experienced stylist, thinking that a novice would be more likely to take instruction and that speed is the bedfellow of simplicity when it comes to haircutting.

So we were ready to go. Here's my before picture.

And one with Dan:

I was led back to a chair that reclined into a sink and given a lengthy wash in lukewarm water. Rinse. Shampoo. Condition. Repeat. Very soothing except the man in the chair next to mine was smoking a cigarette.

Then, I was led to my novice stylist. His name was Wing. He looked to be about twenty years old and his hairstyle channeled David Bowie. The beginning was bad. He pinned the hair from the top of my head into red hairclips and began working on the sides with an electric clipper. This wasn't a promising start, but Dan was long gone and there wasn't much I could do. After carefully trimming the sides and back he took the clips out and started working on the top. He was very meticulous, much more so than an other haircutter I've had. He would pinch out small tufts of hair, no more than 15 strands at a time and give them a measured cut. He worked in careful rows from front to back and then across the side with a different set of clippers.

It took perhaps half an hour. I was actually quite pleased with the results and thought we were all finished, but I was directed back to the washing station for another double round of rinse, shampoo and condition. Then I was led back to Wing's chair for a final styling session. I could have done without the wax, but didn't know how to say no so I just went with it. Again, he was quite meticulous arranging each lock of hair across the front until it was just how he wanted it. Then he kind of ruffled the back and sides, and we were finished. Here's the result:

Just kidding. That's Kei and me at the office messing around. People thought we looked alike when I wore that wig.

Here's the real result. Too much styling, but not bad for about $10.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wen Miao Rd Confucian Temple

Visited the Wen Miao Rd Confucian Temple, which dates back to the 13th century, though it has been in its current location "only" since 1855. It was a very quiet and peaceful escape from the noisy din of Shanghai.

The first courtyard was a busy book market (at least it looked like it was busy earlier in the day, but was closing when I walked in). The temple pathways led to other courtyards, a pond, study and lecture halls, a library, and a display of traditional Chinese and Japanese teapots. The teapots were impressive. Some were big enough that you could bathe a small child in them, which I guess means that Confucian scholars drank a lot of tea. My favorite was bright yellow with a giant green flying dragon painted across the front.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lantern Festival

Office had a special Lantern Festival breakfast earlier this week. The very interesting menu included rice glue balls, black rice, and goulash-like dishes with corn, peas, tomatoes and pork... a great way to start the day. Food was all prepared by our aiyee (auntie). I really didn't see that many lanterns around the city, but there were plenty more fireworks.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Happy Birthday, Dad! Hope you and Mom are having a good time in Charleston!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bike Culture

A few action shots from my bike on the way in to work. Biking kind of sums up my China experience: I'm glad I did it even if it was stressful and borderline insane.

Monday, February 2, 2009


My apartment is a 37-storey building that is part of a complex of about ten 37-storey buildings called The Summit Celebrity Garden. Most of the tenants are like me: people here on business assignments from other countries. Across the street there is another complex that's about the same size, and down the road there are two others that are even larger. So within a two block perimeter, I would estimate there are close to 10,000 people who are here just for work.

If you've seen my fireworks video, you also know that there are also enough locals on the block to make New Years celebrations seem like an earthquake-firestorm-meteor stike. I haven't spotted any celebrities here, but The Summit Celebrity Garden has made me think about how enormous China is.

Back to my fellow tenants: About half are from Western countries and the rest from other parts of Asia. Most of them can identify me immediately as an American and love practicing their English if they catch me in the elevator -- "Haallo! What floor you go to? Sirty-fiveh! OK!"