Leaving Shanghai

I’ve been back living in Vancouver for a while, and it feels like longer. Leaving China was a mad rush to get Rachel’s immigration visa, finish work, say goodbye to friends and family, fit in one last visit to Hong Kong (where my Odyssey began), pack up all of our stuff, and just go. I never really got a chance to say goodbye to the city. I really was hating on Shanghai the last few months I was there. As much as I love it, I think I was overdue for a break from China. Plus, once you’ve made the decision to go, it’s harder to accept things as they are and easier to complain about things that annoy.

Looking back on the pictures I have, I can see how I loved certain times in that city. I really miss 2003-4. The city really was different. Not so many cars, slower pace. For a city with so many millions, it really felt like a small community in ways. And I’m not talking about the expats; I mean the speed people walked, the way bicycles meandered, the storefronts that hadn’t changed in decades, and the relative lack of wealth. 2003 isn’t really a long time ago, but in a city changing so fast, 7 years can make a difference.

I remember what some expats said to me when I had just arrived. The scene was changing and the type of people who came to China was changing with it. The old guard – those who came in the late 90s – wanted to be in China. They came to learn the language and experience the culture. The newbies were mostly there to make money or get struck by lightning – opportunity can land in your lap in a rapidly developing country like China. The personality of Shanghai was changing and the expats who were stationed there reflected it. I guess I was a bit of a mix of those traits, and maybe I changed with the tides. I had a few really good friends in the city from about 2004-6 that were still some of the ones who came for the experience, and there always will be many of those types. But the business people seem to far outnumber the 20-something-tasting-life sort of expat. Now the ones looking for their bullfight are diluted by those looking for a buck. Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic, but I much prefer the Shanghai I stepped into than the one I’ve walked out on.

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Categories: Life in China | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Shengjian 生煎

The round, boiling hot, fried dumplings, covered with black sesame seeds on the outside. It’s a hell of a good morning snack, but also good for after the bar. The inside is a chunk of pork with juice that is searing, searing hot. It’s one of the most difficult thing to eat, especially with plastic chopsticks, since they’re covered with grease and they’re round. So it’s easy to slip out, and once it drops, you never know where it’s going next, since it is round. I see a lot of people scald themselves, because they bite into these things and the juice comes out all over their chins. The best technique is to pick one up, nibble a little bit, let the juice cool down and then suck some of that out. Then you proceed to eat. Hopefully without having it drop, roll off the table, onto your leg, down to the floor, à la the meatball song.

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Vomiting seems to be a fairly common problem in Shanghai. I can safely say I’ve seen more people throw up around town in the last few years than I ever did in Canada… and that includes myself in the old drinking days.

There are a lot of people who get motion sickness very easily around here. My expat friends and I figure it’s either because some people are new to certain modes of transportation (maybe never been on a subway before; the rocking motion is a little strange at first) or they simply have a natural problem with fast, jerky motion. The buses here don’t make things any easier, starting and stoping, swerving and shifting. I’m not sure whether the electric trolleys or the diesel engine ones are worse. Regardless, I see an awful number of people getting off to puke. Or puking while still on the bus. Seen that one twice: once right on the floor near the back door, and once into a bag. And of course it’s not just the buses and subways, but also private cars, trains, planes, and mopeds. I haven’t seen a skateboarder throw up yet, but I assume that’s only because there aren’t many skateboarders around so the odds are low on witnessing it.

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Had It With Chinese “News”

The news in China is a complete joke. The main nightly news just finished Shanghai TV. Let me summarize it.

First, fifteen minutes of self-congratulatory pats on the back for how great Shanghai is. Report after report on how the city has made so many improvements for the 2010 Expo, such as new subway lines and tunnels under the Huangpu River. Okay, so Shanghai deserves to celebrate, but is the news the proper forum?

Then, about ten minutes of reports on traffic disruptions and rerouting for a fairly large zone around the Expo site. This, at least is newsworthy and people need to know about it. The drivers interviewed seemed to go along with it quite well – how nice of them not to grumble on camera! Then there was a little more news about all the beefed up security around town at train stations, highways, subways, and especially any transport headed into the Expo zone.

Finally, after twenty-five minutes of news, they got around the big story of the past two days: the earthquake in Qinghai. This was a fairly large quake, at 7.1, and it killed 600 people and devastated villages with poorly built homes. Shanghai TV spent approximately 30 seconds on it. My jaw almost dropped, only hesitating from seven years of low expectations from news on state-controlled TV.

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Categories: Law Order & Politics, Media & Entertainment | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Olympic Dreams

Athletes in China dream of becoming Olympians, and of winning Olympic gold. But why do they want it, and once they become winners, who do they thank?

Recently, double Winter Olympic gold medalist Zhou Yang 周洋 (speed skating) was asked what she would do now that she was a winner. She stated that she hoped she could now give her family a better life. A natural statement in family-centric China, though perhaps slightly confusing to outsiders. How could an Olympic medal help one’s family? I suppose with the price of gold you could pawn it, but that’s not exactly what Miss Zhou meant.

In China, when an athlete wins a gold medal, they are rewarded with an apartment and a significant stipend from the state. Much like the old Soviet Union, China seeks glory and respect at the Olympics, and for helping it obtain good face and self-acceptance for its system, the Party leaders decided at some point to give incentives. Not a lot of people in China participate in sports, owing to long work hours and families obsessed with making cash to provide for their children, as opposed to Western families seeking healthy lifestyles or fun for their kids, or trying to capture through their children the glory and success in sports that was denied to them.

In China, children are plucked out of school if they show significant athletic prowess and placed in elite ‘sports schools,’ where basic learning is secondary to training. They do not sit for the national university entrance exams, and freed of the pressures ‘normal’ children in China have, they instead are pushed to develop into world-class athletes. If they win, they are also awarded places in top universities, which are usually subject to fierce competition. A bit of a free ride, but a reward for their hard work and a pat on the back from the country for winning all-important glory for the motherland.

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China Tech Left in the Dark for India

It’s no secret that China is strong in manufacturing, engineering and massive infrastructure projects. India is better at information technology and services. Google has effectively left China, whereas it has a strong presence in Hyderabad. Now, Facebook too, is setting up shop in India. China should take note. Facebook came to China to check out the feasibility of opening up a Chinese office a couple of years back, but figured that government censorship and restrictions would prove too much of a burden. So big deal, India gets (another) social media site doing business within its borders.

Yet these are the markers of a trend, a trend that I thought was over-pronounced by some – that India is democratic, creative and service-oriented, whereas China’s only good at making things others have designed. China doesn’t really give a shit that Google.cn will go the way of the dodo bird. Frankly, I’m sure it wants to protect its own and only deal with internet search engines that censor what it deems ‘inappropriate’ to its oh-so-impressionable public, like anything regarding separatism, unhappy minorities, massacres, anti-party rhetoric, and porn. But will China’s tech sector really blossom in isolation? I doubt it. Keep up the copying China.

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Well we finally sent the immigration package to Canada… which is why I haven’t been posting here. It’s been like 6 weeks with this stuff. Reading the guides, getting documents, getting said documents translated or notarized. It really is intense for something that is basically just paperwork.

Rachel is immigrating to Canada with me. As I wrote about before, it’s time to go back, get the qualifications I need to be a ‘real’ teacher and set up shop in Vancouver. We should be a slam-dunk case, as we have a real marriage, but we still spent a lot of time on this thing to try to make it perfect. As a sponsor, I am a bit odd. Seems from the forms that most of them live in Canada and sponsor someone who’s living in China. Doesn’t that strike you as prima facie a sham marriage? Anyway, I actually live with my wife and we share all of our money – again, an odd fit with the forms because they’re trying to flush out arranged marriages and mail-order brides. I’m going back to Canada for school but don’t have a letter of acceptance yet since UBC takes until May to inform people if they got into their 12-month Ed. degree program. So I have no letter of acceptance, no job in Canada, and am self-employed here. Thus, I am atypical. Hopefully we can convince them that I am really going back and I am able to support Rachel. In order to go look for an apartment and get things set up, I just bought a one-way plane ticket to Vancouver, July 22. This is big. One-way says it all.

It’s one day after sending the package to Mississauga, where they process these things, and I’ve already found out that I made 2 small mistakes. Hopefully once the thing gets a file number and they start processing it we can send the correct info. Like I said, small mistakes, but you can’t misrepresent anything on these forms, and these kinds of details make for delays. The normal processing time for a spouse is somewhere between 4-6 months. I’m hoping our will be finished and approved by August, but there are many horror stories out there of it taking a lot longer. It really burns me that filling out the forms was so difficult, since having been through law school and passing the bar exams, it should have been easy for me. No such luck. My brain must have shrunk in the last few years, cause there were many nights of me banging my head against a wall trying to figure out all the conflicting instructions.

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Shanghai Circus World 上海马戏城

Gifts during Spring Festival usually consist of alcohol, cigarettes, chocolates or other candy, fruit, etc. This year my wife had the great idea to take her grandparents to Shanghai Circus World. We invited Rachel’s parents as well – partly to be nice, but also because we needed someone to drive the grandparents into town and up to Zhabei, where Circus World is located. It soon mushroomed into uncles and aunts, and before we knew it, there were eight of us. This being an event involving locals, we needed to eat as well, so we got a room at a hot pot place at nearby DaNing 大宁, a much more normal shopping/dining development than Xintiandi.

So after dinner it was on to Circus World. Fortunately this is one place in Shanghai that is relatively easy to get to. It’s located at 2266 Gonghexin Road 共和新路, near Guangzhong Road 广中路, and is served by a line one subway stop, appropriately named Shanghai Circus World Station 上海马戏城站.

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The Urinal Post

Well it’s about time I wrote a post about urinals in China. (Mr. Nice Guy in the last post reverts back to form.)


If you were a guy who’s been to China you wouldn’t need to ask. But then I’ve heard girls have their own issues. See more below.

I come from a country that has its own sanitation issues. In Canada people tend to over-clean and use too many anti-bacterial soaps, disinfecting themselves to the point that their immune systems get sloppy and they die from molds. China is not known for such cleanliness, but then in Shanghai, things are generally pretty decent. Yet stepping into men’s public bathrooms, be they in busy restaurants, shopping malls, or even office towers, takes one aback. There are usually little puddles of liquid below the urinals. I’ll spare you the suspense – it’s not from too much water during the flushing – it’s urine. Why do Chinese men seem to pee on the floor instead of into the urinal? It’s quite simple actually.

They stand way too far back. They’re a mile away from that thing, often not even giving much of an effort in trying to hit the target. Many men are rightfully afraid that the urinals are not the cleanest surfaces on earth. They don’t want any part of their bodies or clothing to touch them. They also don’t want splash-back, a phenomenon not too difficult to imagine for those of you who’ve never peed standing up. I sympathize with these men, but only to a degree. Pissing on the floor is obviously not helping the hygienic conditions in the bathrooms. It smells, it obviously will splash back onto their shoes and pants, and the next guy has to stand in it. Or they do something like me and try to widen their stance so as not to have piss-stained shoe soles afterward.

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10 Reasons to Live in Shanghai

Over the last couple of months I’ve had more than my share of posts that are a little on the negative side, and I really don’t want this blog to turn into a complete rant. I do love this country and this city in many ways, and I should make a better effort to post about some of the reasons.

For now, a list of great reasons to live in Shanghai. Visiting is one thing – I’ll visit just about anywhere once, but staying somewhere for a few years is a different matter. In case you’re looking at coming to Shanghai in the near future, a couple items on this list might tempt you. So in no particular order (though counting down anyway):

10. Culture – Shanghai doesn’t always win marks for this, but in my six plus years here I’ve been invited to weddings, engagement parties, birthday parties, KTV nights, Chinese New Years’ celebrations/fireworks displays, Lantern Festival, Tomb-sweeping days, and a funeral, visited temples, and given and received gifts. And of course, I got married in China, have had countless dinners with my in-laws, and learned a huge amount about Chinese and local Shanghainese culture from them. There are large regional differences in China, and one of the good things about Shanghai drawing millions of people from other provinces for work is that they all mix together and you can see various traditions side by side.

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