Friday, December 31, 2010

Rent a Snow White

From Christmas in Shanghai

I finally did it. As an English teacher being white was a definite plus, but I've finally really capitalized on the color of my skin: A couple weeks ago, thanks to the invitation of a friend who works at a marketing and events company, I spent an afternoon in Pudong dressed up like Snow White for a Christmas party. In China' there's a strong association between Christmas and Snow White. My coworker told me it's because "You know, snow, Snow White, Christmas has snow" another friend said the reason the two are connected is that it's a well known foreign fairy tale and Christmas is a foreign holiday, so the two naturally got lumped together.

Whatever the reason, I made a thousand kuai in three hours standing around and smiling while parents dragged their wholly unwilling children to come pose with me. Poor things. I met someone from a modeling agency at the event and she said to send her a picture and they might have more jobs for me in the future. Woohoo.

It was an easy pay day, but not as easy as I thought it would be. It was surprisingly exhausting standing around and smiling, and also excruciatingly boring. The dress and the wig were scratchy and uncomfortable. Plus it was a bit awkward, the parents would come up and mingle (me thinking: "Am I supposed to stay in character?"), and say stuff like "Oh your Chinese is so good, you could teach English to kids." Me: "Ah, I used to teach English but I've changed jobs." Thankfully I didn't have to tell anyone I'm a journalist, because I mean, who would've believed it in that get up?

But if the opportunity comes up again, I'll probably take it. I used the spare change to take James and I out to a nice Italian restaurant along the river before I left and ate some of the best cheese, meat and pasta I've had in a very long time.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snowy Shanghai

These were taken a couple weeks ago, it put us all in the Christmas spirit in the office.

View from my bedroom window
Lanehouses covered in snowi
Think she's cold?
Alley outside my office

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

At home

Playing with my dog. Driving my car. Drinking my beer. It is soooo so good to be back in Oregon. The air is fresh and clean, the beach and the trees are beautiful, now if only I could get a clear day to get out in the kayak on the lake.

I slept in my brother's room on Christmas Eve. I was still in the thick of my jet lag so I didn't do much sleeping, it was like laying in a bed in the dark at noon. That gave me loads of time to worry about how I'm eventually going to get back home: I'm afraid the longer I stay in Shanghai, the more opportunities will come up there. In contrast, the other day we drove down a lakeside subdivision where the development has stalled - a whole cul-de-sac of empty lots. It seemed like a pretty apt visualization of what seems to be going on here. My dad has cable news on half the day and a few days ago they were talking about the "money apocalypse." Oh Lord.

Just before I came home someone well-connected proposed I co-author a book with her. I don't want to get too excited, I'm not sure how serious she is, or what could come of it - but I do think it evidences that things are happening over there.

Well, now it's hailing. I guess that means I wont make it to the hot tub this morning. In the next couple days I'm going to post a few photo blogs to catch up on all the Christmas shenanigans I didn't have time to post about while I was in Shanghai.

Belated Merry Christmas everybody and happy new year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


In one week I will officially be on winter vacation! I've been looking forward to it for so long that I already had a moment of dread the other day thinking about the fact that on Jan. 9 it will end and I'll have to go back to Shanghai. I'm feeling nice and at home here these days, but I just know break is going to be so much fun that it'll be hard to go back.

It snowed all day yesterday. There's about an inch of dust everywhere. It'll probably burn off today. I'm going to take some pictures when my camera battery finishes charging.

For now, back to finishing my copy!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

White Elephant in pictures

as promised...

Jess admires her special Shanghai granny pants

a game of pool

The roommates in awkward Christmas photo pose.

the more natural shot

Claire got a dolphin multi-purpose massage

Dirk, the token Dutchman in a gold coat.

She couldn't wait til everyone left to put them on

One for the mantle

watching, waiting

Dani with opera figurines, somehow she forgot to take them home...

The whole album is here, if you're inclined.

Monday, December 13, 2010

White Elephant, preparing to go home

Whew, what a week. I spent the whole weekend editing the Jan. cover story. Lots of work, lots of unpaid overtime that I'll probably always be too busy to make up for, but it's stuff I care about, and I hope/think this is going to be another good story.

After spending all Saturday and Sunday on that, the roomies and I threw a white elephant Christmas party Sunday night. Chef Mike made delicious egg nog, cider and hot buttered rum. Jess bought wonderful chintzy decorations. And I got up at 5:30 am the following morning to 1. finish writing the intro for my cover story and 2. haul all the beer bottles to the trash before my Chinese tutor arrived.

But thankfully, my biggest chunk of copy is in and the end is in sight. I'll be home in a little more than a week! 

I was hired by a friend who works at an event company and next Saturday I'm going to dress up like Snow White for three hours for a 'tea event.' I'm not sure what that means, but I'm hoping it's not at Jiu Guang - the highly-frequented mall near my house with all the Christmas + Snow White and Seven Dwarves themed decorations, though that would make sense... I'd prefer somewhere more out of the way. However, I'm going to be paid RMB1,000 - about $150 - which is enough to take James out for a steak dinner before I abandon him for the holidays. So I'm excited. Poor guy. All our close friends are going home and his roommate is going to Hong Kong. I'm curious also about what connection people here seem to think Snow White has to Christmas...because she has snow in her name? I'm so excited about the $ now that I'm afraid I'll show up and the dress wont fit, or they'll decide I'm too ugly and turn me away (I am low on foundation...).

As I type, I'm uploading photos from our Christmas get together. It's probably going to take hours, but if I don't give up, there might be pictures here soonish.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why hello junior-high style insecurity

I'm doing a story about foreign models in Shanghai, so tonight I went out to babysit my photographer at a club (not my scene) where a bunch of models were hanging out (double not my scene). 

The girls I'm concentrating on are very sweet and down-to-earth, but when confronted with a table of a couple dozen really, really, really good looking people - holy god! 

I was also in the awkward position of wanting to stay out of the photographs so I didn't really want to talk to anybody for long. Result? Me looking forlorn at the bar nursing a glass of vodka and juice. Ew.

Home now, time for sleep, Chinese lessons begin in 7.5 hours, I have two interviews tomorrow and load of copy due in less than a week. No biggie...

Sigh, bring on Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why did I leave LA?

Had a lovely g-chat with one of my el-lay gurlfriends yesterday. Since I left town, she's given up lawyering and started redecorating celebrity homes. This week she's helping some TV star match his interiors to his vintage magic collection.

"They were like, 'burgundy and red velvet damasks,' and I was like, "The Prestige meets a brothel?"

Ah, that used to be home. Sort of.

A couple weeks ago - with the help of a couple beers and my whacky roommates - I decided my magazine should put on an erotic fiction contest. I went to work some days later and said something like, "We should have an erotic fiction contest!" and everyone else said "Yeah!"

So then last night the deputy editor and I went out for wine with some guys from a local indie publishing house who want to collaborate. We're there for about an hour, going over the details. At some point my co-worker and one of the literary guys gets up, so it's just me and literary guy no. 2 who asks, "So what's your day job?"


This one?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Some people just have to get beat

My assistant editor and I were on are way to an interview this afternoon. We'd just exited the subway turnstile when we turned around to see a middle-aged man start beating a young man with what appeared to be a pair of handcuffs. We did the Chinese thing - stopped in our tracks and gawked until the young man broke free and bolted down the escalator.

"What was that!?"

"I think maybe he is a thief, and I think the other guy beat him with handcuffs - so maybe he is an undercover cop."

"But if he's a cop why didn't he just arrest him?"

I'm imaging a swift take down, something martial artsy, the older man appeared to have just grabbed this young guy by his sleeve and was repeatedly hitting him with the handcuffs. Maybe I've watched too much TV, but it didn't seem like a very official arrest.

"I think here have some thieves. And people hate them very much, so when they are caught they surely must be beat."

Makes sense. Didn't seem like a show an American cop could have gotten away with (in public, I mean), that's the kind of thing you can get sued for. But a little ass whooping for a pickpocket? There's one authoritarian bit of government I can get behind.

My assistant then instructed me that if I see a Xinjiang woman carrying a baby, there's a 90% chance she's a thief, and that they use the baby as cover for their hands as they rifle through your junk.

Beat ... the bruins

I can't even get excited about it after our poor showing this season, nevertheless I'm headed for the bar Sunday morning, 11 am, to watch the cross-town rivalry.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I go home in 22 days. Before then I have a cover story to finish, several other stories to write, and a bunch of organization for Feb issue since I won't be back in Shanghai until Jan 9. My Google Calendar looks pretty crowded, but I thought I was handling it all relatively well. Then yesterday I woke up with dull pain on the right side of my face. I must've been doing some serious teeth grinding the previous night, because it still hasn't gone away.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shanghai Festivities

For the past couple years, I've had an abbreviated holiday season. Last year I was on a boat passing through Three Gorges over Thanksgiving. The year before that, I spent the whole season in Taiwan and wound up eating KFC for Christmas Day dinner (not by choice!).

But this year, I'm finding that the expat community in Shanghai is extra festive - perhaps anticipating that almost all of us will go home for Christmas, so we want to do all our celebrating with friends early.

Tomorrow I'm going to a tree lighting ceremony at a fancy hotel on The Bund. Then Friday night, I was invited to a co-worker's Thanksgiving dinner. Saturday afternoon I'm going to help stuff Christmas bags for Shanghai migrant workers' children. And Saturday evening another friend is having a mulled wine and canapes get together. So much fun!

Not to mention, it snowed in Florence today! I'll post some of the pictures my mom sent me earlier. Every day I'm more excited to head home, and I know my family is too. It all chalks up to loads of holiday spirit - hurray!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pretty much, I live in the evil empire

See here, here and here.

And that's just this week.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Language Lesson

When I need my hair cut, I go to a little salon down the street that has a lot of French clientele. The owner is Chinese, but spent some time in France, so speaks decent French. 

My hairdresser is from Chongqing and has a scorpion tattooed on his hand (though insists he's not gang affiliated). He also speaks some French, but not quite as much as the owner, and English even less:

Him: How do you say luan? Messy?

Me: Yes, that's right. Messy.

Him: Ah, but in French 'messy' is xie xie.

Xie xie is thank you.

Messy/Merci. Same same.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm baaaaaack..

I bit the bullet and bought a VPN this weekend. I've tried about a half a dozen of these things through work by now. They all seems to work okay at first and then have trouble... This time I bought Astrill, and it's received good marks from several friends, so hopefully it'll work out.

I have a busy, busy week. All the magazine copy is due Wednesday and I still have two stories to write, eeee.... One is short and shouldn't take long. The other is my section lead. And I haven't started writing it because it's the kind of story you could report on for forever and still not have enough information. The NYT did a story on the same topic (mental health in China) last week. They had about five researchers, in addition to the main journalist, working on it... Thankfully, my story isn't exactly the same (mine is more about the infrastructure for care just in Shanghai - whereas there's was more about seriously sick people out in the countryside with zero care).

Christmas doesn't seem that far away now, and I'm really looking forward to it, but I shudder thinking about all the work I need to get done before then. Sigh.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hopeful Words

"The Internet is the best gift to China – this kind of technology will end this kind of dictatorship."   -Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is probably China's best loved contemporary artist, both domestically and abroad. Because of that, he gets away with saying incendiary things that others wouldn't.

Last week he was put under house arrest in Beijing in order to prevent him from attending a party to 'celebrate' the demolition of his Shanghai-based studio. Unfortunately for the authorities who got the jitters, this made the studio demolition and Ai Weiwei front page in much international news.

Last year police in Sichuan beat him up pretty badly. He was there supporting Tan Zuoren, who is now in jail for exposing the corruption that led to shoddy school design that led to thousands of dead kids during the Sichuan earthquake.

This week Ai Weiwei is extra pissed off. Read more of his anti-government screed here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hairy Crab Farm!

Apologies my beloved, loyal, lingering blog- readership. This VPN business still hasn't sorted itself, so I'm stuck blogging through email and have no way to post pictures. Sigh.

Last Thursday I had a fantastic I-love-my-job day: I got to drive out to a hairy crab farm in Jiangsu Province, about an hour and fifteen minutes outside Shanghai. There I interviewed a crab farmer who grew up in a mud hut and has a third grade education but now makes close to US $60,000, thanks to the skyrocketing demand for hairy crabs and a bit of good business sense.

As part of my interview, I got to eat at the little restaurant on the farm. And let me tell you, hairy crab is delicious. It comes from a lake, and even the big ones are pretty small -- with bodies a bit bigger than my fist. But the meat is soooo good. Different from king crab - sweeter, and maybe even more buttery.

Then I got to go out in a little motor boat and see the crab plot. I appreciate fresh air so much more living in filthy Shanghai - where I've noticed the difference on the skin and in my breathing since they lived the construction moratorium now that the world expo's over (hello, wicked-high particulate matter levels...)

Today I had an interview at a hair salon (with the owner) and afterward he offered me a free wash. Well actually he asked if I'd like a facial or a massage, but I figured I'd go with a wash and blow so I could get back to the office quicker.

I wound up getting a really nice wash, a style, plus a neck/back/hand massage somewhere in between. Oh, and an ear cleaning. Right now my hair smells fabulous.

Then tonight I went to dinner with the food editor. We were checking out a new Taiwanese place in town. I miss Taiwanese food soooo much living in Shanghai where the local cuisine is sweet, oily, and goopy. 

The restaurant we visited was very solid, and I was able to snag a special Taiwanese soda to bring home to James - something he'd just been saying he missed.

I'm really busy these days, but I don't mind so much since it's doing what I love (well, doing what I love plus spending the other half the day doing dull administrative type things). 

I don't have much of a chance to write here anymore, but the exciting thing is I'm getting so much writing done at work now. 

After the hair salon I went back to the office and think I may have talked my boss into sending me on a traveling assignment (within China). 

There are so many good stories here. And I'm getting to do so many cool things. Sometimes I feel so lucky, I don't think I should talk about it too much.

Since most (and by that I think I mean all) of you can't see the print edition, I'll put links here as the stories come online.

And yes, I will continue to blog as much as I can. Once I get the VPN situation sorted, I will be instating some password-protected posts. More on that later. Toodles!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloweeny

I had a busy, spooky weekend. I'm still trying to work out a new VPN situation, so for the moment I'm still blogging via email (pictures hopefully to come soonish).

My work hosted a party at this posh bar on the Bund. There were copies of the magazine with my cover story on all the tables (nice little ego boost, there). James went as a priest and my friend and I went as sheikhs (think robes, bears, aviators, gold chains...). The reactions were really interesting. All the Chinese people loved it. We must've had 50 people ask to take pictures with us. We got mixed reactions from fellow foreigners - lots of laughs, some "are you allowed to do that?" stares, and then about an even split of people saying "hey look a terrorist!" and people saying "Umm... I don't even know what you're supposed to be..." 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So Excited!

Next week I get to interview Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian Economist who wrote Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa.

The efficacy of aid (or lack thereof) has interested me since I was a teenager, I think I got into it a couple years after my brothers were adopted since aid has certainly done both a lot of positive and negative things for Cambodia. For example, I remember a WSJ article saying Cambodia's medical infrastructure is virtually 100% reliant on NGOs. And one problem Cambodia now faces is the most desirable jobs for Cambodians are with non-profits. Those jobs are better than the private sector and even better than working in government.

Anyways, I think this might possibly be my biggest/most exciting 'celebrity' interview.

I quoted Captain Sig Hansen from Deadliest Catch when he appeared at the Seattle 4th of July parade, that guy who played Hercules on TV at a campus charity event when I was in college ... I talked to the lady who masterminded Days of our Lives for an obit once ... I feel like there are some other notables I'm forgetting, but Dambisa is definitely the most exciting.

6:30 a.m., I am watching Evil Dead

The roommates and I have a pre-Halloween horror movie watching contest in progress. The winner gets to choose a DVD set for the others to buy. The loser has to wear a costume of everyone else's choosing Saturday night.

The contest ends at midnight Thursday, which means right now is crunch time. Yesterday I watched Nightmare on Elm Street 7 and Cloverfield before work.

Part of the rules are no one is allowed to watch anything but horror movies until the contest ends, which - for me - really takes the joy out of watching. When you watch horror movies back-to-back they all start to feel the same - very predictable.

Plus, for competitive purposes, it's better to watch 90-minute movies than a good two-hour movie. Thus, I'm almost completely through the Elm Street series, and only got around to watching The Shining over the weekend.

Monday night we watched Misery, which I think I might actually like better than The Shining. I also saw Paranormal Activity for the first time, and that's the first new movie to genuinely scare me in quite awhile. The Friday the 13th remake, 30 Days of Night sequel, and this Hong Kong film called Womb Ghosts were all pretty awful, while Leprechaun Back 2 Tha Hood was surprisingly entertaining.

So far I'm behind in the contest, but I'm taking this afternoon off from work since I worked on a Sunday this month and plan to knock out six movies between 3pm and midnight.

Bad News

My USC student ID expired today, and with it goes my super high-speed VPN. No more Hulu or Netflix. YouTube will take a billion years to load, and photos will be almost impossible to upload here.

James and I are looking into alternatives.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sokcho and Soraksan

After my DMZ tour, I took a four-hour bus ride to the East Coast and spent the second half of the trip making my way south.
restaurants at sunset
There isn't much to see in Sokcho, just a beach and some seafood restaurants. I wasn't man enough to try the local specialty - a purple sausage stuffed with seafood and veggies.
Since it's pretty close to the border, the beaches are lined with barbed wire and they shine lights on them at night to watch for spies.
abandoned furniture
The night in Sokcho was the low point of my trip. Seoul had been pretty non-stop, seeing people, seeing things, having fun. And then all of a sudden I was alone in a ho-hum town. The old lady at my motel made a mistake counting my change and came up and yelled at me, thinking I'd somehow taken more than I should've.

Then, when walking down the street, a couple young Korean guys came up to me, looking really excited and smiley. "Russian?" "No, no - I'm American." "Not Russian?"

It's not uncommon for white women traveling alone in Asia to be mistaken for Russian prostitutes.

I told my friend from Seoul, a Korean-American guy, and he was flabbergasted, maybe even a bit disbelieving, which made me think about how when you're traveling you always experience a place through your own identity. It makes a difference.

The next morning I woke up - the old lady apologized - and I headed for Soraksan (Mt. Sorak).

And have it noted: Aside from the mistaken identity and the change issue at the hotel, Koreans were helpful throughout my trip. Every bus driver made sure I got off at the right stop, everyone was good about giving directions, etc.
Road to Soraksan
Soraksan is one of Korea's top nature destinations.
Chilis drying
near the part entrance
The air was crisp and fresh, the sky was blue. I was tempted to just stick out the duration of my trip on the mountain.
boarding the cable car
Since I was by myself, I opted out of serious hiking, and took a cable car to one of the summits.
looking out toward the sea
rocky peak
After the summit, I went for a short hike toward a waterfall.
notice the walkway, trails are much more developed in Asia
As I was walking up the trail, my friend's roommate, Heather, was coming down the opposite direction. I'd seen her about a month earlier, and we both knew we were going to Korea over the holiday and discussed exchanging emails in order to meet up, but never got around to it. Instead we just happened to be on the same mountain, on the same day, on the same hiking trail. Sometimes the expat community in Asia seems very, very small.
on the mountain
We decided to meet up the following day and travel south together. That night I think I was the only guest in the mountain hostel I stayed in. There was a glow-in-the-dark Winnie the Pooh decal on my dorm door and it gave me the willies. So rather than enjoy the natural quiet, I listened to my iPod.

Suffice it to say, I was glad to be meeting up with friends the next day.

Next Post: Penis Park! Stay tuned.

Friday, October 22, 2010

DMZ Trip

I got up early on a Saturday morning to board the bus at the USO in Seoul at 730am. I wound up sitting next to a German guy who works in logistics in Shanghai.

my guest badge
The first thing we did after the hour-long drive was get briefed by an American MP and then sign a United Nations visitor's declaration, acknowledging that should things get craaazy, the UNC couldn't necessarily assure our safety.

We were told not to look at or say anything - make any sort of contact whatsoever - should a North Korean soldier come down to the line.

one of our guides
Join Security Area
That's as close as the North Koreans got. I was a bit disappointed
South Korean soldiers
We spent five minutes in the UN conference room that's right on the military line of demarcation, so on the north end of the building you can technically stand in North Korea. Both sides lead tours into the building, but they never enter at the same time.

Here I am standing in North Korea
I have a friend who has visited the North Korea side and he says - from my telling - the rules are much more relaxed.
Bridge of No return

After that we got back on the bus and drove past the Bridge of No Return - where prisoners of war were exchanged at the end of the Korean War. A handful of Americans and Brits chose to stay in North Korea. Only one remains to this day, Comrade Joe - and I've been meaning to watch this documentary on him.

Looking out toward North Korea
observation point
From South Korea
The last stop on the tour was Dorasan Station, a completely equipped train station ready and waiting to ship goods from South Korea, through North Korea and connect with the Trans-Siberian. South Korea is kind of like an island now, there's no land bridge for exports.
"Not the last station from the South, But the first station toward the North"
Dorasan Station
all aboard!
There was a strange PR element to it: We were also made to watch a video about what a bountiful nature reserve the DMZ is (250 kilometers long, 4 kilometers wide, and there hasn't been almost any human activity in it for more than 50 years). I suppose that's one way to look at one of the world's most heavily-armed borders.

We also toured the third infiltration tunnel, but as it was underground and dark I didn't get any pictures. It's one of the tunnels North Koreans dug in order to attack the South. They painted the walls black in order to say they were just digging for coal, but it's a limestone tunnel. Har har.

More pictures tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cheap Thrills...

Reading a banned book on the subway. My tiny act of subversion for the week was popping open Murder in the High Himalayas on my way across town (thanks for sending, dad!). It's about Chinese military murdering Tibetans trying to escape to religious freedom in India.

This little Chinese boy seated near me showed some interest - "Ooooh - een-geh-lish."

Yeah kid, keep studying. Maybe you can read too someday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Great Big South Korea Food Blog

A quick reflection what I ate on vacation before I dash off to work:

From South Korea
Tea Cakes
crispy, airy and sweet
ginger tea, something I'd like to learn to make at home
spicy, pickled goodness. this is one example of all the little side dishes you get at most every meal
A western-influenced, cheese-topped rice noodle dish (bar food). A lot of pubs require you order food.

potato pancake, also bar food

Korea version of the Japanese pork cutlet
pounding sesame seeds for my pork cutlet sauce

mixing it all up

more bar food: tofu,fish cakes, muscles...
Rice Wine, plus a side of pickled stuffs. Korean rice wide is mild, fizzy and delicious

Kimchee beef and rice. I forget why the rice is purple, but this was a good meal