Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Security Theater, or lack thereof

You don't exactly have to be Marlon Brando - there's no method acting required to pull off the perception of public safety at security stops.

But for the uniformed gentleman who gently reminded me to put my bag on the x-ray conveyor belt at the subway station today ... you have to actually FACE and LOOK at the TV screen while my bag is going through - to maintain the illusion.

"You didn't even look!" I snapped when my bag came out the other end. He didn't respond.

I'm pleased though - my Chinese vocabulary hasn't been growing much since my tutor and I are concentrating on catching up my reading, however I've noticed when things piss me off these days I can - on occasion - think quick enough to retort in putonghua. Useful.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ah, homesickness

Saturday I got up and went to brunch with some people, then I came home and watched too much TV. There were other things I could've done, spend-Saturday-watching-TV isn't my usual bag, but there wasn't anything that sounded more appealing.

When I sit around on my days off, I get lonely and homesick. But going out in this town is inevitably expensive. Further, while I am making friends, and am acquainted with plenty of lovely people now, a lot of times I find socializing exhausting. I have a couple good friends in town now who don't exhaust me, like Chef Mike, but just sitting at brunch, trying to think of things to say that aren't boring, eating food that's just okay...that makes me tired.

Brunch is tired. Being home alone is lonely. All it chalks up to is homesickness, which I find is something that never really goes away - it's just something you have to power through in order to live abroad and do cool stuff. I deal with it because I know eventually I'll live closer to the people I love, and I have so many opportunities being in Asia right now. It's just the downside is whoever you are and wherever you live - being a foreigner is lonely. Period.

I'm thrilled to live somewhere where I can weekend in Kuala Lumpur. The price is sometimes all I want to do is take my dog to the beach or go out on the lake, eat with my family - and instead I finish True Blood season 3.

Thanks, HBO, USC proxy server and streaming website. You are no proper substitute for time with my fam, but you do dish up quality programming.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Malaysia, Day 2

We rolled out early and went for a walk in a park. I didn't take many good pictures in the park, but here's one:

One of those no-kissing kind of parks. Next we went to breakfast at this beautiful country club. My friend's mom's friend is the manger of this gigantor mall in Kuala Lumpur. So she was always coming back to the apartment with oodles of free mall crap - shoes, foodie gift sets, fruit, tea, on and on. She was also a member at the country club and took us there, where I ate this:
Flat bread made with chickpeas, served with curry and delicious sauce 1 and 2

I should've been taking notes on all the things I ate over there. Everything was so delicious I thought "Oh I'll remember this," but now I'm home and while I remember the tastes, I can't remember the name or ingredients in most of my pictures.

Anyways, that was breakfast, eaten on the veranda with lush views of this big green golf course. Unconscionable and unjust as colonialism was ... sitting on that veranda I thought, yup, I would've been pretty good at that: Naps, complaining about the prickly heat, making trouble with the natives. Trouble is I would've had to have been a boy...

After breakfast we went to the bird park. The hornbill was the highlight:
Pictures with the peacock
From malaysia
mo' birds

And after that we went to see some butterflies:
From malaysia
Then we went in and had lunch at the central market.
From malaysia

old train station

By 2 p.m. we were pretty well exhausted (welcome to southeast asia, in August). So we headed back for naps and pool time. For dinner we went to an Indian restaurant where the food was served on palm leaves - rice with curries, no fork necessary: You just had pick up some rice and curry with your fingers and pop it in your mouth.

At one point I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and couldn't find any paper towels. One of the servers brought me napkins from the front, I didn't even have to ask. Amazing. Such things just don't happen in China.

Dessert was another one of the highlights of my trip. Malaysia is known for durians (the stinky, spiky fruit you find at Asian grocery stores sometimes). But they love it so much, they don't even export it, the amount they grow only meets domestic demand. So if you buy durian outside Malaysia, what you're eating is Thai durian.

But Malaysian durian is better, Yan said. Then, I must try it, I said.

So after dinner we drove to a durian stand (they're in season). Check out this sign:

From malaysia

Malaysians are serious about durian. And turns out there's more than one kind - they're categorized by the firmness and sweetness of the fruit.
From malaysia
We picked out a good one and sat down to dig in, and - oh my goodness - it's delicious. I've had a couple tastes before, but I always found the durian I've had in Shanghai to have a nauseating after-taste. Not this durian.

The texture is like custard, and the taste is fragrant and sweet. It's really an incredible fruit. I ate four big hunks.

Day 3 photos tomorrow!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Modern Girl's Evening

I spent three hours today interviewing a lady who made $50 million USD on Wall Street, moved back to Shanghai, bought a $100,000 USD house, drives a Buick van and likes to eat in.

I think I'm up for more work and more $$ at the magazine. Boss and I discussed the possibility today.

On the way home I bought sweet-and-sour chicken from a takeaway-and-microwave-at-home place for 13 kuai. Then I sat at my dining room table, ran through three episodes of True Blood season 3 and did my Chinese homework. There was a big lightening storm tonight - the kind of weather that makes me love my balcony windows. Tomorrow is Friday and I have brunch plans for Saturday.

Tonight, I like Shanghai.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moped Diaries

Not quite as revolutionary as its 2004-biopic-counterpart, but yet another harrowing tale of my sketchy unlicensed cabbing adventures:

The other night I was headed out for karaoke with friends, standing on the curb, waiting to catch a cab when a dude on a bike pulls up.

"Hop on!"

Ho ho - I'm not so stupid as to not establish price first:

"How much?"

"40 kuai"

"15 kuai."

"Too cheap!"

"I'll wait for a cab."

There were plenty around, I could've walked to a busier intersection and got one easy, guess I was just in a oh-what-the-hell kind of mood.

The guy goes on and on about how I'm not going to find a cab. I shrug. I'm not in that much of a hurry to get my Bon Jovi on.

He tries to talk me up to 20, I shake my head. We both know eventually a real cab is going to roll up and the price is about the same, so finally he agrees to 15 and I climb aboard.

Then he laughs, "if there are a lot of people there you can give me 20!" "No I won't." I laugh back.

It's a 15-minute ride and we chat most of the way there. We go over the getting-to-know-you basics. He tells me I'm pretty. He tells me half-Chinese children are so beautiful. I want to tell him I dunno, I know some pretty goofy-looking ones, but refrain. Then somehow the conversation turns to moto-cabby giving me birth control advice, which I only partially understand, but I can tell the conversation is getting um, lewd, so I resort to "uh-huh" "uh-huh"

We arrive at my destination. Sort of. He points to the building and it's about two blocks away and he's stopped on the side of the road, not even near an intersection. But I - wanting to credit him with the best - figure he's just anxious to turn back the way he's going, so I say it's fine and I'll walk the rest.

I hand him 15 kuai.

"No, no, these notes are too old."

The notes are old. But so what? However, I'd just had this 15-minute friendly exchange with the guy, so I take my 15 back and pull out a 100. Big mistake, right?

He takes it and begins counting back 20kuai, 40 kuai... I owe you 90? He asks.

No 85, I correct, starting to get the feeling he's trying to confuse me - kind of like in the beginning with the whole "hey! maybe you can give me 20 if there's people there!"

He asks me if I have more change, with my 100 in his hand.

I'm on the sidewalk. The motorcycle is running. No one else is around. If he decides to speed off into the sunset he can, and it looks like he's contemplating doing just that.

My mood did a 180, and I suspect my face did too. Not angry, just disappointed. If I get ripped off I know I deserve it, but I looked him in the eye - is this seriously the kind of person you're going to be?

Then I reach out and yank the 100 back, frowning.

"Either you have to take this 15 or we just have to go somewhere and get new bills, that's all I have." I say.

"Okay, okay."

He takes my 15.

I turn around to walk off, and he starts laughing and extends his hand to shake, which I do. It seems a bit sheepish, apologetic maybe.

Getting ripped off is a fact of life for foreigners in China. Part of it you just accept: I make fantastic money by Chinese standards. But it's tiring never being able to let your guard down. Had I been thinking on my feet, I would've been a lot more stern from the moment I pulled out my money: Stopping in the middle of nowhere, not accepting exact change, it was all bunk.

Good news is I'm probably cured off the unlicensed cabbing for awhile.

I'll post more Malaysia pictures this weekend.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I live in a small town.

There's some 20 million people living in Shanghai. But only about half a million are foreign. And of that, only a minority is Western-foreign (Koreans and Japanese far out number us, but they don't live in the city center). And of those Western-foreigners, the group of us non-student 20- to 30-something workers is a miniscule piece of the whole pie. Case in point:

Today I went out to Pudong to review a French restaurant, which was delicious but awkward: The chef, the sales manager, and this PR lady all just sat there and watched me eat an entire tasting menu - fresh salad, foie gras salad, seafood-thing-with-french-name-I've-forgotten and pan-fried foie gras which is delicious.

I took a cab with the PR lady back across the river, at rush hour, so it took forever. We talked about life and work and how I shouldn't turn on my air conditioner because I have a head cold (old Chinese wisdom right there). She dropped me off at my apartment, just a few blocks from her office.

About an hour later I headed out to meet a new friend for dinner.

We start chatting about our days - and I tell her I was just in Pudong reviewing a French restaurant.

"With PR Lady?" my friend asks. "She said she hopes your cold gets better soon."


Turns out PR Lady and new friend work at the same company. And within the space of two hours news had traveled about my state of health.

It's kind of a mundane story, but things like that happen all the time. I can't go out to a bar without seeing someone I know. And everyone knows everyone's biz-nass.

Even if it is just the sniffles.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

So Malaysia, Day. 1

Thursday night I took the train to Hangzhou and had the worst beef noodle soup ever for dinner in the airport, hopped aboard the red eye, and woke up down south. I could tell I was in southeast Asia before I even left the airport: The air is different down there, the customer service agents smiled and looked me in the eye (not common in China), plus they were wearing hijab and there were Bank of Islam ATMs in the arrival area.

I took a cab to the golf-course condominium complex my friend Yan was staying at during her month at home. She's from Malaysia but works in London now (we met in college).

Outside the residences there was a security booth. We have these in China too, but it's typically run by a chubby old man who leaves his shirt untucked and sits around smoking - not exactly a formidable first line of a defense. Plus, if you're a white woman, from personal experience, I know they never stop and question you, wherever you walk in. Not so in Malaysia.

The security quizzed me on which building I was going to and whom I was visiting. It was serious stuff, and every time we entered throughout the weekend it was the same. Yan said it was necessary, that Malaysia has violent crime issues.

I slept a couple more hours, then we jumped in the pool, and then headed downtown to eat our way through Kuala Lumpur:

Graffiti, something you don't see in China

First stop was KLCC, the mall below the Petronas towers.
From malaysia

We ate lunch at Madame Kwan's - an upscale version of typical Malaysian food. Yan figured since I only had three days it was best not to press our digestive luck, so rather than eat street food we stuck to restaurants.

Lunch was delicious:
Fish Cake
nasi lemak - typical Malaysian food: Curry chicken with rice soaked in coconut cream
mmm...shaved ice with rose syrup to cool off the palate

Eating was the highlight of the trip. Malaysian food is so good - it has Chinese, Indian and Western influences, and lots of dishes are made with fresh coconut milk.

From malaysia
We wandered around the mall a bit, but not long. Yan said her other friend who came spent days shopping in KL, which is one of the thing it's known for. For me it was more like, "Mall. Cool. Okay, what are we going to eat next?"

Throughout the weekend the trick was to avoid the holiday crowds: Ramadan is going on, and right after sunset the restaurants fill up with people breaking fast.

For afternoon snack we stopped into a cafe for pulled tea, Malaysian coffee and toast sandwiches with a big pat of butter and coconut jelly:

From malaysia

The tea is made from black tea and condensed milk. It's poured from a height before it's served to give it a frothy consistency (hence the name). This kind of snack used to be typical of roadside cafes, Yan said, but that culture of people wiling away the day in such places is disappearing, and what remains is the post-modern, mall food-court version (which is where we had ours).

We also tried some yummy soup, a dish that comes from the southern-Chinese Hakka ethnic group:
From malaysia
And I also discovered my favorite Malaysian dessert:

From malaysia

These chewy little number are covered in coconut and have palm sugar in the center. I'm not a big fan of Chinese desserts, but a lot of them are similar to Malaysia's. The difference being all the desserts in Malaysia are made with palm sugar which is fragrant and delicious, unlike cane sugar.

Here's one place we didn't eat at:
From malaysia

From malaysia
The toilet-bowl concept restaurant. Some of you may remember a similar restaurant in Taipei. Looking back at that entry, I can't believe I called it "Sichuan-style" hot pot, because that was definitely not Sichuan food. Shudder.

Before heading home we got drinks. I had a pina colada - mandatory vacation drink.
From malaysia

Street scene

More later!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I was going to blog about KL...

But then I started working at 7:30 am and then left for happy hour with an Ogilvy vice president for my Oct. cover story. That lasted until about half an hour ago (10:30pm). But one of the joys of having a chef for a roommate is you can give him a call at that time of night just before the kitchen closes and ask for whatever is fastest. And if you're as lucky as I am, your chef roommate will whip that something up for you.

Tomorrow night is my magazine's food & drink award party - our biggest event of the year. 

No rest for the wicked...

But plenty of work-subsidized drankin'

Will blog soonest. xoxo.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Malaysia? Check

Three full days in Malaysia. And when I say full, I mean the pot-belly, stomach-pulled-taut-like-african-drum kind of full. Sheesh, did we eat. I also did some swimming and some sightseeing.

Pictures soon, my pets.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kuala Lumpur, here I come

Tomorrow I am getting up and going to work, then I'm taking the train to Hangzhou, then I'm taking a red eye flight to Kuala Lumpur where I will be spending the weekend. Hope I can sleep on the flight.

I don't know much about Malaysia, but I hear I'm not supposed to eat with my lefthand (which is tough for a lefty!). I expect to see some burkas, eat delicious food and sit by the pool at my friend's mom's condo complex. I'm also going to go up in one of those really tall towers. That's got to be the least amount of planning I've ever done for an international vacation.

And when I get back I'll post pictures!

What do we pay taxes for?

The U.S. government is a bunch of dirty pirates. It costs $82 U.S. DOLLARS to add more pages to your passport.

$82 dollars ... FOR A FEW PIECES OF PAPER

The entire State Department should be ashamed of itself.

I'm still a ways away from having to do this. Hopefully I will have moved home, bought a buncha guns and a cabin in the woods before I have to fork over for that.

Seriously. I ought to march up to the consulate and kick someone in the shins. Despicable.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A sad day for Alaskans

A former aide is confirming former senator Ted Stevens died in a plane crash.

Faces and faces

This weekend I went through all the contacts in my cell phone, looking for someone's name I'd half-forgotten... In the process my inner monologue was as follows:

No, no, no, no, left the country, no, no, left the country, no, no, Julie?! Who is Julie - every third Chinese person I meet is named Julie, no, no, left the country, left the country, left the country, Kevin?! (Same problem as Julie), left the country, no, left the country...

I had someone saved as "mexi chris," "music dude," and "expo tanya."

Part of my crazy phone list is being a journalist - you call a lot of different people. But I was struck by how many numbers were in my phone of people who are no longer in Shanghai.

The adjustment to Shanghai has been really different than in Taiwan. I didn't really have friends besides James when we first moved (until I started Chinese classes). But we had his family, and I had the people I worked with.

Coming here on my own, I've had a much stronger motivator to meet people. Sometimes you meet cool people, but they've already been here a couple years (or more) and they're getting read to leave. A few people I deleted from my phone that night were people I met who told me they were going to be in Shanghai for quite awhile, but changed their minds.

There are plenty of students in Shanghai, but those of us who live here don't really make friends with them - because we know they'll be gone soon. However, most all of us will be gone eventually.

It's a strange place to try and build community.

I just started watching True Blood. I buzzed through most of the first season this weekend. Maybe I'll move to Louisiana next.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Awhile back I went and stayed in Suzhou, which is just south of Shanghai, for a night on a media tour. Brought one of my girlfriends. Suzhou is known for having pretty gardens and canals.

Wedding Photos

This guy knows how to dress.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Rejoice! That alumni function I went to the other day? I met someone who told me about the USC vpn. Yes, my alma mater has a VPN. Ah, the fringe benefits of a private school education - there's money to toss around on fancy dinners in Shanghai and firewall-defying computer shenanigans.

This VPN works like lightening. So now I'm going to upload some of my Hong Kong photos!

Yes, this trip was soooo long ago - but here it is:


Bruce Lee

Fish at the market

Tai O

A cool old water town

Weird Snow White garden thing, also in Tai O

Big Buddha. This is terrible - but I'm kind of over big Buddhas. You can see enough of one thing...

Near Lan Kwai Fong, restaurant/bar strip

There ya go! More pictures to follow shortly...