Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You May Ask Yourself: Well, How did I get here?

It's Tuesday. The last four days of my life have been almost entirely sustained by the kindness/guiles of marketers and PR-types. I went to the mountains outside Shanghai. Then I biked through a bamboo forest. Then I flew to Beijing. Then I stayed in an executive suite at the HYATT. And I ate and ate and ate.

It doesn't matter that it takes me 25 minutes to walk (quickly) to work - if I don't start saying no to these people I'm going to get fat. I ate so much in the last four days - it wouldn't matter if I wrote cover stories for the next four issues, there's no way the flack that fed me is going to get their money's worth. I'm like a goldfish. Put good food in front of me, I'm pretty sure I could eat myself to death.

The problem with media tours is when they take a day and a half out of your work week, you still have five days of work to do. I'm getting up early tomorrow to catch up. I was going to stay up late to catch up, but after a I-lost-count-course meal tonight, plus wine, I think I'm down for the count.

Barring any more unforeseen adventures this coming weekend, I will catch up on my blogging (I will! I will!).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Grifters, Killers, Burlesque

Those three words are all you need to know about my weekend. Sort of.

Grifters: I was looking for the big western market that's in the basement of the mall near where I live. Things like that are difficult for me. I hate finding stuff. Keys. Commercial Establishments. My apartment. Etc. This short Chinese guy spots me and does a u-turn. 

"Hallo! Where are you from!"

"America" I squeeze my purse extra tight under my arm. I've been warned about this.

He proceeds to sing me a Cindy Lauper song to prove how much he loves my motherland. 

I've got my purse squeezed real tight. There's no way it's coming loose. And I really can't find this damn grocery store. So I ask him and he jumps at the chance to escort me. I tell him my name and he proceeds to chat me up saying "Leslie" every fifth word.

We get downstairs. I pick up my shopping basket. 

"Leslie - you can help me. I have some American money, you can just give me some small Chinese money and exchange, okay?"


"I don't think so. I'm not going back to America."

"But someday you will, or maybe your friends will."

"No. I don't want to."

"Okay. So what do you want to buy. I can take you around the store and ask you some questions."

I turned to him. The game was over. We both knew it.

"Bye." I say.

"Okay bye." He replies and disappears.

I buy some Japanese milk, some prunes, a couple jars of nuts. It costs an arm and a leg. This con-guy though; He intrigued me by how polished the act was. Disarm me with Cindy Lauper. Use my name like we're friends. Do me a favor. Then ask for one in return that I can't politely refuse. I refuse. He leaves.

Killers Not really - but my aunt has dubbed my friend I met on Craig's list (the one with all the glamorous friends and the beautiful house in the French Concession) the Craig's List killer. He had me over for lunch again this weekend. We ate salmon on his patio and talked about the cultural revolution. Tomorrow night I'm going to dinner at the home of (another) older guy (who I met at church) who lives in the French Concession. Making a habit? This guy is investing in the lingerie business. I'm not really sure what my Craig's List friend does besides collect antique Chinese furniture.

Burlesque I went to my first burlesque show Saturday night. Some people from work were having their birthday. It was fun. And tasteful (as those things come). Have to say I was a tad disappointed no one made their pasty tassels twirl like propellers. 

p.s. I just typed in "pasty boob" to see if I was spelling it right. Google Hong Kong wouldn't allow the search because I'm here on the mainland. Time to fire up the old VPN...

Church! Since I mentioned it (buried back there between killers and burlesque). This was my second Sunday. I found this lovely old chapel in the French Concession. Not that I had much choice - I think there are all of two state-condoned protestant services in Shanghai. State-condoned means you have to hold a foreign passport (Hong Kong and Taiwan are okay) to get into the English-language service. That definitely rubs me wrong, but there's nothing the church can do about it.  The communion wafers are served in dime bags. Which is sanitary, but, um, odd. And every Sunday, after they welcome newcomers, they ask if anyone who has been attending for several months (or more) is leaving. Because that's how it goes here - always people coming and going. I think that'll be the hardest part of getting adjusted here. My new BFFs (Mike and Jess) who I stayed with when I first arrived are leaving in June.

Work is good. I'm liking it more and more, feeling comfortable - it's going to be a good job.

I'll get pictures up this weekend.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Week Three

Still way too busy to blog. I wasted my morning running around trying to get registered at the police station (that's what foreigners have to do in China every time they move). There's a station across from my apartment, but apparently not the right one. They sent me to a station several blocks away who then told me I had to go to another station. I was so mad, but all I could think to do was whimper "DE SAN GE!" (the third one). The cop laughed. 

I'm all moved in with Chef Mike. I've been here since Thursday and haven't seen the guy yet. Guess that's how it goes when you live with a Chef - he works until 11 pm most nights. 

It's weird writing for a website in a censored society. See, there's still way more freedom on the web than in print: The magazine sends a draft to Beijing every month, and every month they send back what they want changed (they don't like cursing, they're pretty prudish about sex, we're required to call it "the former French Concession" not just "The French Concession" etc. etc.). However on the web, we can get away with that stuff a lot more. But it's a fine line - if I start blogging about freedom and certain places that begin with the letter 'T' (and rhyme with "She bet" "Shy-wan" and "Shiananmen") - you can bet our website would be blocked in short order.

Goes without saying, I wouldn't blog about those things. One - we're a lifestyle/entertainment publication. Two - it would be bad news bears for my employer and, undoubtedly, my employment. But there's gray area too:

Today I saw a headline where (I think this happens every year) the U.S. released a report on human rights in China, and China I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I released a human rights report on the U.S. My initial reaction was: This is hilarious. I should blog about it. My second reaction was mmm, nah...

Censorship folks, that's how it works. 

Friday, March 12, 2010


Sheesh. It's rough going from three months with the 'rents to full-time job plus a killer timezone change.

The good news is I have an apartment. Yay! It needs a scrubbing down and there's loads of stuff to be bought - chief among these un-bought items is a mattress pad. Chinese people and their hard beds. You could play Jenga on this bed, no problem. You could probably dribble a basketball on it too.

The work week flew by. This week was better than last. I'm excited to get into a routine and have everything down - but it could take awhile.

Haven't been much of a tourist in my new city, yet. Sightseeing? I went to IKEA and registered at the police station. Ah well. Not like I'm leaving any time soon.

Aaaaand, I think I've found a decent VPN service to help me leap over that feggin' firewall. Want to know what's dumb? I can do a google news search for "Shanghai." But if I try to search "Shanghai art," nooooope. Denied.

The homesickness comes and goes. But I've been lucky to meet some good people - especially my new BFFs Jess and Mike, whom I was staying with before I moved into my apartment. And despite its reputation, Shanghai has proved a pretty friendly city, at least to me, so far. I've met lots of foreigners who've invited me out.

Why and just the other day I was walking down the street when a Shanghai gentleman coming toward me was in the midst of gathering a huge back-of-the-throat loogey. He noticed me and - I suppose remembering how us foreigners feel about the hocking of loogeys - he held it in his mouth until I passed. Still gross to hear, once he was behind me. But hey - I appreciate the effort.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

First Weekend

Friday night I went out to dinner with this guy I met on Craig's List (I know, I know, keep reading). I emailed him about a unit he was renting out and In the course of our correspondence it came up that he lived in Fairbanks for three years, and also spent time as resident artist in some tiny school out in the Aleutians. How often do you get to meet a fellow Alaskan in Shanghai? 

He took me to dinner at this artsy Shanghai-cuisine place in the French Concession. The restaurant isn't marked from the street. We walked upstairs and there's a wall with nine illuminated circles, aligned like a telephone key pad. When you make a reservation at this place they give you a number. For us, the number was "57" and you touch the yellow circles (in spaces 5 and 7) and then this big metal door slides away, revealing the restaurant. Like it's a secret or something. How annoying. But the food was good.

After dinner I taxied over to a Haiti benefit concert with my temporary roomies. The audience was probably 80% foreign. There were six bands playing. One was a local reggae band fronted by a British guy and their last song had the chorus: "women dou shi laowai," Chinese for 'we're all foreigners.' How's that for multiculturalism.

Saturday was more home-hunting. And then the guy who took me to dinner Friday night invited me to his home for a dinner party. I was a bit nervous about going, but it turned out pretty interesting. This guy lives in this beautiful refurbished home in the French Concession. All the furniture is art deco. The guests included a wine salesman, a movie producer, an actress, a professor, a lady with an LED company and an architect. But not like a my- mom-style architect. This guy had circular tinted glasses, a metal pendant and a sweater with a skull pattern knit into it. A cool architect. Sorry, mom. 

We ate salmon steaks and drank bourbon. First week in China, I've never felt so bourgeois. 

Then I taxied over to a soft-open party for a new bar (the girl I'm staying with was tending bar). I had a Carlsberg and the most delicious bar peanuts ever. And I talked to this French guy who said funny things like, "I fell een love wizz zee Shanghaiese girl. But shee only wanted sex, so my heart iz broke." Okay, not very funny. But the accent...

Busy weekend. Busy week ahead.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mid-Week Update

Phew. I would say I can't wait for the weekend, but really I can't wait until I have my own place and am over the learning hump at work. It's been craaaaazy.

Tuesday was another busy day at work. That night my cool new friends (whom I met through Couchsurfer.org) took me out for Sichuan food and then on to a dive bar for a couple gin and tonics made with possibly the worst gin I've ever had (but hey, they cost $2US). Wednesday was also hugely busy at work. I was supposed to go house-seeing last night but I was so tired when I got home I canceled. I went to bed at 9 pm. I've woken up in the middle of the night every night so far, but I'm hopeful for tonight...

I saw one apartment this evening. I don't know. It's hard because I've never really went apartment hunting. In college it was always pretty much decided for me, and the same in Taiwan. I've seen several places that were unacceptable, and then one I really liked only to be told the potential roommates picked a different girl. Boo. I'm 23, but it still sucks to lose the popularity contest (though the competition was going to the same university as the girl in the apartment, that's a substantial leg up, no?). Plus I want a place in the right area, with decent people, and new bathroom fixtures, and good lighting. Am I being too picky?

Well I'm supposed to see places Saturday too. Tomorrow morning I'm going to the police station to register. Because that's what us foreigners have to do in China. 

That's all for now. I'll keep ya posted.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Quickly Before I Crash...

I woke up at 3 a.m. today. Didn't really get back to sleep. Now it's 10:30 and I've been out all day. But, so's ya know, I had a really good first day:

My office is in this cool old house. The editorial staff works in this converted living space in an old home (1920s or so, they think).  I didn't do a whole lot my first day. There was all the usual first-day awkwardness. And by 4 p.m. I went into zombie mode. My boss said I was welcome to go home and nap, but I powered through.

After work the editorial staff took the subway to Pudong and at dinner at the sky-high Jade on 36th, in the Shangri-La Hotel. You walk through the restaurant lobby and there are floor-to-ceiling windows. Incredible views - it was like walking above the skyscrapers. 

We were seated next to the window where we had views of The Bund, and were treated to a six-course meal with three varieties of wine. There was a cold asparagus cream soup, foie gras, scampi, a buttery grilled fish, lamb shank and lemon meringue with a sweet basil garnish. Oh yes - the most interesting course were these delicious marinated tomatoes served with a dollop of parmesan cheese ice cream. 

What can I say, I'm a lucky girl. Now I'm going to bed.