Friday, June 25, 2010

Pictures from Swedish Wedding Party

Ah-ha! Soon I just might upload photos from my Hong Kong Trip. Thanks for working for more than five minutes, VPN.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

This hotel never disappoints

My room has two TVs. It came with a complimentary bottle of wine. Dinner was blackened salmon, BBQ ribs, Waldorf salad, red bean soup and New York cheesecake. Servers were dressed in Uncle Sam vests and star-spangled hats. The live band sang "Amazing Grace" and "Stand by Your Man." It was amusing to sit at a table full of Chinese media tasting salty red beans for the first time, which they all found very strange. Much like I found their sweet red beans bizarre the first time I had them. 

All the hotel staff, barring the Australian director of rooms, got sloppy drunk at dinner. When I told the F&B director I "studied Chinese in Taiwan" he got huffy - "why you say Taiwan isn't part of China - it is!" This prompted the Muslim/Han Chinese PR guy next to me to launch into a please-commiserate-with-me explanation of how he loves China but hates the CCP and disdains old-school Chinese people who get sloshed and sing nationalistic songs at hotel dinners. He's well traveled. He doesn't think Taiwan is part of China. And he's investing RMB 5 million in Singapore for five years in order to get a passport of convenience. Lots of rich Chinese people do this. For one, it allows them to send their children to international school (PRC children are not allowed to attend foreign schools).

James' family in Taiwan are all very KMT (i.e. one China). This definitely shaped my perspective in Taiwan. Now that I'm in China though, I feel more protective of Taiwan. The KMT mode of diplomacy still seems more pragmatic, but on the other hand - Taiwan has a hell of a lot to lose. I think if more people in Taiwan visited the mainland they'd get a feel for just how much.

The F&B director got particularly smashed. He asked me to sing an American song with him, explaining that he knows a lot of American songs. Then he told me all Asian people love America, but not him. 'And that is your right, sir.' is what I felt like saying, but he was already stumbling off.

I'm on the 39th floor, I have a great view of Suzhou. 

Basically, life is good. Thanks, Shangri-La.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Fun Never Stops

I was going to post a big detailed post about how awesome my Saturday was, but - like the title says - the fun never stops and I don't have time. However, I am going to try and blog at least twice a week (at least!). So here's everything cool that happened Saturday, and since, and is about to happen:

-Saturday morning I rolled over, grabbed my phone and texted my language partner. I'm happy my Chinese is now at a point where I have a partner where the easier language between us is Chinese. We decided to meet up and go shopping. An hour later we met outside the subway and she asked if there was anything different I noticed about her. Hair, eyes, I guess it all and I was stumped. Then she pointed to her nose. My friend got an injection so her nose wouldn't lie so flat against her face. And she wants another to make it even taller. It cost 600 RMB, which is less than a 100 USD. In my book, that's too cheap to stick under your skin. We went to a cheapy clothing market and I bought two t-shirts and big buggy sunglasses, all for less than 12 USD.

-I took a nap

-I got dressed really quickly for the Swedish Consulate royal wedding party. The dress code was yellow and blue, so I wanted to wear my yellow wrap belt I bought more than a year ago. But I'd never figured out how to put it on right. That's where Chef Mike steps in. He used to work in fashion photography - before he started flipping burgers - so he knows things like the components of a good bra, what photo poses will make you less fat, and how to fix a wrap belt. Bless him.

-I went to the Swedish Consulate royal wedding party, which was populated with lots of Swedish people and mostly Chinese media. I wandered. I ate canapes. I drank free champagne. And then I sat down on a couch to watch Princess Victoria + the personal trainer's wedding ceremony. I didn't realize so many European countries still had royalty. But it looked like most of them rolled out for the wedding (minus the British contingent). And they all looked awful. All the queens and princesses were wrapped up like Christmas presents in these 80's-style prom dresses. I guess regal and chic don't mix.

-I was awarded 'Best Dressed' at the party. Hopefully I'll get photos up one of these days, I think I looked pretty good. My acceptance speech was not smooth, though. It's weird  to get such a goofy award in front of room full of people where I literally didn't know anyone. I was awarded a giant trophy, a necklace, royal wedding chocolates and two free Expo tickets for my efforts.

-I split. The open bar ended. I had my award. And I didn't really know anyone else at the party. On my way out, I was handed a canvas swag bag with oodles of goodies, including a rhinestone studded heart-shaped flash drive. Swish!

-Some designer guy ran down the block to chase down a cab for me. My arms were full of booty and my heels were too tall to do this myself. 

-I met my Italian girlfriend in a bar. 

-I got into it with a couple Berkley alum at the bar who called USC a cheating school, implying USC gave Reggie Bush money. It was a sports marketing agent not the school, I told them.  Duh. Then it got all awkward because they were dudes and I was a girl. Then one of them said something about Prop 8 not passing. And I was like, um, it did pass. Then it got more awkward. And then I figured I better shut my mouth and stop calling these Cal guys on their ign'ance.

-Sunday. A day of rest.

-Monday. A day of work.

-Tuesday. Another day of work. Followed by dance class. 

-Wednesday. Another day of work. Followed by an evening of American food and good beer at Chef Mike's restaurant where my friends and I watched America kick Algeria's butt in the last 5 minutes of today's game. The other 90 minutes though? Super boring. World Cup is fun, but soccer is still a boring sport. End of story.

-Tomorrow ... I'm going to Suzhou for one night to sleep at the Shangri-La and eat their delicious food. They have some chef flying over from Louisiana. I guess they're showcasing a proper American menu.

If present-day Leslie could talk to 11-, 13-, 16-year-old Leslie, little Leslie would be totally stoked at how cool my life is these days. It's nice to think somebody's impressed, because present-day Leslie just worries about when she's going to start earning real money, as opposed to the fake/peanut variety she currently does.

Also! Polyp update: So all of you in America who get annoyed when you have to press one for English ... I called the hospital today. The operator spoke enough English, and let me tell you - I can talk about shopping and boyfriends and work and blahblahblah - but gallbladder polyps? Yeah, I need to speak English for that. Anyways, I called, it took less than five minutes. The lady was very nice, and pointed out that my chart said the little sucker is only 3mm, which is like fun-sized as far as gallbladder polyps go. There's nothing to be done, except maybe check up on it in a year or so. woo-hoo!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Revelation of My Mortality

Okay, the title is a little heavy. And what I have to say is kind of gross. You've be warned, so press on or bounce:

Thursday I went to the Exit-Entry bureau yet again to drop off a stack of papers the hr girl put together. I took a number. There were 115 people ahead of me. So I took a seat and grooved through a country playlist on my iPod that has no place in Pudong.

I began thumbing through the stack of papers and noticed my health check results were part of the package. I still hadn't looked at them and it seemed like a perfect time to have a peeksy. The first few pages were all very boring "negative, negative, negative..." but then I got to the utlrasound results: Gall bladder polyp. Eew. Here I am a slip of a girl, in the prime of my youth, and they're telling me I have something that sounds grotesque growing inside me  -  like a mushroom on a goo sack. Or how about that one part in Alien...

There were still 80 people in front of me in line, and no internet signal for my iTouch. So I fire off a text to someone at work, "Gall bladder polyp. WebMD that shit, I'm freaked."

He writes back: Wikipedia says they're usually benign. How big is it?

"I don't know. Now look up scoliosis."

Because by this point of moved on to x-ray results. And yeah, I have that too.

He responds: "That just means your back is fucked up."


It's a one-two punch. One moment you think you're perfectly healthy. Then the next you learn you're carrying a cancerous alien baby with a janky spine. Weak!

I dropped off the papers, and headed back to work, unsure how they expected me to continue in my condition. Through my own wikipedia search I learned that such polyps are usually found in people over 50 and are more common in men. Great. I have my dad's internal organs.

At home, I emailed my uncle (the doctor), asking whether or not I should get another ultrasound and how soon he can fix me up with a handicapped parking permit now that I have a curvy spine. If I'm guaranteed a parking space up front everywhere I go, I just might head home. Hell, I might even move back to LA: "I've got a golden ticket..."

Oh, the possibilities.

In other news: I watched USA vs. Slovenia last night. That ref must hate freedom. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Friends gone

The Alaskans left. The Taiwan girls came. They left yesterday. I think it's good for young Taiwanese to visit China. It's a lesson lived - not to get complacent about cross-strait relations, as this is not a country anyone should want to become part of by default. One of my Chinese teachers, "Lee Laoshi," was a die-hard KMT-type. She was always banging on about how she hoped China and Taiwan could reunite very soon. But then she went on a three-week organized tour. She came back to class and said she hoped Taiwan and China would reunite "maybe not so soon."

Everywhere I went the girls were in awe of the crowds (there are almost as many people living in Shanghai as there are total in Taiwan) and the ummm "culture." And everywhere we went, we were cheated, which pretty much comes with the territory:

On one occasion we obviously got taken the long way in a cab. I'm terrible with directions, so I might not have noticed, but the ride home was RMB 4 cheaper (about fifty cents, U.S., but a substantial different to a Shanghai cab ride). Then we went to a nearby water town (a tourist trap with canals) and the taxi from the train station said he'd take us to a cheaper entrance. RMB 50 each. Later I learned it should've been RMB 30. Then the girls went to the fake market by themselves while I went to work. They showed me shoes they bought for RMB 100, which should've be RMB 40 (seen later elsewhere). 

This doesn't make me mad so much as it annoys me. It's so little money, but it's tiresome to feel like you always have to be on your guard. I went to get my nails done in the salon downstairs, knowing it ought to cost RMB 30 - 40, but I didn't establish the price ahead of time. I chatted with the salon girls, we were all friendly and giggling, I got the works, it took half an hour...Then while my nails were drying the manicurist tells me RMB 70, and the way she looked me in the eye when she said it, I think she was a little bit ashamed. Again, it's only the difference between $5 and $10 USD, but I won't go back. 

My Shanghai BFF Jessica just left to backpack around Africa. She hasn't booked a return flight yet. I told her not to fall in love with any big game hunters. But I think she's more likely to go all Blood Diamond on me. She's just that kind of girl. BLING-BANG! Jess' roommate, my surrogate boyfriend just moved to Xujiahui, meaning he's a 10 min. cab instead of a 10 min. walk away. Next month he heads back to the States for grad school and I will have to find a new default +1 invite to all these media events.

It's Chef Mike's birthday. He's 28. I bought him four 40 oz. Tsingtaos and gifted him his half of our wireless router. I also gifted him the free movie tickets I get from work each month. I never wind up using them. He's out now. But I'm sure he'll be really impressed with the fruits of my generosity waiting for him on our coffee table.

On Saturday I'm going to a "media only" party put on by the Swedish Consulate. It's a viewing party because some Swedish princess is getting married. There's going to be a wedding dress fashion show and heavy swag bags, I'm told. That ought to make up for the no +1 invite (I've only been doing this three months, but that's how you start to think verrry quickly).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good food, Good Alaskans

The first highlight of my day was lunch at Hyatt on the Bund. They've got a new marketing team over there and they wanted to meet us. We had Beijing duck, some sort of delicious fish and a bacon pyramid. Seriously. A pyramid made of coiled bacon. 

The second highlight was spending the evening with my Alaskan friends. First I squired them to the fake market. I coached them ahead of time and we got a fair deal on a fake Rolex. Jenny's little brother bought it for RMB 50 less than the one I bought recently. The saleslady wasn't smiling when we left - that's always a good sign.

My girlfriend and I both bought funky clutches, which I think I drove a fair bargain on - RMB 35 each. We walked around admiring all the crappy ripoffs. But I could tell my friends were a little overwhelmed. The hawkers really get in your face there.

After that we went to a Chinese restaurant near my house and had dim sum. And then I bought them my favorite tropical fruits (mangosteens, dragon fruit, wax apples) and we ate them in the Japanese tea room in my apartment. Jenny and I went through a full "where are they now" of our elementary school classmates. Despite the Facebook revolution, there's still something special about a face-to-face rundown on news from home. Especially when the news is about Alaskan. And it's delivered in a Japanese tea room in Shanghai.

Tomorrow my friend from Taiwan arrives. I'm so lucky to have so many visitors this summer.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Friends from Home

One of my oldest friends is in town this week. We met when I was in first grade and she was in second. Not only is she one of my oldest friends, she's one of the few who still lives in Alaska. Now she works as an engineer for BP. When I tell people I have a BP engineer visiting they look as if they want to ask if she has a gotee and a long black cape. But actually she's more bubbly than evil. 

I had a nice long chat with my dad Sunday night, something we haven't done in awhile. We talked about the state of world affairs and the state of my affairs:

"I have to ask the same question I ask every time we talk: Has James gone the way of the buffalo?"

Ah, the question on everyone's lips. Or minds, really. People hate to ask. No, James hasn't made it into the history books yet. I threaten to break up with him bi-weekly, but I think he's catching on that I'm all talk. The first three months were especially hard. But moving into month four there isn't much left to fight out. We talk every day. Yesterday we had a riveting discussion about Wedge Antilles' claim to fame in the Star Wars universe (hint: He's the only rebel fighter pilot to survive both Death Star attacks).  That's what happens when your relationship becomes trans-pacific: You've got to keep the conversation fresh somehow.

Tomorrow morning my cleaning lady comes. There are a lot of things that annoy me about living and working in China, but being able to afford a cleaning lady makes up for half of them. Another 30% of China-annoyances are compensated by the fact I can order pumpkin spaghetti and beet root salad to my door and there's no delivery fee. Toss in the work freebies (including lunch at the Hyatt this week) and I really don't have much left to complain about.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Happy Tianniversary

June 4th, 1989. Tiananmen Square massacre. And no, there wasn't a whisper of remembrance in the local foreign media. We know better than that.

This week I had a health check, sailed a catamaran and suffered my first Chinese highway break down. Here's the skinny:

On Tuesday I went out to the special hospital where every foreigner who wants to live in Shanghai has to go to get poked and prodded. Go in, fill out paperwork, take top and bra off, put on gray tunic, shuffle between half a dozen rooms for litany of tests. That's how it goes.

The first room was blood sample. I don't know about you, but I like my hospitals to be super sterile. This one wasn't. There were scuffs on the wall, and the chairs in the blood sample room looked like they could use a good scrubbing down. I oscillated between not wanting to look at the needle and wanting to see whether or not the nurse was following hygienic procedure. I watched her change gloves before I sat down, but I'm pretty sure she touched her pen with the glove before giving me the needle. eeeh....

"Make face! Make face!" She told me.

I am making a face, I thought, don't I look uncomfortable enough for you?

"Make a fist." the guy in the chair beside me translated. We had a laugh over that one.

Next was the women's examination room. The name seemed ominous: please, please don't make me take my panties off ... I didn't have to: Tunic off, lay down - lady with a stethoscope listened to my heart and felt up my organs.

Tunic back on to wait in line for an x-ray, a middle-aged Australian guy who works in textile sales struck up a conversation. When I told him I live in Jing'An, he said he knows the manager at the Swissotel nearby. Late twenties. American. Good looking. I must've given him a look that said, "are you seriously trying to set me up with the Swissotel manager while I'm sitting here in a tunic outside the x-ray?" Because the next thing he said was "I'm not trying to set you up or anything."

After that there was an ekg. Top off again. Quite a day for exposure... And then an ultrasound. Like a pregnant lady. The technician spread goo over my tummy and rubbed her wand over it, which made me laugh because it tickled. I tried to get a load of my organs on the screen. But I couldn't tell what she was looking at.

And that was the end of that. Top and bra back on, and back to work.

After a busy week, I went out to a lake nearby Shanghai to go sailing. I wrote an article on one of the local sailing clubs recently, so they invited me out. This German architect took me out on his little catamaran. They're exciting. We got it up on one hull and I got to hook in and lean out over the water for leverage, like this. I got to tend the jib and the spinnaker. My family sailed when I was a kid, I took classes in college. Somehow, my sailing skills haven't progressed beyond minding the line and heeding, " let it let it out."

We came in, cleaned up the boat, had a burger at the yacht club and hit the road back for Shanghai. Halfway there we heard a pop and pulled over. His radiator burst, water was draining on to the highway. Trucks screaming by. German popped the hood.

"Can you keep an eye for me?" He asked.

"On what?"

"To make sure no Chinese are using the emergency lane to drive in, you know like they do." He said it as if it should be obvious.

This is something Chinese people do, more so than Angelenos, actually. But we were on a bridge. So should an airhead driver be inappropriately using the lane we had a choice of jumping two stories down or jumping into traffic.

"Then what?"

"Then I can jump over."

"Jump over where?"

A tow truck rolled up as German's sailing buddies pulled alongside us. From German's friends I learned this was the third time German's Jeep had broken down between the lake and the city. The tow truck guys pulled the jeep off the bridge. Then they said they had a friend nearby who could come look at the car to see if could be fixed quickly. It took "friend" half an hour to arrive. This was enough time for tow truck guys to tell me all about the voodoo Chinese medicine I should take to cure my allergies.

Then tow truck guy's friend pulled the Jeep to his garage, which was not very close by, but was located behind a huge trash heap near the Hongqiao Airport. It was getting on near midnight, but I envisioned tow truck guys' friend telling his mechanics to throw open the doors - here comes money, boys!

In the garage, tow truck guys' friend quoted German something outrageous to replace the broken part. To me it seemed obvious: Call his bluff by making as if we're going to tow the Jeep somewhere else. That'll bring him down. But I wasn't asked for an opinion. And German has a real job and a catamaran. So his impetus not to get ripped off is probably much smaller than mine. German's sailor friends drove him to an atm. Then we drove him back to the garage, which wasn't very hard to find again, we just had to look for the special trash heap...

By then it was after midnight. German gave me a kiss on either cheek (after three months in Shanghai, this is no longer weird, it's just European) and told me he couldn't wait to see what SmartShanghai wrote about this ... Yep, he got the name of my publication wrong, which I'm not usually sensitive about, but at an auto body shop on a Saturday somewhere around midnight - I was annoyed.

And I'm not writing anything about it, save for what goes right here.

That's all the news you can use. My first Shanghai guests arrive tomorrow. Hurray!