Friday, December 23, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Cambodia

I'm here, I'm here! And in about 12 hours my family will be too. The flight and customs were all really easy. It makes me laugh that although the airport is new, they basically have the same system for processing tourist visas as they did 14 years ago - which is you give your passport to one dude, and he passes it down the line to nine other dudes, and then they hand it back to you with a little paper receipt. Ah, Communism.

On the flight over I thought back to my first trip in 1997. I remember all day counting down the hours until I might possibly meet my sister (it was supposed to be a girl back then ... big surprise). I can remember the humidity and the sort of vegetal way the air smells down here, all exotic and new for an Alaskan kid. 

My taxi driver today spoke great English. He told me about his three kids, one in college, one just graduated and one doing graduate work in Japan. He told me his idea is that school is very important, but that most Cambodians think it's important to get married young, 19-20 for women and 21-22 for men. "If girl is 25 they say TOO OLD, TOO LATE ... TOO OLD, nobody love you." I got a kick out of that.

In unrelated news, the citizens of the happiest country on earth are pretty bummed out today. I can't say I understand their pain, but I did spend a few moments reflecting on the dear leader here. Pour one on the ground for that homey, he shouldn't have worked so hard.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Terrible Work Phone Etiquette

Me: Hello


Me: Yes, hello?

Caller: HELLO?!?!?!

Me, now in Chinese: Who is this?

Caller: HELLO?!?!?!?

Me, still in Chinese: WHAT DO YOU WANT?!


SLAM. Me hanging up the phone.

God help me if I ever have to work in customer service.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Chinese Education

A Chinese magazine had an article about a couple, father is American, mother is Chinese, both have degrees from prestigious US universities, and they've decided they'd rather their child get a Chinese education.

One of my favorite translation blogs, Ministry of Tofu, has the scoop.

It's funny to me, because I graduated high school early and as a teenager believed there were serious, fundamental problems with the American education system. Our system is far from perfect, but now, having lived in Asia for three years and having worked in education, I know that if I had to, I would pay through the nose, do whatever it took, in order to give my child an American education as opposed to a Chinese one.

American education emphasizes independent thinking, creativity, critical analysis and confidence-building. Plus, American kids have time to play. I'd rather raise an individual than a worker bee.

It's very interesting to me that people, especially those with experience in the US education system, could come to the exact opposite conclusion of what's best for children.

But then, there are a whole lot more rich Chinese people who send their kids to high school in Canada or pay for private education here, this couple is an outlier.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blogs? Who has time for writing blogs?

Not me. Maybe next year. I'm thinking after mid-January I might actually have free time again. Can't wait!

In the interim, check out my fourth and final cover story of 2011, New Frontier, all about innovation in China.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

House Coat Time

It is now that special time of year where if I don't warm up my coffee cup with hot water ahead of time, my coffee goes cold a minute after pouring. We have heaters, but it's drafty in our place. Thankfully last Christmas my parents gifted me a really excellent house coat. It's blue with snow flakes, couldn't be sexier, and really locks in the heat. 

Good news: We've had a pancake house down the block that delivers for about a year now, but now another little fast food joint on the corner has started offering breakfast, meaning I can get pancakes, stuffed french toast OR huevos rancheros delivered on a weekend morning. Shanghai is so not real China. I love it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shanzhai Journalism

Shanzhai, friends and family back home, is a term to familiarize yourself with if you are to understand China. Here we've got shanzhai shoes, bags, watches, DVDs, iPads, green peas (yes, really) and now it turns out ... journalism.

A lady I interviewed several months ago for this story texted me this morning to say her client emailed and told her he'd heard her on the radio in Beijing. Problem being, she wasn't ever interviewed up there.

Based on what her client heard, they yanked the details from my article, had a woman who pretended to be her answer questions and passed it off like a legitimate news piece!

I guess I should feel flattered?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Shanghai Thanksgiving

It's been a stressful magazine proofing week, plus I have a freelance project that's driving me nuts. So this morning as I was headed out the door and roommate Sam said "well we should at least all eat dinner together," I figured we'd fish leftovers out of the fridge and make something edible.

Then around 1pm this afternoon I decided I wanted pumpkin pie. Really badly. Acquiring a pumpkin pie isn't exactly as easy as popping over to the grocery store. But for all the trouble and stress this week has brought on, I decided it didn't matter what it cost or what I had to do, I was going to have my pie, goddamit.

I called around until I found an American restaurant in the French Concession that was doing a T-day buffet and agreed to hold a pie for me. I biked over after work, hadn't exactly thought about how I was going to bike home with a pie...but the chef gave me some plastic ribbon (like the kind you wrap presents with) and I managed to secure it to my bike rack.

Then when I walked in the door, I found Sam and James in the kitchen mashing potatoes, deviling eggs and preparing the stove for fried chicken, recipe courtesy of Paula Deen. I found an expired can of cranberry sauce in the pantry (something I bought back before I owned a can opener...) and we made instant gravy with some store-bought pellets that looked distinctly like cat litter, but tasted rather okay.

Everything turned out great (though we all agreed next time we'll fry chicken with about 1/3 the salt Paula calls for), we even said a little grace. It's nice that at the end of a not-so-awesome day, I was given occasion to remember that I have a job that I like, more money than I need, and wonderful friends and family, near and far. 

Tonight the magazine goes to print and tomorrow I'm taking the day to go to Jiangsu Province to eat hairy crabs on Yancheng Lake at a farmer's house. Bring on the Christmas season!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

China's most underrated job

"In fact, it's not as complicated as outsiders think."

Biggest source of anxiety? Maybe not performing well enough to impress the old-hands.

Unless of course somebody stands up and comes barreling toward the end of your rifle.

This article about a Chinese executioner gave me the willies.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Never Ending Work Week

Between freelance work, the latest cover story, work travel plus some other stuff, I haven't had a lot of time off in the last month or so. Last Wednesday I woke up dreaming it was Saturday. This week I had the same dream, but it's only TUESDAY. James pointed out at least if the trend continues I will eventually wake up dreaming it's Saturday on Saturday.

Today is deadline and I have sooo much outstanding copy (so much!).

On the bright side, I bought an adorable sweater at Esprit and I'm wearing it and it's fabulous.

Gotta stay focused on the important things...

Voting Day

Intern: I'll be coming in late Wednesday because I have to go vote

Me: Vote for what?

Intern: It's a national election ... for our leader ...

Me: Which one? Who do you get to vote for?

Intern: You know, Xi Jiping, he will be the next president...[now she's giving me the DUH voice]

Me: You get a choice?! I didn't know you got to vote for that.

Intern: Well it's like a fake democracy, we have to go write his name down.

Me: That sounds like a waste of time. Why do you want to go do that?

Intern: We have to. If we can't be there we have to say why.

Me: Ah, right. Okay. You're free to go vote.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Second-Year Expat Experience

I moved to Taiwan in fall 2008, hard to believe I've been mostly out of America for three years now. I finally bought a bicycle. I started cooking on a regular basis. I joined a dodgeball team. James and I began regularly playing badminton at the nearby community center - all things that weren't on my radar my first year here.

Our time in Taiwan was really different because we had James' family. This was great for a lot of reasons - James' grandparents were really generous letting us stay in their second apartment, we always had a family meal at least once a week, we got to borrow his uncle's car, etc.

I feel like my first year in Shanghai was my first true expat year. In Taiwan, James' family was our primary community. Now, in Shanghai, my collection of international twenty-something, early-career types are our primary community. Instead of Saturday lunches at grandma's, my first year had a lot of cocktail happy hours and late-night McDonald's delivery.

For a lot of us, that experience is integral to expatriating to Shanghai as a young, unmarried person - lots of not-so-healthy eating, splashing out for expensive conveniences because you're exhausted, and going to bars because you don't know anyone and you want to make friends and alcohol makes everything less awkward. I didn't drink that much my first year, but the Aussies and the Brits are all alcoholics by American standards, so I probably drank more than I would've in the States.

I've been in Shanghai over a year and a half now. I have a great extended network of friends, plus my little American tribe that I live with. So now my priority has shifted from establishing community to maintaining in it and making my life here more comfortable.

Thus, we make a point of getting exercise now. We cook several times a week. And where in Taiwan, it was fine and a little bit novel to have Cheeseburger Thanksgiving, it seems more important now where and how we'll be celebrating (most likely a potluck at a friend's, there will definitely be turkey).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Loopy Lulu

Today I took Lulu, the dog we're sitting, for an evening stroll. I stopped to buy fruit and the lady asked me who takes care of the dog when I'm at the office. I told her I have roommates, with different hours, and we all help out. I think it's the most intelligent - perhaps the only intelligent - thing anyone has ever asked.

Lulu belongs to the guy who hired me (a good friend) who just moved to Singapore. She's a rescue dog. My friend had to send her blood work off to the UK for rabies testing, which takes three months, and then Lulu will become an international doggie of mystery and move to Asia's shopping mall to be with my friend. Then, in a couple years, she'll become an Aussie dog, which will make her more well traveled than most people, which is funny because Lulu is totally timid and neurotic, so not the globe-trotting type.

Lulu never bothers anyone. She's a little foxy-looking thing, probably 30 pounds or less. I've only heard her bark once (delivery guy was at the door and we didn't notice). She loves cuddles but is too shy to ask for them. And if too many people pay attention to her she gets the shakes. It took a month for her to really warm up to us.

When I take her out, the reactions vary between friendly interest and overwrought terror. People will make a big deal of walking in the street to avoid her. I have a neighbor who - if she opens her door as we're heading out - will grumble "ai-yo" and shut it to avoid Lulu. Another guy snapped his fingers repeatedly in her face after he saw me snap to signal her to sit, then asked if she bites (making "YAR YAR!" sounds and gesticulating with his hands). I walked past an old lady once who kicked a kitten hard in the gut to get it farther away from Lulu (who was paying no attention). 

Sometimes in the elevator I can tell everyone is nervous because she's obviously a former street dog, not some cutesy lapdog, and they're afraid of her. Then they'll get all wondrous and amazed when I tell her to sit and ... she does it. Then a lot of people say, "Wow, your dog is really smart!" Um, not exactly.

A lot of Chinese people don't train their dogs. So I guess I understand where, if some unpredictable foreigner has a mutt, you might be afraid what it will do. My coworker was dog-sitting this teddy bear poodle. It was totally adorable, but had absolutely no manners. It didn't know how to sit, didn't know how to come, it was totally crazy. He said the owners keep it in a cage all day because it poops everywhere and tears stuff up. 

Pet culture is pretty new to China. And I suppose it's a good thing. Animals will be better off when people understand them better and care how they're treated. But suffice it to say, while the international travel will be stressful, I think Lulu will be better off in the long run as an expat dog.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Internet, you'll be the death of me yet

Usually, I come to work all fresh and energized, ready to do ten things at once, get my grind on, be productive. But then this week, all that can-do energy was sucked away in the torturous time vortex of stalled browser windows. Everyone is having Internet issues this week. It's really, really, really slow. We imagine it's because someone who works in an unmarked concrete block in Beijing is tinkering with the old firewall. What a jerk. Probably clocks-in twirling his mustache and wearing a big black cape. I'm working on a complicated story right now and I haven't been able to complete basic background research because of this.

Other news:

I had a painful sinus thing yesterday. Props to Nyquil for taking care of that.

Halloween was a blast. Jess went as Carrot Top. Sam went as a homeless man (he does that every year because it comes easy). James and I went as flashers (think trench coat, sunglasses, plus pixelated junk taped over our junk). I was going to be a cosplay maid, but my wig didn't come on time. On Friday night we went to a charity party our friends put on at a club. The original idea was to do a costume parade between two bars, but the powers that be saw the word "parade" in the flyers and squelched that ("you don't have a permit!"). Then they came to the club and were really overbearing - police inspecting all the charity banners for anything potentially subversive.

I miss Taiwan. I'm hoping James and I will get a chance to visit over a weekend sometime in the next 6 months or so.

I just finished reading Out of Mao's Shadow. Depressing. But good. But depressing.

I think my blog would be wildly more entertaining if I had a less brain-intensive job. Maybe I should revert to English teaching.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chinese Giveaway

Usually when you win something, it's not as if the person giving it to you bought it, it's part of an advertising deal. It's a way to get people in the door and, hopefully, create a repeat customer. Pretty obvious, right? But in China it's as if businesses can't get past the fact - GASP! - we're giving our services away!

James won a RMB500 voucher to a mid-range spa for filling out a survey for a delivery service. Great, we thought, that ought to be about enough for a couple's massage. So this afternoon we headed over. 

We walked into this place that looked like an old timey whorehouse - ruffly curtains, gaudy sofas... We presented our voucher and were given two cups of tea and told to take a seat.

Then the manager comes over.

"So which of you is going to get the facial?" she asks.

"What? We want massages."

"Only one of you can use this voucher and it has to be for the facial, which is 390 kuai. And the rest of the voucher is non-refundable."

"So really when it says RMB500, it should say 390 kuai facial?"

"Well you can get some additional treatments too, maybe like this pedicure service - but no massages."

[Yeah right, like there's anything that's only going to use up RMB110]

"This is bullshit."

Poor girl kind of smiles and nods, it's not like she made the policy.

We wound up walking out [we didn't want facials, you see] and going to a cheapy massage parlor near the house where for RMB130 a lady sat on my thighs and drilled her thumbs into the knots in my lower back. Hurt so good.

We aren't really spa people, so it's not like they lost big business by insisting we get a facial, but obviously I wont recommend it to anyone.

Other annoying China biz-nass: When my mom was here she kept complimenting my clothes and I kept saying, "Thanks, you bought them," until she finally said, "So what do you just not buy any clothes ever?" which made me feel like a cheap bastard. This morning (before spa misadventures) I went to the mall and gave myself permission to go crazy. The world is your oyster, Leslie! You just got a raise!

I wound up walking out with one (one!) pair of black leggings to place my worn out ones because I couldn't find anything else that both I liked and could fit in. The styles are wrong, they're fitted for different body shapes and usually the one thing I find that I like is just a wee bit too small. 

Oh Nordstroms, where are you when I really need you. I'm going to try and do a Marks & Spencer run during lunch this week. We'll see.

Despite all that, and the fact that the particle count was so goddamn high this week that everyone got the sneezes and/or a hacking cough, I'm actually having a delightful Shanghai weekend. This morning we got import groceries delivered (FO' FREE), biked all around Jing'an because it was sunny and the weather was perfect, and we're about to go to a big Sichuan dinner with Jess and her French boyfriend and his bizarre father who doesn't really speak English but delights in affecting a whiney American accent (her description, not mine). Should be entertaining!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So wrong

PR people inviting one to dinner on a Saturday night and explicitly saying you can't bring a friend. Hello, that's what weekdays are for and way to not endear me to your blah-blah-blah.

I would probably be really excellent in PR, because I have a treasure trove of anecdotes on what NOT to do (pretend that you have personal relationship with editor, edit email chains to make it appear editor has promised you something she hasn't, send a really beggy email about how much you want coverage and then not provide complete information, send your info in power point so editor has to flip through 20 slides to find basic info, front pad your cold call with a bunch of contrived cheese about how excellent the magazine is...on and on)

I guess that's why it's such an easy transfer to journalists to make. Well, and the pay hike helps...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Nameless Cleaning Lady

Ayi: Is your roommate named Jack? 
Me: No, his name is Sam.
Ayi: Oh. Someone called me and said they were a friend of Jack, they must've been talking about Bald Head
Me: Yeah, I don't know a Jack

'Bald Head' is a guy she works for who doesn't speak any Chinese and has a giant dog (my ayi is very talkative, so I know these things).

Most of us expats employ an ayi (Chinese word for aunt, but in this context basically means cleaning lady or nanny). They come in, wash our clothes, pick up all our stuff, but often - probably more often than not - we don't know each other's names. 

Usually we just call our ayis 'ayi.' This isn't so weird because in Chinese you can call someone by their job and be polite, like "excuse me, skilled worker!" or "service person, we want the bill." But then it also does seem weird because here you have someone you're trusting with everything in your bedroom and bathroom and everywhere else and you have an anonymous relationship.

I know my ayi's name. She also works for a few of my friends and she loves to gossip about who broke up with who and who moved in with who and who has a lazy roommate who can't get a job... Still, it's difficult to know what to call her, so mostly I just use her full name, family and given. Often if you're speaking to someone older, but especially someone who is educated or in some sort of position of authority, you might call them "Teacher So-and-So." That wouldn't be appropriate, but she is 15 years older than me and has two kids, so calling her just by her first name might be too personal. Simply calling her 'Ms Wang' seems weird too.

But, like most Chinese people, her full name is only three syllables so it's not like it's a mouthful. 

Monday, October 17, 2011


Woke up at 4:30am in order to GTFO there. Glad to be home. Still have oodles of work to do, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel (i.e. next weekend, my first weekend at home in four weeks).

Nothing else to report. I wanted to upload a picture of a really cool piece of art I saw up there, but y'all know how they do the Internets over here...

Picture from mom's visit to come eventually!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


It's official. I'm now second-in-command of the great and glorious That's Shanghai editorial department.

The announcement was made Thursday. On Friday James got a promotion too. They're calling him "project manager" at his design firm now, 25-years-old and we both somehow hoodwinked our way into middle management - onward and upward! We each got a little salary bump and figured if we combined forces and punched our money-making rings toward the sky together a la Planeteers we'd almost be making one professional salary!

Time to go blow it all at the race track.

p.s. Don't buy Gucci kids. If your handbag costs a grand, the pregnant lady who made it should've at least been allowed to have a snack and a pee break on the assembly line.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Two co-workers left at the end of September, which now makes me the second longest-standing employee in editorial, how terrifying. Ma blew threw for a week, leaving her summary judgement on my fair city ("If Leslie weren't here I wouldn't ever come back"). Then I survived a 100mph highway night ride to Huaxi, China's richest little big village. Friday I'm flying up to Beijing for work, get back Monday - am so looking forward to a full weekend in my own apartment.

Usually when people leave our company they send out mass goodbye emails, thanking the relevant colleagues in the proper order to give the right amount of face...When our arts editorial assistant left she just blasted off a poem to everyone. I thought it was very sweet and decided to share:

Very quietly I take my leave,

As quietly as I came here; 

Quietly I wave good-bye,

To the rosy clouds in the western sky.

-Xu Zhimo

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Too black for me, maybe too black for you too."

Our editorial office is hiring new assistants, so this week I had my first experience sitting on the hiring side of the interview table.

Mostly it was really boring, I hope I never work in hr. People banged on about how fun it would be to work at a magazine (well, duh) and then it was pretty easy to tell within the first minute that most the people we saw weren't even close to what we were looking for, but we still had to see it through for 10-15 minutes every time. I've read before that people form an opinion within the first 30 seconds, and now I know that's true. Our two favorites looked me in the eye, had confident handshakes, smiled.

During one interview we asked a candidate what kind of music he liked (because he'd said he was interested in the arts section). He said something about having a wide variety of tastes and liking lots of different styles except, "hip hop is too black for me. maybe too black for you too."

His voice got lower and he kind of mumbled over the word black, which allowed my brain to wonder if I'd really heard it and excuse myself for just sitting there smiling at him as opposed to saying ... what? "It's not too black for me! It's just the right amount of black!"

Chinese people are racist. They live in a fairly homogenous society and all they know about black people is what they see on TV (though I hear from black Americans living in Shanghai that Obama has done a lot to change perceptions).

On the other hand, this is a young, well educated, fluent English speaker I was speaking with. He shouldn't get off as easily as an old person. And I think I probably should have let him know that's not an okay thing to say, at least with a frown and a little head shake.

I can think of a handful of times in my life where I was presented with similar situations. And every time I've always found the situation so mortifying that I don't think I've ever spoken up and told anyone they're full of shit, which is odd because I usually have no problem doing that.

Maybe I should resolve to tell more people off. At least racist ones.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We're the side wants peace!

But we're sending poison needle-wielding assassins to silence our critics!

According to this article, at least three DPRK assassins went after South Korean anti-Kim Jong Il activists.

In quick succession, they successfully killed a pastor living in the Chinese border city of Dadong. In another Chinese city, they attacked a missionary. And the South Korean government foiled an attempt in Seoul to kill an activist who launched balloons with anti-government pamphlets into the DPRK. In all three cases, it appears the weapon or intended weapon was poison.

I think this backs up what I said in my photo blog: that it's a country that's highly militarized and also dangerously inept.

How much do your spy assassins have to suck that they're found out that quickly and they're all obviously doing the same thing? And they only have a 1 of 3 success rate.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

DPRK photo preview

Uploading photos is a pain over here. Here's a sample of some of my best, out of more than 400 taken, in North Korea. Family: you can see more at the next holiday meet-up. Everyone else: I will do uploads when I am in a country with better Internets.

The Puerto Rico Tae Kwon Do team stepping off our flight to Pyongyang. There was a big tournament while we were in town. The plane was really old. My seat was a wee bit broken, so couldn't get the back to come fully forward which seemed to irritate the teenage boy wearing Kazakhstan warm-ups seated behind me. They served beer and cider on the two-hour flight.

Airport portrait of Kim Il-Sung. The lights went out once as we went through customs. This happened a few times during the trip, our hotel had a generator though, so it wasn't a problem. At the airport they took all our cell phones and put them in a big bag for our guides to keep hold of (it's not like we could've used them anyways). They also searched our cameras for GPS functions, which is also a no-no.

We went straight from the airport to a World Cup qualifier match. DPRK vs. Tajikistan. North Korea won and we got there after the first and only goal. We sat in a special foreigners section. Our British guide rallied the foreigner section to do the wave, and the North Koreans followed our lead. That was fun.

The next day we were up early to go see the DMZ. It's been a little less than a year since I visited South Korea, I never imagined 11 months later I'd be standing in the same room, but entering from the other side. This is the arch of reunion, it's built over the highway that connects Seoul to Pyongyang (or would, if cars were allowed to cross the border). Each lady represents one side of the Korean Peninsula. There are murals carved at the foundations - on the North Korean side some really smart, young people extend their arms and the torch of the Juche philosophy (philosophy of self reliance that Kim Il-Sung made up). On the South Korean side, the people look all old and in need of rescue/reunion with family. All week the message seemed to be we want to reunite with South Korea and we want them to accept our philosophy. Tall order.

Here's the DMZ, in the foreground are North Korean soldiers, then behind them you see a South Korean soldier and behind him two US soldiers. My DMZ visit was much more relaxed this time around. On the South Korean side you have to dress up (no flip flops or shorts), and it starts with a safety briefing wherein you sign some sort of UN form that says if you get smoked it's not their problem.

There wasn't any of that on the North Korean side. Our guides gave us the North Korean version of the Korean War story, emphasizing that their side has always wanted peace and it's the US and the 'South Korean puppet army' that are the war mongers. They did briefly mention two "accidents," one in the seventies where North Korean soldiers hacked to death some Americans back when both sides could wander about the Joint Security Area, the other accident being when they killed a South Korean woman who went wandering (always inadvisable in North Korea) around her tourist hotel near the border and was gunned down.

Our guides motioned to the more formal, tightly-watched South Korean side (where you're told not to wave or motion to anyone on the DPRK side, we were free to do as we pleased) and made remarks like, "see, you can see we are more peaceful." But my overall impression on the trip is that the country is highly militarized. We saw hundreds of young soldiers all over Pyongyang, and they didn't have any of the military discipline I'm used to seeing exhibited by American soldiers. They smoked in rank, their hats were on wrong, their jackets misfit. I think it's highly likely the fact that you have all these young men who have been fed a bunch of one-sided war-time rhetoric, and don't have the same kind of discipline our soldiers do, is a major contributing factor to all the scary little flare ups that have happened.

North Koreans say they want peace, but then at the same time they also think there's a war going on. We went to see a music show on a national holiday and one of the acts was a comedian who did impersonations of characters in famous North Korean movies. It was all very light until at the end of the act he said something like (my guide translated): "If there's one spark on the Korean peninsula we will go fight and vanquish the enemies."

On our second night we went to Mass Games. The games go on for a month and a half, four nights a week, and comprise 100,000 performers (in honor of Kim Il-Sung's burfday). See all the girls dancing? Then see the Korean writing and flowers behind them? That's a giant human mosaic, the people have big books and change the pictures all throughout the performance.

Kim Il-Sung is the Sun. Everywhere we went we saw KimilSungia and Kimjongilia - a pink orchid and a red begonia, supposedly new flowers invented and then named after those two guys. We drove by an exhibition center and our guide told us twice a year their are flower exhibitions where all kinds of different work units bring their best flowers (their best Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia, that is) to be judged.

Kid on a scooter in Pyongyang. The capital looks like what I imagine China looked like in the mid seventies. There's no advertising anywhere, there are hardly any cars, lots of people walking and biking. All the buildings are big concrete blocks that look like they need to be painted.

School girls. The scarves indicate they're 'young pioneers.' A few years from now they'll take off their scarves and get their first pins with Kim Il-Sung's face on them. Every adult North Korean wears this pin all the time (unless it's a construction guy working in his undershirt, or some other sort of manual labor).

Ah, the Pyramid Hotel. 105 stories. 3,000 guest rooms. Started construction in 1987, never finished (no $$).

Me making a North Korean man really uncomfortable outside Kim Il-Sung's mausoleum. We were all being friendly and he agreed to take a picture with me so I put an arm around him, which is probably way too much (North Korea is super conservative). This big group of men and women crowded around giggling as we had our photo taken.

The mausoleum was a trip. Lots and lots of crying North Koreans. We got little mp3 players to listen to the narration as we walked through the halls and the English narration was completely overwrought "nothing could quench the people's great sorrow! They couldn't bare to be torn from their dear leader so soon..." Before you enter the chamber where the body lies, you go through this little passage that blows air on you to get all the dust off. All the women working in the mausoleum are tall and beautiful and deathly pale, which makes it all seem that much more morbid. Everyone, no matter what your work unit, has to go help on the farms during harvest season. These women though must be really careful, because they don't look like they've ever seen the Sun.

Here I am manning the artillery of the USS Pueblo, which was captured in 1968 in North Korean waters or International waters, depending on who you talk to. Technically it's still in active commission, but it serves as a museum on the Taedong River in Pyongyang now.

On our last day there was a big national holiday. Hundreds of women in traditional dresses went to dance in this big plaza where the monument to the workers' party stands.

Overall, it was a really special trip and I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to go. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to see something really different, a way of life that (hopefully) wont be around forever. Everyone in my tour group was really well traveled (many, if not most, much more so than me). I guess North Korea isn't exactly first on anyone's international travel agenda.

Ah, I have so many more photos I want to show you guys. Hope to get more up soon!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Good morning, biomedical waste

So my office is located in a restored lanehouse, which is pretty funky and cool because the editorial office is basically in a converted living room with high ceilings and fancy old chandeliers. Most of our neighbors are elderly Shanghainese, but across the way there's also a hospital building, affiliated with the hospital located across the main road. So this morning as I was biking in this guy in blue trousers was wheeling this stainless steel container clearly market with the biohazard symbol down the alley, past all the bikes and mopeds and the fruit stand.

Often enough nurses will be pushing old folks in wheelchairs down the way, presumably to get to the main building, but one time on my way to work they were pushing a stretcher covered with a white sheet, the only thing poking out was a bit of gray hair. It gave me the willies, but then I thought, well maybe they're just trying to keep the sun off the guy's eyes...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stick a fork in her

Summer in Shanghai is finally OVAH! I almost wished I had a jacket when I biked to work this morning! Hurray!

It's been a busy week and a half, since returning from the Hermit Kingdom. On my first day back in the office (with almost zero of my copy in for October...) I was greeted with: Can you do this extra sidebar for the cover story, oh and you need to interview Akon in half an hour. Ageh!

Akon was cool on the phone though (For those of you who don't know, this is the video I sent my mom for introduction. Somehow she wasn't impressed.)

Last night I started going through my 400+ North Korea photos, will hopefully get some up by the end of the weekend.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Back from the DPRK

Yesterday I returned to the relatively-more-free world. North Korea was a lot like I expected it to be (I've done quite a bit of reading/documentary-watching in recent years). I imagine what I saw was a lot like what China looked like 30 years ago - lots of people walking and biking everywhere, dilapidated buildings, absolutely zero advertising anywhere. We had a little more latitude than I thought we would. Everywhere we went we were guided, but there were occasions where we got to interact with locals. There isn't much spoken English so it was mostly just smiles and waves. The worst thing was seeing young people who clearly suffered stunted growth from living through a famine. We saw a work unit full of 18-year-old men who were mostly all much shorter than me and one of them looked as if his head was too big for his body. 

We saw a lot. We watched Mass Games. We boarded the USS Pueblo. We paid our respects to President Kim Il Sung (who, by the way, holds an honorary doctorate from a phony US university, it was on display at the mausoleum, all the Americans in our group got a kick out of it).

My birthday was a week ago, 25 - woohoo! The year is 2/3 over, so I started thinking back to my new year's resolutions. One was to travel more, the other was to save money. So far this year I've been to rural Anhui, Xinjiang, Qingdao and North Korea. Plus I've picked up a bit of freelance work (and all but one of those trips was work-affiliated) so I've managed to accomplish both. I'm also doing pretty good on reading more books. I could still stand to find more language exchange friends, but I haven't been drinking much Coke. 

More on my DPRK adventures later. Hundreds of pictures to sort...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Totally Unfair

You probably know that China's phenomenal growth in recent years is largely fueled by the massive migration of rural people into urban industry centers. The come from the countryside, they might make between $200 and $500 a month, more if they have a skill, and China has them to thank for all that awesome economic growth.

But what you might not know is that these people are second-class citizens in the cities they work in, they have no claim to city benefits, and their children often have no right to attend school in the cities where their parents work. Shanghai, to its credit, allows children of migrant workers to attend up to middle school, but after that the kids have to go back to their home province. If a family has two children (which is more common among rural people, the one-child policy is more lenient in the countryside) they might be able to scrap and borrow to pay for high school for one child (usually the boy). But often the schools parents can afford are sub-par, nowhere near Shanghai standards. Girls suffer the most. And more often than not kids wind up dropping out of high school in their home province because they can't make the adjustment back to rural life or they just go to work alongside their parents in the city.

I know all this, but it just pulled at my heart this morning when I was talking to my ayi (cleaning lady). She's this brilliant, sunny person. When I first met her she said she liked me because I'm always happy, just like she is. I asked her why she's always so happy. She said she's happy because she has two children, which is most definitely something to be happy about in Shanghai. Most everyone loves their children, but since I hear her talk about them time to time, they've become part of what I know about her, and I happen to like my ayi a lot.

So this morning she came in - still very upbeat - and mentioned that her daughter was now back in Jiangsu, living with grandma to go to high school. We had a moment of stewing about how wretchedly unfair this is. Her daughter received top-of-her-class marks in middle school. There's nothing to be done. It's an 11-hour journey from Shanghai to the town she's going to school in, which is a lot closer than their home village, so they can visit occasionally.

Children deserve better.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beer, beer, beer

Well it ain't exactly Oktoberfest, but we're having a pretty swell time up here in Qindao. Jess has actually been to Oktoberfest, where she says there's non-stop music in the beer tents and everyone gets up every five minutes to raise their glasses for a drinking song. We were in one beer tent where the entertainment was auctioning off Chinese paintings...

At the beach Saturday morning I bargained my way into proud ownership of a 60-kuai giant sombrero. The shop owner started the price at double that, which means it's probably worth about 12 kuai, but it's rare that I feel like I don't get totally hosed in a bargaining situation. For another 20 kuai she threw in a pointy rice hat for James. Our hats won us lots of new friends and free beer once we got to the beer festival.

For awhile we sat at the table with the festival organizer, took lots of pictures, ate lots of meat skewers and tiny clams.

Jess has designs on swimming in the ocean at some point, I'm not so sure. The beach is so so so crowded. Just a month ago I was back in Oregon, with Oregon beaches fresh in my mind, walking along the pier yesterday morning was a little bit ... yuck. They have jet skis in the harbor, but a dude drives it for you, you just get to ride.

Also yesterday morning, we walked up to this grand old Catholic church, built when Qingdao was under German control. We counted no less than 15 different couples taking their wedding pictures, in front of the main gate there was a different woman every 10 feet, posed with her legs folded under her and her dress all spread out.

Time for breakfast!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

News you can use

It's deadline week, I'm swamped with proofing and Chinese homework and all that, but since I got a naggy email from a certain someone here it is:

1. I made pesto this week and it was delicious
2. The Marriott treated me to a steak Monday evening and it was probably more delicious than my pesto.
3. On Friday afternoon my roommates and I are flying to Qingdao (coastal city up north) for a beer festival. 
4. In two weeks I'm going on a tour to North Korea for 5 days. If you want a postcard, better pony up yer address.

How ya like that?!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Packing Fail

I accidentally brought my car keys and one of my brother's undershirts to China (I blame the latter on deceptively piled laundry). I forgot all the awesome sand dollars I collected on one of our beach runs. At the last minute I had to unload a pair of heels, my AP Style Guide and 4 pounds of quinoa to get my suitcase under 50 pounds. My bottle of Robert Mondavi cabernet ($8 at Fred Meyers, $30 in Shanghai) made it in tact though. Priorities. We'll be cracking that open on my birthday next month.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Back in China

It's 730 am and balmy and the horizon is hazy. Sorry no posts during my vacation, I couldn't bring myself to sit in front of a computer for long while at home. It seems like just a few days ago I was rushing around trying to get ready to go, having goodbye drinks with my now-departed chief editor and packing. Now I'm back - argh!

This was my first time visiting the States during summer since 2008 (!!!). I swam, I took my dog to the beach, I went tubing and bridge jumping with my brothers and lit off ground fireworks, I cooked a lot, I read. There were a lot of things I didn't do. I didn't talk to many of my friends on the phone. I only met up with one person outside my family. I didn't drive anywhere farther than half an hour away. It just seemed more important to either be outside or hanging out with my family. But since most of my days were pretty much the same the time all blends together and it's hard to believe two weeks slipped by so quickly. 

On my last day I went to Dunefest - an Oregon Coast atv rally where my brothers' band was opening the Friday night entertainment. I ate a pulled pork sandwich and a funnel cake. It all seemed like a very aMERican way to end my trip.

Another highlight was getting to see my brothers compete at an open track meet. Billy almost beat his personal best pole vault and Ricky ran a relay (and won) with a bunch of college runners. 

It doesn't get any easier to leave. I had a little cry on the airplane between Coos Bay and San Francisco, but I was also laughing because my brother had been miming aiming a bazooka at me from the waiting room window that looked down on the boarding area. I probably looked like a crazy lady. The crying made me congested, so I got a screaming headache as we descended. It felt like my brain was about to explode out of my left eye socket. 

I think one thing that makes it harder is China has become so familiar. It's not so exotic anymore, just very far away. Short grocery lines, the brand of milk I like to drink, being able to easily find the things I like to cook and fresh air all seem more attractive and important than they used to. 

Thankfully James was there to pick me up at the airport and I got to come home to my little American tribe and my lovely apartment. Now I'm off to work. It's going to be a busy week.

Friday, July 22, 2011

So long, China!

I'm off to the land of killer grocery stores and instantaneously loading YouTube videos. Hoo-ray!

It's the Communist Party's 90th burfday this year, so all around town their are dear posters like this one (I did not take this photo, a friend did). In honor of the momentous occasion, there's some awful movie at right now called The Founding of a Party and the gov't is making us all wait to see Harry Potter because they don't want to have to compete against it at the box office. So in other words, I couldn't have picked a better time for vacation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bad China Day #2 turns out that in addition to your passport, work visa, alien employment permit, employment agreement and proof of regular income - you also need to go to the tax bureau and get your tax papers in order to buy more than US$500 per day from a Chinese bank.

Did I mention it takes no less than half an hour to process and stamp all the paperwork for changing money, no matter how small the sum?


Sunday, July 17, 2011

The week in review

I've been so busy catching up from my Xinjiang trip and preparing for my two-week vacay (!!!), but here are a few interesting bits that happened between the work overload:

This week one of my co-workers was writing something and posed a question to the room: What was the name of the occupational Japanese government in Shanghai? I turned and ask my assistant (who is a Shanghai native and majored in history). She shook her head in disbelief. As if I'd just ask what the name of the occupational Martian government was, so I sent her a link to the wikipedia page. She was blown away, had never learned about in school.

We're babysitting my boss' rescue dog. This is a trial weekend (since I'm allergic to dogs). But it's gone well so far and we're thinking we'll keep her on while he returns to Australia for five weeks. I always see plenty of Chinese people out walking their dogs, although usually they're teeny little rat dogs or big fluffy white purebreds, not scrappy mutts. Nevertheless, I was surprised when I took her out for a walk the first time. Some people would bend over, coo, say something nice, and then roughly an equal number of people would grumble and/or recoil in fear, making a big deal about giving her a wide berth. She's very calm and sweet, and she's not very big, so it's odd.

On Friday night I went to a party on the Bund and this guy came up to me and told me I was the Russian lady in some exercise video. I said, "No, sorry, that's not me." And then he got really indignant and maybe a little angry, "Yes you are!"

And that's all the bizarre China shenanigans for this week...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ready to go home

Phew, it's been a long nine days. Finally, this is my last night in Wulumuqi, we fly home tomorrow. After I got food poisoning, it was hard to re-muster enthusiasm. I've been ready to go home for several days now. It also didn't help that they put us on a crazy schedule. Our days were packed with long bus rides between factories, railway stations and wholesale malls (we're in some of the most beautiful country China has to offer - and that's where we spent most our time). Once we got to these brilliant locations some Han Chinese guy (almost without fail it was a Chinese man) would introduce the place, in the foyer or whatever, we usually didn't even get to look around much - something that could've made it interesting - and then we'd hop back on the bus. It was essentially a heap of driving to obtain info that could've been relayed in press releases.

On Saturday the PR guy for one county squeezed in an extra business park and so our drive was delayed to the next county and we didn't sit down to dinner until 11pm.

All day Sunday was boring business visits, then we had an overnight train, then breakfast in Wulumuqi and then a meeting where we went around the table and told the provincial PR folks how much we liked the trip. And I was all, "Meeting?! I haven't showered or changed my clothes in 24 hours!"

So I peaced-out of the afternoon activities with a couple others. Our team leader tried to bar us from leaving the hotel as a small group because it's around the anniversary of the Xinjiang riots, which was totally over-the-top, so he eventually changed his mind.

In my first free afternoon in more than a week I had KFC for lunch, the most delicious KFC of my life after all that Kazakh/Chinese hotel food. Then we went shopping and walking around (did see a few SWAT teams posted about).

At dinner they were going around doing bai jiu shots. They only had three glasses, so they were making people take turns. Gross alcohol on top of gross hygiene. I only finished half of mine and poured the rest out into my empty soup bowl because it practically made me dry heave. The guy serving told me I was being rude.

We got back to the hotel (after 11) and our team leader says "Everyone come to my room so I can download all your pictures and upload them in one place!" And honestly my pictures are not that awesome (there were a bunch of pros on this trip), my camera was acting up and my throat hurts. So I didn't go. I can see where some people will think I'm being standoffish. Maybe I am, but after 9 days of non-stop, forced togetherness, I'm going to give myself a pass.

If I had it to do over again, I still would. We drove through some great countryside and I got to take a picture of the Kazakh border. However, I think I've filled my state-run tour and Chinese grain alcohol quotas for a good long while.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Last night in Ili

I'm halfway through this Xinjiang excursion and thus far I have ridden a horse, watched a horse race, eaten horse and drank fermented mare milk. So perhaps it's no surprise that tonight I skipped the last smokey/boozy county government banquet to entertain Mr. Ed's revenge in my business suite (the foreigners got the best rooms). I sat down next to the county PR head and was pretty sure watching people eat oily spicy Chinese food wasn't going to do anything for my mounting nausea: "Mr. Wang, I'm really sorry but I don't feel well. I'm leaving." "Just eat a little bit." "Certainly wont."

I'm not sure "certainly wont" was the polite/grammatical response, but hopefully he understood it was a I-seriously-don't-feel-good reply and not a big F you.

It's been fun out here in Kazakh country. The vast majority of people in this county are Kazakh but all of the government officials we've met, with the exception of one Kazakh PR lady, have been Han Chinese (at least I'm pretty sure, I didn't poll them all). We've visited a lot of farms, where all the farmers have told us how much the government policies have helped them...

But we also drove through gorgeous countryside, got to go on a little hike yesterday and saw some fun traditional dance performances.

I'm basically having a cultural experience inside a cultural experience, since I'm seeing Xinjiang for the first time, but I'm also the only Western journalist (and one of three foreigners) on a tour full of Chinese media.

I've been pretty cool about being the whitey sideshow up until now. I take pictures with people whenever they ask. I don't mind the other journalists surreptitiously stealing shots of me. I've danced (horribly) after the banquet dinners whenever I was asked. Hell, last night I got up and belted out "Happy Birthday" in front of the banquet hall when they asked me to sing.

I've spoken to a handful of Xinjiang people and many say I'm the first American they've met. And I don't think the other journalists I'm with have had much interaction with Westerners (only two speak fluent English, I communicate in Mandarin with the rest).

It's important to me to be a good sport and be cheerful, but I just about came to the end of my rope today after being pushed (and I do mean physically) into a photo opp with a group of Mongolian dancers by another journalist. "No, I don't want to!" It was a bit awkward afterward, I probably would have taken the photo but it just grinds my gears when people (particularly men I don't know well) touch me without forewarning. Then at lunch someone at our table said, "Oh Leslie, you're good at drinking [I had three small shots of bai jiu over the course of dinner the previous night, hardly impressive] tonight you should have a drinking contest with them." "Ha ha! Certainly wont!"

I'm going to have to ask Teacher Liz about the appropriateness of "certainly wont" as it seems to have wormed it's way well into my conversation arsenal.

Now as I sit here, typing and griping, four of our group members (including the pusher and the drinking contest guy) just came to my door to offer to take me to the hospital ("NOOOooonononno thank you") and then came back up to my room with stomach medicine.

In fact, everyone in our group has been lovely to me. Everyone wants to make sure I know what's going on, everyone gives me food, asks how I like things, basically they all take care of me up, down and sideways. It's just my patience wears thin with all the attention. But patience is definitely one of the things China is constantly teaching me.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

First night in Xinjiang

I'm out here in the far west for the next ten days with several other journalists from our publishing company (which is under the State News Council), which was invited by the Xinjiang government to make the trip. They served Halal meals on our flight and now that we're in the capital a lot of signs are in both Mandarin and what I'm pretty sure is Arabic. But we're staying in the Chinese part of town, so I haven't seen too many Ugyhur people yet. 

They only gave us the agenda once we were on the ground - we'll spend most of the next week traveling through Yili County, a primarily Kazakh region and every day there's some sort of government official group interview which should be ... riveting. I believe we're meeting the governor of Xinjiang tomorrow morning, and that should be rather interesting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ai Weiwei released - hurray!

They let him out today, phew.

Sorry for the lack of posts, I'm coming up on the end of another cover story cycle. In the mean time, you should read this article I wrote about scrap collectors in Shanghai.

Other news: I got a Kindle (!!!!). And soon me thinks I'm going to buy a fancy camera. I want something smaller than an SLR, but with interchangeable lenses. Leaning towards a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3. Camera heads, I welcome your feedback.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Humidity defined

Humidity noun
An atmospheric condition wherein if you walk to work in the rain and soak your feet, then hang your socks from the shelf behind your head (you're welcome, coworkers!), when five o'clock rolls up said sock still feel soaked.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A weekend full of special days

Friday was Opium Suppression Movement Day. Saturday was June 4. And today we have off for Dragon Boat Festival!

Dragon Boat Festival is the special time of year where Chinese people eat rice dumplings steamed in lotus leaves in remembrance of some poet who committed suicide.

My favorite Chinese holiday though went down on March 28 - Serfs Emancipation Day! Here you can see a China Daily slideshow of all the happy Tibetans celebrating the exile of their spiritual leader slave master.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dreaming of the West Coast

I'm homesick. It happens from time to time. I've just be going through a prolonged period of wistfulness this time around. I miss my family. I miss fresh air and forests. I snoop through other people's spring hiking trip photos . The other day I started Googling survival and winter camping courses in Oregon. Obviously I would have no way of attending one, but it's something that's interested me for a long time. This summer I'm missing one wedding, a family reunion and, once again, all my brothers' baseball tournaments.

Two years ago the thing that bothered me most when I was homesick was missing home. Now I'm bothered more by the detachedness. For the first year my friends operated under the assumption I was imminently coming home. They don't anymore, which is fine, and I'm certainly less relevant to some of them now (though not the closest ones). The Internet helps, I probably wouldn't have lasted so long over here in the days before Skype.

Luckily, I think I'm going to make it home for a week or so at some point in the next three months. I'm feeling overdue.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fun with Nigerians

About a week ago I got this lugubrious and masterful email:

No.381-10 Jalan Sungkai
Off Jalan Ipoh
Batu 4
52100 Kuala Lumpur


Lyna Abdullah
, a name that means nothing to anyone. Only a fragile figure that is writing to you from her bed. Now, a bedridden widow and had been a quadriplegic for years. Yes, I am that person who is paralyzed from neck down. A nurse is relentlessly at my side and it is she who is assisting me with this letter.

When my husband was still alive,he had made a promise that no one should suffer the hardships that this sickness brought along.The hospitalization and life-support machine were just too much for anyone to bear.We had once made it in the business world and now I know my time has come to face my Creator. Hence, it is my duty to fulfill my late husband's wishes to give away the money that we had made, as CHARITY.I wish to give you $2.4 Millons United State Dollars.

Your good name came out from the security access that I had. I realise that you would be confused and puzzled. But believe me that you had been chosen for a good cause,that is to be the TRUSTED person to handle such money for the good of mankind. I fully acknowledged the existence of notorious people in this Cyberworld. But you and me know that no technology can ever override the the natural INSTINCTS.

I am only requesting you to follow your instincts and reply me. If your instincts are telling you that you should believe me then we have a case to proceed. If otherwise, I would like to thank you for your focus and time given to me. I will send you the next step to be taken as and when you give me the permission to do so.

With this, I am wishing you a very blessed day and may Allah/God opens your heart, mind and soul to be the CHOSEN
Wassalam/May Peace Be With You


Out of curiosity, I wrote back:

Dear Mrs.Abdullah,

I'm so happy to be CHOSEN. Now I can fulfill my dream of opening an international chain of strip clubs that can give jobs to THOUSANDS of single moms.

Please send me a picture of yourself holding up a peace sign, then I can TRUST you.


Mr. CrabbyCakes

I promptly received this response:

Dearest Mr. Crabby Cakes.

Thanks for your wonderful reply. And how are you together with your family i hope all is fine and doing well? I am so glad for your effort and your input to carry out my wish. This money i want to give you is deposited in private Finance Firm here in my country Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. And before i give you the contact of the private Finance Firm. I want you to send your information's to me.

Forward your information's to me as follows

1) Your full name......................
2) Your House address.............
3) Your Telephone number.........
4) Your Picture or any ID..........
5) Your Occupation...................

I need your full information's as i require so that i will be able to give you the contact details of the private Finance Firm where the money is deposited so that you will contact them on my behalf.Because my doctor have already told me that i will not make it. attachment is my picture. And i will foward to you the deposit certificate as soon as i receive your information's okay. Thanks for your understanding. may peace be with your and your family.I look forward to hear from you soon

Mrs Lyna Abdullah

Attached was this highly believable photograph of Mrs Abdullah:

I was rather disappointed:

Dear Mrs. Abdullah,

I thought I was CHOSEN, but now I see you have used a trick of PHOTOSHOP or perhaps some other RUDIMENTARY PHOTO ALTERING device, as you are not actually holding that sign.

I want that MONEY to open the STRIP CLUB.

Earnestly Yours,
Mr. Crabby Cakes
- Show quoted text -

After that, hilarity ensued:


Leslie to lyna.abdullah08
show details May 17 (10 days ago)





- Show quoted text -
Reply to me
show details May 17 (10 days ago)


Leslie to lyna.abdullah08
show details May 17 (10 days ago)


- Show quoted text -
Reply to me
show details May 17 (10 days ago)
watch and see what is going to happen in ur life very soon

Leslie to lyna.abdullah08
show details May 17 (10 days ago)
Okay I will, because you wont be around to see it.

At this point I shared my mischief with James and Sam who encouraged me to try and keep it going:

Dear Mrs. Abdullah,

I am very sorry, I think I can believe you. Please forgive me, I have terrible mood swings caused by larval cysts attached to my brain, I hope you do not take it personally, as you seem like a very kind and delightful woman.

Here is my information, hope we can move forward.

1) Gunther Crabby Cakes
2) 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington D.C., 20500-0004
3) (202) 456-1414
4) Occupation: Venture Capitalist
5) And here's a photo of me:
Crabby Cakes portrait.jpg

Eternally Grateful,

Gunther C. Cakes to me

Bellow is the contact details of private Finance Firm where the money is deposited.

TELEPHONE NUMBER 0060128477365/ :FAX 0060121562259

Contact them now

That's pretty much the conclusion. Malaysia in Aisa? There didn't seem like anywhere
else to go with it. However, if you want to hear an awesome scamming scammers story
do check out this NPR podcast.