Friday, April 29, 2011

Back online

The boonies were interesting. And uncomfortable. On Monday I made two grave mistakes: I over estimated the number of tampons in my possession (6) and also overestimated the number of tampons in rural Anhui (0, or 6 if you count mine). We slept in the dorms on the elementary school campus. The bathroom was a concrete block with slits in the floor in a far corner of the grounds. So. Many. Maggots.

I needed a break from Shanghai, now I'm so happy to be back. I will try and post photos and a more reflective entry about my trip this weekend (three days off - woohoo!).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dabie Mountains

Today I'm leaving with a school group for a five-day trip into Anhui. We're headed to the Da Bie Mountains where the kiddies are going to do some 'service learning' in a school in a mountain village. They invited me to come along, and I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to go somewhere pretty remote (it's going to take a whole day to get there). Now I have to drum a story out of it. 

I'm not bringing a computer. So this is goodbye until next weekend, wish me luck!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Shanghai Haze

It's 6:50am, I'm up early finishing a story since it's deadline day. Looking out our living room windows, I can see that the high-rises even just a few blocks away are veiled in smog.

When I was still an Alaskan, I was astounded that the horizon in Los Angeles was obscured by smog. This is so much worse than that.

I wish I had a three-month summer vacation coming up where I could go be a ranger aide at Honeyman State Park like I did in college. On Saturday I spent the day in the near countryside in Zhejiang Province, laying bricks with a Habitat for Humanity group (still sore!). It was amazing to smell flowers again.

Next week I'm spending five days in the mountains in rural Anhui for work. I'm hoping that will satiate my yearning for a break from the concrete jungle.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The power of the pen

Last night James and I went out for dessert at a restaurant my magazine recently reviewed. It's a white tablecloth establishment, but we just wanted to try the baked Alaska, something I've never had before. 

It was a slow night, so the front of the house manager served us personally. I had to tell him twice that we just wanted dessert. Then I had to turn down dessert wine, coffee and tea. He made a couple comments about how little we were ordering. I can imagine there was at one point a younger, more insecure Leslie who would have succumbed to such pressure, but at this present juncture I'm pretty imperturbable to the hard sell: "We. Just. Want. Dessert."

We ate our baked Alaska and asked for the check. "Oh leaving so soon...."

He finished with something like, "Next time you can spend more time in our restaurant and we will give you a big warm welcome."


It was annoying enough I considered pulling aside the gray-haired white guy who was chatting up another table like he owned the place, but it was getting late. I figured the next day I'd just post something snarky on our blog about it, that would be nice and cathartic.

Instead, this morning I fired off a two paragraph email to the restaurant describing what happened. "My boyfriend and I are young professionals and XXXXX is an expensive restaurant, so it was such a disappointment to have our experience clouded by inhospitable service." I ended it by mentioning that I was a magazine editor and had considered writing about the experience on our blog, but since the restaurant is still in soft open, I figured it might be a teaching moment.

Before lunch I'd received two apologetic emails ("I'm disappointed too!" "We're going to discuss it at the staff meeting tonight!"), one from the public relations dude, one from an operations manager. Both of them promised me (and James) a free meal. Swish!. Hello lobster bisque and rack of lamb...

Now I'm feeling a little drunk with power. Because of the territory I cover for the magazine, I get the least amount of swag in the office. And now I have next week's date night sorted. Cheers to that.

Next order of business is parlaying my title to get J. Crew to send me a free cashmere gloves. My mom bought me a mustard-colored pair for Christmas and one had a hole in it not two weeks after I returned to Shanghai. They keep trying to say I need to send the original pair back to the States to get the new ones, and I keep trying to say - HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE POST OFFICE IN CHINA?! 

I venture into that den of elbowing grandmas and interminable lines as little as possible. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ai Weiwei - 1 week on

It's been one week since Ai Weiwei, China's most renowned artist and activist was taken into custody for unspecified "economic crimes." Some of his supporters demonstrated at the Tate Modern where his sunflower exhibit is on display. Meanwhile back on the farm, China tells America to quit meddling in its internal affairs (read: human rights).

Some years ago Ai Weiwei suffered a brain hemorrhage after a police beating in Sichuan where he was supporting activist Tan Zuoren, who is now serving a 5-year sentence for trying to expose corruption linked to school construction that contributed to the deaths of thousands of children during the Sichuan Earthquake. Ai Weiwei is a successful artist, he could live anywhere, but still he chose to stay in China and continue speaking out.

I hope he is released very soon, but the nasty editorials in state media this week give me doubts. My heart goes out to his family.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Good and Bad Attention

Good attention:

My co-worker and I grabbed a cab on our way to happy hour Friday evening.

"American?" the driver asked.
"Oh yes, Obama. Very good. ha ha ha"
"Oh wow! Yes. Clinton. Wow."
"ha ha ha ha. Lincoln. that's great!"

My co-worker and I had a laugh.

"What about him?" I asked. "He's not American. He's Australian"
"Yes," co-worker says.
"Ah yes, Brisbane."

And so on. I love it. It's friendly. It's funny. We get out of the cab ready to have a good time.

Moving on to bad attention:

I'm standing on the train Saturday morning trying to read a magazine and some guy starts prodding his daughter to speak English to me. After a minute or so it becomes clear the kid is shy and doesn't want to, but he persists. So at the next stop, I take a seat
farther away from them. And they sidle up beside me. Guy persists in prodding his daughter, so that now everyone in the car is looking at us. I wouldn't be so opposed if it were an actual opportunity to practice English, but the girl looks like she's about 6 and totally incapable. She was very cute though, she had pigtails and a little peacoat, so I suppose what irked me most was that it seemed more about him making a scene with his adorable daughter than actually having a teaching moment.

And more bad attention:

On my next subway ride of the day a guy in a suit with a wheeled suitcase pops up and asks, "Excuse me, where are you from?"


"You study here?"

"No, I work."

I move away, because his tone of voice is such that I know it's not just small talk. He re-approaches:

"Excuse me, I have a small language center near here-

"I'm not a teacher."

"Oh okay. That's okay. Bye."

As I type now, I suppose I sound more irritable than is warranted, but after a couple years it gets old. I came home and retold the last story to James - "Who looks for an employee in a subway station?!"

"Well you are the perfect candidate - young, white, female..."

Then I felt a bit more sympathetic to the school owner. It's much tougher to find a white lady teacher. Alas - as the gentleman visiting our fair city this week might say: It ain't me babe.