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.