Saturday, January 28, 2012


Crowning achievements of the week: making multiple breakfasts, going on long walks in the French Concession, spending an evening at the Jazz Bar at the Peace Hotel, visiting the Propaganda Museum for the fourth or fifth time, finally forced my Malaysian ringgit on someone who is headed in that direction (Lily, my house guest who is traveling around the world), drinking a lot of tea, playing board games, buying In Cold Blood. I'm almost done, I can't believe I didn't make time to read it earlier.

It's pretty cold around here, temperature is hanging around the low 40s, which means all the more reason to stay nested. On Monday I'm off on a four-day company trip to Guangdong. They already gave us a schedule, 6.30am wake up calls every day. I need to make time to load my iPod up with games. We get one free day in Hong Kong and need to book our own accommodation. The company will put us up if we choose to stay in Shenzhen - HA HA HA - yeah, right. A couple of my girlfriends and I were going to get a mid-range room together, but now somebody's boyfriend is going to be in town so not sure about that plan anymore. Hopefully we don't end up in Chunking Mansions, but then they're supposed to be quite safe these days.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

God-awful Gala

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!

We made hot pot again, invited a handful of friends over and once again subjected ourselves to the CCTV New Year Gala, arguably the worst most-watched show in the history of television, it's a five-hour singing/dancing/crappy magic tricking/joke-cracking extravaganza.

Here were the reactions of a few of my Chinese friends who came over:

journalist: AH! This is a waste of my life! I will never get this time back, why are we watching this! We should be playing xbox!

tea master: Aw, their costumes are very beautiful.

Chinese 20-something who has lived in the States for some years and married an American: That singer used to sleep with Jiang Zemin! That's why she always gets to sing!

Incredibly, it appears the show is getting even worse, thanks to overzealous censors. An LA Times description of some of the 2011 show:

A singer in a low-cut red dress belted out "The Flag Is Brighter," with lyrics praising the Communist Party, while dancers unfurled red banners around her. Break-dancers dressed as migrant construction workers did a routine to a revolutionary ballad, "We Workers Have Strength." Dancers kitted out as Mongolians, Tibetans, Uighurs and other minorities twirled to a song called "Big Happy Family."

After dinner we went down to the parking lot and lit off a bunch of fireworks. We had sparklers, ground cracklers, these things that shot up and went "pop!" about 30-feet in the air, and one huge box of launchers that went about 40m up and made the pretty sparkly shower fireworks.

I lit the box of launchers, quite a thrill. We just lit it in the parking lot between the two towers (with the enthusiastic blessing of the residential security dude). I know it sounds really dangerous and my only excuse is everyone and their mother was doing it last night...all night.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Not too shabby, right?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Reviewed

Oh my gosh, this is my fourth time writing a blog like this (see 2010, 2009, 2008)

Shanghai - 11.5 months-ish
Florence, Oregon - two weeks
Cambodia - two weeks
Xinjiang - 10 days
North Korea - 1 week
Rural Anhui - 5 days
Beijing - 1.5 weekends
Qingdao - 1 weekend
Huaxi - 1 weekend
San Francisco Airport - several hours here and there (getting really familiar with the Mexican joint in the international terminal)

What happened this year? I wrote another three cover stories, I got a promotion (middle management - woot, woot!), I organized a very successful Erotic Fiction Contest and reading night, I put together a small fundraiser for a migrant charity and also to buy our migrant columnist a Chinese New Year ticket home, I traveled a lot and loved almost every bit of it, I learned an important lesson about censorship, I solidified a great community of friends here in Shanghai and made the city my home. I joined a dodge ball team. I took on a freelance book editing project. I started cooking again. I started a writing group and refocused on fiction writing. I applied to graduate programs in fiction writing. I'm only applying to fully-funded programs so I don't want to get my hopes up, hundreds of people apply for a handful of slots. Okay, my hopes are kind of up.

Whether or not I get in, I think 2012 is going to be another big year for change. I'm happy with the progress I made as a writer this year, especially with some of the longer pieces I did for That's, but I also thought a lot this year about what kind of writer I ultimately want to be. Doing all the cover stories plus the freelancing gig chipped away at my energy and creativity, I intend to avoid that this year.

2011 Resolutions revisited
1. Travel more within China - Anhui, Xinjiang, Qingdao, Huaxi - I done good! Thanks, work.
2. Save a bit of money each month - North Korea was also through work so, yes! I managed to go a lot of places and not spend all my money. COOL!
3. Find more language exchange friends - I can't remember when I met who but I definitely have enough Chinese friends interested in practicing English that I'm no longer looking.
4. Drink less Coke - I forgot I made this resolution. Hmm.
5. Go to at least one new country - Yep
6. Read more books than I did last year - Not sure, I didn't keep track.
7. Make the first move more often: I'm good at making friends and I know a lot of people, but I feel like I usually wait for people to approach me in mingling situations. - Nah, probably not. Seven resolutions is too many anyways.

2012 Resolutions
1. Be less busy/prioritize time with the people I care about most
2. Eat and cook more quality, nutritious food, eat less crap
3. Prioritize exercise
4. Make meaningful progress in writing fiction
5. Travel more
6. Journal every day-ish (briefly) and keep track of books I read, movies I watch and people I meet

Okay six is still kind of a lot. Happy New Year everybody!