Hotel Dandy’s User Guide to Shanghai

In honor of our first houseguests Josh and Julia, and our current guests Emily and Sean, here’s our top ten insider’s guide to visiting us in China.

I’ve heard from some of you that you’d love to come to Shanghai, but you’re a little anxious about what to expect. Believe me, I completely understand! The way our guests so far have initially explained China is “overwhelming.” It is also exhilarating, and things here can be quite different than what you’re used to: the noise, smells, traffic, the size of the city, even the script on the buildings. Hopefully these tips will give you a little idea of the day-to-day, so you can simply get excited about what you’ll experience here when you visit! Soon, I’ll need to post a Top 10 Most Awesome Things To See in Shanghai as a companion piece to this one.

  1. Water isn’t free in China. If you ask for water in a restaurant, they’ll bring bottled water, or perhaps hot water in a glass. Many restaurants don’t even sell beverages—you bring in your drinks with you, including beer. No one drinks tap water here. At Hotel Dandy, we boil our tap water and then put it in the fridge.
  2. The restroom experience is one of the first shocking differences about Asia. Remember to carry small packets of toilet paper with you, because it doesn’t come included here. Establishments aren’t legally required to have a bathroom, and when they do, it will likely be a squat toilet. Toilet paper goes into the garbage can by the toilet afterward.
  3. People in China don’t wear shoes in the house. We’ll have house slippers for you. You will see why people don’t wear their shoes inside when you take a look at the street! Shanghai is one of the cleanest cities in China, but it the expectations for cleanliness will not match up with what you’re used to.
  4. Bubble tea is amazing. Even if you’re not into it at home, I bet you will love it here. Coco is the best. Beware of the knockoff chain Ococ.
  5. Hotel Dandy is pretty far away from the center of Shanghai, since there’s a 15 minute walk to the subway station. Pudong Airport is 2 hours away by public transportation, an hour and 40 minutes if you include the Maglev, or 45 minutes in a cab. When planning for intra-China excursions, we’re close to the South Shanghai Railway Station and not too far from the Main Railway Station since it’s located on the same subway line. However, Hongqiao Station is super far away, and we have missed our train twice trying to make it out there by 9am.
  6. Gather lots of 1 RMB coins for the bus and subway. There aren’t many denominations of currency here, and gathering small bills and 1 RMB coins will make things easier on you. Cabs, convenience stores and cafes are good places to break 100 RMB bills.
  7. Bring lots of space in your bag because there is tons of great stuff to buy here. A non-exhaustive list: purple slippers with mushrooms on them, jade and pearl jewelry, very inexpensive OR very expensive clothes and bags, tailor-made clothing, fake Uggs, tea, ceramics, roaring ‘20s posters, Mao paraphernalia.
  8. Shanghai is very cold in the winter and very hot and humid in the summer. Hotel Dandy offers heat and air conditioning in the guest room. ;)
  9. Mei Mei will offer lots of dog love while you visit Hotel Dandy, but she will bark at you when you enter the kitchen. She knows her bones are in there and doesn’t want you eating any!
  10. The food will be cheaper, and will likely be better, if the restaurant doesn’t have a menu in English/with pictures on it. Having Dan around is very helpful in this regard! But don’t worry—you’ll be able to order food without our help, and there are Western chain restaurants everywhere, including McDonalds and Starbucks. There are so many KFCs here that many Chinese people assume KFC is a Chinese brand. It’s unlikely you’ll get tired of Chinese food, though—it’s one of the best reasons to come to Shanghai.
We hope you’ll come visit us soon!

Christmas in China

It’s been less strange than expected to be spending the holidays in Shanghai. There are Christmas decorations up here, and yesterday someone even said “Merry Christmas” to Dan and I on the bus. By the way, in Chinese, you say “sheng dan jie kuai le,” and Santa Claus is “sheng dan jie lao ren,” or “Christmas old man.” Now you can go impress all your friends!

We’re celebrating the holidays with Emily and Sean, who are kicking off four months of traveling in Asia. They started in Beijing with a two-week tour with Emily’s dance company and are spending a week in Shanghai. On Christmas Eve, our Shanghai friends Julie and Adam came over and the six of us had Christmas dinner. I made mulled wine, Dan made pork chops with applesauce, Julie and Adam made buckeyes, and Emily and Sean made the flower arrangements, and even surprised all of us with Christmas gifts of incense burners shaped like elephants and incense. I somehow managed to work in my fun fact about the Brooklyn Dodgers into the conversation (so I might as well include a link here too). Then we went to go see Adam play guitar and sing at the Southern Belle, an American bar complete with dart board, fireplace, Christmas tree lights, and the entire wait staff decked out in Santa hats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More photos on Flickr

On Christmas morning we each Skyped with our respective families and then spent the day wandering around the French Concession. We keep forgetting it’s Christmas. It’s cold here, which kind of gets you into the holiday mood, but today is just like any other day here. There are Christians in China, and Catholicism and Protestantism are two of the five recognized religions. But everyone still works on Christmas, and it’s more of a holiday to be spent with friends than family. My language partner explained to me that people will often give friends an apple for Christmas, because the word for apple (ping guo) sounds very similar to the word for peace (ping an). So essentially you’re wishing them a peaceful year to come. I think that’s so much better than the crazy consumerism that Christmas has come to represent at home. And it’s a healthy snack!

We did truly enjoy getting Christmas packages and cards mailed to us from home, and it was fun to still open presents on Christmas morning! Today Dan and I are both wearing new sweaters sent from my parents, I’m wearing my new poufy vest and shirt from Kathy and earrings that Dan’s sister gave me for Christmas last year, our house is decorated with ornaments from Dan’s mom, and I’m wearing the “double warm trousers” that Steph picked up for me. Bonus: Mei Mei is loving playing with the wrapping paper, as well as the rubber chicken that Bonnie sent.

It is difficult not to be spending the holidays with family and taking part in the Christmas traditions that make the holidays so special: decorating Grandmama’s apple tree, making fried ocra, stealing all the marshmallow truffles out of the See’s candy box, and catching up with loved ones. We’ll try to create our own traditions in Shanghai.

The Longest Travel Post Ever

I returned yesterday from an amazing trip to Macau. It’s a city/country like Hong Kong and has an incredible 500-year history combining Portuguese and Chinese culture. As I learned on this trip, the Portuguese were originally allowed to settle in Macau in order to promote trade between China and Europe. Macau is now in a 50-year phase in which the land has been returned to China but is administered separately. This means that I couldn’t understand either of the two national languages, Portuguese or Cantonese (which was freeing in a way because I didn’t have to feel guilty about my inadequacies with Mandarin).

I have to admit that I have spent my life not knowing a lot of basic things about Asia in general and China in particular, despite a trip to Beijing and Qingdao with the Stanford Band in 1998. I’m quite embarrassed to say that I didn’t even understand the differences between China, Taiwan and Hong Kong until meeting Dan. I also didn’t know Macau existed until I met Dan’s (now our) friend Stephanie in San Francisco, who is Macanese. The adventure now taking place in my life now is giving me an excellent opportunity to continue learning and expanding my horizons. It’s also making me painfully aware of how much more I need to learn about the world.

I traveled to Macau because I needed to renew my visa for the second time since our arrival. I’m here on a tourist visa, which means that I must leave the country every 60 days. For the first visa run, Dan and I went to Hong Kong for a week during the National Holiday vacation. This time, to save money, I made a one-night trip to Macau, by myself. Also to save money, I flew into Zhuhai, the Chinese special economic zone neighboring Macau, took a bus to the border, and crossed on foot.

I only went to Macau for one night and wanted as much time as possible there, so I woke up at 5am on Monday to take the subway to the airport (the first train, at 5:38am, had tons of people on it!) and arrived home after midnight on Tuesday. I took a backpack and my messenger bag and was completely overpacked. I stuck to my rule of only letting myself bring one pair of shoes per day I would be gone, which means allowed myself two pairs. I did not regret this decision. I ended up needing to sprint (OK, let’s be honest, it was more like a jog than a sprint) through the airport to catch my flight, and I was really glad I was wearing my sneakers. Once I made it to the gate, it turns out my flight was delayed anyway, so my terror at missing my flight and my unexpected morning exercise was totally unnecessary. This was the second time in my life I have was so late for a flight that I needed to run through an airport—and the second time I arrived panting at the gate only to discover the flight was delayed. (This time, the delay was because of fog. Where are we, San Francisco?!) The difference was that this time I had to deal with the problem in Chinese. Luckily I knew how to say “I am very late” because Matt always showed up late to Chinese class. Thanks Matt! I was glad I brought the other shoes, a pair of sandals, because it was almost 80 degrees in Macau.

Upon landing, the trip from the airport, through Chinese emigration, then through Macanese immigration took about two hours. Around the time I happily walked into the Macau sunshine was when I remembered that I am shockingly terrible at being prepared when I travel. I didn’t have a map. I didn’t know where my hotel was. I didn’t have any money. I hasn’t even started reading the Macau travel book until I was on the flight to Macau. Basically, I had chosen Macau because it was the cheapest way to renew my visa, and I hadn’t thought about anything else. I fixed the first problem by finding an ATM. Then I needed to buy a doughnut so that I could break a 100 MOP bill to take the bus (a likely story!). Fun fact: the currency in Macau is called patacas and is often designated as MOP. After inhaling the doughnut, I still only had a vague idea of where my hotel was, although I knew the address. The buses are fairly well-labeled in Macau, so I just picked one and hoped I would figure where it was going once I was on board.

It turns out I had NO IDEA where it was going. I typed my hotel’s address into the Google Maps app on my phone and it alternated between putting my hotel on a nearby island, putting my hotel in different neighborhood in Macau (not that I knew it at the time), and not being able to locate it at all. Eventually I got off the bus because I thought it was probably going in the opposite direction from my hotel and I figured I could just try and walk based on where my Google Maps app said I was. I wandered around completely disoriented for a little while and realized that Google Maps said I was on different streets than the street signs said I was, so I ditched Google Maps. I decided to just enjoy walking around lost, since that’s the point of traveling anyway, right? As soon as I embraced being lost, a miraculous thing happened: I turned onto a random alley, looked at the street sign, and recognized the name from my hotel address.  A couple of blocks later I found my hotel. The journey from my house to my hotel took about 10 hours, with the subway trip from my house to the Shanghai airport being the most time-consuming portion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See more Macau photos here.

Happily, the hotel had a free map of Macau. I had a few hours left before tourist sites started to close, so I dropped off my bag, changed into the sandals, and took off again. According to the Macau guidebook that Dan stole off the internet and put on my Kindle, two of the places I really wanted to see were not open the next day, so I set off to find them while I still could. It turns out the place where I had originally gotten off the bus was about a three-minute walk from the hotel, if only you would walk there in a straight line. Armed with a map, I chose a bus to take to the Wine Museum. I tried to follow along on my map with the bus announcements in Portuguese and Cantonese. I got off at what I thought was an appropriate place and soon reverted to my wandering-around-aimlessly strategy. I found some really cool stuff, like this huge plaza with a theater and a bunch of workers cleaning up after the Macau Fringe Festival. Inexplicably, there were about 100 electric fans lined up on the plaza (I hoped from some wacky performance art piece).  I found a few more plazas and gardens and began to appreciate the unique mishmash of architecture in Macau. I was enjoying myself immensely, but I had no idea where I was and I was anxious to visit the Wine Museum. After some more wandering I realized I had literally walked in a circle, unintentionally arriving back at the plaza with the theater. That’s when I determined it was time to take a cab.

The wine museum was great. Admittedly this is assessment is mostly because the ticket price included wine tasting. In one of the displays I learned why the Chinese wine industry is so underdeveloped, despite devoting the ninth-largest area to vineyards of any country. First, Chinese winemakers don’t have much access to other wines for comparison. In fact, many people who run vineyards haven’t even tasted wine. Second, there’s not much of a wine culture in China, although that’s rapidly changing. Apparently whiskey used to be the most popular imported liquor, but now wine accounts for 80% of alcoholic imports into China. Finally, lack of standards and rampant misrepresentation has held back Chinese wine. People can slap a label on anything here and call it wine. I can’t exactly attest to the accuracy of these claims (after all, I was at a wine museum touting Portuguese wine), but I can verify that Chinese wine is basically undrinkable, imported wine is ridiculously expensive, and restaurants rarely serve wine. (In fact, I just asked my mom to send me mulling spices so that I could buy Chinese wine and boil it with spices and tons of sugar to turn it into something palatable.) Anyway, now that I tasted three wines I was in an even better mood, and I decided to make my way to the other spot from the guidebook that I had wanted to check out, an artists’ space called the Ox Warehouse.

The bus I needed to take to the Ox Warehouse stopped directly in front of the Wine Museum. Yay! Despite being so discombobulated earlier, I (again miraculously) found my way to the corner where the Ox Warehouse was supposed to be. I unsuccessfully searched around for a while and finally gave in opened their website on my phone, trying not to think about the out-of-country data charges. The website hadn’t been updated in two years and didn’t include an address—it just said it was at the corner of the two streets I was currently standing at. I chalked it up to another out-of-date travel book (see: Dad’s Home Cooking Restaurant in Xi’an) but made a last-ditch effort to find it by walking down a sidewalk labeled “no entry” before I would let myself give up completely. That’s when I found it. The artists had just finished an exhibition, but I could wander around and look at the studios and exhibit spaces. The woman at the desk told me they had opened a public art exhibition the day before at Hong Kung Temple—which, it turns out, is a block away from my hotel—but when I went to check it out the next day, I couldn’t find it.

After leaving the Ox Warehouse, I wandered around the neighborhood a little more. I had been awake since 5am, but I knew I didn’t have long in Macau, I was excited to see the sights, and I wanted to keep looking around. I followed a lane that wound up a hill, and at the top I found a Tourism College (Macau’s income is primarily generated by tourism and gambling, so this makes a lot of sense). Also at the top was a park with great views of the city. I found a path that seemed to lead down the other side and decided to go down that way instead of retracing my steps (see: Dan’s and my hike down from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong). You could never do this in the US—it was steep, it was dark, there were lots of stairs. Even if you didn’t get mugged you were likely to trip and break a bone. It was great!

Once at the bottom, I wandered some more, and that’s when I figured out how small Macau really is. I noticed that I was pretty close to the Lou Lim Ieoc Garden that I had planned to find the next day. I still had tons of energy and wasn’t yet hungry for dinner, so I went to find the garden. On the way there, I crossed THE SAME PLAZA with the theater from earlier that day! The garden was even more beautiful than I had hoped. It was quite large, with a pond and a bunch of paths to meander down. Around every turn I found little nooks to rest in, and there were lots of people around sitting quietly, or chatting with friends, or doing tai chi. It was quite peaceful and is the first place I’d revisit upon returning to Macau.

In the park, I checked the travel book and the only Macanese restaurant listed with just one dollar sign next to its name turned out to be just a couple blocks away. It was a cafeteria-style place sketchily located up the stairs and in the back of a building, with no sign. The food was excellent and the 50 MOP dinner included soup, the main dish, rice, tea, and flan. I can’t even remember the last time I had flan! There was an older white gentleman there hosting a dinner for a large group. I couldn’t quite make out what was going on since everyone was speaking Cantonese, but I enjoyed people-watching anyway, and eventually the guy approached me to chat. It turns out his name is Fred and he was born in Macau. His advice: visit the casinos, but don’t gamble (he then told me he doesn’t take his own advice). I shared that I live in Shanghai but I’m from San Francisco and he said, “Oh–where you can experience all four seasons in one day!” So true.

Heeding Fred’s advice, I boarded a bus to check out the casinos. It’s an important part of Macau’s identity, so I felt like I should go, but my heart wasn’t in it. I wandered around for a while, admiring the over-the-top ostentation of the Grand Lisboa and the fountain show at the Wynn, but then I remembered that I’d gotten four hours of sleep the night before and had been awake for 17 hours, and I took a bus back to my hotel.

The next morning I planned to get up early and go to the Guia Hill Park for a jog. Ha! Instead I got up at 9am after sleeping for 10 hours. First on the (revised) agenda was the A-Ma Temple, which the guidebook described thusly: “If you only visit one temple in Macau, make it this one.” It really was the coolest temple I have ever visited. Then I took the bus to Taipa, an island that is part of Macau’s territory. It was even more adorable there, with tiny winding streets and flowers everywhere. I did the suggested walking tour from the guidebook and then ate lunch. I found the restaurant with the most Asian people inside and tried not to be intimidated by the lack of an English menu. Basically what I could discern was that they had a lunch special for 30 MOP (32 if you added on a Coke). There were five choices of main dish and the waitress pointed around the room at other customers who were eating those five dishes. I chose one of the dishes and added a Coke, which came in a heavy glass bottle, the kind that they use over and over again—very cool. Since the restaurant was busy, they seated another singleton at my table, something that is incredibly common in China.

I took the bus back to the Macau peninsula and got off near the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral/Macau Museum. This was a highlight of the trip and I spent a long time in the museum exhibit that offered a comparison of the development of Chinese and Western culture over time. It listed timelines for written language, religion, technology, and other developments side-by-side. Then I still had time before I needed to cross the border again, so I was able to visit the Guia Hill Park after all (the one that I hadn’t gone for a jog in earlier). I took an trolley to the top–basically a Disneyland People Mover that traveled straight uphill. Once at the top, there was still an intense hike to reach the old fort and lighthouse. Macau has an important maritime history and there were some exhibits about that, and the lighthouse is still a working lighthouse. I hiked down the other side of the hill and discovered that I was again standing in THAT SAME PLAZA with the theater. I continued the trek back to the hotel, bumping into a couple more temples, churches, and plazas on the way back—including several where workmen were in the process of putting up Christmas decorations.

Macau is a great place and a change of pace from some things about China that can wear on you: People don’t hawk and spit their loogies on the ground in Macau. People don’t litter. All of the toilets are seated rather than squatting. The drivers are completely sane (although they drive on the right rather than the left, which nearly got me killed a few times). There are gads of scooters, but they obey traffic laws and everyone wears helmets. Also, Asian people jog in Macau!

After a whirlwind day and a half, I was excited to be flying home. When I arrived in Shanghai, I felt like I was home, and at the same time I still felt like I was traveling. Every day living in Shanghai is still a wonderful (sometimes exhausting!) adventure. I’ll post more soon about the other trips I’ve been so lucky to take over the past two months: Hong Kong and Xi’an. Those posts will be shorter than this one. ;) I’m so thankful to have the chance to travel, learn and discover new things every day!

Autumn in Shanghai

Shanghai has been absolutely gorgeous this week. It’s quintessentially Fall: the weather is crisp but not cold, the leaves are turning orange and falling from the trees, we’re watching tons of football. (This week, football has been depressing thanks to stunning losses by both Stanford and the Vikings, but what can you do? At least Dan’s fantasy football team won.)

The turning of the seasons is something that I didn’t get to experience in San Francisco, and I’m really enjoying things like watching Mei Mei run through piles of leaves and adding to my already ridiculous scarf collection with purchases from street vendors. My Chinese has finally gotten good enough (and my skin thick enough) that can haggle. I just bought a scarf for 20 kuai ($3.07), down from 40 kuai. I call it my Chimera Scarf because it looks like it’s two different scarves–one pink stripes, one brown polka dots. It also happens to match Mei Mei’s stomach, where she has some really silly and unexpected freckles, but I swear, that was completely unintentional.

Another thing you can purchase from street vendors in Shanghai in autumn is roasted yams. The vendors transport their oven on a bicycle and cook the yams wrapped in foil over coal. The smell of burning coal is something I am now able to recognize…not briquettes, but actual coal. The following is not a picture of a street vendor per se–it’s an oven that sits outside a Xinjiang restaurant where they bake the bread called nang that Dan loves (Steph is looking at it in the photo). We could also watch the cook/waiter make noodles by hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am planning on re-applying myself to cooking at home, but the food here is so delicious that it’s hard to get motivated to make my own vastly inferior dinner. Despite the use of coal in cooking and the lack of American-esque sanitation standards (like hand-washing by the cook and not hosting cockroaches in the restaurant), I think the food I eat in restaurants here is often healthier and more in line with my values than what I ate in San Francisco. In large part, the meat in China is free-range, raised by small farmers, consumed close to where it was raised; the vegetables are also grown nearby, on family farms in the countryside surrounding Shanghai. Since it’s more expensive to buy hormones, antibiotics, GMO seeds, et cetera, many farmers do things the old-fashioned way. It’s not until I buy packaged food that I start to worry (see Exhibit A, below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been able to do some great sightseeing lately and will leave tomorrow for a trip to Xi’an (in Shaanxi province) with Steph to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and other ancient treasures. When I return, I’ll try to take the extra time I have from not cooking dinner at home and use it to upload photos from Hong Kong, Xi’an, and my Shanghai expeditions!

Please Send Sour Patch Kids

Hi friends,

I just returned from a quiet walk in the park with Mei Mei. It’s 10:30pm here and all the lights are turned off in the neighborhood park. I could just barely make out where I was going because I’ve walked through the park so many times before and because of the general light pollution, but it’s essentially pitch black and there’s no one around. …Except when there is, and you only figure it out when they’re standing right next to you, or if you hear them talking or see the light from their cigarette. It’s quite peaceful.

I love taking walks at night,and I was so rarely able to do it in the United States. For one thing, a neighborhood park like ours would be locked up, probably since someone would sue if they tripped in the dark. And if the park was open, I would still never walk alone at night because I was fearful that something would happen to me. In Shanghai, it’s so safe that I feel completely comfortable walking by myself in the dark. It’s one of my favorite things about being here as compared to home, and it got me thinking about other things that are different about Shanghai.

For one thing, tonight I went to a fun party at Shanghai Tattoo. It’s likely I wouldn’t have gone to a party at the local tattoo parlor at home, but I think when you’re an expat your standards about what is “your thing” and what is “not your thing” tend to expand. It was fun to see the hipsters with their fixies and facial hair and the tough guys with their neck tattoos and sleeves (if you are reading this and you are my parents, “sleeves” means you have tattoos running all the way down your arms so you look kind of like you’re wearing a tattoo shirt)…plus everyone else in town between 20 and 40 who knows how to speak English, basically.

 

 

 

 

 

There are some other differences about living in Shanghai that are not nearly as fun. Infants and toddlers here wear something called “split pants.” Their clothes have an opening in the nether regions and they don’t wear diapers, so when they need to go, their parents just hold their legs open and they go wherever they happen to be. Twice this week I saw a mom on the sidewalk having her kid poop into a plastic grocery bag. Although I suppose this is better than having no grocery bag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In bodily-function-land, there’s also the hocking. People here regularly choke up a loogie and spit it wherever they are. This may be on the street, in a store, or on the bus, although the bus drivers try to spit them out the drivers’ side window instead of onto the floor like the passengers. Dan’s friend Charlie calls it the “Chinese National Anthem.” We took this photo in Hong Kong, where the national anthem is different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spend a lot of time in the park across the street. Mei Mei is apparently on the same wavelength as all the 60-plus-year-olds because enjoys getting up at the crack of dawn and going to the park. Dawn is a little wonky since there’s no daylight savings here and all of China shares the same time zone, so it gets light around 5am and dark around 5pm. When we arrive at the park sometime in the 6-7am range, everyone is there. I’d say there are hundreds of people, with one group doing calisthenics, another foxtrot, another badminton, and another tai chi. The old men meet each other in the morning with their birds. They each have a songbird in a cage, and the park is raucous with the sound of tweeting.

Shanghai is loud in general. Right now it’s about 11:15pm and someone downstairs is jackhammering. Actually, there are five people in official-looking road work outfits jackhammering. During the day, I’ll hear fireworks in our neighborhood almost every day, often multiple times. People here love fireworks and will set them off for any possible occasion. Business will also hire the drum and cymbal ensemble to advertise a grand opening. They drive around the neighborhood on this flatbed truck-type-thing that is decorated to look like a dragon, and perhaps 15 cymbal players and drummers will sit inside and get driven around while they make a racket. I always run to the window when they drive by and I think they’re really fun. Then there’s the ginger guy. He sets up at the entrance to the park, downstairs from our window, and he has an amplified bullhorn. He will spend hours yelling “san kuai wu, san kuai wu” (the price of ginger), but when he gets tired of that, he’ll just start saying random stuff, and sometimes singing, into the megaphone. He does this for about eight hours a day.

The honking starts around 5:30am. Honking is an integral part of Chinese driving (there’s a lot more about this in Peter Hessler’s book Country Driving, which I highly recommend if you’re interested in learning more about China). I’ve been on buses where the driver basically doesn’t stop honking the whole time he’s driving—whether there are any other cars or people around or not. Honking means “Watch out; I’m coming whether you like it or not.” The driving is incredibly reckless and I’m surprised I haven’t seen more accidents than I have. I did see someone who had just passed away after his scooter was hit, and another guy in a full-body cast, including his whole head. Dan wants to get an electric bicycle but I’m terrified about what might happen. Drivers here do not stop if there are obstacles in their path, and the honking is a courtesy to let whomever is in their way know that they’d better move. Last week we were crossing the street and a guy on a scooter started honking at us (never mind that we were crossing with the walk sign and he had a red light). He narrowly missed us and then blew through the red light, turned left at the intersection and started driving the wrong way down a one-way street, still honking.

Public transportation here is fantastic. Bus drivers actually wait for you if they see you running to catch the bus. There are TVs on the metro trains and buses and they play various things throughout the day, including international news, Tom & Jerry, cooking shows, and something akin to America’s Funniest Home Videos. At the end of the line, a Kenny G song plays to let everyone know it’s the last stop. It’s always the same Kenny G song, from that album that was so popular when I was in high school. You know the one.

My last thought about how Shanghai is different is kind of silly, and I hope my post was long enough that the people related to me stopped reading by now. First I have to say that a lot of people warned me about the things that I wouldn’t be able to buy in Shanghai and should be sure to bring with me—condoms, tampons, and bras topped the list. They were all wrong—there is nothing you can’t buy here, although many of the comforts of home (wine, cheetos) are incredibly expensive. Anyway, to see if I would be able to find a bra in my size, I went into a lingerie store in the French Concession. First they took out a measuring tape to get the size around my torso, which I appreciated since I didn’t feel like trying to convert inches into centimeters. Then, to figure out my cup size…the saleswoman felt me up. No kidding. She grabbed it with her hand and was like, “C.” I was like, I could have told you that. Dan was super happy he got to witness the whole thing because he wouldn’t have believed it otherwise. So that’s my final story about things that would never happen at home! And if anyone wants to send a care package, we actually can’t find Sour Patch Kids candy here, so if you send some, Dan will love you forever. We did bring about a pound of it with us and it was gone in a week.

Sick in Shanghai

Hello friends,

I haven’t updated the blog since I completed my intensive Chinese course and have spent much of the time since being ridiculously sick. It was only a common cold, but I didn’t get out of bed for a week! My un-scientific theory is that I haven’t been able to sleep off a cold for the past 10 years, so my body decided that since I don’t have full-time work right now, it was going to take all the rest that it needed. Now that I’m feeling better, this will be my massive update post, and I’ll post again soon with a bunch of photos and fun China observations.

We attended a pageant celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Dan’s university, East China Normal University. It was a huge celebration, with an enormous outdoor stage and thousands of people in attendance. The event featured a live orchestra onstage, a troupe of dancers, and many famous entertainers and athletes including Liu Xiang, the Chinese Olympic hurdler who was injured just before his event at the 2008 Olympics. I uploaded a video of one of the numbers on Vimeo–it’s a depiction of people from around the world singing a Chinese song together. If you can see the jumbo tron, you can see the “American” guy wearing a baseball cap and hoodie (our uniform, right?).

Dan participated in a conference about urban anthropology at ECNU two weeks ago. He presented a paper that went over really well with his colleagues, and and he’s working on turning it into a publishable piece in an academic journal. I was able to attend the conference and enjoyed listening to the papers that were given in English; most were presented in Chinese and I used it as an opportunity to improve my language skills. I could pick out individual words and characters that I recognized in the speeches and slides, but overall I had no clue what was going on until Dan explained it all. It was still fun to feel like I was using my brain in an academic context again.

The same day Dan gave his paper at the conference, I also gave a presentation at an Association of Fundraising Professionals board meeting in California. My presentation was from 9:15-10am there, so it was 12:15-1am here! I was proud of the research I presented on membership trends in California but disappointed with the technical challenges of making a 40-minute presentation over the phone. We eventually got the kinks worked out, and next time I will know how to mitigate the problems involved with remote presentations much better.

I’ve been studying Chinese quite a bit on my own and with Steph as a study partner (and of course with Dan). I’ve also met three times now with my Chinese language partner Dorothy. For half of the time, we speak in Chinese, and the other half, we speak in English. It’s helped my listening comprehension a tremendous amount (as well as my confidence in being able to have a conversation). She’s also really cool and I love spending time with her! I still have a long way to go and need to be incredibly self-motivated to continue learning at anywhere close to the rate I was when I attended class for three hours a day. I’ve also been learning JavaScript online, applying to jobs, and doing a lot of volunteer work for AFP, so I’ve been keeping myself busy. Actually, I also just joined the “Shanghai Dolls Book Club.” I was trepidatious at first since their website is pink, but it turns out the women are really nice and interesting (and I shouldn’t have been so judgmental about their color choices).

Finally, we celebrated Halloween over the weekend with a bunch of other expats at a bar in the French Concession. Dan, Steph and I got ready together and traveled on the bus and subway, getting weird looks from Chinese people the whole way! There were some great costumes, including “The Great (Fire)Wall,” a guy dressed as a wall with logos of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc on it–all sites that are blocked in China. Dan and I went as a firefighter and Dalmatian. We dressed Dan up in Mei Mei’s collar and leash, of course. The morning after, we woke up early to watch Stanford’s triple-overtime victory over USC…the highlight of my week.

We’re really enjoying Mei Mei. She posts to her Facebook page almost every day if you’d like to keep tabs on her, too. In the meantime, check out this awesome video of her chasing her tail…and I apologize in advance for my maniacal laughter in the background.

Miracle Mandarin

Hi everyone,

My last Chinese class was today. I’m constantly surprised by how much we learn each day in class, and I’m bummed that I won’t be going back! Here are a few things I’ll miss about my Chinese school, Miracle Mandarin:

  • Fabiano telling everyone he had a nanpengyou for the longest time before he realized the difference
  • Learning how to say “Matt is very late” in the morning before Matt would arrive in class
  • Learning about Niusa’s adorable children
  • Anya’s detail-oriented questions that always taught me something extra that I didn’t know before
  • Wang laoshi laughing with us when we butchered her language every day
  • Having four awesome tongxue and a wonderful laoshi to learn from!

Speaking Chinese

Hi friends,

I can’t believe we’ve been in China for 7 weeks as of today. I feel at home here and feel like I’ve settled in. I love living here, and I also love that my life has been completely shaken up by this crazy adventure! Everyone has been telling me that homesickness will definitely happen and will set in at the three or four month mark. It’s hard for me to believe–of course I miss my friends and family quite a bit, I miss things about my lifestyle back home, and I miss things about San Francisco as a city. When I say “home,” I’ll always mean San Francisco. But I can’t imagine being homesick. I’ll report back in another month or two on the homesickness front and let you know if I was completely wrong!

We’ve had Mei Mei for almost a week now. She is adorable, and I just made a Facebook page for her. You can search for “Mei Mei Husnaccio” to friend her and see a bunch of photos (and be blown away by her adorableness). She is a really relaxed dog. One of my neighbors’ toddlers was pulling her ears and her fur and Mei Mei just sat there being chill. I have to admit that it’s nice that I don’t need to worry about her behavior, since we already stand out so much in our neighborhood. On top of that, many Chinese people are fearful of dogs and just don’t “get” the idea of pets, so having a sweet, calm dog is a blessing. We got really lucky with her and totally love her.

Another thing about having a dog is that everyone talks to me now in my neighborhood. Mostly I don’t understand what they’re saying, but since I’m trying to become conversational in Chinese, it’s helpful that they try to talk to me anyway. This week, I’ve gotten very good at saying “bu tai dong” and “bu hui shuo hanyu” and “wo xuexi hanyu si xing qi,” which are basically variants of “I have no idea what you’re saying to me right now.” I’ve learned a lot from talking to them, and more importantly, it’s helping me get over my fear of speaking with people when there’s a 95% chance I won’t understand them. Chinese people apparently do not care. They just keep talking, and they’re super patient when I ask dumb questions or give them an answer to a question they didn’t ask. My Chinese class has been amazing and I’m so glad that I was fortunate enough to get a great teacher and great classmates–I have learned a lot in four weeks. Being here would be so much harder without the remedial level of Chinese I have now.

My class ends on Monday and I’m slightly terrified about what comes after that. First of all, when people ask me what I’m doing here, up until now I’ve been able to say that I’m a Chinese language student. I like being able to give a reason for living in Shanghai aside from “I followed my boyfriend here.” This week I learned the term for people like me, and it’s slightly horrifying: “trailing spouse.” For good or bad, it’s not a very Wendy type of thing to do to be a trailing anything. Also, I’m not a spouse (which is confusing to the locals and the expats alike). In class this week my Chinese teacher taught us the word for housewife and asked me if I was one, and I was like, can you be a housewife if you’re not a wife? But I’m basically a housewife right now. So being able to explain myself as a Chinese student has been giving my existence some validity that I think I’ve needed for myself since we got here.

Second, being a Chinese language student means that my Chinese has gotten much better by leaps and bounds every single day. Without the structure of the class, I’m worried that I won’t keep improving. After my class ends on Monday, my plan is to continue working through my textbook with help from Dan. I also just started learning how to write in Chinese, and I am completely obsessed. I know about 50 characters so far, and I highly recommend Tuttle’s Learning Chinese Characters if you have some free time on your hands. Beginning next week, I will have two language partners! I met two Chinese people who want to improve their English, so we’ll meet up on a regular basis, speaking English for one session and Chinese the next.

I’m currently in the midst of looking for a job. As you already know, I’m a workaholic, and I love having meaningful employment that changes the world for the better. Easy to find, right?! I loved my career in San Francisco, and it’s a lot harder to continue moving my career forward here than anticipated. There’s the language barrier, of course, although thousands of expats work here with no knowledge of Chinese. The real problem is that there aren’t exactly nonprofit organizations in China. I do expect that to change in the near future, and it’s been interesting to start learning about how philanthropy, NGOs, and social benefit organizations conduct their work here. I’ll be Tweeting about that more over time, so if you’re interested, you can follow me at @wendymarinaccio. I try to keep my Twitter feed to work-y type stuff, so don’t follow me there if you’re not interested in philanthropy, nonprofits, databases, or modern dance! :)

A really wonderful thing about the past week is we spent a bunch of time with new Shanghai friends. I went for a walk with Mei Mei and Kelly, a friend-of-a-friend from our softball team back home. She’s been here for two months longer than us and seems to know everything about Shanghai! Then Steph and I went (in the pouring rain) to a great Western-style restaurant where dinner is half-price for teachers every Thursday. I had a delicious grilled cheese sandwich with crispy bacon, and I think my life will never be the same. Finally, Dan and I went to Brown Sugar for Teja’s going-away party. (It’s kind of funny that friends we met last month are already moving away–Shanghai is like San Francisco that way.) Our friends Emily, David, Chloe, and another Emily were all there. So we got to spend time with every Shanghai friend we have this week.

I’d love to Skype with you soon if you have time! It’s been difficult to find opportunities to Skype over the last month because I’ve been in class during the times that people are awake at home. Starting this week, I’m free to catch up during evenings back home. Let me know if you have time to chat!

Mei Mei Husnaccio

Hi friends,

We just got back from Hong Kong, which is an amazing and crazy place that I will tell you all about soon. But first–our big news is that we got a dog! She’s a rescue dog that we found through a Shanghai organization, Jaiya’s Animal Rescue.

We named her Mei Mei, which means “little plum.” Mei is also the first character in the name of our neighborhood in Shanghai, Meilong. Right now Mei Mei is prancing about our apartment, chewing on her bone, and being basically adorable.

This is our first photo with our new pup, at the JAR adoption day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mei Mei after our two-hour walk:

 

 

 

 

 

Shanghai Videos

Hi friends,

It’s probably clear by now that China can be absurd, in the best possible way. I’ve taken some videos in the past couple of weeks so you can see what I mean with your own eyes! First, here’s the life update, and the links to the videos are at the bottom of the post.

It was my birthday this week! Last year I spent my birthday sick in bed, so I knew that this year would be better no matter what. I brought cookies to my Chinese class. We learned how to say “cookie” and “cake” and they sang “Zhu ni sheng ri kuai’le.”

Dan took me to the wine store (there’s a wine store!!) to buy me some Napa Valley old vine Zinfandel for my birthday gift. Then he took me to California Pizza Kitchen (there’s a CPK!!). Yes, pepperoni pizza is my favorite food. Yes, I am eight years old. We also ate salad, sweet potato fries, and mojitos, so it was a ridiculously expat-y day. We’ve primarily been eating (amazing) Chinese food at super hole-in-the-wall-type places, so it was a big splurge for us to go to a place that is basically yanked out of the United States and plopped down in China. Here’s the obligatory take-a-picture-of-ourselves photo from CPK. There are more photos from the past week here and here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll open the birthday wine when we get a dog, to celebrate. We went to meet a rescue dog this week and he wasn’t a good fit. It was really difficult to meet the dog and then make the excruciating decision not to take him. I’m worried about having to experience that a couple more times before we find our dog. There are a few rescue organizations in Shanghai, mostly run by foreigners, and so many animals that need homes here. People usually name their pets two-word names, like Hu Hu (tiger tiger). I’m excited to pick out the perfect Chinese name and teach our dog commands in Chinese (luckily I learned how to say “sit” in class this week). Maybe our dog will even be bilingual.

We are finally set up with a somewhat reliable proxy service, so we can access sites like Facebook and use services like Gchat again. One upside is that I could read all my happy birthday messages on Facebook, which really made my day. Another upside is I can post videos more easily! I hope you like them.

Neon lights: Shanghai is famous for its crazy neon lights. In a city with so much bustling energy, it’s hard to grab people’s attention. The facade of this building, the Big Wave Ocean Sand Spa, takes Shanghai neon to the next level. By the way, we only saw this building by chance, when we were transferring between bus lines–it’s in a random part of town. There’s stuff like this everywhere here.

Hip Hop Noodles: Emily took Dan, Teja and I to an amazing hot pot restaurant. They stretch the noodles at your table while they do a hip hop routine and then break them into pieces and put them straight into your hot pot. Entertaining AND delicious.

Ducks: We have an open-air market down the street from our apartment where we buy our fruit, vegetables, meat, rice, dumplings, and…ducks. We even found the head at the bottom of the container. Anyway, the proprietor had positioned a fan so that the aroma from the rotisserie exhaust would blow out into the market. The strategy is working! The line to get a duck is always really long and the lady is quite efficient at chopping them. I especially love her coughing at the end.

Hotel Dandy: I re-posted the tour of our apartment, on Vimeo this time. Sorry for the shaky cam! You should definitely come visit so you can see it for yourself.