Fatherhood Thus Far

So it is the end of the year- literally I am writing this on New Year’s Eve night. Lucas is about seven weeks old. It below freezing outside (about 24F to be exact) and I am having a nice relaxing evening staying in. We were invited to a friend’s New Year’s Celebration that I wanted to go to- but for Lucas’s sake we decided to stay in and have a bit of a quiet New Year’s Celebration. I decided to buy a nice Belgian Triple Ale and just relax. We fired up the fireplace tonight (Samantha our dog loved it) and just kind of shot the breeze. Now that I have a breath of free time I wanted to take a moment to write about some of my thoughts about fatherhood thus far.

So fatherhood- where do I start? I write this half expecting Lucas to read it when he understands it and half just out of pure boredom. In short- fatherhood is definitely experience, but it doesn’t change who you are as a core person. Sure there is the sudden huge influx of responsibilities that are associated with supported an infant child, but I would like to think that I am the same person now that I was two months ago. I still have the core values that I did and I still would like to consider myself a nice person.

Below are a list of “tidbits” that I have thought about enough to write about regarding my first month and a half of parenthood.

Parental Sacrifices

I’m lucky. My wife Asumi is awesome. If there is a happy hour planned at work or an hour or so that I want to go to the gym Asumi has been more the receptive to take care of Lucas for an hour while I go out. Likewise, when she wants to go out to lunch with friends or to yoga I try to be as accommodating as possible to help keep her sanity.

That being said- there are definitely scheduling sacrifices that you have to settle for when you are a parent. I have turned down more than one happy hour or outing with coworkers in the name of familiar responsibility. Today (New Year’s Eve) is a prime example of this as I turned down going to a coworkers party. The first sacrifice that I remember is skipping a 5K run that I signed up for to go to Luke’s first pediatric visit.

The one exception that I want to make is working out/going to the gym. Physical health is paramount. If you are unhealthy you cannot work as efficiently and thus cannot provide. Even if it is for just an hour I think it is direly important that new parents don’t fall into the “get fat” stereotype and actually stay fit.

Zippers instead of Buttons

This is meant more of advice to future parents- but when you buy clothes I would strongly recommend that you buy the “zipper up” onesies instead of the button ups. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to figure out the puzzle of buttons when Lucas is kicking/screaming at the top of his lungs post diaper change.

Crying Baby

Lucas cries. Babies cry in general. I categorize the reasons for crying into the following four categories:

  1. I’m Hungry
  2. I need a diaper change
  3. I want attention
  4. ????

Reasons 1-3 are pretty easy to address. Number four is the hard one and obviously the most frustrating. Lucas was a hard number four today for a few hours. When babies are a number four there really isn’t too much you can do and parents get so much stress. Do I let the baby cry it out? Do I try to comfort him? Do I try to force feeding him? It’s frustrating and I really do not have a clear answer. My best success is to try to rock him in my arms or but him on my knees and bounce him up and down.

Lucas’s Favorite Videos

YouTube is awesome. They have so many videos for babies/kids. Every day I play at least a few videos for Lucas. These usually range from tradition nursery rhymes to the latest concatenation dreamt up by Sesame Street.

This was probably the first song I sang to Lucas. Catchy and long enough where I can eat up enough of his attention

This was the first one where I think I saw him smile. He likes the “Here a moo there a moo everywhere a moo moo” part.

With this song I always do the gestures with Lucas while he sits on my stomach. He seems to really like the final “jump” part.

I also do the gestures on this one. He seems to like it.

I’m going to try to do more of these posts when I get an ounce of free time as I legitimately enjoy them and think they are a great way to express what I am thinking in my mind. Hopefully I want be completely balls to the wall busy with fatherhood and professional life to come on here and share my experiences.

 

Chinese Movie Theater Experience – Part Two

Well it looks like I didn’t learn. After my abysmal experience with the Chinese movie theater before, I decided to give the movie theater experience in China another chance. What made me do this? Well, the fact that The Avengers: Age of Ultron looked so badass was the main driving factor. Seriously- I love these Marvel movies and will relentlessly throw my money at them as long as they get released. Another driving factor was the thought that the time I saw Cinderella could have been a fluke. Maybe princess-laden Disney movies tended to attract rude/obnoxious moviegoers in China. Maybe I was being too harsh and just had a bad experience with the movie theater. In any case, I gave China the benefit of the doubt and tried to go to a movie theater again- turned out it was a bad idea.

This time I chose to go to the movie solo- “masturdate” if you will. I didn’t put too much thought into it this time. I picked the movie theater close to my apartment (in the pristine Raffles Mall in People’s Square) and bought an IMAX 3D ticket a day before hand. I bought a later show at 8:40PM on a Monday to hopefully deter some of the rift raft. Turns out it did not make too much of a difference.

The theater layout was a bit counter intuitive. Despite the box office being located on the first floor, the actual movie theaters were scattered between the second and sixth floor. Luckily, having an IMAX 3D ticket, my theater was easy to find on the second floor.  I got there a bit early and lounged around in the concession area for about fifteen minutes. Other people had got to the movie early too. From the looks of the crowd, it was mainly younger couples on a date with a few otaku/nerdy looking comic book enthusiasts scattered in the mix. There were only two other foreigners in the mix (a couple of guys that vaguely had the Australian surfer) look going for them.

After we entered the theater I took my seat on row number five right in the middle of the theater. I was actually a bit close to the screen- but nothing unmanageable. There were only a couple of people in all of the rows ahead of me so I thought this would “mask” any talking or cell phone usage- but boy was I wrong. Before the previews, everyone was talking. When the previews started, everyone was talking. When the movie started, everyone was talking. Talking Talking Talking. Not whispering (which is bad enough), but talking in a normal speaking voice. Add people regularly checking their phones and texting through the mix and you got a perfect recipe for a shitty movie experience. For a quasi-accurate visualization of what the movie theater experience was like, refer to the dome in this Oatmeal comic.

Again, the actual movie theater was an awesome movie theater. The screen was big, the sound system was booming, and there was everything needed to provide a great movie theater experience- the audience was just bad. The movie was awesome too. It had great special effects and further enhanced the infinity stone story arc that Marvel has been building with all of their films.

Talking with colleagues/friends, they don’t seem to share my frustrations with this experience. All I can deduce is that if you don’t know what the problem is- you are the problem. If you open your mouth during the movie for reasons other than eating/breathing/drinking/(reasonably)laughing, you shouldn’t be in the movie theater. Stay at home! Halfway through the movie I fantasized about taking the guy’s cellphone beside me and bashing his skull in with it. I thought, “Yeah, I’d end up in some Chinese black site medical prison for the rest of my life, but it would be pretty satisfying.” Alas, the sanity inside me convinced me that it wasn’t worth it. In any case, the whole experience reminded me of the classic Mastodon song from the Aqua Team Hunger Force movie:

It has to be something in the culture of mainland China. I’ve seen movies in Japan, USA, and Taiwan and never had this sort of experience. Maybe in a couple of generations when the education level of China catches up to that of the first world the movie theater experience will be enjoyable, but I doubt I will ever go back to a movie theater in mainland China.

Venue: Peace Cinema Shanghai (IMAX)
English Friendliness: No Chinese Ability Required
Cost: 180RMB per ticket for IMAX 3D
Recommended? Not if you like movies

Public Transportation in Shanghai

If you are a foreigner coming to Shanghai, chances are that you will need to take some form of public transportation. Many companies will include a car/driver as part of their expat packages- but for us with normal average Joe salaries we have to resort to taking public transportation. I wanted to highlight some of my experiences and insights with various forms of public transportation in Shanghai.

The Subway

The metro in Shanghai is huge and you can really go just about anywhere on it. It opens around 6am and shuts down around 11pm. As far as the actual experience- it’s hit or miss. Sometimes it is no problem (dare I say enjoyable) and not crowded at all while other times it is borderline unusable due to the crowds and pushing. Let me preface this by comparing it to the Tokyo subway. In Tokyo, the subway was definitely crowded- however the people there had decency. There was no pushing, cutting in line, and everyone waited until everyone else safely exited the train before trying to get on. Inside the subway everyone was considerate, quiet, and mindful to the fellow passengers. Even if the Tokyo metro is packed full- it’s still endurable.

In Shanghai- there are no rules. People push (violently sometimes) in order to get ahead of the line. When a train comes, instead of waiting for people to safely exit the train, people quickly try to jump on and throw people out of the way just so they can get a seat. People yell in the subway and shout at the top of their lungs on their cellphones. People cough up their lungs and spit on the floor of the train. I’ve also seen a couple of instances where parents will actually let their babies defecate on the train. Now I take the metro (Line 2 between Peoples’ Square and Jinke Rd.) every day to go to work, however my rule is that I have to ride before 7:30am or after 9:00am in order to avoid the crowd. During this time I am usually lucky enough to find a seat and blast music in my headphones while I read a book. It is the cheapest way of transport (only about 60 cents one way)- but depending on when you go it can be flat out hazardous.

Packed train- there was so much pushing.

Packed train- there was so much pushing.

The Bus

I’ve only taken the bus twice: once in Beijing and once when I went to Chongming Island. Since the Chongming trip was a little long distance, I consider the Beijing experience more relevant experience. It was crowded, smelly, and everyone pushed. I get the impression it is like the subway and depends when you take it, however I tend to stay away.

Normal Taxis

Normal taxis are hit or miss. Sometimes they will be perfectly fine while other times they will be a somewhat fleeting experience. My biggest beef with the taxis here is that they will often ask “Where are you going?” and deny you a ride based on that. Supposedly this is illegal, however it seems to happen to me quite often. For foreigners I suppose they just think that the chance of me actually reporting them is slim so they can discriminate based off destination. They never have functional seat belts and very rarely have any English ability. Your best chance is to have your destination printed out in large Chinese font (some of them have bad eyes for reading).

One good thing about normal taxis is that they will often know the streets a lot better than Uber drivers. Uber drivers tends to use GPS while the regular taxi drivers tend to rely on their street knowledge. They drive very aggressively (sometimes dangerously), however they always tend to know where to go. This turns into a bit of double edged sword as they will take the long way- however it still seems to be considerably cheap (especially compared to western standards) if you can catch a normal cab. For the base fare it is about $2 and slowly goes up from there.

An important thing to be careful for is what color taxi you catch. Avoid the dark red taxis at all costs as they have a terrible reputation and are normally from smaller companies. You’ll have a higher chance of getting ripped off in these and some of them don’t drive with insurance. Always make sure that the taxi uses the meter and have a general idea of how much it should cost and how far away your destination is. If you feel you are being ripped off, take a picture of the taxi/license (as well as his ID number) and get a Chinese friend to call in a complaint and get you a refund. When going to/from the airport- the taxi is the best bet, but make sure you get a legit taxi. From Peoples’ Square to Pudong Airport normally runs me about 170RMB (about $27). They do not take credit cards, but will take the Shanghai metro card that you use in the subway. When coming from the airport make sure that you go to the official taxi queue. There will be a lot of scam limo services that try to solicit you, however make sure you go to the official line in the airport. Finally, when catching a cab from the Maglev, be very careful as it is a known scam for taxis to ripoff unsuspecting foreigners who are coming from the airport.

Uber

Uber has been in China for about a year or so and is honestly one of my favorite forms of transportation. They never reject you based of destination, always have seat belts, normally have free water, and sometimes the drivers will have some degree of English communication skills. There are different levels of Uber from Uber Black (expensive, but you will get at least an Audi A6) to Peoples’ Uber (cheaper than normal taxis). The only disadvantage here is that coverage is hit or miss. Sometimes you will only have to wait for a minute or so before they pick you up while other times there will be no availability at all. Depending on the level it is considerably more expensive- however the cheapest level is on the same par (if not cheaper) than normal taxis. They have some interesting cars as well. There have been a couple of times when I had a Tesla Model S pick me up. As it tends to be a bit more expensive than normal taxis- usually the locals shy away from it. This makes availability during peak times (rain, concerts, etc.) a bit more reliable compared to normal taxis. It is all credit card based too which adds a certain level of convenience. It’s definitely worth having this app on your phone.

The Tesla I got from Uber

The Tesla I got from Uber

Maglev

The Maglev (magnetic levitation train) is a high speed train that runs from Longyang Rd. Station to Pudong Airport. It’s awesome. It goes at about 430km/h during peak times and is super impressive. As of writing this, it’s the fastest public train currently in service on the planet. It’s about 40RMB for a 10 minute or so ride. It’s not super convenient unless you live by the terminal station at Longyang Rd. If I am going to the airport from work (I work near Jinke Rd.) it is great, however from my apartment in Peoples’ Square it is a bit far.

Max speed on the Maglev

Max speed on the Maglev

Walking
Shanghai definitely is a walking city. Compared to Dallas where virtually no one walks out of necessity, it’s quite easy to walk just about anywhere in the city. You have to deal with garbage, spit, people blowing cigarette smoke, and a host of other annoyances, but sometimes walking even a far distance is the best choice.

Typical Shanghai Sidewalk

Typical Shanghai Sidewalk

Notice how I did not mention anything about riding a bicycle. There certainly are people who do it in Shanghai, however these people are a lot more brave than myself. Having to weave in and out of traffic is a bit more than I want to endure on my daily commute. I don’t think it is particularly safe for the health of my heart.

Public transportation in Shanghai definitely takes some getting used to, but once you learn the goods and the bads it definitely provides a pretty high level of convenience. Having a flexible position as a software engineer definitely allows for a better experience. I can go to and leave work at times that will help me avoid the rush. I hope this post will help any prospective Shanghai visitor navigate their way around Shanghai.

Sherpas Favorites – Brasa Chicken

Continuing with my series of favorite foods from Sherpas, this time I bring you Brasa Chicken. This weekend I caught a nasty cold and was feeling particularly lazy so I ordered from Sherpas. One of my favorite places to order from is Brasa Chicken. I order from them because of the great value and delicious taste. If I am feeling very hungry, I get the family package and that normally lasts me at least an entire day’s worth of meals. This time, I went with the individual combo with some chicken noodle soup to nurse my cold.

The order (on my phone)

The order (on my phone)

And about an hour later, this came:

IMG_2447

The chicken noodle soup was a good idea. It was piping hot and was exactly what I needed for my cold. The chicken and potatoes were classic soul food staples and filled me up right away. I definitely recommend Brasa Chicken.

Sherpas Favorites – Dos Locos

Sherpas is a food delivery service in Shanghai. Pretty much what they do is go to your favorite restaurant, get take-out, and then deliver it to your door for a small service charge (about $2.50). This is quite popular in Shanghai and you will see the motorcycle drivers buzzing around in their orange and black scooters all throughout the day and night. I get this service a couple of times a week so I figured I would share some of my favorites on my blog for others.

My go-to favorite is Dos Locos. This is more or less a Chipotle clone. When I lived in Texas, I went to either Chipotle or Freebirds quite often. Dos Locos does a pretty good job of cloning Chipotle. They have the normal burritos, burrito bowls, nachos, tacos, etc. I normally go for a barbacoa burrito or burrito bowl. This time, I got a fully loaded barbacoa burrito bowl, two coke zeros, and a jar of salsa.

Order on Sherpas

Order on Sherpas

After about an hour later, everything arrives. The time really varies depending on the weather and time. I’ve had it take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. This is what came:

Chipotle Clone

Chipotle Clone

Very tasty and worth every penny. Definitely try this out if you are in Shanghai and have a hankering for Chipotle.

The Chinese Movie Theater Experience

So last weekend I did something that I dreaded on doing for a while- I went to a Chinese movie theater. Now don’t get me wrong- I love going to movie theaters. When I lived in Dallas, I went to Alamo Drafthouse almost every week. I love movies and the movie theater experience that Alamo has to offer. They kick out anyone that talks/texts and offers a fine selection of craft beer and fresh food from scratch. The Chinese movie theater I went to was the polar opposite of Alamo Drafthouse.

My first big problem with movies in China is the censorship and government regulation of foreign movies in general. Even if a foreign movie does come out in China, it usually takes a few months after it was released in USA to actually go through the censors and get a theater release. When it does eventually get released, there is no guarantee that the government didn’t edit out or alter the movie to quell anything not in the interest of the government. The ironic thing is that bootleg DVD stores that sell the unedited version of movies (even new releases that are still in theaters) are all over China and are seemingly tolerated.

The second hesitation I had with going to a Chinese movie theater was the type of audience I would be sharing the theater with. Chinese people talk very loudly and I had heard stories about them being very inconsiderate in a movie setting. Even in USA, if someone talks or texts on their phone the entire experience is ruined for me. That’s why Alamo Drafthouse is so valuable- they kick everyone out that does this and leave the adults to watch movies.

Alas, despite my reservations, one Monday that my girlfriend and I had off we decided to see Cinderella. This is a classic Disney fairy tail with little that could be interpreted as revolutionary capitalistic propaganda by the Chinese government so we figured it was a safe bet to see in the theaters unedited. Furthermore, we decided to see it at the Palace Theater in IFC Mall. For those not familiar with Shanghai, IFC Mall is a super high scale mall that houses all the brands from Prada to Louis Vuitton. It is considered ultra high class and a place where we thought would be out of the typical loud/stupid moviegoer’s price range. On top of all this, we picked a time where most people would be at school or work (4pm on a Monday). With all of this going for it, how bad could it be? Turns out, very bad.

First let me say that the movie theater itself was very nice- comfortable seats, crystal clear picture, and a booming loud audio system. It was also very clean and deserved the name “Palace Theater” on account of its very Romanesque decor. The problem was with our fellow patrons. Buying the ticket was easy enough. They were about 100RMB ($16) a pop and the girl at the box office spoke adequate English. After finding our seats, the movie started at about 4:15pm and immediately I was disappointed- people talking behind us. They were not whispering either- they were talking as if they were sitting across from each other eating dinner. I thought this would stop as the movie started to go on- but no, this continued pretty continuously throughout the movie. There were also about two or three people that were on their cellphones constantly (one guy even answered a call on his). I understand that guys might not be dying to get out of their house and see Cinderella with their girlfriends, but does it even count as going if you go if you are texting all throughout the movie? Furthermore, even if just one person uses their cellphone, the glare of light it emits ruins the movie for everyone behind that person.

The really bizarre (and almost in a comical way) came midway through the movie where Cinderella was transformed into her gown for the ball. There was magic done by the fairy godmother to Cinderella’s gown to make it glow blue and emit a shimmering display of special effects. At this moment, about five different people sitting in different parts of the theater thought it was so magical that they had to record the video using their cell phones. Really?! Do I even have to comment here? That sort of thing will get you kicked out of any theater in USA and in some cases arrested by the police. What really blows my mind was that there were about five people doing it- meaning it was common enough to not just be a fluke. Everyone talking, using their phones, and recording the movie absolutely decimated the movie going experience.

The movie was pretty good (as good as it can be for a guy going along with his girlfriend). The cinematography was great and Disney proved that they can still tell the same classic tale and make it interesting to watch. About halfway through the movie I realized the actor that played the prince was the same one that played Rob Stark in Game of Thrones. I wanted to yell and warn him not to go to The Red Wedding, however I refrained.

In short, the best way to watch a movie in China is to buy the bootleg and watch it in your own apartment. Experiences like these make me really miss Alamo Drafthouse (or even a regular USA movie theater). If I can’t get more enjoyment out of going to a movie theater than I could by staying at home and watching the DVD- then what’s the point?

Typical Shanghai Workday – In Pictures

This is a post that I have been wanting to do for a while, however have not had the time to do it until now. I also wanted to catch up writing about my trips to Singapore/India/Harbin before I did it. I had an idea to more or less document a typical day from my Shanghai life in pictures. This involved me more or less just taking pictures at all of the steps between when I wake up and when I go to sleep on a workday. I finally was able to do this last Monday. Without further delay, here is a typical day in my Shanghai life in pictures:

Woke up and got dressed around 7am. Weather and air quality are good today.

Woke up and got dressed around 7am. Weather and air quality are good today.

I'm on the 13th floor. Usually the wait isn't too bad.

I’m on the 13th floor. Usually the wait isn’t too bad.

All bundled up in winter gear

All bundled up in winter gear

Walking down the stairs from my apartment to the streets of Shanghai

Walking down the stairs from my apartment to the streets of Shanghai

Streets of Shanghai. Sometimes I get fruit at the shop in the corner

Streets of Shanghai. Sometimes I get fruit at the shop in the corner

Not too crowded around 8am. Still a bit dirty with people spitting phlegm everywhere.

Not too crowded around 8am. Still a bit dirty with people spitting phlegm everywhere.

Getting closer to the station

Getting closer to the station

JW Marriott in the background.

JW Marriott in the background.

Exit 14 of People's Square Station

Exit 14 of People’s Square Station

A lot of stairs in my daily routine

A lot of stairs in my daily routine

Homeless guy singing. This is normally a scam so I never give money

Homeless guy singing. This is normally a scam so I never give money

Past the security check and to the ticket gate. I have a card that I reuse for tickets

Past the security check and to the ticket gate. I have a card that I reuse for tickets

In the main hall of the station

In the main hall of the station

Line 2 is on the other side of the station. Everyone is crowding up to go down the escalator

Line 2 is on the other side of the station. Everyone is crowding up to go down the escalator

Warning signs on the escalator

Warning signs on the escalator

Heading to Line 2. It is starting to get a bit crowded.

Heading to Line 2. It is starting to get a bit crowded.

Being cozy with the other passengers

Being cozy with the other passengers

Taking another escalator down to the platform

Taking another escalator down to the platform

Sometimes people do a mad dash to catch the train. I like to take my time.

Sometimes people do a mad dash to catch the train. I like to take my time.

My home for the next 30 minutes. Usually it is a few stops before I can find a seat.

My home for the next 30 minutes. Usually it is a few stops before I can find a seat.

Was able to find a seat at LuJiaZui

Was able to find a seat at LuJiaZui

Once I sit I can catch up on reading

Once I sit I can catch up on reading

Train gets less crowded as we head away from downtown

Train gets less crowded as we head away from downtown

I get off at Jinke Road

I get off at Jinke Road

People are so desperate to get on the escalator. What's wrong with taking the stairs?

People are so desperate to get on the escalator. What’s wrong with taking the stairs?

Outside the ticket gate

Outside the ticket gate

Taking the escalator to the outside

Taking the escalator to the outside

Exit 3 of Jinke Road Station

Exit 3 of Jinke Road Station

Right outside the station. There is always some dirty looking street food that I would never touch

Right outside the station. There is always some dirty looking street food that I would never touch

Cutting through the mall to get to the road to my office

Cutting through the mall to get to the road to my office

It is a really clear and clean day outside which is a bit rare for Shanghai

It is a really clear and clean day outside which is a bit rare for Shanghai

Almost at the street

Almost at the street

Entrance to mall

Entrance to mall

On the road to my office.

On the road to my office.

Crossing to where the software park is located

Crossing to where the software park is located

Parking lot outside the office. Always have to be careful here for motorists

Parking lot outside the office. Always have to be careful here for motorists

I cut through the larger building to get to my office.

I cut through the larger building to get to my office.

I grab my breakfast at Family Mart (a convenient store).

I grab my breakfast at Family Mart (a convenient store).

Pretty standard Asian convenient store

Pretty standard Asian convenient store

Hot foods at the front

Hot foods at the front

My loot- two steamed buns and some Woolong Tea

My loot- two steamed buns and some Woolong Tea

Right outside my office. I have to be careful crossing this road

Right outside my office. I have to be careful crossing this road

Texas Instruments Shanghai R&D center in all its glory

Texas Instruments Shanghai R&D center in all its glory

Feels so clean and modern

Feels so clean and modern

My desk. A bit messy because I've been busy.

My desk. A bit messy because I’ve been busy.

After being on the subway, you have to use some hand sanitizer

After being on the subway, you have to use some hand sanitizer

First bun is the sweet yellow bun

First bun is the sweet yellow bun

Next is one full of vegetables

Next is one full of vegetables

At lunch we go to a shopping center near the station and go to a Chinese burger place

At lunch we go to a shopping center near the station and go to a Chinese burger place

This is what a Chinese burger looks like

This is what a Chinese burger looks like

I also have some noodles from Xi'an

I also have some noodles from Xi’an

After lunch I decide to get some lemon tea

After lunch I decide to get some lemon tea

Very popular place

Very popular place

My lemon tea

My lemon tea

Today is fruit day. We get different fruit for free every month. This month's fruit is mandarin oranges

Today is fruit day. We get different fruit for free every month. This month’s fruit is mandarin oranges

Around 3pm I get a Coke Zero for the caffeine.

Around 3pm I get a Coke Zero for the caffeine.

Around 6pm I decide to go home

Around 6pm I decide to go home

It's dark by the time I get out.

It’s dark by the time I get out.

Lady selling sweet potatoes on the street. They look dirty.

Lady selling sweet potatoes on the street. They look dirty.

Before I go home, I will stop by the grocery store for dinner

Before I go home, I will stop by the grocery store for dinner

Big escalator down to the super market

Big escalator down to the super market

I always tend to go to the imported food section

I always tend to go to the imported food section

The loot- pasta, pickles, sauce, and cheese.

The loot- pasta, pickles, sauce, and cheese.

Checking out. In China you have to pay for bags.

Checking out. In China you have to pay for bags.

It came out to about 100RMB ($16)

It came out to about 100RMB ($16)

The super market is connected to the station

The super market is connected to the station

Ticket gate and security checkpoint

Ticket gate and security checkpoint

Good ol' Line 2.

Good ol’ Line 2.

Station isn't too crowded around 7:00pm

Station isn’t too crowded around 7:00pm

Every other train has a ton of seats. Waiting for the train

Every other train has a ton of seats. Waiting for the train

Got a seat right away. I can catch up on my reading

Got a seat right away. I can catch up on my reading

Got off at People's Square. Shops on the way to the exit

Got off at People’s Square. Shops on the way to the exit

Back out the main hall...

Back out the main hall…

and to Exit 14

and to Exit 14

Right outside Exit 14. Raffles City (the mall) is now open

Right outside Exit 14. Raffles City (the mall) is now open

I always pass by the police station near my apartment

I always pass by the police station near my apartment

I also cut through the strip mall that sells cell phone accessories

I also cut through the strip mall that sells cell phone accessories

Outside entrance of my apartment at night

Outside entrance of my apartment at night

Up the escalator to my apartment

Up the escalator to my apartment

There is a nice park at the base that keeps things quiet

There is a nice park at the base that keeps things quiet

After dropping stuff off at my apartment, I run downstairs to the dry cleaner.

After dropping stuff off at my apartment, I run downstairs to the dry cleaner.

This dry cleaner is very inexpensive and does a good job

This dry cleaner is very inexpensive and does a good job

It is called Elephant King

It is called Elephant King

Price list. I have a membership card and get a discount

Price list. I have a membership card and get a discount

I had a lot of laundry to pickup

I had a lot of laundry to pickup

Stop by another convenient store on my way back to get some drinks

Stop by another convenient store on my way back to get some drinks

… and that is it. I ended up cooking and watching the new season of House of Cards. This was a pretty standard day. Sometimes I will go to the gym and sometimes (more so than not) I will order delivery. It’s a pretty relaxed day and I am happy to say that this sort of day is becoming very normal for my life in Shanghai.

Pizza Hut China

So the other day I was feeling particularly lazy and ordered Pizza Hut Shanghai. Looking back, over six years ago I wrote about ordering from Pizza Hut Japan. It seems that on that day I was also lazy. Anyway, the big difference with ordering this time around was that this Pizza Hut Shanghai website was actually in English. Also unlike Japan, the pizza from Pizza Hut China was very inexpensive. After quite a bit of deliberation, I settled on the following:

  • Medium stuffed crust Supreme Pizza
  • Two orders of popcorn chicken
  • Order of cheesy potato
  • 1.5L Pepsi
  • Fried Egg

I did not originally want the fried egg, however when I went to checkout they sold it to me at a discount. And what was the damage? Only about 130RMB (about $21 at the time of posting). Definitely an improvement over the 3600 JPY pizza that I ordered in Japan. It took about 30 minutes for it to be delivered after I ordered. As usual, I took pictures. I have to apologize for the picture quality (I was so hungry I just wanted to dig in as soon as possible).

All together.

All together.

Pizza up close. Slightly overcooked, but not that bad.

Pizza up close. Slightly overcooked, but not that bad.

So the verdict? Not bad for the price. Truth be told, I prefer the American and Japanese Pizza Hut better, but for what I paid I can’t complain. It’s greasy pizza that makes you feel guilty as hell after you eat it. I can definitely see myself ordering it again on one of those lazy weekdays where I do not want to cook.

Being Guarded / Massage Scam

So in the past couple of weeks I have been to Japan twice- once for vacation and once for business (with a few extra personal days tagged on). I’ve been to Japan more times than I can recollect at this point. I’ve done all of the major travel destinations in Asia at this point: Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan. I’ve worked with people from all of these countries and have had an in-depth glimpse at life at every one of these countries. I feel like I have the qualifications to compare/contrast/rant about life in all of these countries.

As I write this post, I am sitting in a waiting room on the train platform to catch my Narita Express train to Shinjuku airport. Everything is clean, people around are quiet and considerate, and the entire time that I’ve been in this country (about two weeks this stint), I have not seen one person cough out their lungs on the street. I’ve been able to live in the 21st century and use Facebook/Google/YouTube on a daily basis.

Being in a country like Japan long enough is dangerous. Everything is so safe that you start to let your guard down and this is particularly a problem when you go to a third world country like China. China is the complete opposite- you always have to be on guard for people that want to scam you. When I walk from the train station to my apartment in China, I am approached by at least three different people asking if I want to get a “massage”. This is usually a crusty old Chinese guy and the conversation normally goes something like this:

     “Sir! Sir! You want massage!? Lady massage?! Sex! Sex!”

When this happens, I have had the following reactions:

  1. Politely say “no” and keep walking
  2. Ignore them completely
  3. Aggressively say “bu yao” and look pissed off
  4. Speak in another language

When I came to China, I always used to default to #1, however I have learned that #3 is actually the best option. If you are too polite, they will just try harder to convince you (same problem with #2). With #4, sometimes they will completely ignore you and continue to speak in English. Option #3 not only makes it clear that you know of the scam, but also that if they continue to proposition you that things can get messy.

Going a little bit deeper into it, any foreigner coming to China should know that even if you want a massage (or a sexy massage), you should never ever say yes to these people. While I have never partook or had the desire for a “sexy massage”, there are many horror stories on the internet about foreigners that did say yes to these people. More or less the common outcome is that they will take you to an unmarked building that appears to be a bar/massage parlor. In these buildings you will start to get a massage in a small room and then two or three Chinese thugs will burst into the room and rob you. There are many stories of people getting charged up to $7000 on their credit cards under pressure that “sexy massages” are illegal in China and that they will report you to the police unless you pay.

What should you do if this happens to you? As I’ve said, I’ve never been dumb enough to say yes to any of these scams, however I can give some advice off some observations. If you’re lucky, you didn’t give them cash and instead used a credit card. Call your credit card company and cancel the transactions immediately and report them as fraud. Any legit card company will foster this and you will not be charged for it. Don’t worry about empty threats from the Chinese “thugs” reporting you to the police if you cancel the transaction. It’s a bluff and there is no way the police would care enough to follow up.

If you paid cash, you’re out of luck and just need to cut your losses. You could report it to the local police, however it is most likely a fruitless effort as the police will most like not care enough (and are also most likely in bed with the scammers). If the thugs demand you go to an ATM, agree, however just tell them to f’ off once you get to the road.

Back to my original point though, staying in Japan too long makes you take for granted how third world China is. It makes you too soft. On the other hand, living in China too long makes it so you are always guarded and makes you too hard. I’d like to say USA is a balance of the two, but USA is really another can of worms. I’m sure it also depends in China where you are, however from the major three cities that I’ve been in China (Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen), I can honestly say that the experience has been very similar. This is also of course a foreigner’s experience with limited Chinese. Perhaps I look like an easy target, however I can say that walking down the street at all hours of the night in Japan, Taiwan (I don’t consider Taiwan part of China), and South Korea I have never really encountered the same problem that I do in China.

Air Quality in Shanghai

One of the biggest differences that one will notice when moving from Dallas to Shanghai is the difference in air quality. In summer the difference isn’t too noticeable, however in Winter there is something that makes the air quality significantly worse. Honestly I have not really bothered to wear a mask until last week when I woke up and saw this outside my window:

Shanghai Polution

Shanghai Polution

At first I thought it might have been fog, however after a quick trip to my balcony I was able to tell otherwise. I don’t smoke regularly. I might have one or two cigarettes a year (to socialize at bars), but I am by no means addicted or have any sort of craving. When I stepped out on my balcony that day and breathed in however, it really felt like I was almost smoking a cigarette- it was enough for me to put on a mask when I went to work that day.

I really think this is a problem with life in Shanghai. Downtown in Puxi (where I live) it is considered worse, however where I work in Pudong it was also noticeably bad. Another thing that I think is borderline scary is how this affects kids. For a grown 2m tall strong white guy I feel that it is unhealthy enough, but wouldn’t it be that much worse for an infant/baby? To be fair, it isn’t always awful. A few weeks ago from my balcony it was gorgeous/clear and I took this picture (same view as the one above):

Clear day in Shanghai

Clear day in Shanghai

Perhaps I am just used to the constant blue sky and clean air that I had when I lived in Japan/USA. I realize China is a developing country and industrial output leads to this sort of pollution, however I think that since China is striving to become a first world country it needs to take drastic measures to curb this (not only for the environment, but also for livability). In the subway, there are a few people that wear masks, however the vast majority of people elect to breath in the polluted air. Honestly, I am not quite sure how much the mask helps, however the fact that I see black residue on the outside of the mask after I wear it long enough is motive enough for me to be the weird foreigner in the subway that wears it. For any foreigner thinking of moving to Shanghai, I’d definitely recommend buying a pack of masks from Amazon before coming.

Friend’s Farm in Fengxian

Last weekend my friend from work (Lixin) invited me to his farm in Fengxian (a suburb on the outskirts of Shanghai). I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a Chinese farm. My image was that it was a remote piece of land that is isolated and that he works on solely without any neighbors in sight. In reality, it was a bit different (and still a great experience). I invited one of my Chinese friends to keep me company just in case things got a little calm at the farm.

The hardest part of the trip was waking up early on a Saturday (which meant not going out late on the Friday before). My friend and I had to meet my coworker at Guanglan Road Station (near where I work) at 8:30am. This means that I had to wake up about 6:30am and leave my apartment around 8:30am. Not the first thing I want to do on a Saturday morning, but it was worth it nonetheless. After meeting up with my friend, we waited and Lixin picked us up in his car. He drives a Skoda (which we don’t have in USA) which is similar in quality to a Volkswagen. I’ve heard it described as a “value line” Volkswagen, however I’d buy a Skoda any day (his car was really nice).

Lixin’s wife and daughter also join him on his trips to the farm. I had met both of them last year when we took a trip to Huangshan and they were as friendly/cheerful as ever. About an hour drive later we arrived at the farm. The weather was beautiful- clear blue skies with the sun at full attention. The farm wasn’t quite as I had imagined it, however it was very beautiful nonetheless. The farm was more or less a collection of small houses each with a plot of land that people can rent out and use to grow vegetables/crops. There was also a common area, play ground, small pond, and soccer field where kids (and parents) could run free. It seemed to be geared more towards families who wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of Shanghai city life and have a place where their kids can run around/play/have a good time outdoors.

Rural Fengxian

Rural Fengxian

Lixin’s house was a very cozy building that had everything that a family would need for a nice relaxing weekend away from the city. It had a bed, sofa, screen door, and a very nice deck/patio where you could relax outside and enjoy the peacefulness. He was even in the process of building an additional room which would have a kitchen and fully functioning toilet/shower. After enjoying the outdoors a little, Lixin had to water his plants. He was growing radishes, carrots, and various other vegetables. I offered to help him water the plants and had my first taste of gardening in 20 years (when my dad made me do it when I was growing up).

Lixin's House at Fengxian

Lixin’s House at Fengxian

Farmer Tim

Farmer Tim

After relaxing and winding down, we went to the common area and played with all of the children. There was a playground that my friend and I played a little bit on and then went to watch the kids play soccer. In preparation for the trip, I had cooked some deviled eggs (my go-to American dish) and shared it with a few people at the farm.

Tim's Cooking

Tim’s Cooking

In the common area, there was also a variety of drinks/alcohol that we could buy at a very reasonable price. My friend and I had a couple of beers and just relaxed outside while the children played some sort of game that involved a string maze/obstacle course. There was a big Chinese group of girls/guys that had arrived on a bus and were on some sort of “match making” retreat to meet each other (with the possible hope of finding a life partner). It was pretty interesting to see the different games that they played to break the ice and get to know each other.

For lunch, the kitchen on the farm was a bit overwhelmed so Lixin took us to a nearby restaurant where we had a variety of local Chinese dishes (that were very delicious). All throughout the trip, I was very impressed with out rural everything was (despite only being one hour from one of the largest cities in the world). After lunch, we went back to the farm and relaxed a bit. After a while the kids started to do face painting (for Halloween) and my friend helped paint everyone’s faces. It was getting later in the evening, so after about an hour or so Lixin drove us to the train station where we caught a train back to Shanghai (for only 6RMB). All-in-all, the trip to Fengxian was an enjoyable experience and a nice break from the business of People’s Square (where I live). When I have a family, it is definitely the sort of place that I would love to spend a weekend at relaxing/camping.

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Favorite/Worst Things about Chinese Life

The other day a family member asked me what the best/worst things about living in China. I kind of rushed to answer it, however afterwards I thought about it for a little bit. It is hard to narrow down into one thing in particular, so I thought I would compile a list of a few things that I like about Chinese life as well as a few things I dislike about Chinese life.

Likes

  • The Convenience – Shanghai is a big city and it is also a very convenient city to live in. You can pretty get anything you want delivered to your door: laundry, groceries, food- you name it. The taxis/trains are also very easy and cheap to use. It is definitely a step up from Dallas as far as convenience goes. Owning a car here is more of a luxury rather than a necessity.
  • The Food – Not only is the Chinese food awesome, but pretty much any sort of food in the world that you might want is an internet order away or a short train ride away. I live in Peoples’ Square and I can definitely say the wide range of choices near me allow me eat very well.
  • The People – The majority of Shanghai people are very nice and intelligent. It is the metropolitan center of China and the best/brightest tend to live in China. Most people seem genuinely friendly and eager to help if you ask.
  • The Cost – China is a second world country that is still developing. For this reason, if you compare it to developed countries like USA/Taiwan/Japan you will realize that it is incredibly cheap to live in. Sure, compared to other countries such as Thailand or Vietnam it might be expensive, however compared to my life in Dallas things are drastically cheaper here. I pay about $1400 a month for a huge apartment in a very nice part of town. In Dallas, the same sort of apartment in Uptown would range closer to $1600/$2000, and in San Francisco you would be hard pressed to find anything at the price (let alone in the city center). Food/Alcohol tends to also be a lot cheaper (as long as you avoid the 5 star foreigner/ripoff bars/supermarkets).
  • The Culture/History – China has a rich culture/history and there is no shortage of cool museums/temples/palaces to go visit. You could spend your entire life just studying Chinese history and people do. I am definitely looking forward to exploring some of the more historical places like Xi’an.
  • The Lights – The lights of Shanghai are gorgeous. I never get tired of walking on The Bund and staring at the Oriental Pearl and bright lights of Pudong. Even from my apartment you can see tall sky scrapers that tickle the sky and are an absolute treat to look at.

Dislikes

  • The Spitting – People spit in China- a lot. They hack out their entire lungs and clear their sinuses on the street. This happens in the USA also, however a lot less often and never indoors. In some cases I’ve seen people do it in the train station which makes me cringe even more. It’s dirty and unsanitary, however the next item is even worse.
  • Kids shitting and pissing on the street – Diapers for babies seem to be a rarity here. Instead, kids have these specialized pants with a slit where the genitals are. The parents actually let their kids shit and piss on the road. Sometimes they pick it up, but sometimes they just let it sit there. This is absolutely repulsive and parents who do this should not be parents. This is how disease/germs spread and I truly believe parents that do this should have their kids taken away from them.
  • The Internet – The internet in China sucks. It is heavily censored/monitored and as a result extremely slow/sluggish. Not to mention the most interesting/useful sites (Google/Facebook) are blocked. Me being a expat engineer, I have to make late night conference calls overseas quite often from my apartment. The extremely sluggish internet that China provides does not make this easy. A few weeks ago I went to Vietnam and enjoyed the fast/open internet that they had in their country. You know it’s bad when Vietnam has better internet that you.
  • The Noise – Shanghai is considerably more noisier than places like USA/Taiwan. People honk their horn quite often here. I’ve been told people honk their horns not out of anger or extreme caution (like the do elsewhere), but purely out of information. Usually the honking subdues after about 10pm, however it makes taking an afternoon nap quite difficult.
  • The Government – I think this one speaks for itself.
  • The Pollution – China is known for it’s pollution in it’s big cities. To be fair, Shanghai is not the worst (I hear that medal goes to Beijing), however there are definitely less blue days compared to when I lived in Tokyo or Dallas.
  • Being Approached on the Street – If you are a foreign guy and walk alone on the road you have to put up with people approaching you and asking “You want watch? Bag? Real bag! Massage!? Hello!!? You want massage!? Lady massage! Sex!?” I wish the police would do something to make these people go away.

This is by no means a complete list and I am sure I will make posts in the future that elaborate and give more insight. Overall, I definitely do enjoy my life in Shanghai. I think the dislikes are easy enough ignored (with the exception of the kid shitting thing) and I think as a whole I prefer living in Shanghai over Dallas. It’s definitely an experience and I do look forward to learning more as I live here!

Chongming Island – Day Trip

Before I came to Shanghai, I did a bit of research on a few places that I could go for a “day trip” to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. I stumbled upon this article from CNN that lists a few “essential” day trips to get out of Shanghai. One of these day trips is Chongming Island.

Chongming Island

I had planned to go to the island on a couple of different occasions, however the weather would always interfere or something else would come up. Last week at work my coworkers said that they would like to take advantage of the recent three day weekend (Chinese holiday of the Moon Festival) to visit the island and get some fresh air. With the weather forecast good- I no longer had an excuse. My two coworkers Ling and Darren (and Darren’s wife) accompanied me. The plan was to meet up in the morning at 9:30am at Shanghai Science and Technology Station and catch a bus from there to the main city of the island. I made the mistake of going out to dinner/drinking with my Dutch coworker the night before (and inevitably drinking a bit more than I should have), however I was able to meet on-time (albeit a little hung over).

After arriving at Science and Technology Station (the metro stop is a few down from my stop, about 20 minutes), I met up with my friends. We then proceeded to the bus stop and purchased our one way ticket for 12 RMB (about $2). I remember at this point my stomach was acting up a bit (most likely from the previous night’s spicy food), so I took another Immodium and hoped for the best. I also went to the toilet at the bus stop to make sure there would be no emergencies once I was on the bus. The bus stop toilet was pretty dire. In addition to the usual (and very foul) stench, it was also the “Chinese style” toilet that had no seat. It is pretty much just a regular toilet, however engraved into a pit into the ground. I often wondered what an elderly person would do (if their knees were not as flexible)… but somehow I managed. Since I am on the topic of toilets in China, here is some very good advice that I will give to anyone thinking of traveling in China that might stumble upon this blog. If you plan on using a public toilet, bring two things: hand sanitizer and pocket tissues. Pocket tissues because none of the public toilets will have toilet paper, and hand sanitizer because none will have soap.

Anyway, after using the facilities I went back to the bus stop and we boarded the bus after a few minutes. I was hoping that the bus ride would be pretty smooth, but was soon sorely disappointed. I can’t really do it justice by writing it- that bus ride was pretty bumpy even for Chinese standards. The bus stopped and accelerated at roller coaster paces. This coupled with the bad traffic and hungover stomach made for a pretty rough ride. Still, my stomach survived and the nausea subsided. When I wasn’t busy trying to not think of throwing up, the view out the window was pretty decent. We went through a very long tunnel and also a really amazing bridge over the Yangtze River. I would have taken a picture, but (like I mentioned) was a bit distracted.

I was able to take this picture without throwing up, which believe me, is an accomplishment.

After about an hour and a half (there was a traffic delay), we arrived. The weather was really nice on Chongming Island. You could see blue sky and the sun was definitely not being shy. Immediately off the bus we were approached by a girl that was selling a taxi service. In China, it is not uncommon for locals in touristy spots to operate unlicensed taxis where they chauffeur you around the area (of course unlicensed). These are called “black cars”. I asked Ling if they are safe and he assured me that if you are with a group you are fine. At the end of the day we paid 300 RMB (about $50) which turned out to be a tremendous deal. While my friends were negotiating the deal, I took a few pictures around the bus station and remembered thinking that there was a lot of trash and dirty looking water.

Trashy/dirty river by the bus station

Once in our “cab” (it was an older looking minivan), we told our driver where we wanted to go. At first we were going to go to a place 15 minutes away from the bus stop, however 5 minutes in we changed our mind and instead asked to go to a more scenic area on the other side of the island (about one hour away). Our cab driver definitely was from the area and bared no limits when driving. We were crazy fast (and in case you were wondering, there were no seat belts) and went on the curb/sidewalk to circumvent traffic. Still, he seemed to know the good places and took us to a nice little restaurant on the outskirts of the park that we were going to visit. The restaurant had a variety of different fare, however we opted for the standard assortment of vegetables and local produce. The two memorable dishes were a set of mud crabs and some snails. The mud crabs looked boiled, however they were SO small. They were so small to the point where we substituted them out for the snails (which were spicy and delicious). I unfortunately didn’t take a picture of the small crabs, but they looked like they had at max an ounce of meat. Another memorable note was that they sold bottled water here which I made sure to take advantage of get get a couple. In China, it is more common to down your meal with piping hot water (some weird Chinese medicine about how hot water is healthy for you and cold water is bad), but given the temperature even my Chinese colleagues opted for cold water.

Yummy vegetables

After eating, I had to use the restroom again. This is by far the worst restroom that I have ever used my entire life. There is just one stone pit (no running water) to do both the ones and the twos into. I won’t go into too much detail, but even my Chinese colleagues said that this was terrible even for Chinese standards. After that, we went to the wetland park nearby. As it was a holiday weekend (coupled with the fact that there was no entrance fee), the park was packed with Chinese tourists from all over. The start of the park was a little lackluster. I remember comparing it to the pristine parks that I often visit in Taiwan/Japan and being sorely disappointed. There was way too much trash for such a beautiful park and it was a bit overcrowded. As we got deeper into the park (and it got later into the day), the crowds thinned out and the trash became less, however China has a long way before it can compete with Japan/Taiwan (and truthfully, even USA) on the cleanliness of its public parks.

One common theme of the park was that there were tons of little crabs off the boardwalk. The entire park consisted of a boardwalk surrounded by swamp grass and wetlands (which a few bodies of water sprinkled about). The locals sold these long bamboo poles with crab food attached to the end. The idea is that you place this food right near the crab holes in the mud and the crab grabs it (and gets stuck). You then reel the crab in and place it into the bucket. When I asked Ling what people do with the crabs they catch, he said they most likely keep them for pets until they die (in about a week or so).

Stick used to catch crabs (the animal of course, not the STD)

Crab on a stick

Again, like I said the park became a bit more scenic once the day went on and the crowds waned away. There was a very nice overlook where a bunch of stairs led up to. This was a really nice overlook as you got an awesome view of the Yangtze River as well as a surrounding lake. You could rent a boat to go cruising around the lake, however it looked a bit gimicky for our tastes.

Scenic overlook with The Yangtze in the background

After walking around a bit, we stopped at a coffee shop and ordered a round of cold drinks (I got lemonade and a mango shaved ice) as well as a snack of sunflower seeds. After basking in the air conditioned coffee shop, we set out to go see the Mingzhu Lake. Unfortunately we got there a bit too late (they had stopped selling 45RMB tickets), so we were forced to call our taxi driver to take us back to the bus stop. The taxi driver informed us that he would need about an hour to get to us (he must have driven back to the bus stop), we we decided to walk down a scenic looking road that was lined with trees.

Neat street with trees lining it.

Along the road, we were able to find a pretty posh looking hotel. After the security guard was nice enough to let us inside, we found a great view of Mingzhu Lake. It was very peaceful there and really reminded me of White Rock Lake back in Dallas. The hotel looked very boutique and would be great to take a girlfriend/wife for a weekend trip to escape Shanghai. After looking up the hotel price, it was about 100RMB (about $160)- so expensive, but not completely outrageous.

Peaceful Mingzhu Lake by the hotel

After enjoying the peacefulness of the lake, we waited around for our taxi and went back to the bus stop. The taxi driver was even more crazy going back and used the sidewalk to circumvent traffic on a couple different occasions. After an uneventful one hour bus ride back to Shanghai (it was dark at this point so I couldn’t even look out the window), I was completely spent. The bus ride back was actually smooth, however maybe I was just jaded from the bus ride to Chongming. I decided to forego dinner with my colleagues and instead just went back to my apartment and straight to bed.

All in all it was a worthwhile trip. Like I said, China has a long ways to go until it can match the cleanliness of it’s neighbors, however Chongming Island was a worthwhile escape. Looking back at it I probably would go with a date and spend a night in the hotel next time, but the trip was definitely served its purpose as a temporary escape from the big city. The air was definitely cleaner.

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Delivery Groceries in Shanghai

In Shanghai, everything can be delivered. So far in my brief one month here, I have had everything from groceries to McDonald’s delivered to my apartment. Before I came to Shanghai, I found this article on CozyRent on different things that can be delivered. I’ll try to explain each one of them in different articles, however for this post I will go over groceries. As I write this, I am waiting for my recent delivery of groceries from Epermarket. Yesterday, I picked out a few things to get delivered:

Grocery Checkout List

Just a few odd things for cooking and to supplement what I already have in my apartment. Next week I am going to try to bring my dinner often so that I might be able to sneak some time in during lunch to study Chinese. I like Epermarket because you can actually put when exactly you want your items to be delivered. I chose on Sunday between 5pm – 9:30pm. During writing this post, the groceries came:

My groceries

All in all very good quality. You kind of have to pick and choose what you order from the website. Some items (like fruits/vegetables) can be found cheaper at a local grocery store or market (there is a kickass fruit market right downstairs). Other things like meat though I feel more comfortable spending a little bit extra money so I don’t get sick. I can also find foreign foods such as canned tuna and pasta on this site with no problems at all. I’ve also used CityShop before with reasonable luck, however all the “foreign” super markets tend to be on the pricier side.

The Quest to get Internet in Shanghai

Well I finally have internet in my apartment. It was no simple task and involved a lot of steps, however now that I have internet I can catch up on my blogging.. It didn’t help that in the midst of it all I was flying to Shenzhen/Taipei for business (expect a blog post about those later). I shall attempt to document my quest for the internet here in case some other China traveler finds themselves in the same predicament.

The quest first started when I was in my hotel room and about to move into my apartment a few weeks back. In USA the process to get internet is relatively straightforward- call the cable company, make an appointment, pay an exorbitant amount per month, and you have internet. Since I was unfamiliar with the process in China, I enlisted the help of one of my Chinese colleagues with the promise of rewards of beer and ramen. On the same day we were also going to go to the phone store to get a SIM card for my phone.

For the phone, we chose China Unicom. This was mainly done as their network is the only network that plays nicely with an unlocked T-Mobile iPhone 5. Getting the phone was relatively straightforward. After going to the store I picked a plan of 3GB a month, signed a bunch of documents, picked out a number (supposedly you can pay more for premium “lucky” numbers, but I just took what they gave), and my phone was setup for business. Compared to the USA, the price is ridiculously cheap. I can’t remember the exact price, however I am ending up paying something like four times less what I did in USA. The speed? Well the speed isn’t as great (I am limited to 3G networks), however it will suffice. There are rumors that a major Chinese mobile network will release the iPhone 6 unlocked. Perhaps I will change to that when it comes out- but for right now the 3G is fine.

Internet was a bit harder to get. The fact that I am now just getting it (two weeks after going to the office) is a testament to this. After China Unicom, we went to China Telecom. China seems to share the USA’s method of making it so that for an apartment there is only one choice for an internet/cable provider. We walked to the Telecom office and it was pretty hectic. Very busy and from the way it looked the people working there seemed to be somewhat clueless. Still, my friend explained the situation and said that I wanted internet in my apartment. Previously, I had picked out the 50Mup/4MBdown plan for 1600RMB a year. Doing the math, this equals about $260 a year which is about $22 a month. This is immensely cheaper than the $70 a month I shelled over to Time Warner for 30Mdown/2M up. Still, I’d prefer USA internet anyday (I will get to that in a bit).

After copying my passport, signing some documents, and waiting around, we were told that the central office would need some time to “approve” my application. Approve? Ok, whatever- it looks like I wasn’t getting internet that day so I returned home. The next day at work China Telecom called and said that they couldn’t give me internet until the previous tenant of my apartment returns their modem/router. This was quite annoying as I didn’t even know this person. Why was China Telecom making it so hard for me to give them my money? After what seemed like a day or so of back and forth conversations between my coworker and China Telcom, we decided that we had to contact the previous tenant. Luckily, she was still in Shanghai and super friendly. She is a Spanish girl that was living with her boyfriend in Shanghai. She was able to tell me good things about the apartment and good bars to go around the area. On the Saturday (a week after I went to the office initially), we met up and took the equipment back to the office.

At this point I still did not have internet, however I was called off to Taiwan and Shenzhen for two weeks due to a business trip. The trail went a bit cold here as I did not have any need/time to spend getting internet. My first day back in the office my colleague called China Telecom and they said that they needed the order number in order to further the progress. They insisted that they could not look this up which was bad for me as I had left the order slip in my apartment (40 minutes away from work). Still, having internet was a priority so I sucked it up and spent an hour and a half ping ponging from my work to my apartment and back. After calling, they said that they would call me back within the day on the status of the order. At this point, every day that I did not have internet was torture. Working remotely in China, I had to have some means of communicating with my colleagues in the USA so internet in the house was a requirement to work with the timezones. Luckily, they did keep their word and called back saying that I had to go into the office the next day to pay the fee and make an appointment for the technician- finally some progress.

The next day I went alone to the China Telecom office. A bit worried that my Chinese was not up to snuff, I presented my order slip to the receptionist and was give a number to wait in line. Apparently everyone else had the same idea of me as going in early as the place was packed. It was a DMV type system where you get a number and go up to your assigned counter in turns. Unfortunately, when I went there my number was 3018 and they were only at 3010. This may not seem bad, but for some reason they were always going at a snail’s pace. I distinctly remember people taking a long time and one guy being pretty upset (at least he seemed upset, in China sometimes the normal speaking tone seems angry). I snapped a picture out of pure boredom (the angry guy is at counter 6).

China Telecom office in all its glory

After about an hour of waiting, my number was called. The girl at the counter didn’t speak any English, however I think with my broken Chinese we were able to get by. After making another copy of my passport (that’s a common theme) and paying the 1800RMB (1600 plus 200 for deposit), to my surprise she said someone was able to come the same afternoon to install the internet (between 13:00 – 17:00). Great! Finally no more obstacles. After returning home, the technician came at 12:45- an entire 15 minutes early. After some fiddling around with the equipment, I finally had internet!

So how is the quality of the internet? Granted that as of writing this post I have only had it for about 5 hours I can’t say too much. I will say for Chinese sites it is extremely fast. Unfortunately, the internet infrastructure in China is handicapped with all of the restrictions put on it. Sites such as Facebook/Google/YouTube are blocked completely from the central level forcing people to use VPNs and other methods to circumvent the block. Sure, there are sites like Baidu which claim to be the Chinese equivalent, however after a month or so in China I can say Baidu is completely useless. Searching is so terrible and you normally end up with results that don’t even remotely resemble your search query. Usually I use a VPN to get to Google, but if I can do that I at least use Bing. If you don’t know the tricks to get to Google, Bing is your best bet. Netflix/Hulu also have some restrictions in that they don’t allow IPs outside of the USA. Again, this can be circumvented with proxies, however from what I have seem most Chinese just use “other” methods to watch their favorite movies and TV shows.

So now that I have proper internet in my apartment I can start blogging more. I really like blogging as I think it is a good way to communicate how I’ve been doing with my friends/family back home. Furthermore, some of my blunders can be found by future ExPats and hopefully some lessons can be learned.

Apartment Hunting in Shanghai

I haven’t updated this blog as much as I should, however I am hoping that will change starting today. I am currently in Taipei on a business trip and found myself with some time waiting for a customer to get some software together.

A couple of weeks ago I set out on the goal to find an apartment in Shanghai. I enlisted the help of my Chinese coworker. I had a few requirements for my apartment:

  • Around the Peoples’ Square Station in Puxi. This station is considered to be very “central” in Shanghai and is close to many of the cool bars/restauraunts.
  • Maximum monthly rent of $1600 (10000 RMB)
  • Air conditioned
  • Furnished
  • High floor
My Chinese colleague helped me go through all of the listing on the Chinese apartment hunter website. We were able to pick out a few candidates and scheduled an appointment with an agent. After work, we set out to Peoples’ Square (which is about 40mins by metro from work) and met with the agent and then proceeded to look at different apartments.

Apartment 1
Was in a quieter part of town and had a fantastic view, however the apartment itself was kind of worn out. It seemed a bit older and in need of some repair.

Apartment 2
Had weird decorations and the apartment owner hadn’t really made much of an effort to clean. If clean, it would probably have been nice.

Apartment 3
Really nice apartment in a “serviced” building. Tons of foreigners— I don’t think I saw once Chinese resident in this building. Still, it had central AC, washer/drier, and a pretty nice layout so it was at the top of the list.
Apartment 4
Was nice, but I had to crouch down to get in the shower which was a turnoff.

Apartment 5 (what I ended up getting)
Really big living room with one bedroom and one bath. The couple that was in it before were foreigners and had good things to say about it. Nice layout and only 5 minutes away from the station.

Pictures of the apartment:

The apartment is very well furnished, maintained, and the landlord is an American Born Chinese (ABC) from New York. The original price for this apartment was 10,000 RMB. After my friend did a good deal of negotiating, we were able to get it to 9,000 RMB for a 1 year lease. The one problem in China though is that you have to pay for rent three months at a time. Also in China, not a lot of people use credit cards. Because of this, I had to carry three months rent, the security deposit of one month’s rent, and a 20% agency fee all in cash. This means I was carrying over six thousand dollars in cash on a crowded metro when I was going to sign the lease. A bit concerning (I’d never do it in USA), however I am glad I was able to find such a nice place.

My apartment has an extra bed, so feel free to crash at my place if you need a place to sleep in Shanghai!

Tim

Shanghai Medical Checkup and Bank Account

Today I had the medical checkup that all foreigners must have in order to apply for a resident permit. I woke up at about 5am (still not completely over the jet lag) and got ready to head to the hospital. I had to fast for the blood work so unfortunately there was no combini breakfast this time around. After getting ready, I showed the taxi driver the address in Chinese and I was off. If you have anywhere specific to be, always have the address in Chinese so that your cab driver can understand.

After meeting the person from the relocation staff, I proceeded into a back room for the medical check. In the first room, I was given plastic shoe covers and told to wrap them around my shoes for cleanliness. I wear a size 15 shoe so this presented a challenge, however somehow I was able to stretch them on. After changing into a robe (just had to take the top off, could leave on shorts), I went through a series of rooms where individual tests were performed. The tests that I had were:

  • Eye test
  • Blood pressure test. For some reason this number was sky high and I am a little bit convinced it was operator error. The last couple of times I got my blood pressure checked in the US it was fine, however for some reason the number they got made it out that I had hypertension.
  • Ultrasound. I’ve never had an ultrasound and I am not exactly sure what they were looking for, but whatever
  • Blood draw. I assume this is a CBC and HIV test
  • Chest X-Ray
  • EKG. Incidentally the last time I had one of these was at the medical check when I was an immigrant in Japan

All throughout the process there were other foreigners with the same dazed and confused look as me. I did do a checkup right before coming to China, so it will be interesting to see how the results compare- I’m not entirely convinced about the blood pressure check.

After taking a taxi back to the hotel I went to Family Mart and got some cold noodles, onigiri, stirfry flavored chips, and a big jug of water for every day use. Here is a picture of the loot:

Lunch from Family Mart

The chips were awesome, onigiri was so-so, and the noodles were great. I’m a bit worried about the noodles though as they kind of seemed like the sort of dish that screams diarrhea, however as of writing this post (a few hours later) my stomach is still in tact.

In the afternoon I was out to open up a Chinese bank account. I want to open up a bank account with Citi as it is supposedly very easy to transfer between a US/Chinese bank account, however I ran into some pitfalls while doing it today. First I went to the Puxi branch near The Bund. The girl in this Citibank seemed a bit confused and told me that I should open an account with Bank of China. After assuring her that I wanted a Citibank account, she said they could not do it at this branch and instead referred me to the main branch in Pudong.

Another subway ride later and a bit of navigating around to find the bank, I was told that I need to have a resident permit before I was able to actually open a Citibank account. This was a bit unfortunate as I had been walking around all over Shanghai to find Citi, but I understood and enjoyed the walk.

It was a day of walking around which I think is going to be quite common from now on. Tomorrow I start my first day of work so I should start to get a bit busier from here on out!

Arrival in Shanghai!

I have finally arrived in Shanghai. The road up to this point (especially the last month) have been tremendously stressful, however I am now sitting in my apartment in Puxi looking at my glorious smoggy view of Shanghai:

Smoggy view from my hotel room in PuXi

The preparation for the trip was very chaotic. A lot of things went wrong (and right), however I am now in a good position in Shanghai- it is all over for the most part. I’ll write another post about the “prep” work that I did in Dallas, but I wanted to just write a post to document my journey thus far.

I was staying at a hotel in Dallas for my last couple of days as my apartment was completely empty and I had already turned in the keys. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express near my work. It was a nice hotel, albeit in a very sketchy area of town. They even updated me to a suite since I supposedly stay in hotels quite a bit. Anyways, the morning of departure I woke up at around 6:30am. After a quick breakfast with a friend and a tear-jerking goodbye I was off the DFW Airport.

After dropping off my rental car, I started to realize how difficult it is to transport all the luggage that you pack for living in a foreign country for one year. For me, I had two massive pieces of luggage for checked bags, one very heavy carry-on, and a laptop bag stuffed to the bring of explosion. Here is a picture of it all that I took from my hotel this morning (less a few items I have been using):

All of my heavy luggage
My heavy luggage for living in Shanghai

 

Most of what I packed are just shoes/clothes/suits/etc. I have the luxury of having a self storage back in Dallas (so I could stash stuff there), but when moving to another country for a year  you are surprised on how many clothes you pack. It’s worth noting that I was actually over the 50lbs limit on BOTH of my checked bags. In the back of my mind I kind of expected this. The fee for each of the bags was $60- so I didn’t really care too much. It beats shipping them. A few notable items I packed:

  • Playstation 4 –  I did manage to pack this so that I would still be able to game and watch movies in my new apartment
  • Asus Router w/ VPN setup – For my new apartment and to allow me to get to Facebook.
  • Packs of hand sanitizer / tissue – In China, these things are necessities for traveling
  • 220v to 100v Voltage Transformer – For use with the PS4. This was actually in my carry-on (as it is very heavy) and the security people called it out when it went through the x-ray machine because it looked suspicious.
Anyway, after commandoing my four massive bags to the airport, checking in,. and getting through security I was at the gate. American Airlines recently started direct service from Dallas to Shanghai so I was lucky in the sense that I did not have to do any transfers. The airplane that I flew in was an ancient Boeing 777.

My seat was really nice actually. For anyone who flies in the old 777s, I definitely recommend row 41 in economy class. It’s the section where the five rows in the middle turn into four rows, and in the middle section you get a ton of extra arm and leg room. After getting settled into AA127, the plane set off for its 14.5 hour journey to Shanghai. This is my eighth time to Asia, however this trip never gets easier. It doesn’t help that I am 6’5″ (196cm) and have no chance of sleeping either. The best best is to watch movies/TV shows. I watched the following:

  • Snowpiercer (on my tablet) – Very good sci-fi movie, but very very dark and violent. There was a little kid sitting next to me so a few of the scenes made me feel a bit awkward
  • Captain America The Winter Soldier (rewatch) – They can make these Marvel movies all day and I will watch them
  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – I love this show
  • Thor The Dark World (rewatch) – Again, I can watch these sort of movies all day. This one actually jammed up on American’s entertainment system so I could not finish it.
  • Bad Words – This was actually a bit of a surprise that I found very funny. About a 40 year old that finds a loophole to get into the national spelling bee. Very funny and raunchy comedy.

After a mind numbing 15 hours, I was off the plane. After scrambling to find a pen and filling out my customs form, I went through customs without a hitch and actually pretty quickly- the hardest part was finding a pen. Note to future self, always pack a pen.

After customs, I stopped by an ATM and withdrew 2000RMB (about $320). When I was still an inexperienced traveler, I used to buy money in the USA or even bring USD and convert it at the airport. This is a bit of a scam as when you do this they always rip you off on the exchange rate. Citibank (and Wells Fargo when I had them) are really good in the sense that if you put a travel alert on your account beforehand, you can just go to any ATM overseas and withdraw money. This is the way to go.

Next I picked up all of my bags from the baggage claim and piled them onto a cart and walked towards the Taxi line. This is where the first major scam of Shanghai happens that many foreigners fall victim to. As you walk to the taxi lines, other “unofficial” taxi services will try to solicit you and try to make you take their fancy cab. Don’t do this- it is a scam. Their taxi is literally double the price. Last time I came to Shanghai, my coworkers did this (and I took the regular taxi). We went to the same hotel, however my cab fare was 200rmb ($32ish) and their cab fare was 500rm ($80ish).

I showed the address of the hotel (in Chinese) to the cab driver (Marriott Shanghai City Centre) and he was off. I was a bit jet lagged at this point, however I distinctly remembered that the air quality around the airport sucked. It’s not that great in downtown Shanghai, however there is a noticeable chemical smell near the airport (maybe it was the cab that I was in). After about 30 minutes (waiting through traffic in some points) and 250RMB, I arrived at the hotel.

The hotel is nice. I think they gave me a “long term” room as I am staying here for 13 nights (while I hunt for an apartment). The view of my room on the 30th floor gives me a pretty decent (if not a little smoggy) view of Shanghai (see the picture at the top). After taking a shower, calling the parents, etc. I passed out. It was about 5pm when I went to sleep so I woke up around 2am. This proved to be pretty convenient as it provided an ideal time for me to call/talk with all of my friends/family in The States. After taking an Ambien, I passed out again and woke up around 5:30am. After running over to Family Mart to get a cheap breakfast, I came back to the hotel and started to write this.

After seeing the plane on the gate, the gravity of the situation set in. I thought, “I am actually doing this. I have nothing right now- no apartment, no car- this is my only option.” Granted that I have done this before, this time it seems different and has a bit more gravity. I am no longer a student and this trip will have long lasting personal and professional effects on my life. When I went to Japan, I had a bit better understanding of the Japanese language while here I am still on the upstroke of learning Chinese. I’d lie if I said I wasn’t a little bit afraid. Definitely sad that I am not going to see my friends in Dallas/USA for a while, but I am very excited for this new challenge. I will keep this blog up-to-date with my latest adventures and thoughts on this journey!

And the adventure happens again! This time China.

So now everything is official- I will be doing a one year assignment for Texas Instruments in the Shanghai team. This has been brewing for a while, however last week is when it actually became official. I have booked a one-way (direct) ticket to Shanghai leaving 7/25/2014. I am setup in a nice hotel for a couple of weeks while I find an actual apartment. It’s going to be a challenge getting everything together the next few weeks and making sure that everything is setup before I leave. I look forward to this new adventure!