Thursday, December 20, 2007

Updates

I finally got a new USB and cleared my camera's memory stick. When going through the pictures, I realized how much I haven't posted on here that I should have. I guess I felt like no one ever read this blog, but in actuality, it's just that no one comments. (hint, hint). In the future, I will try to be a better blogger. Glad that you all read (in general, and this blog specifically)!

So, here are some updates. The Special Olympics were here in Shanghai, and the Caribbean Association treated the Jamaica and Barbados delegations to dinner after the close of the games. Here's a picture of the athletes:


Do you remember when the first Cold Stone Creamery came to Shanghai? I said that if they get a Chick Fil-A I was never coming back. Well, they don't have my favorite (and really, only) fast food joint, but we do have a CPK. Yup, California Pizza Kitchen. This is a chain that I discovered while living in the Midwest. Although I think most chains are gross, CPK is on to something with those pizzas. So, the other day I went to try it out, and was satisfied. It seems they import most of their ingredients, and the recipes must be adhered to, because the taste (of the BBQ Chicken pizza, at least) was the same. The only minor difference was that here the size of the chicken "chunks" was much smaller. No surprise there. Next time I want to try the spinach artichoke dip (my favorite) but being as I make a few adjustments (which is still a new thing in Shanghai, and sometimes causes problems) and the cost is more than that of a pizza, I'm going to hold off for a little while. Living here is like living in FL, MO, and NY all at once. Chick Fil-A must be coming...

I finally picked up my wedding dress. The first time I went, the wedding dress was not good, and their efforts to fix it were not up to par. The dress might have been cheap, but it didn't need to look it. In the end, the manager agreed to make a new dress. As a result, I made a few other changes to the design of the dress, so that it would be more flattering on my figure. These additional changes resulted in a 200 RMB price increase, which I agreed to pay only AFTER I picked up the dress (I had already paid the 600 up front, which I think they wanted mostly because there is no hope of resale if I didn't want it, the size being too big for most Chinese brides and the style not being in line with Chinese taste). Thankfully, I was not disappointed the second time, after they altered the dress so that it would, um, zip. I am pleased with the final result, and although it isn't exactly what I wanted, I think it looks nice. Total price: about 1100 RMB including transportation for myself (and L-squared) back and forth. That is about $150 USD, 110 Euros or 75 GBP. Not bad. I can't post the the picture until after, but here's a tease...




This is the store where I got the dress. The sign says something like Good Wedding Dress Store.








(Right) The inspiration dress. I really loved the neckline and sleeves of this dress. Photo found at http://www.sinceritybridal.com/eu_en/collection.php



















(Left) This is the prototype in the store of the shape of the dress. No, I do not have those flowers. Yes, my dress is this material and color.
Both dresses have the "tucking" so I guess I like that too. The final dress is a merging of these two, with a few additional elements.















Sunday, December 09, 2007

Wedding Dress



On Sunday, I went to Suzhou (a town not far from Shanghai), to the famous wedding dress street to find my wedding dress. I already had a picture that I wanted to make a few minor adjustments to, so thankfully my search was very directed. Wedding dress shopping, especially on a street full of shops dedicated tot hat purpose, can be information overload for a person like me. I am not a sport shopper - I do not have the patience, aptitude, finances, or disposition to go shopping just for the sake of shopping. I can spend my fair share of hours in the store (usually waiting for the fitting room), but I am almost always a goal oriented shopper. Get in, get what I want, get out. As quickly as possible.

Accompanying me was my TA, L-Squared. L-Squared is absolutely wonderful. Asside from regular work related things (Will you make 4 photocopies of this novel? I have new students and can't order more books on time. Thanks!), she also does a plethora of not exactly work related things (Can you buy some of that tea that makes you skinny for me please, five boxes? Can you tell this cab company that the driver ripped me off and go pick up the money he owes me? Thanks.Can you cancel your driving lesson this weekend even though you're taking the road test in two weeks and take me to the place in Suzhou where you buy wedding dresses? You're the greatest!), L-squared does it all.

So, L-squared and I met at 7:00 on Sunday morning (I was late) and got lots of exercise running, no sprinting, through subway terminals and the railway station so as not to miss our 7:40 train (like I said, I was late). We made it, right in the nick of time. About 35 minutes later, we arrive in Suzhou (which, by the way, is nothing like Shanghai) and took a taxi to the "Wedding Street" as she told the taxi driver. As it was minutes to 9 when we arrived at the street, the stores were just opening up. The first two stores reminded me why I think that most wedding dresses are ugly dresses. Honestly, if they weren't white and marketed as wedding dresses, very few women would wear most of these dresses ( I hope). I was gearing up for a long day, but then we saw a store with dresses that looked pretty good. This, our third store, was a gem. We looked around a little, inspected quality and style, and then asked if they make dresses, quickly. They said that was not a problem, I gave them my picture, and we discussed the dress.

I wanted a different fabric (the dress in the picture is made of satin, too hot). I tried on dresses of different fabrics to see how heavy they were. Finally we decided on a cotton silk blend, which I think will look nice. Then the color. Not bright white, but not the yellowed tinged one with the fabric I wanted that they had on display. No problem, she doesn't have any in stock, but she showed me a swatch of the color and said she would buy it. Do you want a small train? No. They were a little surprised, but I can skip the dress dragging on the ground. Especially because this will be my reception dress, which means meet-and-great, and dancing, too much potential for accidents. Floor length is fine. Oh, and I want this tucking to go down a little further. Ok. And a good supportive bra, not the one you give Chinese girls. Oh, it can come out. No, I say, I do not want to take it out, I want it to be good and supportive, because I need it, all day. No problem. We ironed out the details, I asked questions, they asked questions and we agreed. Now the most important part, the price.

And here is where L-squared blew my mind. I had told her beforehand how much I budgeted for the dress, my absolute limit. I told her that even if they quote a price that is under-budget, she has to bargain her butt off, because we both know that my foreign face equals price increase. And she did that to perfection. They quoted price that was less than half of my budget. And she argued. And bargained. And even got very creative. I can understand most of what she said, but in order to make things work better, I allowed her to translate anything beyond the most simple Chinese. That way they could go back and forth, and talk about foreigners, and the shop-keepers are not worried about me. Works better. And when bargaining for big-ticket items, it is no small affair. It takes serious verbal dexterity and creativeness.

Because the original price quoted was less than half of my budget, I would have taken it without argument. But not L-Squared. After she promised to bring back lots of business in the coming year, including herself (she is currently single), and talked about the foreign business I could bring (and then they could charge more), told them that I was getting married abroad, and that the dress better be the best quality because otherwise foreigners would have a bad impression of Chinese goods (which packs extra punch right now), said that the street was full of shops and although we didn't want to go somewhere else, we could...after all of that, when they were down to the last little 50 RMB
(about 5 Euros, 3 GBP, 6.50 USD), she talked to me in English for a minute (more for dramatic effect than anything else, as she knows I understood most of it, but she also wanted to know what I was thinking at this point, being as I hadn't said a word). Then she told them, "Let me tell you something about foreigners. You know they like to give tips. So, even she (referring here to me) is thinking, what is the big deal about 50 RMB? But, if you charge her the 50 RMB, you don't get a tip. If you don't charge her the extra 50, then you get a tip, and if she is really happy with the dress when you are done, if you do a good, high quality job, she will give you at least 50 RMB, maybe more." Worked like a charm. they took my measurements, and I handed over 600 RMB for my wedding dress.

Yes, 600 RMB, you do the math. So, when I go back to pick it up I will take pictures and you all can let me know if you think I got a deal, a steal, or ripped-off. Until then, you'll just have to wait with baited breath. And if it is as good as I think it will be, then I think I have finally topped my mothers best bargain. Thanks L-Squared!

Post Script: Oh, and the picture above is not my dress, or even the shop where I got my dress. It was the only brown mannequin on the entire street, and so you know I had to take a picture!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Finally!

Here are some pictures of my apartment. Enjoy!

Here's the view from my balcony of the grounds.
(Actually, I have a good view of the city,
but it is a little overcast today, so you'll get those pics another time. )

The living and dinning room area.
Not huge, but nicely done.
Well, 'cept those white floors, they are driving me crazy.
I'm getting a maid, just to mop the floors twice a week!

The kitchen.
Like a galley kitchen, but larger than some I've seen in similar apartments.
The only problem is that hood is so low,
I used to hit my head on it.
My landlord and his wife are both short,
so it wasn't an issue for them, but it is too low for me.

The view of the apt. from the front door.

The guest bathroom.
There is a guest staying with us right now,
so you won't see the guest bedroom.

The study.

And the reason that everyone loves my apartment...
the TV!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Rent-A-Negro

I just discovered this website http://rent-a-negro.com

Here is an excerpt from the price quote page:

P
ricing









Event Rates

• Corporate/Business Rate: $350 per hour

• Personal/Private/Individual Rate: $200 per hour

• Non-Profit Rate: $275 per hour

• Drop-in/Appearances: $100 each

Informational/High Question Volume: add $100 per hour

• Emergencies/Short Notice (24 hour window): add $150 per hour


Ongoing/Retainer Services

• $10,000 Annually
(12 Events, 15 Calls, 10 Appearances, 3 Consultations)

Additional Services

• "Help! I need a Black Opinion!" $75 per call
(30 minute duration) or email (24 hr response time)

• Touch Her Hair: $25 each time

• Touch Her Skin: $35 each touch

• Compare Your Skin Tone to Hers: $50

• Tell her"you look just like..." another black person: $100

• Call her "sister" "sista" "girlfriend" or "girl": $150 each time

• Dance Lessons for the Rhythm-Challenged: $250 hour

• Challenging Racist Family Members: add $500 per person

• Racist Guests at Event: add $500 per event (per racist)

• "Will You Tell Them I'm Not a Racist?": $1500 per vouch

• Certificate of Association: $100
A 8x10" certificate stating your affiliation with a black person.


I think I should start charging the Chinese people 100 RMB to touch my hair. I wonder if I could charge them to answer questions like "How do you get your hair like that?". Hm, maybe I'll give it a try!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Black is Beautiful

So the saying goes, and so too, does the headline of the most recent "City Weekend". Under that bold headline, the caption reads, "As Shanghai gears up for Beyonce's landmark concert City Weekend wonders what it's really like to be black in China." My oh my. "City Weekend" wonders what it's really like to be black in China. I was completely surprised. "City Weekend" is a magazine that is geared towards the "things to do" aspect of expat life - bars, restaurants, and events. Being black in China is not what I excepted to see on their cover. I opened the magazine, and read the following:

"It's not easy being black in China. For that matter, it's not easy anywhere in the world. Modernity seems inherently polarized against people of color, whether in the United States, Africa, or the streets of Sanlitun in Beijing, where people with black skin risk being hassled. At the risk of sounding like a bad Hallmark card, the four people we met in out Black in China story were pretty inspiring. They have a higher bar to cross that most expats and they do it. Everyday. With flair"

That's right. WE do it. Everyday. With flair.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Toil and Trouble

Double, double toil and trouble:
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
as taken from Macbeth

There is a wonderful lack of true toil and trouble in my life at the present moment, and for that I am intensely grateful. I am thinking about this because a few of my friends and acquaintances in Shanghai are currently experiencing double helpings of toil and trouble. The thing that separates me from them is something over which I have no control or influence. A little blue passport.

You see, in China, my little blue passport opens numerous doors. It even opens doors that my brown skin and curly hair would otherwise ensure were locked shut. That little blue passport makes it easier to get a job, change money, get a visa...all essential elements of living in Shanghai. As I witness the things that others without the blue passport (or a few other colors, European countries) experience, I am often saddened.

Although I would never encourage using fake documents, I now understand why people use them. I know people who have fake everything, the passport is fake, the birth certificate is fake, the visa was gotten through a connection (and a bribe), but they are here. And I also know people who try to do things legitimately and above board, and they get denied visas, denied residence permits, and sent home.

A friend of mine just married a man from a certain African country which shall remain nameless. Although his country does not have the best of reputations, he is an honest guy, who lived abroad and doesn't really know the "backway" to get things done. Theoretically, he should have gotten a Chinese residence permit thorough his wife. They followed all of the rules, provided the documentation, went to the Chinese embassy in his country, only to be told by her job, "sorry". The basic reason, wrong passport. If he was the citizen of a different country, it wouldn't have been a problem, but for him, it is a problem. And, to make matters worse, the school employee kept his passport, and waited until his visa had already expired to inform them that he could not get the residence permit. Overstaying your visa is a big deal in China, subject to large fines and/or imprisonment, and they enforce it. So, the next day he went to immigration to plead his case. They gave him a 7 daysextension and told him to "just go home". If only it was "just".

And yet, I know others who do all kinds of interesting things that boggle my mind and rarely run in to problems.
(I will not go into detail here, not tryin' to blow up anyones spot.) I have seen passports that have different names, birth dates, sometimes even the country of citizenship. Yes, I have seen people who had never left Africa before coming to China and yet are the proud owners of European passports. I have listened to conversations where people are discussing which schools give everyone a visa (for a fee), which points of entry are lax (or can for enough cash), and which countries are the best for their particular situation. And as the technology gets better, it gets harder, but people adapt.

One of my friends got a "work" visa for a job that did not even exist, through one of his contacts. He needed to stay in China a little longer, but his visa was going to expire. So, he asked around, and found out how he could stay longer without a "legitimate" reason, according to the Chinese government. As it turned out, he was able to extend his stay, for over a year. Because he had the little blue passport (and a little cash) he didn't run into any problems getting the visa, residence permit, or leaving the country. Smooth sailing, aside,perhaps, from a little anxiety on his part.

Sometimes, I just wish things were different.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A nigger, coon, darkie, Jim Crow

A negro (pl. –es); a colored person; a blackamoor; a black man; a black; a nigger; a darky (darkie); a coon; a Jim Crow; colored people; the colored.

That is the definition, according to Sharp's electronic Korean-English dictionary, of "black person". As an educator, I am appalled. As a person, I am offended.

My students are doing oral reports on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, title VII. As such, numerous students asked me to look over the outlines that they had written, in order to ensure accuracy and good grades. As I looked over the outline of one of my students, I saw "As she was a woman and Nigger, these laws..." Whoa. I asked her where she learned this word, as she is not a native English speaker. "My dictionary", was her reply. So, I asked her to show me the dictionary, and what I read left me flabbergasted. I explained to my student that "nigger" is a bad word, inappropriate and offensive, as are "coon", "darkie", "blackamoor" and "Jim Crow". I explained to her what racial slurs are, and she looked up the word "nigger" in her dictionary. When she found the definition, she was shocked and embarrassed. I helped her to understand that I was not upset with her, as it was not her fault, but that I was not only taken aback, but shocked and appalled that her dictionary would contain such words as part of the standard definition for "black person".

The words "nigger", "coon" ,"darkie", "blackamoor" and "Jim Crow" are not part of the definition or translation of the words "black person". Appropriate terms would have included: "person or people of African descent", "person or people with dark skin" or, as some of the other dictionaries listed "Afro- or African-American" and "African". I think it is interesting that all of the dictionaries (so far) have limited to term to Africans and African Americans, as if there are not "black" people in other countries/continents. Some of them also used "colored" or "people of color" in their definitions. These at least I can understand. How did racial slurs become appropriate definitions/terms for a group of people, any people? Those are not even "slang" terms, they are offensive references and derogatory words.

Needless to say, a few people at Sharp will be getting letters from me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Typhoon is Coming, The Typhoon is Coming!

Important Announcement!
To All Faculty and Staff,
Classes are canceled tomorrow due to Wipha Typhon. We expect to resume classes on Thursday, September 20, 2007. Please remind students of the cancellation.
Thank You.
The Principal.

I received this note and looked out of my classroom window. It had been a dark, dreary day with heavy rainfall. I thought nothing of it, as we have had a few dark, dreary, rainy days in the past two weeks. My temperament was a little unbalanced, something I attributed the lack of sunlight and my secret desire to be at home enjoying the company of one recently returned significant other. I was so lethargic I found myself dreaming of Friday (it's Tuesday). My students looked equally as weary and melancholy as I felt, which is always a bad sign at the beginning of the week. I hoped it was just the rain that was affecting everyone. Oh, if today were Friday, I mused silently
as I corrected my 10th graders' English papers, then I could go home, drink some chocolate, watch DVD's, and sleep until I wanted to wake up. I wouldn't even look at lesson planing, or grading, I would just relax. These were my thoughts. Well, those and why do some of my students think that one sentence = one paragraph and therefore 5 sentences = an essay? Only Tuesday and I need a break.
Is it wrong to thank God for a typhoon?

East China Braces for Fierce Typhoon

SHANGHAI, China (AP) — China's commercial center of Shanghai was evacuating 200,000 people on Tuesday ahead of the expected arrival of Typhoon Wipha, potentially the most destructive storm to hit the city in a decade, local media reported.

Whipping up waves up to 36 feet high, Wipha was moving northwest across the sea north of Taiwan and was forecast to make landfall south of Shanghai early Wednesday, weather reports said.

"The typhoon is very likely to develop into the worst one in recent years. We are still observing it. It's hard to say at this moment," said a man who answered the phone at the city's meteorological bureau. As is common with Chinese officials, the man identified himself only by his surname, Fu.

At 9 a.m. (9 p.m. EDT) Tuesday, Wipha's center was located about 137 miles east of Taiwan's capital, Taipei, according to the Hong Kong Observatory's Web site.

Shanghai and the coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian to the south issued typhoon warnings requiring all vessels to return to shore or change course to avoid the storm, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

State-run newspapers reported that some 200,000 people living in coastal or low-lying rural areas of Shanghai were being evacuated as a precaution, although the city was only experiencing intermittent showers early Tuesday.

A worker was killed and another seriously injured Tuesday when scaffolding collapsed at a highway construction site in Taipei, Taiwan's Disaster Relief Center reported.

Schools, offices and the stock market in northern Taiwan were ordered closed as a precaution and flights from Taiwan to Japan, South Korea and a few other Asian countries were canceled, officials said.

The storm was upgraded from a tropical storm on Monday afternoon. Wipha is a woman's name in Thai.

The deadliest storm to hit the China coast in recent years was Typhoon Winnie in 1997, which killed 236 people. Typhoon Rananim, with winds of more than 100 mph, was the strongest typhoon to hit the Chinese mainland since 1956, killing nearly 200 people.

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5ifGXZg6pmxDVB7QgtZHc1cqRzQew

Saturday, August 18, 2007

My does the time fly

I have been to the States and back again. Three weeks was not enough time, and so I didn't even tell most people that I would be there. Even still, I did not get to see everyone that I would have liked to see, or do even half of the things that I wanted to do. If you missed me, my apologies, I hope you can understand.

So, in three weeks, I a lot of time travelling. Drove down to FL. Fly to STL with a layover in ATL. Took Amtrak up to Chicago. Flew back to NYC. By my last count, I got to see about 35 relatives and freinds, including children. I spent 3 days in confined spaces (1 in a car, two on airplanes). It was a busy three weeks, and worth every minute. I learned some valuable lessons, that should prove useful in the future.

My flight back to Shanghai was bittersweet. I was not ready to go, but perhaps that is the best way to leave. And then it was interesting. Here are the numbers. 1 Hassidic/Orthodox Jew. 2 people being deported. 2 meals with pork (I knew I should have ordered the kosher meals). 3 people with brown skin (1 of whom sat next to me). 4 movies/tv shows that I watched. 6 hours that I spent trying, unsuccessfully, to sleep. 14 unaccompanied minors. I think that's all. Finally I arrived in Shanghai.

True to form, things didn't go exactly as planned once I arrived. In short, I am trying to find and move into my apartment...yesterday. Hopefully I'll be able to find one today or tomorrow so that I can move in ASAP. I would like to get settled before classes actually start.

Speaking of classes, work is going well so far. Orientation is on Weds., students report on Thursday, but actual classes don't begin until the followingMonday. So, right now we are preparing ourselves, our classrooms and in theory, our lesson plans. What I am teaching has changed, it's 9th and 10th grade English, two sections of Upper Level ESL (high school students reading at middle school level, so they can not be mainstreamed yet) and maybe TOEFL. My school is a young school, which has its challenges, but is also exctiting. Because it is young, the current faculty are instrumental in its development, which is so exciting. There'll be more on that later.

That's all for now. I'll keep you posted (no pun intended). Hopefully I'll have some pictures of my new apt up here within the next week.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Reflection

What a difference a day makes.

In my case, a lot of days, but the concept is the same. When I found out, about this time last year, that I would be going to China, I was full of excitement, nervous anticipation, a little fear and a lot of gratitude. After years of feeling like my life was not going the way I had envisioned (good job, steadily decreasing debt, apartment, car, committed relationship, 401(k), substantial savings and all that), the letter from the Chinese government was a breath of fresh air. I felt like finally, something was actually working out. And so I was elated. I had been saying I was going to go to China for over a decade, and more recently when I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, I had begun to say with increasing frequency that I was "just going to pick up and move to China." Well, issues of escapism aside, that is basically what I did. As a result of the timing, I had about 5 weeks to get everything together and get on a plane. I picked up and moved to China.

I scoured the internet for scarce resources. Took history books and academic texts out from the library. Lacking in funds, I went to Barnes & Noble and Borders and read every China travel guide I could find. I was often disappointed by what I discovered, as most resources online and in travel guides were clearly geared towards a) backpackers or b)upper-class whites (race was evident by the consistent references to "pale" or "white" skin and "blond" or "light" hair). Despite my best efforts, I left for Shanghai with a list of tourists sites and little preparation.

Upon my arrival, I discovered that although I do not traditionally suffer from "culture-shock", as I am not only the product of many cultures but also fairly well-traveled, decently educated and do not expect the rest of the world to be like "home", adjusting to life in China was not going to be easy. Non-white Americans are apparently a rarity, and I often felt out of place. Although the African community at TongJi readily embraced me, I never ceased to be "the American". I was not as easily embraced by the American community, although this most likely has more to do with American individualism than anything else. Many of my blog entries speak to the difficulties I encountered, and so I do not need to repeat them ad nauseam. There were many things I had to adjust to, and living a dorm room, being surrounded by 17-20 year olds, constantly being stared and pointed at, and feeling isolated definitely did not help. However, there were many wonderful things that kept me going. I made a few good friends, I was one of the best students in my class, and despite the rough patches, I actually enjoyed Shanghai.

And, as you all know, I have decided to extend my stay here. I have learned many things during the past ten months, and I want to reap in joy that which I have sown in tears. My life in Shanghai is going well, and I will have here some of those things which have been so elusive for the past few years (except the 401(k) and the car). I have a grasp of the language, a growing community, and I genuinely like this city. Living in China, I think, will also have long-term advantages, enhancing and enriching my post-Shanghai life. My being here also gives many of you the excuse, if you need one, to visit China - and maybe stop by Japan, Korea, and Thailand.


I know that life, anywhere, is not without its difficulties, but now I can anticipate and eliminate or lessen the common difficulties of life here.
China's pollution is a problem, maybe I'll get one of the those air filters my grandmother has in her house. I have stockpiled hot chocolate and Great Grains, and I know a few people that will mail me "comforts of home" if I find myself in need. In order to alleviate one of the most annoying things I have encountered here, I am going to get a few message Tee's printed - "美国人" (American), "BROWN", "咖啡色" (literally, the color of coffee) and "Naturally Curly". Maybe I should get one that says "黑美国人" (Black American).

This brown-skinned multi-ethnic American woman with her naturally curly hair, basic Chinese skills, and student loans to pay off is signing up for another year in the land of dragons and tigers. So, get your vacation time and your bank accounts ready, 'cause I'm getting my apartment with guests in mind!

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Pace of Change

As I walk around this city, I am often struck by the contrasts that I see. Old and new. Rich and poor. Classic European and traditional Chinese. Cutting-edge technology and centuries old tradition. Sometimes these things appear to work out a harmonious dance, and other times it is all elbows and knees jutting out at weird angles. Perhaps the most striking to me, right now, is the contrast in housing. Many of the old housing is being torn down, even as people are living there, to make way for high-rise apartment buildings, malls, offices, and occasionally "updated" versions of the "traditional housing". In the future there will be more photos, in order to add visual context to many of the things that I write about. But for now, I just want to share what I saw today. No captions, hopefully the images speak for themselves.















Saturday, July 14, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

And the search continues....

As you might know, I have been on a search to find an apartment before I leave (soon reach, almost there). As such, I have seen quite a few apartments that do not appeal to me. I have a pretty good idea of what I want, and I have expressed that to my real estate agents. Two bedrooms (three is okay if the price is right), two "rooms" (in China, one living room, one dining room, is two rooms) and two bathrooms. So, in an ad my ideal apt looks like this 2/2/2 新的,有电梯,4500元。

For those of that don't understand, my ideal apartment is new (as in they have recently redone the apartment, not the building is new), has an elevator (because I want to be on a higher floor) and costs that amount or less per month. There are also a few other specifications. A nice, clean, larger kitchen is important. The kitchens here are often tiny, and so when I say larger, I mean with enough counter space to chop vegetables, season meat, you know...cook. Something bigger than my bathroom. Most of the kitchens have sliding doors between the kitchen and the dining room, so with the doors open one doesn't feel claustrophobic. And of course, I want a nice building, which is also usually on the advertisement.

There is an apartment complex within walking distance of my job, where about half of the teachers live. It fills all of my specifications. The apartments are generally spacious, it has about 15 floors, and I like the location. Oh, and the other thing I like is that the apartments are north-south, with the comparatively large balconies facing south. I love would like a larger balcony, because then I can use it to do more than dry my clothes, and facing south helps with the drying of clothes aspect, but also makes it a nice place to sit, and helps a lot in the winter (sliding glass doors, sun exposure).

So, with all of that said, my agent was having a hard time finding an apartment that I liked. We looked at a few, but nothing that worked for me. One bathroom, too small, too expensive, kitchen needs to be redone, etc. Finally, yesterday she told me that she found an apartment in the above mentioned complex. I was a little excited, because I thought that unless the actual apartment was just horrible, my search was over.

Unfortunately, my agent was having a hard time getting the landlord to tell her a time when we could come and see the apartment. I was out, and didn't want to go home, because it would have been a waste of time if I was going to look at the apartment. So, I ended up standing in the metro station because it was pouring outside, calling the agent trying to pin down a time. Finally, my agent told me that I wouldn't be able to look at the apartment. Oh no! Why, you ask. Well, the landlord doesn't want to rent to black people. S/he prefers a Chinese or Taiwanese, maybe other Asian, but she definitely does not want tenants with dark skin. That is a quote.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Apartment Hunting

In the days between the end of finals and the beginning of my official vacation (read: when I actually get on an airplane), I am taking some time to get things sorted out for my return. One of the most important things on my agenda is finding an apartment.

At my job, there is a person that is supposed to help us find apartments. I was warned that he is lazy, and the warnings pale in comparison to what has actually occurred thus far. In short, it took him over two weeks to even begin "looking" (read: call his contacts and ask if they have anything). And this was after I called him on a regular basis. The school year is over, and so 75% of his job is on vacation until the next school year. I am working on a limited time line, and so I had to start looking myself.

Armed with my basic Chinese skills, and a friend who speaks a little more Chinese, we walked around the neighborhood and looked for real estate offices. It was a blisteringly hot day, and I did not have any addresses, we were just walking until we saw one. It worked out well, as Real Estate offices are everywhere in Shanghai, and we found a few. The second one we found was the most promising, mostly because we were hot and tired, and the told us to come in and sit down, and offered us cold water.

It is a typical rinky-dink office, with two employees. They didn't have much to offer, but they called the other offices in the area and told them they were helping their "foreigner friends" find an apartment. Not true, but once they don't expect me to pay two real estate agents, I don't particularly care. Now, I know that once they (the other agents, the landlords) hear "foreigner" the price goes up, but my agents could as well say it up front because once they (the landlords) see me the price will go up anyway. Sometimes, they did ask the price before they told the other agents it was for their foreign friends, and so the price didn't change - the offerings did. This is not problematic, because I want a "nice" apartment, the ones that foreigners and well-to-do Chinese live in, and now that I understand the culture a bit more, I am not as easily bothered. So, after a lot of phone calls, three glasses of water, over two hours, and my willingness to sit diminished, they found places we could look at right away.

We went outside, and the boss (she told us to call her Manager Wang) proceeded to hail a taxi. Right now, I am working on a TIGHT budget, and that budget does not include taxi rides. They are cheap, but the bus and train are cheaper, and my legs function just fine. So, I told her we could walk if it wasn't far. After some discussion, she told us that there was a bike we could ride at the office. And so my friend (who is male) rode the bike, I sat on the back, and Manager Wang gets on the back of a motorcycle with a guy that was in and out of the office while we were there. Motorcycle, bicycle. Motorcycle, bicycle. Right. I felt so bad for my friend, as riding a bike with an extra 130-150 lbs on the back is no easy feat. And the place was not far, but it definitely was not close, there was some rugged terrain, a few hills (I got off and walked up the hills), and it was still blisteringly hot. In case you're wondering, sitting on the back of a bike is not as easy as one might think. You can't shift or move and it isn't comfortable - not even with my natural cushioning. I was joking that I was going to have welts and impressions from the bike frame across by butt.

After looking at the apartment, we asked where the metro station was. Much to Manager Wang's dismay, we told her that we were not going to ride the bike back to her office, being as we could walk to the station. She tried to convince us to ride back to the office, but we were adamant. In the end, she decided that we could ride to the station, so that she could show us the way. We rode - well, I balanced, my friend rode - to the metro station, and then gave a very unhappy Manager Wang back her bike. Every time we looked at apartments after that she met us at the train station in a taxi, which she paid for - I guess she didn't enjoy her ride back home. As for my future residence, the hunt is still on.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

VACATION

I am "officially" on vacation. Exams are over. Work is on vacation (I am a teacher). And me, I am chillin' out maxin' relaxin all coolin'...
Well, actually, I am buying airline tickets, trying to get my passport back from Immigration or the third-party agency my job uses to get visas, apartment hunting and packing, and sorting out one years worth of my life. In addition, I am sleeping more than I should be, not working out nearly as often as I need to and eating less than I want to. Summer has arrived in Shanghai, and I am finally able to enjoy it. Except, well, I'm not actually enjoying it. I'm busy, and ready to travel - ready for my true vacation to begin, as this is more like a preparation stage.

Monday, June 25, 2007

好久不见。

It's been a long time, I shouldna left you, without a dope...

Yeah, it's been quite a while. My sincerest apologies, I've been thinking of things to write here, and never really getting around to it. Not because I am particularly busy mind you, but mostly because I've been waiting to have something profound and not too soul bearing to say. Well, you can relax, that moment hasn't yet arrived, and so my posting will be relatively mundane instead. I'm sure you won't mind, as mundane from Shanghai can occasionally make for an interesting read.

My semester is drawing to a close, and as I avoiding preparing for my exams like the bubonic plague, I have become reflective. During the winter, I had a running clock in my mind, counting how long I'd been here, and how long I had left until I went home. I am not quite sure when it happened, but at some point the clock stopped functioning. And suddenly, there are only two weeks left in the semester, and shortly thereafter I will be traveling, seeing new places and visiting old ones, and hopefully catching up with most of you. Somehow, while getting to know Shanghai, adjusting to my celebrity status, dealing with the winter weight comments, meeting new people and learning 汉字 (Hanzi, Chinese Characters),which is currently the bane of my existence, I stopped keeping track of the time and started enjoying it. And when I did that, I really and truly started to enjoy Shanghai. And the extent to which I adjusted is evident in the fact that I have decided to stay a little while longer.

I am not going to sugar coat, my first few months in Shanghai were HARD. As I have met more foreigners, especially black Americans, I have discovered that most of us have similar stories. We hated Shanghai for at least three months. We hated the stares and comments, the oily food, the spitting on the street, the lack of courtesy, the feelings of loneliness and isolation...we experienced serious adjustment issues and what some would call culture shock (that is still being debated). And that is when we separate the boys from the men.

What don kill, fatten. (What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger).
At that point, we all have to decide if we are going to call it quits and go home, or tough it up and pull through. Now, there is nothing wrong with the people who decide to leave, they are making the best decision for themselves. It takes a certain type of personality to decide to stick it out, and I am not purporting to be objective. Some people really and truly would not be able to survive here, and for those people it is essential that they take care of themselves and leave. For those of us that can and do survive here however, something wonderful happens. When we make the decision to pull through, we discover a different kind of fortitude in ourselves, and a unique beauty in the city on the sea that we call home. We find a peace about it, realizing that everywhere on the globe has a downside, we adjust. And when you stop wasting your energy thinking about the things you don't like all day long, you find the brain cells to notice the good things. Some of which are just as trivial as the bad things that previously annoyed you so much. Your cell phone works underground on the metro, you can watch TV on the bus, food is cheap, you can bargain the price of almost anything, no one is upset about the 5快 DVD's we all own (that is about .50 Euros, less than $1 USD & less than .50 GBP), apartments come fully furnished, there is always something to do, and I can get a good, high-end massage at midnight for about 60快。No complaints here.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Lots of people can't stand the Shanghai sauna. Some people need trees or quiet or clean streets. I grew up in New York City, so maybe I need concrete, noise and trash to feel at home. Either way, Shanghai is the first international metropolis I've been to that didn't make me miss the City (that's NYC). I feel like Shanghai is distinctly its own. It is not living in the shadow of another city nor is it trying to live up to mythical folklore. Shanghai is definitely Chinese, and yet, it is not at all like any other city in China. It has been a "foreign" city for centuries, and it is different from the "real" China in the way that most major cosmopolitan cities around the world differ from the rest of the country. Shanghai is full of money, tourists, foreigners, businesses, skyscrapers...and you leave Shanghai you see that most other places are more beautiful (as in, they have more natural landscape, more trees, etc.), more impoverished, more cut-off from the outside world, and some would say, more "Chinese". As for me, I love Shanghai's sauna, and I couldn't live in any other city in China.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
As we adjust to life in Shanghai, we are invariably changed. Now, I can not imagine that I will ever feel comfortable spitting bones or other food items out of my mouth and onto the table, or answering my phone while teaching class, but a few other things have changed. I push and shove, and rarely "wait my turn". I call wait-staff, in Chinese, with a loud voice while beckoning with my hand. I occasionally yell and say mildly offensive things when bargaining for big-ticket items. And for me, some of the things which caused me difficulty at home are socially acceptable here. When I am looking at clothing and shoes, and the salesperson shows me something I think is hideous, I can say I don't like it and make a face that says "I think that is hideous", and she is not offended. She doesn't even care, she just picks up the next item. I can ask people personal questions, and they will answer. (How old are you? How much money do you make? Why don't you shave? Why do you have two children? You've been staring at me for five minutes, don't you think you can look away now?...well, maybe that last one isn't really a question). The Chinese are rarely impacted by my tone of voice (because in Chinese tone does not imply sentiment, a change in tone changes the meaning of the word. For example, the word "wen" means, among other things, "to ask" (a question) and "to kiss",depending on the tone.) They also do not usually care about most of the facial expressions I make, aside from the particularly severe "if looks could kill" type expressions. And I can not be upset with the Chinese for being Chinese. This is their country, their culture, their land. If I have a problem with them I can go home. I chose to stay, so I have to adjust. So, being as I'm in Shanghai, I do what the Shanghainese do. Except spitting...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saturday, June 02, 2007

It's Official...

I have signed my contract and so it is official. I will staying in Shanghai for at least one more year. I am glad that it worked out, excited to be staying here, and of course, thrilled that this blog will have at least one more year of Shanghai centered adventures. Happy reading...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Birthday Cake

I can't find chocolate lava cake with raspberry sauce, so I got myself chocolate mousse and raspberry mouse, single serving, and ate them at work while my students took a TOEFL practice test. Close enough, I guess, although I would have LOVED a chocolate lava cake with raspberry sauce...I'll have to get one this summer.

The cake my friends brought me. The little chocolate thing says "生日快乐"。I didn't eat any (I am not a big fan of cake). But, everyone else enjoyed the cake, so I think it was okay. Even though I don't eat cake anymore (must be old age), it is the the thought that counts, and I REALLY appreciated it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Color

For many members of the black/African American community, complexion is often an integral part of identity. We use many different words to describe complexion, from the edible - caramel, chocolate, coffee - to the natural - mahogany, sunshine, Georgia clay - to the location on a spectrum - high yellow, light-skinned, brown-skinned - and even sometimes the offensive and intentionally hurtful. These descriptions often relate beauty and color, and color-linked standards of beauty change with time and community. So, for example, a person in NYC that might be described as being the color of coffee might also be described as being the color of dirt. The former implies a rich, strong color and the latter, an ugly, dirty color.
My best friend, who has a medium-brown complexion, and I were talking about this the other day. She mentioned that recently she's heard people describe her as being "light". This is amazing to her, because growing up she thought she was the color of charcoal. She grew up in a community where light skin was often associated with beauty, and brown skin was often referred to in less than positive terms. As a child, she would never have imagined that anyone would consider her "light". Her skin color hasn't changed, but her community and the associations with that color have.
As for me, my complexion was never anything spectacular or extraordinary. Although I was subjected to the usual slurs and compliments given to people of my complexion, there are enough people in US media with similar complexions that I was by no means isolated. In China however, my color is more unique. And not only to the Chinese, but also to many of the Africans. In fact, recently (now that summer is here and you can see the skin on more than my face) when African guys meet me for the first time, they talk endlessly about my color. They talk about it in terms of beauty and love, and it is so interesting to me. There are light skinned blacks in many African countries, and so it is not the fact that I am lighter that makes my color intriguing. Apparently, it is just my particular color that they find attractive. And all of this talk about color, although flattering, causes me to think further than the words they are expressing. Although in many communities complexion is important - every day I see Chinese women running in fear of the sun, afraid to get "black", and European women lying in the sun, trying to get "brown" - as complexion is an indicator of health, fitness, occupation or socio-economic status, I am not sure how many communities have a similar range of complexions or the sordid history related to complexion as the African diaspora. And this history, from yesterday all the way back to the time the first slave was forced to embark on the middle passage, allows me to smile and say thank you on the outside, and reason with the part of myself that is cringing on the inside.

On a similar note, this semester brought with it new students, and new students means more introductions. Now, I am 100% black American all the way back to slavery. Now, I know that this is a lie, but it is for the greater good. Let me tell you why.
A while ago, I went and ate lunch with a few of my classmates and friends. On the way back from lunch, a guy from Turkey, who is the friend of my friend MM, and I were talking, the usual introductions.
"So, where are you from?," he asks.
"America," I reply.
Completely dumbfounded, he responds "America?".
"Yes"
"America?," he responds quizzically.
"Yes, America. The United States of America."
"Really?"
"Yes, why are you so surprised?"
"Oh, usually people from America don't say America. America is what we say in Turkish."
"What do people from America usually say?"
"U.S."
"Ok, sometimes we say I'm from the U.S. But we also say "the States", and sometimes 'America'."
"Really, you're from America?"
"Yes."
"You're a citizen?"
I am annoyed. "Yeeeess. Why is that so hard for you to believe?"
"You don't look American."
"Really? What do I look like?"
"African."
"African? What about me looks 'African'?"
He is at a loss for words. He looks at the other people around us.
"You look like you and MM are from the same country."
MM is from Niger. He is tall, lanky, very dark skinned, and our eyes, noses, mouths and cheekbones are markedly different.
"MM! We look nothing alike. Absolutely nothing alike. What you really mean is that because I am black, you don't think I am American."
"No, it is just that most of MM's friends are African."
"You're Turkish."
"You look like the African girls."
At this time, there were two (of the three on campus) African girls in front of us. And now, I am completely confrontational.
"I look like them? How? Tell me how, exactly, I look like them. Because I know you are not looking closely, I will tell you that at first glance I am considerably lighter and have completely different hair. If you were just going on appearance, you wouldn't think I was from the same country as either of those girls. Why is it so hard for you to believe that I am American? There are black people in America, you know."
"Of course I know that there are black people in America, everyone knows that."
"Really. You don't seem to know."
The conversation got progressively worse after this, but I will spare you the details. It should suffice to say hat he was quite adamant that I don't look "American", and I was adamant that he had no idea what he was talking about and that not only is he ignorant, but that he was making a fool of himself. This continued until he noted that he "should stop before he gets himself in more trouble". After that, for the next two weeks, every time I saw him I said "Hello my friend who doesn't believe that there are black people in America," childish, perhaps, but absolutely hilarious.
So, why am I 100% American? Because I am TIRED of people who act like they know differnt and feel like they have the authority to question my citizenship. Because I REFUSE to feed into their stereotypes. Because I WANT THEM TO KNOW that there have been black people in America, not just the country, but the Americas, for centuries. Because there are black people that have NEVER been to Africa. Because there are black people that have NO IDEA where in African their ancestors are from. Because they would be ANGRY if anyone questioned their CITIZENSHIP or GENEALOGY, and so they have no right to question ours. And so, because I am not going to give anyone the "I was born in, my father was born in, his father was born in..." story so that they can attempt to link me back to Africa, I tell them that my family is American back to the time of the slaves. I am not ashamed of my ancestry, or my own personal history, but this is too much. Anyone who needs to know anything else already knows, and if they don't know and need to find out in the future, I'm sure they will.
A Chinese friend of mine got quite a history lesson a few nights ago, when he said to me, "I think you immigrated to America." I asked him why he thought that, and he responded, honestly, that when he watches American TV he only sees white people. So, I told him about the Middle Passage, slavery, segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and current discrimination. When I was done, he said, with all sincerity, "I am so sorry to ask." I told him that he doesn't need to be sorry, it is what is done, but I am glad he asked because now he can correct his friends when they assume that all Americans are white. He even knows now that there are lots of non-white Americans, including some Chinese-Americans that immigrated over a century a ago! Each one reach one...


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tongji song

This is the video of the TongJi song, there will be more about the centennial celebration as soon as I sit down to write, but in the meantime, enjoy the song...we actually like it! :-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Janet Jackson - If (long version)

This one is a special request, so here's to you my forever friend. I got the long video, 'cause it's good and we only got to see it once or twice before they replaced it. Shout out to DLSA class of '94 and especially my girl Chika, my choreographer and co-conspirator.

For those of you that have no idea what any of that means, here's the short story.
For a school performance when I was in 8th grade, the girls that lived in Queens (and thus commuted together regularly) decided to perform "If". We watched the video and learned the choreography, then we held auditions. We didn't have enough boys for all of the girls, so Chika choreographed steps for the background dancers that didn't include guys, but fit seamlessly with the choreography that we learned from the video. We went to a small private middle school in the city (oh, that's Manhattan for those of you that don't know) and this caused QUITE a stir. The lyrics are a little more sexual that most of the adults thought was appropriate. (Okay, maybe they are a lot more sexual than was appropriate.) And then, Ms. Bunn (our vice-principal) discovered that there was some hand-genital and hand-chest contact as part of the choreography. We were told to edit those parts, and we did - sort of. LOL. Imagine a bunch of 13 year olds doing this dance, yes, the entire thing. And us in middle school...lets just say that we were a mature bunch - mentally, emotionally and physically. We wore all black, and we had black bandannas on our heads (that was the style at the time), and the guy doing the lighting made it flash during the instrumental part in the middle- HOT. Oh, and by the way, I was Janet.

Premier Wen Jiabao visited Tongji University

I know that most of you can not understand a single word, but for those of you that can this might be interesting.

This is a follow-up to my posting a few days ago, which mentioned that I saw Wen Jiabao at TongJi.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Takin' you back

Okay, so I love youtube...can you tell? This one has nothing to do with TongJi or China, but it is an excellent throwback song.
Being as I am in a throwback mood, I'm gonna give a shout out to my mom. I love you! Remember the living room at 147? If you feel it in your heart and understand me, stop right where you are everybody sing along with me...
To everyone else, I hope you enjoy the throwback. I would also like to let all you know that I STILL remember every word. Maybe I need to get some Chinese songs in my head! If you are too young to know this song, or did not grow up listen to this type of music, just give it a watch.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

同济大学百年校庆标志发布动画-- Tongji University Centennial Logo Animation

Just to get you all ready. This year is TongJi's 100th Anniversary. And you know what that means? It means that right now the campus is a flurry of activity, as lights and stages and flowers and trees goes up (or get changed or refreshed), construction on numerous buildings is being completed, and dignitaries and politicians visit the school. (I saw Wen JiaBao, the Premier/Prime Minister of China on Monday.) So, you can view this video and begin to understand the meaning behind TongJi's logo. A little background before the fun stuff. LOL. There will be more videos in the coming days . . . enjoy!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Americans...

In class two days ago I learned two interesting things:

1) The reason why the toilet stall doors in public restrooms in America have a space at the bottom is because many Americans kill themselves in the public restroom stalls...

2) Many Chinese think/say that Americans are stupid. Why? Well because American children wear diapers (many Chinese don't, they have slit pants, we see bottoms all day). And because our children wear diapers, they are not toilet trained until they are 7 or 8 years old.

So, there you have it. We kill ourselves in public restrooms and wear diapers until the 2nd grade or later. And only Americans, not Canadians or Europeans, or Australians, or South Americans...or any of the other countries and even entire continents that have either of those two things in common with the USA.

I have more to share, but I'll save it for the general update this weekend. Have a good day/night!

More about Iraq

The following are excerpts from a few e-mails I received from my brother, a Sgt. in the USMC. (Semper Fi!)

JOHN GLENN Speech

I served 23 years in the United States Marine Corps. I was through two wars. I flew 149 missions. My plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire on 12 different occasions.

I was in the space program. It wasn't my checkbook. It was my life that was on the line. This was not a 9-to-5 job where I took time off to take the daily cash receipts to the bank. I ask you to go with me . . . as I went the other day to a Veterans Hospital and look those men with their mangled bodies in the eye and tell them they didn't hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother, and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job.

You go with me to the space program, and you go as I have gone to the widows and the orphans of Ed White and Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, and you look those kids in the eye and tell them that their dad didn't hold a job.

You go with me on Memorial Day coming up, and you stand in Arlington National Cemetery - where I have more friends than I like to remember - and you watch those waving flags, and you stand there, and you think about this nation, and you tell me that those people didn't have a job.

I tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men - some men - who held a job. And they required a dedication to purpose and a love of country and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself. And their self-sacrifice is what has made this country possible.... I have held a job, Howard.

Things that make you think a little:

There were 39 combat related killings in Iraq in January.
In the fair city of Detroit there were 35 murders in the
Month of January. That' s just one American city, about as deadly as the entire war-torn country of Iraq

When some claim that President Bush shouldn't have started this war, state the following:

A. FDR led us into World War II.

B. Germany never attacked us; Japan did. from 1941-1945, 450,000 lives were lost .. an average of 112,500 per year.


C. Truman finished that war and started one in Korea. North Korea never attacked us. From 1950-1953, 55,000 lives were lost ... an average of 18,334 per year.

D. John F. Kennedy started the Vietnam conflict in 1962. Vietnam never attacked us.

E. Johnson turned Vietnam into a quagmire. From 1965-1975, 58,000 lives were lost, an average of 5,800 per year.

F. Clinton went to war in Bosnia without UN or French consent. Bosnia never attacked us.

G. In the years since terrorists attacked us, President Bush has liberated two countries, crushed the Taliban, crippled Al-Qaida, put nuclear inspectors in Libya, Iran, and North Korea without firing a shot, and captured a terrorist who slaughtered 300,000 of his own people.

The Democrats are complaining about how long the war is taking.

But it took less time to take Iraq than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Davidian compound. That was a 51-day operation.

We've been looking for evidence for chemical weapons in Iraq for less time than it took Hillary Clinton to find the Rose Law Firm billing records.

It took less time for the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines to destroy the Medina Republican Guard than it took Ted Kennedy to call the police after his
Oldsmobile sank at Chappaquiddick.

It took less time to take Iraq than it took to count the votes in Florida.

Our Commander-In- Chief is doing a HARD JOB! The Military morale is high!

I have taken the time to do some fact-checking, and have made corrections as necessary. However, I have not done extensive fact checking and encourage you to check the validity of any statements read herein. Other information obtained from:
http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_glenn_metzenbaum.htm,
http://www.counterpunch.org/cox10132005.html


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Questions

I think I understand how/why we ended up in Iraq in the first place...I can kind of sort through the tangled web...but, why, exactly, are we still there? The daily death toll in Iraq usually equals or outweighs the VTech killings and although it does not diminish the loss suffered by all I do wonder about the importance, scale, and coverage provided to each. VTech, as with each tragic and unfortunate mass shooting, highlights grave issues with our nation, from the plight of the "nerds" and "loners" to mental health care and treatment, from what is "legal" to the who's and how's of guns purchases. And Iraq highlights its own set of issues in our great nation...a set of issues that I can even begin to scratch the surface of. Of course, millions of people are dieing around the world every day for millions of reasons, and everyone has their own cause to champion, but it still strikes me that the US has a direct, obvious, and controllable ability to lesson the current death toll in Iraq. Iraq might be "old" news, and perhaps we are all tired of it, but knowing firsthand what is it like to have a soldier there, I know that it never gets old to those families, to those relatives, to those soldiers who put their lives on the line every day, some of whom never make it home. It never gets old to the citizens and occupants of that nation, who are dealing with daily suicide bombings and mass murders. At VTech it was clear who had blood on his hands, we know who the murder was, citizenship, personal history, system failings, influences and chemical imbalances notwithstanding, it is still clear who pulled the trigger. In Iraq, as more information comes to light, we see that lies, personal agendas, system failings, influences and chemical imbalances aside we know who pulled the trigger.

Another, slightly less grave question. Why did the CEO of Sallie Mae pay himself a salary of $225 million over 5 years? $225 million. Please excuse my language, but are you F-in' kidding me? This is the former CEO of the same company that a few months ago sent a letter addressed to me at my current address in China, to tell me that they could not locate me, and would like greatly appreciate any assistance I could provide in helping them to locate me. This from a company that charges students as much as 28% annual interest on their loans (according to Fortune magazine). 28%. 28% so that their CEO's can make millions, the corrupt loan officers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and sweetheart-deal stock transactions and people like me can be told that although I live and attend school abroad and work part-time, I can not get a deferment, I can only make my payments "in US funds drawn on a US bank" (not even a money order) and that they need my help...'cause they are unable to locate me. If anyone ever hears of a lawsuit, petition, rally, or anything that will help to drive Sallie Mae out of business, I'm IN!

Information obtained from:
http://www.herald-dispatch.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070501/NEWS01/705010345/1001/NEWS10
http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070502/REPOSITORY/705020405/1013/NEWS03
http://money.cnn.com/2005/12/14/news/fortune500/sallie_fortune_122605/
http://www.uexpress.com/tedrall/

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shooting at Virginia University

Yesterday's shootings at VA Tech have shaken me. I just wanted to express my condolences and heartfelt sympathy. This is incomprehensible. I am speechless.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Chinese Singer

Here is a clip of one of the women that I watched perform while I was in ShaoXin.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

绍心 - Shao Xin

Ah, China China.

We went to Shao Xin, the home of famous writer Lu Xin. So, at 8:00 on Thursday morning we boarded the buses and headed out between 8:30 and 9:00.

The school decided that this would be a guided tour. So, we had a wonderful tour guide from the moment we left TongJi until the moment we returned. A wonderful addition if anyone other than the teachers would have been able to understand him. My bus had two C-level classes and one G-level. I think that some of the G level people knew what he was saying, but I think that class has about 10 people. The rest of us C 班-ers (班=class, sounds like "ban" said quickly) were lost about 80% of the time and completely gave up attempting to listen after the first 2.5 minutes. We tried to ask him to speak slowly, but he was not getting it. So, everyone turned up their MP3 players and chatted with their neighbors.

The ride to Shao Xin takes about 4 hours, so we stopped for lunch after a little more than 2 hours. I have no idea where we were when we stopped for lunch, but I do know that was some of the nastiest food I have ever attempted to eat. So, I went outside, in the 28 degree (Celsius) heat...wondering how we managed to skip the wonderful season of Spring. The area outside had a few good photo locations, and so I headed out with my little brother and camera and took a few pictures. Then we got back on the bus for the last two hours. We finally arrived in Shao Xin, and it was hot. I wore jeans, a rarity for me, and I spent most of the day wondering how on earth people wear jeans in the summer.
So we went did the tourist site thing. I am not opposed to visit tourist sites by any means, but this one was serious hard for me. First, trying to organize over one hundred people by speaking in Chinese into a megaphone is simply a waste of time. Very few of us could understand what they were saying even without the megaphone. And then, there was a tour guide for each bus, which means 4-5 megaphones simultaneously, along with all of the other groups of tourists and students. Then, in order to get into the various buildings, we need a ticket. But we have a group ticket. So, that means that no only are we limited in our freedom, but the buildings HAVE to be crowded. Even if it is just us, and it wasn't just us. The tour guides finally realized they were fighting a loosing battle, split up and each just rotated buildings. That way, we could go from building to building, switching guides and groups, and move more at our own space.
So, after getting over the frustration, I walked around mostly alone, interacting with my classmates occasionally, and tried to understand as much as I could. I also enjoyed looking at the architeture, and trying to understand more of the rich history of this nation. Thankfully, I have an excellent Chinese teacher, who gave me an overview at the end of the day in Chinese that I was able to understand, and English when she used vocabulary that was too advanced.
After leaving "LuXin Native Place", we went to the hotel which is in Shao Xin's city center. After locating our rooms, we headed back to the bus and off to dinner. Dinner, thankfully was good. As usual, I ate Halal, with the mostly Muslim crew (and also most of the Africans irrespective of religion). And I sincerely enjoy eating with my African and Muslim brothers and sisters. First of all, they are mostly males, from loud, boisterous, male-dominate societies. And, to me, they are quite entertaining. Especially because they do not hesitate to the let the wait staff know what we do and do not like, to ask for more of the things we like, and to tell them that it is not nearly enough. We call the waitress at least 4 times as often as the general eaters. The girls often end up serving the general food (rice & meat) although sometimes we will pass things around the table. I don't mind serving, as it is the only way I get what I want, because those men tear into the food like crows. So, I serve them like they are used to, and they let me breach most of their customs and serve myself first. It works for all parties involved. We also laugh a lot, and truly enjoy our meal, and we are often among the last to leave. I often wonder what the impression is of Muslims
among the servers and other employees at these restaurants after we leave.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel and decided what to do for the night. In the end, we walked to KFC, and I got pictures along the way. Then, I ate ice-cream (with strawberry sauce), and went back to the hotel to go to bed. Some people had a party (iPod with speakers and a boom box were among the items that made it into the overnight bags of some) outside in the little garden of the hotel. Lots of liquor and a good time were had by all, I heard.
I slept horribly, as I often do in hotels, and woke up after two hours only to watch the rest of the night fade into day. I would have made some phone calls, but I didn't think to buy a calling card before I left Shanghai. I didn't want to join the revelry, and my roommate for the night was asleep so I didn't want to turn on the TV or the lights. What is a girl to do?
Anyway, the next morning, we went to LanTing, which was made famous by a famous Chinese calligrapher, Wang XiZhi. This time we could wander freely, and so I did. It was a nice and relaxing day, although I was clearly overdressed for the 29-degree heat. So, I spent about one hour sitting in the cool shade, enjoying the breeze, and about 30 minutes of that time conversing with my little brother. It was a relaxing day, but after four hours in the hot sun I was ready to go home.
Lunch was at the same place as dinner, thankfully, because breakfast was worse than the previous days lunch. Then we headed out for the four hour ride back to ShangHai. For the first two hours, the ride went smoothly. Then after our 2-hour rest-stop, the bus started having problems. Apparently, our bus does not like being in first gear, because every time the driver had to stop while in first (5:00, Friday, big city - traffic) the bus would stall...and then shut off. And we would have to wait a little while, and then it would restart. So, we were fine when he could cruise, but when he had to slow down, or sit in traffic, we had problems. And so this made our 4 hour bus ride considerably longer. And then, finally, the bus completely broke down. Thankfully, we were already in Shanghai, and not far from TongJi. Everyone else had already arrived, so they sent one of the others buses back to pick us up. I was wondering if God was trying to teach me a lesson, being as I was so anxious to get home, and I got stuck on the broke-down bus. Maybe I'm learning to step back a little, be patient, take things as they come. By the end, I was cool, and although happy to finally arrive in my room, I was able to get there without angst.
So, that was ShaoXin. I provided way more detail than most of you really wanted to know, but being as you are visiting China vicariously through me, I figure, hey, why not?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Birthday

So, I've been thinking a lot about my birthday recently. I'm not quite sure why. I've been trying to decide if I should ignore it as seems to be fitting for someone approaching 30, or throw myself a big birthday party.

You see, for the past few years, I have had this secret desire to have a party. Birthday, going away, just cause it's Friday, whatever. But, moving often, lack of space, lack of people to invite...those and other reasons have kept me from following through or even really mentioning it. I have a thing about disappointment, not to mention failure. And throwing a party, for me, is a big deal. It is not something that happens often, and because of the two issues mentioned above, something I want the guests to really enjoy (and have good memories). I've been to quite a few birthday parties since I've been here, which also makes me think more about having one.

For the first time in a long time, I know a lot people that would actually come to my party. None of my family or close friends would be there, but I have a relatively large network of friends, co-workers, associates and classmates that I would invite, a good portion of whom would actually come. I think I would throughly enjoy being the center of attention for one night, and I'm sure I could recruit a few people to help with the work. Alas, I do not have enough space, and would have to ask a friend for use of their apartment. Parties also cost money, which I could put towards something more important, like traveling around Asia. And I wonder if the night would feel a little bittersweet, without the folks that live thousands of miles away. I am approaching thirty, which might be the new twenty, but nevertheless a little old to be throwing yourself a birthday bash.

As you can tell, I haven't made up my mind. So, if you have an opinion, I'd love to read it.

And, if you are thinking of sending me a birthday present and are not quite sure what I like, here is a list of things that will fit into a 9x12 or smaller bubble mailer:
Lotion and/or body wash from Bath and Body Works (Sweet Pea, Cotton Blossom, Moonlight Path, Night Blooming Jasmine); A pair of size 4 (US) Long and Lean Jeans from the Gap (dark wash); Hand Sanitizer (gel, any brand); Great Grains (Raisins Dates and Pecans or Crunchy Pecan-take the bag of cereal out of the box and make a small hole to squeeze the air out, fold over and seal with tape); $1,000 USD or GBP (Hey, you never know); grease/hair oil/scalp conditioner (I have naturally curly hair, so something really light, I can't remember the name of what I had at home); Thera-Flu (lemon, nighttime or daytime); Boots Botanics Skin Softening Body Butter (available at Target in the US, and, obviously, Boots, in the UK); a card with handwritten words; pictures of you (and your spouse/children/fam/loved ones); lots of love - in a bubble mailer.

And after writing this list, I realized that I need to say a big THANK YOU, to TMW, MTM and my wonderful Grandmother for keeping me supplied with cereal, beans, tights, hair stuff, Ribena, Ovaltine Biscuits, Thera-Flu, a few other things, and, of course, HOT CHOCOLATE. You have no idea how much it meant to me, that you paid quite a lot of money to send large, heavy boxes with stuff for me. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Turn Your Lights...

This is for all of you that don't have myspace. Jah Bless.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Chinese Homeowner

International Herald Tribune
Chinese homeowner stands her ground
Monday, March 26, 2007

CHONGQING, China: For weeks it has drawn attention from people all across China, as simple homeowners stared down the forces of large-scale redevelopment that is sweeping this country, blocking the preparation of a gigantic construction site by an act of sheer will.

Chinese bloggers were the first to spread the news of a house perched atop a tall, thimble-shaped piece of land like the Mont St. Michel, surrounded by a vast excavated ditch. Newspapers dove in next, finally to be followed by national television broadcasts.

The story of the "nail house," as many here have called it because of the homeowner's tenacity, like a nail that cannot be pulled out, has a universal resonance in a country where developers are seen to be in league with officials and where both enjoy unchallenged sway. Each year, China is roiled by tens of thousands of riots and demonstrations, and few issues pack as much emotional force as the discontent of people who are suddenly uprooted and told they must make way for a new skyscraper, golf course or industrial zone.

What drove interest in the Chongqing case was the uncanny ability of the homeowner to hold out for so long. Stories are legion in Chinese cities of the arrest or even beating of people who protest too vigorously against their eviction and relocation. In one often-heard twist, holdouts are summoned to the local police station and return home only to find their house already demolished. How had this owner, a woman no less, managed?

Part of the answer, which takes only a moment to discover upon meeting her, is that Wu Ping is anything but an ordinary woman. With her dramatic look of precisely combed and pinned-back hair, a form-flattering bright red dress, high cheekbones and wide, excited eyes, the tall, 49-year-old restaurateur seems to have missed a calling in the theater.

On this day, she kept a reporter waiting for a half an hour and then led him on a brisk walk through Yangjiaping, a neighborhood in the throes of redevelopment, with broad avenues, big shopping malls and a recently built elevated monorail line, from whose platform nearly everyone stops to gawk at the nail house.

"For over two years they haven't allowed me access to my property," Wu said, arms flailing as she walked.

Within moments of her arrival at the locked gate of the excavated construction site, a crowd began to gather. The people, many of them workers in grimy clothes, regarded Wu with expressions of wonderment. Some of them exchanged stories about how they had been forced to relocate and soothed each other with comments about how it could not be helped.

From inside the gates, a state television crew began filming.

"If it were an ordinary person, they would have hired thugs and beat her up," murmured a woman dressed in a green sweater who was drawn by the throng. "Ordinary people don't dare fight with the developers. They're too strong."

Another woman, an 80-year-old who declined to give her name, calling herself Wu's former neighbor, described another kind of outcome. "In the past, they would have just knocked it down as decided," she said. "Now that's forbidden because Beijing has put out the word that these things should be done in a reasonable way."

Between frenzied telephone calls to reporters and to city officials, Wu, who stood at the center of the crowd with her brother, a decorative stone dealer who wore his brown hair curled, stated her own case with a slightly different spin, one geared for a new media age in China, where people leverage public opinion and appeals to the national image to influence the authorities.

"I have more faith than others," she began. "I believe that this is my legal property, and if I cannot protect my own rights, it makes a mockery of the property law just passed," she said, referring to landmark legislation approved this month by the National People's Congress on the protection of private property.

Tian Yihang, a local college student who spoke from the monorail station overlooking the site, was full of admiration. "This is a peculiar situation," he said. "I admire the owner for being so persistent in her principles. In China, such things shock the common mind."

In the end, however, Wu may not win her battle. After she and her husband repeatedly turned down offers of compensation, developers appealed to the local housing authorities, who recently obtained a demolition order from the district court.

"During the process of demolition, 280 households were all satisfied with their compensation and moved," said Ren Zhongping, a housing official. "Wu was the only one we had to dismantle forcibly. She has the value of her house in her heart, but what she has in mind is not practical. It's far beyond the standards of compensation decided by owners of housing and the professional appraisal organ."

With the street so choked with onlookers that traffic began to back up, Wu's brother, Wu Jian, began waving a newspaper above the crowd, pointing to pictures of Wu's husband, a local martial arts champion named Yang Wu, who was scheduled to appear in a tournament that evening. "He's going into our building and will plant a flag there," Wu Jian announced.

Asked how his brother-in-law could get inside the locked site and scale the peak where the house is perched, he said, with a wink: "Magic."

Moments later, as the crowd began to thin, a red Chinese flag could be seen fluttering from the roof of the home along with a hand-painted banner that read: "A citizen's legal property is not to be encroached upon."