Remember Yo’ Roots

Since I’ve come to China I haven’t eaten very many packaged foods. A trip to the grocery store involves buying fresh veggies, fruit, and sometimes meat which is then cooked up and served that day. I don’t often buy cookies , cakes, candy , and such things like that. I’m not a fan of packaged foods in general and I also just really don’t like many Chinese packaged foods. For another post I will round-up my go-to’s if I want a snack.

There are times though when I miss some good ole’ American snacks. Goldfish , pretzels, dried cranberries , granola, the list can go on.I absolutely love Asian cuisine but remember your roots! It’s good every once in a while to pay that extra cash and indulgence in some old favorites. I’ve been really wanting to eat some goldfish lately but Carrefour doesn’t have the original flavor in stock. Screw the marshmallow flavor crap , I want that cheddar cheese!

Occasionally there will be the food splurge but more often I’ll get some nice imported beers and I must always have a nice coffee selection!

Ohhh craft brew how I miss you so!

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Cashing in on Christmas

We know what Christmas is supposed to be about , right?  Togetherness , sharing ,remembrance,and celebrating family and friends. Right?!?!

While maybe we have forgotten the deeper meaning of Christmas beyond , gasp, presents! Here in China we don’t learn about what Christmas is really about. It seems like the whole Christmas thing was culturally copied and lifted from the Western world without much analyses beyond the surface.

I see Santa Claus in the shopping mall , reindeer horn wearing workers , gigantic gaudy crystal laden Christmas trees in the streets, clubs have Santa Claus greeters, and frosty the snowman beckons people to come into his restaurant.

The basic message is the same. CONSUME CONSUME CONSUME.

Maybe the Western world needs to stop thinking about presents and set a better example for everyone else. Back to the roots people!

However China does have an entire week-long festival dedicated to family. Yes, that’s right , an entire week of eating, hongbao (red envelopes with cash), and fireworks!  The upcoming Chinese New Year features the world’s largest annual migration of humans as millions of sons, daughters , husbands , wives, etc swarm by the millions back to their hometowns to spend time with family. Some of these people only get to see family this time of the year.

I’ve been teaching the kindergarten kids Christmas songs and vocabulary all month-long and on Friday the 23rd I got to dress up in a Santa Suit and deliver presents in the school. I learned one thing ; Santa suits are damned hot. I have some empathy for those mall Santas.

Now on a more personal note, I had a pretty swell Christmas myself. Got to celebrate with three people who have never celebrated it before. My roommate is Jewish, so that explains that, and both our girlfriends are Chinese and they see the decorations every year but have never actively celebrated. We ghetto-wrapped some presents the night before (the grocery store ran out of a limited supply of wrapping paper) and the day started with my roommate pounding on the door excited to open presents. Hahaha like me when I was 6 years old. We tore into the gifts and a merry time was had by all.

After this I got to engage in a little Skype action with some good friends and then it was time for food!

Went out for a traditional Christmas lunch of spicy stuffed fish wrapped and roasted in banana leaves , traditional lemongrass beef , north pole style stir-fried chicken with plantain flowers , all topped off with some tamarind juice. Yummy authentic Christmas Yunnan fare. Spicy Xmas style.

This was followed up by some cold bike riding errands and then back to an evening Skype chat with the family. Good times y’all!

Oh yea one other thing , tons of restaurants in Shanghai had Christmas dinner offerings. Some had really offerings but they are all so expensive. Think in the range of 300-800 Rmb (~ $50-120). Places were even offering totally non-Christmas related Christmas meals. 3 course Thai meal featuring chicken satay , crab curry, and Tom Yum soup ,anyone? Sushi blast?

Alright, I’ll leave ya with some photos.  (Keeping with the consumerist theme. It’s all our presents! Wooo hooo!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Cambodia Bound

Well the weather is getting colder , the grey cloudy winter days are tinged with pollution, my bicycle hasn’t seen much action lately, the folks are getting burnt out at work, and Santa Clauses are around every corner. Winter has been descending on Shanghai. I’m not nearly as delirious as last year when I had been working 4 months straight weekdays and weekends. I was about to completely lose it until I took a much needed (and well-deserved) month long vacation to the Philippines (Amazing place , I’ll tell ya more about it later).

This year with Chinese New Year fast approaching , I’m preparing for a two week journey to Cambodia! Since I’m working at a kindergarten and we double as a school and baby sitting facility I don’t have a full month off like I did last year. Two weeks can’t match a month but hey no more complaining. One of these weeks I still receive salary too. Woo hooo! The financial situation won’t quite be as dire as last year.

Tickets are already purchased and E-visas are in hand. I’ve never acquired a visa in a manner like this before. Merely visit the Kingdom of Cambodia’s foreign affairs website ,  http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/evisa/ , fill out the application , upload a photo, use a credit card , and bam three days later get an e-visa. Print it out , take it with you to Phnom Penh international airport , bypass the wait for visa lines , and customs officers stick a fresh visa in yo passport. Arriving in the Philippines I was granted 21 days free stay with a simple stamp in my passport , in Laos I got my visa upon arrival at the border ,and China visas involve a lot more money and work.

$25 USD for one month tourist visa to Cambodia. Not bad at all.

Cambodia itself has not fared too well over the last 600 years. Once the mighty Khmer Empire has been subjected to a long period of bad luck ; the fall of an empire , hundreds of years of encroachment by neighboring countries ,colonial subjugation, civil war ,bombings, and the rule of a Genocidial lunatic. Thanks to tourism and international aide just now are things starting to turn around for Cambodia.

You may (should) know that Cambodia suffered greatly under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. If you do not, then the book “After the Killing Fields” is a sobering look at the Khmer Rouge. A highly informative book that will leave you stunned about the sheer amount of violence and murder that happened. Page afer page describes villages whose populations were 70-80% wiped out. Suffice to say, over 2 million people died (nearly 1/3 the population). This trip is a combination of sad remembrance with fun. One hand ;beach , palm trees , kind people , and one hand; killing fields , prisons , visiting torture facilities. I’ve been itching to reach Cambodia even since that Geography of Southeast Asia course at Kent State. Especially fitting since the shooting of 5 Kent Students by the National Guard in 1970 was in response to the United State’s bombing campaigns of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

The plan is to fly into the capital , Phnom Penh, and then book it for the coast and the upcoming beach town of Sianoukville. Spend a little time there and then hop on a boat to the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Saloem for a little taste of idllyic unspoiled paradise. Back to Phnom Penh to see some of the devastation learned about in “After the Killing Fields”. I really want to see S-21 (torture detainment center) and some of the actual killing fields on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Aimee flies back to Shanghai and I continue my trip up to Siam Reap and Angkor Wat ( My photography teacher at Lakeland Community College had an amazing collection of photos of Angkor from his Sabbatical).

I may take a boat from Phnom Penh up through Tonle Sap , Asia’s largest freshwater lake, to get to Siam Reap. After Angkor I want to get off the beaten path a little bit and may go toKompong Thom and/or Kampong Cham.

Less than a month away now! I’m getting pumped. Ready to drink some Anchor Beer , buy some cheap cloths , and blissfully chill out on the beach.

WOOHOO LUCKY ME ENJOY THE COLD WINTER SUCKAS!

Nanjing Graffiti

Like I posted previously, Nanjing has a visible graffiti scene. Especially around the Xinjiekou area. The Xinjiekou spots are very busy with tons of people. Good pulling that off! . Much more than other Chinese cities. Beats Shanghai in terms of “street” graffiti but I didn’t find a legal wall area similar to Shanghai’s M50 or Beijing’s 798 Art Zone. If anyone knows of any cool graffiti spots in Nanjing lemme know!

There were more that I saw from inside the bus but couldn’t get a picture of. Props to those getting up!

Nanjing!

Took last Friday off and went on a little trip to Nanjing for a three-day work/pleasure trip (Dec 2-5th). The work factor was a trip to the Chinese police station there to apply for a passport for my girlfriend and the rest was all sightseeing and relaxing.

Nanjing is a cultural/historical city with many attractions. Nanjing has served as the capital of China for several different dynasties and was most recently the capital under the KMT (Kuomintang) from 1927-1949 when the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) kicked them out and the KMT went running towards Taiwan. Beijing , the current capital of China, means northern capital and Nanjing means southern capital.

It’s incredible what a little change in perspective can bring. Before, I would have marvelled at the big city , would have been like a little fly attracted to the lights , but after a year in Shanghai , Nanjing felt like a small town. A small town with half the population of my native Ohio and probably more skyscrapers than all of Ohio’s cities combined felt small to me , hahaha.

Only 2 subway lines?!?! C’mon Nanjing! Ahh ,NJ don’t worry I love you.

The newer CRH (bullet) trains linking Shanghai and Jiangsu province cities make travel to Nanjing a breeze. Hop on the train in Shanghai,  1 hour and 40 minutes later depart at Nanjing. Recline in the comfy chairs , read a book, and hurdle through the countryside at 300km/h (182mph). Back in Ohio , I could drive a car and make it from Cleveland to Columbus in 3-4 hours , in China I can hop a train , read, relax, take my eyes off the road/track , and travel a greater distance in a faster time for less money. Nice.

Day 1

An early wake-up and a trip to Aimee’s former University to get a copy of her Hukou (Chinese city residency card). Then off to the Exit/Entry administration to fill out paperwork , take photos, and send off the application for a passport. A bit of a hassle to travel back to your Hukou city but takes much less time and is considerably cheaper than U.S citizens receiving their U.S passports. American passports cost $120 or so and take about 3 months to get it after mailing off the application. For China the turnaround time is a mere 2 weeks and only costs 200rmb ($30.76).

After completing the paperwork a few minutes before the lunch break closing time, it was time for some food of our own. On the way to the Exit/Entry Administration , I saw a restaurant that I absolutely had to eat at.  Outside was a big sign with a cartoon drawing of a big , dumb , goofy looking , jackass. Not you JefeLats but a donkey! Donkey meat restaurant! I have not had the pleasure of dining at a donkey meat establishment and took the opportunity to do so.

The dining room was loaded with slogans painted on the wall extolling the virtues of donkey meat and it’s ability to give humans a long life. Cool, I’m down. The owner of the store seemed pretty impressed by me and came over with a free plate of cold donkey cuts with a homemade chili sauce for us. Both amazing! I don’t many foreigners come to this place as all the cooks emerged from the kitchen to see the weird donkey eating white guy. We paid for a donkey soup that was also fantastic. If you ever get the chance give it a try! Not the cheapest Chinese meal tipping the scale at $15 for 2 people. Pricey!

After imbibing in the life-giving donkey flesh it was off to visit Aimee’s old dormitory. She was a lucky one with only herself and 3 roomies in a room. It’s common for Chinese students to be jammed 6, 8, 12 into one small room. No private space at all. Kinda makes one feel bad if they complained about their one roommate. Imagine compatibility issues with 11 other people! Chinese college life is so much different from American college life.

Her university , Nanjing Medical University, is located right in the heart of the city and the trendy shopping, tall buildings , bar district, XinJieKou,  is within easy walking distance. We wandered around the big buildings , looked at Gucci bags within the store windows (gotta get me one of those!) , and found a cool knock-off clothes store. Fake Abercrombie for $18 a shirt. I don’t care about the brand name but the winter flannels with hoods were high-quality and good price. Feels good to get some warm clothes with winter fast approaching. Next we found a bus to take us to the Confucius temple.

There is nothing Confucian about the temple. Nothing really templely about it either. It’s instead a massive shopping complex located in a built to resemble the old . Old (looking) hewn stone streets and low laying buildings house huge area where everything is for sale. Clothes, shoes , animals , cheesy souvenirs, live animals. Name it and they have it. There are also many restaurants and food stores featuring Nanjing specialties. Dead salted ducks complete with heads are hanging up everywhere! We stopped for some tasty hot-pot in the area. Nothing like sitting around a pot of broiling broth to beat away the cold. Surprising how much meat , veggies, and beer can be had for $10 in some parts of the world.

I highly recommend visiting the Confucius temple at night to see the vast array of lights. The entire complex is strung with color changing , glowing , trippy, neon lights. Even the boats on the Qinghuai river have neon outlines! A pretty crazy light mural with 2 dragons fighting can also be found here. Don’t worry , I have pictures! A short bus ride back to the hostel , a hot shower in an unheated room , and bedtime.

Day 2

Going to keep with the strange and unusual new foods theme so day #2’s breakfast was noodles , bok choy , and oil-fried pig skin. The skin is a bit weird in consistency but tastes like meat. Not something I would get everyday but every once in a while is fine by me.

The plan for Saturday was take a trip out to the Purple Gold mountains on the outskirts of Nanjing but on the way we made a long stop at Zhonghua Men (China Gate). Part of the Ming built city defensive walls still stand today. Coming to the gate from the south really gives a sense of how hard it would be to attack in ancient times. First the city is bordered on the South by the Qinghuai river and secondly if invaders could make it past the river they face a massive stone wall with archers and swarms of troops.

The warriors are gone today but 35rmb will let you climb the wall and walk along the fortification. The southern and eastern parts of the wall remain and you can stroll along for a good hour or so. It appears as if the western section is currently under renovation. We just walked the wall for a good while but bike rentals for riding on the top of the wall are available at Zhonghua Men.

The city walls remind me of the Ming sections of the Great Wall and are worth checking out.

Next finally onto the massive Purple Gold Mountain park. One can easily spend an entire day here checking out the different sites. Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum is here , Ming dynasty tombs, the tomb of Sun Quan , along with the area’s stunning natural scenery.

We opted to take the 35rmb cable car up to the top. ( My first time doing this!! I usually shun the lazy.) We took the cable car to catch the awesome views. You get a little bit of elevation and as the car gains height the forest scenery gets better and better , looking back one can also see the city rising up from behind the forest. We picked an excellent time to visit here as the autumnal forest colors were amazing. Reminds me of fall back in Ohio(without the skyscrapers in the background).

After disembarking on the peak we started to make our way down the mountain. Somehow we managed to make our way to the shimmering Purple Glow lake. Absolutely beautiful there and at the same time hilarious. Several big signs lay along with lake forbidding swimming while simultaneously there are several old people swimming laps across the lake (yes even on December 3rd!) From here we managed to find our way to the Ming tombs. We were able to come through a back way that involved lots of walking and we dodged the front ticket booths. 70rmb each person to the tombs ? Nahh, free is more like it.

Skipping out on the touts trying to hustle a quick buck we hopped on the bus back to the city. We wanted to go check out Nanjing’s 1912 bar district. It’s like a little trendy Shanghai XinTianDi. But first it was dinner time!

Continuing with the unusual foods we had chicken juice dumplings and a bizarre alternate reality duck noodle soup , quite unlike those consumed when sick as little kid. Duck meat , ok a little different from chicken , noodles , congealed duck blood , liver , intestine , and a little bit of coriander. Huh?? Contrary to what you what believe the blood is pretty good , has a taste quite similar to the meat , the intestine is good though a bit chewy , and yuck I hate liver. The key to eating these things if you aren’t used to them is to not think about what you are eating. Don’t ponder on the fact that it’s blood but merely enjoy the taste. Props to my visiting friends who sampled the pig brains with me! A-Rat and W-dawg you rule!

After dinner and the bus to 1912 , we found the bustling bar district a bit too loud for our tastes. We couldn’t find a bar with seating and some were blaring some pretty shit music. Oh well , 3 rmb beers from the convenient store is a bit more economical anyways.

Day 3

The time always passes so fast. No matter if I make a mini 3 day trip or a 2 month-long excursion it’s always over so fast. Day 3 was a mission to see the other historical aspects of Nanjing we had passed by.

First stop was the incredibly well-done Nanjing Massacre Memorial. In 1937 Japanese forces invaded Nanjing and did some pretty horrible things to the civilian population , leaving behind around 300,000 dead bodies. Some pretty atrocious events occurred : rape , murder , bayonets into pregnant women’s bellies , nails into the head, severely fucked up shit. The memorial is very somber and moving. Hard to keep tears from welling up when faced with the ugly aspects of humanity.

What I really liked about the memorial was it called for peace. The memorial didn’t call for revenge against the Japanese but instead for friendship and unity. Some Chinese are really racist against the Japanese but the memorial didn’t bring up any of that. Several of the displays inside the museum were built with Japanese/ Chinese cooperation and Japanese donated lots of money for the memorial. This is a must do in Nanjing.

After  we went to find the former Presidential Palace of the Chinese Republic. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s (first president of the Republic of China after the last of the dynasties was deposed) former living quarters were here , one can wander around the former governmental offices , and relax in the peaceful gardens. Several interesting artifacts from the former government are exhibited here including; Sun Yat-Sen’s clothes , translation journals , telegraphs , typewriters ,etc. I especially enjoyed the gardens within the Palatial grounds. Man, I wish I lived in a place like that.

The gift shop had an amazing collection of crazy Chinglish souvenirs. Obama bag with the “Obamao” print and the words No Money No Face , an Osama Bin-Laden “God is just a Legend” , and the best , a big that says “I weaves the sweater for my fucking lover”. Wow! Check my pics , no kidding!

Now our time was getting short so we headed off to buy another of those fake Abercrombie shirts , grab our luggage , and make it to the northern train station. This train station is one of my favorites in China due to its promixity to Xuanwu lake. Instead of waiting inside the lobby it’s possible to go outside and enjoy the lake vista. The view across the lake gives a good look at modern Nanjing. Tall multi-colored buildings compose the cool looking skyline. (Though can’t touch Pudong!) 1 hour and 50 minutes back to Shanghai and then on a bus back to my pad. Weekend terminated.

I will definitely be making a return trip to Nanjing to catch a few more sites and make my way to the highly recommended TangShan hot springs resort. We initially planned to relax there for a day but unforseen events kept that from happening. Tangshan is my excuse to come back!

Some other observations about Nanjing:

Actually a fair amount of graffiti. Didn’t find a legal spot like Shanghai’s Moganshan lu but there are a lot of bombs ( quick tags) and signatures up from a few writers all over the city.

Nanjing metro has 2 lines and ranges from 2-3-4 rmb. Compared to Shanghai’s starting at 3 and going up to 10rmb.

Nanjing metro also uses a token system opposed to Beijing and Shanghai’s ticket systems.

There are some foreign students and a few tourists in Nanjing but nowhere near that of Beijing and Shanghai. Hence the amount of attention one can receive is much greater. No one asked for my picture but we did draw lots of stares and some comments from the locals.

Nanjing has awesome wide, old-tree lined, streets. Reminds me of SH french concession area.

Many Chinese cities have the same street names and in Nj HuaiHai lu was a shopping street just like in SH.

Nanjing has a much more ancient feel than Shanghai in general.

The local beer Jinling isn’t that good. Very watery and not strong at all. Stick to Tsingtao.

The go-to convenient store chain is Suguo. This isn’t in Shanghai and the Shanghai convenient stores are absent in Nanjing.

Alrighty that’s all I can think of for now. Enjoy some pics!

 

 

 

Shanghai Botanical Gardens

Last weekend, the day after the hot springs, I went to go check out the Shanghai Botanical Gardens. It’s a bit far out from the northernmost stretches of Jing An District , where I live , but well worth the effort to make it down there. If you live in the south of Shanghai you’re golden.

The garden is located in southwest Xuhui district at 1111 Longwu Lu. The tall buildings of XuJiaHui and the pleasant leafy streets of the French concession have faded away and have given way to the more gritty suburbs. The nearest metro station is ShiLong Lu on line 3 but I just hopped a bus from my house all the way there.

Hours are from 7am-5pm for buying tickets and the garden closes at 6pm. 15 for entrance and 40 for full ticket which gives access to the special gardens and the tropicarium. There are huge expanses of green grass here that you can walk on unlike some other Shanghai parks where the grass is to be treasured , loved , and not trodden upon. (Seriously!) This makes the park popular for families to come and set up picnics , fly kites, and relax.

We got the 40 rmb tickets which allows access to the tropicarium , bonsai garden , and Cymbidium Room (Boat Orchids). The main tropicarium room is spectacular , with all kinds of blooming tropical flowers , fruit trees , with a warm and humid interior to catch a quick respite from the chilly winds. Right now its Pomelo season in Shanghai and I’ve been eating them like crazy , so it was cool to see what it looks like growing on the tree. Other highlights included the coffee plants , banana trees , and calico flowers.

The bonsai garden is also fantastic. I’ve never seen quite so many bonsai trees together at once before. They have a huge range of them as well. The trees are all set in the traditional Chinese style garden with white walls , circular entrances , and open green spaces. They even introduced me to a new kind of bonsai which I wasn’t aware of. Rocks are eroded and glued together along with little plants to make mini landscapes that resemble mountains , cliffs , etc. Pretty cool.

Besides these extra attractions the normal park is really nice. Must see’s include the huge bamboo forest! Not only can you totally forget that you are in the city you can even forget that you are in a park. Stroll in between the bamboo trees looming overhead and relax in the dark and cool interior of the forest. This really makes me want to go to a real bamboo forest. Anji Bamboo Grove (where Flying Dragon Leaping Tiger) is only 4 or so hours from Shanghai. Ahh I’ll save this for next spring.

Other parts of the park that are must see include the maple forest , pine forest , and assorted flower sections. The official website has walk-through guides for the different seasons. Different parts of the park are in bloom/more attractive at certain points of the year. Of course in fall the main highlights are the autumnal color bursts , winter features the tropicarium , and spring has the blooming flowers! Different exhibitions and shows also make their way to the park so make sure to check often!

Official Website  –  http://en.shbg.org/index.action

Banking Bureaucracy

Sometimes getting things done in China can be difficult. The number one hurdle may be the language barrier but you will also find that even with fluent Mandarin or a native speaker that getting some things accomplished can be mind-boggling complex , confusing , frustrating , and just plain weird.

Case in point : Activating my China Construction Bank Card so I can use it online.

Not trying to start-up any flame wars here but my American bank card was automatically able to purchase things online. My Chinese bank card however, is not.

This is one of those things that would be nice but just kept getting pushed under the rug. Ahh , it’s okay later, later. Ahh , I’ll just have my friend use her card to buy this for me. You know how it goes.

Finally , almost a year and a half after arriving in Shanghai, I set out to the bank with a mission!

It was Sunday and the main branch by the house was closed so off again on bicycle to find the nearest sub-branch!

Getting to the bank we got our number from the machine and took a seat in the lobby.  The banks here are quite different from the ones at home. My Dad was slightly confused the first time we went into one. Twenty people later we were ready.

In order for me to do anything at a bank, I have to bring my passport. First we had to get a photocopy at the bank then hand it over to the teller. Then I have to partially fill out a big form until informed that’s good enough. Sign here and here and here , oops wait you can’t sign your name like that. You have to do surname first. But we don’t sign like that. Oh ok fine that is okay.

Hand over the card and the fun starts. The teller whips out ,seriously, 10-15 different forms and slips. I have to enter my pin on a machine , and again , again, again, again.

Then the teller does his paperwork. He had 8 different stamps that had to be put in various places with various frequencies on the different papers. How do they know which stamp is which? Why does the big stamp in the back row go on the left corner and middle of sheet #10 . Why does the small blue stamp in the front row go three times on sheet #2. We were there a good 15 minutes while the teller furiously stamped all the sheets, took a break to give me some paper to sign 3 times , stamped some more , and then took a break so I could enter my pin again and again.

After this process was completed we were led to a machine by another bank employee. He proceeded to pop a USB stick into it and I had to again enter my PIN and type information in. After this I had to pop out my SIM card from my phone and he put that in the machine as well. You guessed it , more hilarity and PIN pushing ensued!

Finally after this I was all set-up , I was given the USB drive to take home. Apparently I have to plug-in the USB drive into a computer every single time I want to make a purchase.

Now for the punchline! , this USB stick is incompatible with Apple computers! Badda-Bing! Wham-a-dam!

I can still take it with me to work and use it there but it kinda defeats the purpose of online shopping , ya know , AT HOME.

Anyways, I’m off to Nanjing for an extended 3 day weekend! Never been there before. I’ll be bring pictures and do a write-up when I’m back.

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