I’m Not Dead!

After many painful months of trying to restore blogging capabilities to no avail, a tropical vacation, and a new job, I finally bit the bullet and bought a domain name to host a new site. Roomaomao has migrated to www.stuckinshanghai.com/wordpress . Well, kind of migrated. The wordpress export/import totally blew it. I managed to import my categories, two comments (out of hundreds), my media library, but absolutely no posts or pages. Dang. 

Hope you swing by and follow the new site. It feels great to be blogging again!

Hong Kong Round Two

Wow! Sorry everyone. I’ve been back from my trip for 5 days now but uploading problems on wordpress/facebook have been plaguing me. Perhaps this has something to do with the Communist Party power change that was going on earlier this week. Coincidence? Most likely not.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Hong Kong via a dual overnight layover on the way to/from Vietnam. This month I had a chance to get to know her glorious self a little bit better while simultaneously getting caught up with my mountain trekking Uncle and Cousin. Score!
I just took the better part of last week off and spent some time in Hong Kong with a day side trip to Macau! This trip was also on the Uncle’s (significantly more impressive than mine) budget. Bye bye Chungking Mansions and 30HKD breakfasts. Hello gourmet food , taxis, and a nice hotel. YES!

This trip gave me more time to see the places I learned about in the fantastic novel , Noble House, by James Clavell. If you haven’t checked this author out before , proceed to do so. Noble House is a massive , more than 1000 page epic tome that takes place in 1960’s Hong Kong. It has multiple storylines intertwining , dozens of characters, and features some of the Taipans 大班 (bosses) of massive trading companies warring it out with each other all while dealing with spies , movie stars, and pirates. It’s some heavy sh*t.

As I was taking the windy road up to Hong Kong’s highest point (Victoria Peak) I could just imagine Ian Dunross (Main character from Noble House) gunning his high-powered sports car up the dangerously curving roads, I could envision the battle between developers to build the tallest buildings with the best views of Central consequently sparking up feuds with new apartments blocking the view from the older multimillionaire dollar apartments , I could see the fishing junks moored in Aberdeen waiting out the latest typhoon. I was transported to the real life settings of the book only 50 years later and 50 years more advanced. Hong Kong of now is a whole new beast. Even though Shanghai has three times the population , it feels small in comparison with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is packed into a small area resulting in a craze to build everything taller and closer together. I’ve never been in an environment that felt so urban.

This trip I revisited some of the biggies that I went to during my quick layovers . I had to show the Uncle and Cousin the classic Victoria Peak , Hong Kong skyline at night , and the Star Ferry trip across the harbor. I also got to use the extended time to check out new places in the city and make a trip over charming Macau.

Some of the highlights include :

a fortune-telling in the crowded Temple Street Night Market

betting on the horse races in Happy Valley

matching an insane Gangnam style dance competition in between betting on horses

learning Obama won the U.S presidency by reading the traditional characters on a newspaper in the morning

checking out the beautiful Wong Tai Sin temple and Hau Tin temple

seeing the touristy but slick night city skyline dance of the stars

and the food , oh my the God the food!
(but this is for a totally separate post)

and most importantly , catching up with my relatives!

I’m definitely not done with Hong Kong . I’ve fallen quite hard for the city and look forward to return visits in order to see more of it. I really want to head out to the out-of-the-way places : the little fishing villages on separate islands , the working class neighborhoods of Kowloon , and the functional monasteries all come to mind. The big Buddha on Lantau island has also been eluding me! I’ll be back Hong Kong!

How To Stay Out Of Trouble During China’s Transfer Of Power

The internet is simultaneously my best friend and worst enemy. I’ve furiously delaying packing , planning , and getting ready for my Hong Kong trip.

Thanks Web!

Here is an interesting little article I found on theatlantic.com

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/11/how-to-stay-out-of-trouble-during-chinas-transfer-of-power/264484/

How To Stay Out Of Trouble During China’s Transfer of Power
By Jan Cao

For starters, you might want to avoid taking taxis.
zzzTLN sparta.jpg
Chinese Caption: This is the 18th Congress. (Weibo, via Tea Leaf Nation>

As Beijing enters extreme lock-down prior to the 18th National Party Congress (十八大 or “shi ba da” in Chinese), social media users have invented a new coded reference-“Sparta”-to talk about this otherwise censored topic on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. A search for Sparta (斯巴达) yielded more than 3.2 million results on Sina Weibo.

To help those visiting China’s capital on the eve of this once-in-a-decade change in leadership, Tea Leaf Nation has compiled a survival guide in this alternate universe known as “Spartan” Beijing:

1. Don’t Roll Down the Windows in Your Taxi

Social media users have reported that handles used to roll down the rear seat windows in many taxis have been removed, apparently in an attempt to prevent passengers from distributing leaflets from the backseat.

Lin Chufang (@林楚方), editor-in-chief of iRead magazine, verified this: “Just took a cab home. I asked the driver, did your company really ask you to close the windows at all times? He said yes. Did they ask to remove the rear window handles? He said yes. What if the windows are automatic? He said the driver can lock them from the front. What if the car goes near sensitive areas? He said he would lock the door. But who would know if you don’t lock it? He said there are special personnel in charge of checking this. Looks like that post on the Internet wasn’t rumor, it’s just me lacking imagination. Too naive!”

2. Sign on the Dotted Line If You Take a Taxi

Some taxi companies have also asked passengers to sign an agreement that details the passenger’s point of origin, destination, name, phone number, and the route, as well as guarantee that the passenger will:

a. Fasten the seat belt;

b. Try to avoid important locations such as Tian’anmen Square. If the route is necessary, the passenger must close the windows and lock the doors;

c. Acknowledge that the route is taken at the passenger’s direction and take full responsibility for any related consequences.

3. Don’t Buy Anything that Can Fly

A local supermarket posted a “gentle reminder” that customers who want to purchase remote-controlled toy airplanes need to register with their real names and IDs, due to a request from a local police station. Apparently, flying balloons is also forbidden.

4. Show Your ID If You Want to Bathe

A local spa or bath house also sent a warm short message to customers to let them know that anyone using the bathing facility (including children) needs to register with effective ID.

5. Out of Knives? Tough Luck

Be extra careful when using your kitchen knife in the next two weeks, because it would be hard to replace it in a “Spartan” Beijing. Some supermarkets have suspended the sales of all knives during the 18th Party Congress. The same goes for scissors and screwdrivers.

6. Obey the Old Ladies

See that old lady with a red sleeve cover? Don’t mess with her. She is probably one of 110,000 “volunteers” in Beijing keeping an eye on the street.

Journalist Qi Jie (@coldair) reports, “There are many young and innocent faces in the [Beijing] subway, wearing red sleeve covers. Their job is to ride the subway non-stop and take note of bad people. I asked one, ‘Why do you do this?’ He said, ‘It pays. 40 RMB (approximately US$7) a day. We are volunteers.'” Yao Bo (@五岳散人), a well-known social commentator, tweeted on Sina Weibo: “The people in charge of People’s Daily and CCTV [China Central Television] are afraid of leaflets. The people in charge of the military, para-military, local police and urban law enforcement are afraid of kitchen knives. The people in charge of armed vehicles are afraid of taxis driving near political centers. The people in charge of stealth fighter jets are afraid of toy planes and balloons. Bro, am I living in Alice’s Wonderland?”

Probably explains why my google and gmail connections have been so shit lately.

One good thing about the CCP is that we don’t have to constantly listen to ads bashing the other opponent. Things are already decided for us!

Weathering the Zombie Apocalypse

It only took 24 hours for me to devour Max Brooks “World War Z”. This book is set-up to be an oral history of the zombie war that engulfs mankind in modern times. It tells the tale of the zombie infestation through series of interviews from all over the world and it just so happens that the zombie invasion starts from my current country of residence, China. The author does an amazing job exploring the cultural aspects from different countries during the zombie attack. Dealing with China, Brooks describes a situation where doctors are reluctant to go help the “nongmin” farmers, he has the zombie infestation spread from China from the “shetou” people smugglers, who are trying to help some infected pre-reanimated people escape from the government crackdowns, and also deals with issues related to China’s migrant labor force. However, China is only one of many countries examined in the zombie attack.

Being located in China myself and reading this book got me to thinking about how I would deal with the situation. Rolling over , giving up, and dying isn’t an option here. I want to weather out the storm of reanimated corpses, maybe have a little fun in the process, and help to re-populate humanity.

Densely populated areas are a no-no for trying to stay alive. The district I live in , Jing An District , had a population density of 41,994.8/km2 (108,765.9/sq mi) as of 2008. Considering 3 years have passed this number could easily have doubled. (Just kidding there, Shanghai’s growth isn’t quite that crazy but still expect the numbers to have increased). Once someone is infected in this area the spread would be incredible. 42,000 potential new zombies per square kilometer. Around 300,000 in Jing An district alone. 23 million in Shanghai total and with  Add in Shanghai’s efficient subway and bus systems and the spread would be all over the city , fast. Then consider the rail and bus links between Shanghai ,Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Less than one hour by high-speed rail gets us to Suzhou with 8.8 million people and Hangzhou with 10 million people. The two provinces directly bordering Shanghai (Shanghai is its own province) have 80,000,000 (Jiangsu) and 54,000,000 (Zhejiang) people. Basically it would be time to get the hell outta the Eastern seaboard. We will deal with that situation later, the situation if escape from Shanghai were possible.

For now though we will examine survival options within Shanghai’s administrative borders.

Guns are illegal in China and most police officers do not carry them. Therefor we will be arming ourselves with blunt objects , knives, clubs, and any other sort of handcrafted battering device. This could also make things a little difficult.

Now stuck within Shanghai we could have several options:

One would be to flee to the least densely populated area of Shanghai , Chongming Island. If you could make it to Chongming and then blow up the connecting bridge this might be an alright option. Forested parks, relatively low population density , farms , isolation (except for the bridge) from the mainland all work in favor for this location. However , Max Brooks makes it clear that zombies can and will walk across the seafloor. So now we have the 23 million potential zombies from Shanghai walking under the water ( don’t have to breathe!) and coming up on shore on Chongming Island. This could present a major problem.

Hmmmm. Back to the city center. We would need an enclosed fortified area with room for growing plants or raising animals. This is potentially feasible. Many Shanghai apartment complexes are walled and gated and have a little green grassy area inside the complex. If the gates could be completely sealed then possibly survival could happen. The biggest problem would be the amount of people inside. For example my building is 28 stories tall and contains 3 apartments per floor. My apartment has 2 bedrooms and 2 inhabitants but the ones next to ours are split into multiple tiny bedrooms and I would say we have 7 people crammed in one apartment. If we go on the low range and estimate 4 people per apartment that leads  28 floors x 12 people = 336. However there are 4 such of those buildings. 336 x 4 = 1344 people. Oh yea plus 3 smaller 14 story buildings.  12 people per floor x 14 floors x 3 buildings = 504. So 1848 people crammed into the apartment complex. Definitely not enough room for vegetable gardens outside in our limited green space. Indoor plants are a possibility but we would have to have these prepared in advance , grab them during the early days of the mayhem , or somehow make a near suicide sneak mission outside to grab materials. Hmm not the best situation possible. I wouldn’t just barricade myself up in my 28th floor lair either. Maybe the zombies wouldn’t get me but I would eventually slowly succumb to death by starvation. Carrefour (grocery store) is a 3 minute walk ( less than one minute sprint) but man all those zombies out there would rip me to shreds and I would have to contend with all the survivors stripping the shelves bare.

Another option I can think of would be to go to one of the city parks. The parks are walled and gated (closed at night) and might offer a reprieve from the undead. If we could effectively block off the entrances from zombies and not let too many humans inside this could be okay. Century and Gangqing also have lots of trees so firewood for cooking and heating would be available. The problem is too that too many of Shanghai’s 23 million residents would also have similiar park aspirations.

Now onto the subway tunnels and shopping malls. Forget about it. Simple as that. Suicide to do that. With so many subway stations and exits to the outside world it would be very hard to ensure that all entrances to the tunnels and stations would be sealed. Imagine groping through long pitch black tunnels and running into a squad of zombies. Nope not for me. It would also be very easy to get cornered and subsequently devoured. Same as shopping malls , too easy to get trapped and too hard to ensure it’s sealed from the outside.

Basically the greatest hope lies with escaping the cities and going far , far, away. I personally think the idea of the mountainous sparsely populated regions of Tibet , Xinjiang , or northern Yunnan , sounds best. A mountain hide-a-way would form a natural obstacle to the swarm. If this mountain home was additionally fortified by humans than even better.

Some prime locations to survive would might include , the great wall , Datong hanging monasteries , Tibet in the Himalaya mountains , and the TianShan mountain range in Xinjiang. A bit closer to Shanghai Huangshan in Anhui province could be viable as well.

For me the plan would be to grab a nice bicycle and leave Shanghai right away. I would keep on biking west avoiding major population centers. If perhaps I could find a section of the great wall in a mountainous area then I could settle on the wall. They have guard tower sections with walls and a roof to ward off the elements and provide a shelter , veggies and fruits could be grown on top of the wall , and most importantly it could keep the zombies at bay.

All in all I hope this situation never comes to pass but keep yourself entertained with World War Z!

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.