Thursday, August 30, 2007

MSG, puppies, coke nails and going to Beijing

Today will be my last day at work here. The usual group went to lunch at Bo Cheng Small Kitchen (where we always go) and I learned about the horrors of MSG (monosodium glutamate) and how it is in almost every single food in China... GREAT. Now I've been fiendishly reading about it on wikipedia and getting really disturbed... it's in almost everything in America, too. Gross.

Then we visited with the cutest puppy in the world who lives in that block's cigarette store.


This is Fox, he is the tech guy. He doesn't like to have his picture taken. Many of the men in China have long pinky nails like he has. For the first 3 weeks, I thought the coke nails of the 1980s had become some kind of weird male fashion trend here 20 years later, but it actually just signifies that they don't do manual labor.

Tomorrow night, I'm taking the overnight sleeper train to Beijing and will arrive around 7am there... which is 7pm Friday night for most of you... I'm staying at a hostel near Qianmen. Plans include getting my Ghanaian visa, visiting the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, going to two or three shows, possibly seeing Mao's body (they have him on display just like Lenin) and going to Taoist temples. Then to India on the 8th. I don't know what my internet access is going to be like in Beijing so this might not get updated again till the 10th or 11th.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Blood moon

I obviously did not take this photo; I don't have a camera that fancy!

The majority of China had a lunar eclipse yesterday. I went to pick up my complementary mooncakes at the St. Regis Hotel. A classy joint full of white people-- men who golfed during the day and small children wearing polo shirts. China has some sort of weird inferiority complex; I think this must be one of the only countries in the world where foreigners are treated better than natives. I can go anywhere I want, aside from some back lanes where I obviously don't "belong" without questioning but anyone who looks Asian will be questioned by the guards who are at the entrance to all apartment complexes, office buildings and the like. And they're probably tracking them on the street cameras, too. Then again, someone at the Intelligence Ministry is probably reading this sentence, sooo... yeah.

Anyway, mooncakes are for the mid-Autumn festival which is in honor of the events of 1949. People visit places of national pride and celebrate. Mooncakes sound much better than they are... when I first heard about them, I was expecting something like cupcakes. Instead, mooncakes are small pastries with the density of bricks and filled with such delights as red bean paste, egg yolk and a single almond, and sesame seed paste. MMMMMMMM. Each filling has a meaning and tradition I don't know about and are presented to friends, neighbors and business associates. Actually, they're not THAT bad but cupcakes rule way harder even if they don't have the history of mooncakes.

So, I picked up my free mooncakes (retail value=138RMB) in their fancy box with a traditional Chinese countryside scene on it and walked two miles home under the blood moon and heat lightning.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Look at some pictures

Last night, I was at work till 7 trying to finish the propaganda art article so didn't get home till 8:30. The design team was still here when I left. Worlds was on TV when I got home and it was fantastic to watch track without Carol Lewis screaming into the microphone. They showed the ENTIRE men's 10K and kept the clock running until well after the Ethiopians won.

We have an editorial meeting tomorrow and somehow I am ending up in the October magazine, in which the majority of work will be done when I'm already in Beijing and India, more than the last two months combined. Sure.. my thrilling topics include Reality TV shopping and reality TV in taxis, the buskers, and some other stuff I don't remember and Local Talk on a particular street. I went there this morning to do the research for it and LUCKY ME, it was rightnearreallycloseto............. :

This was probably my last visit with it so I stayed as long as I could bear the heat.

Some photos of typical Shanghai stuff... this is an attempt to explain why "megastores" like Wal-Mart do not turn a profit in China. They can get everything they need right down the street and all the stores are next door to each other. There's no waiting in line unless it's a very busy time and if you need something special like a bike, you can buy it from your local bike repairman; there's one who sets up shop in the middle of the sidewalk about once every five blocks. The prices are usually less than Wal-Mart.

Tea shop:

Next to a shop of random stuff:

Next to food:

Which is next to fruit:

and like that.

I hung out with John this morning and gave him the Rolling Stone Jilane sent me, he was very happy and was more interested in the ads than the content. He wanted to know what Coke Zero was and why they don't have it in China, and how much hemp shoes cost and how much a laptop costs. Then there was a photo of Hendrix burning his guitar at Woodstock and he was really into that but said he had never seen the video of it.

Riding the subway on Sunday. Most of it is underground but some parts of Line 4 and 3 aren't:

Calligraphy display near home. Newspapers for the public to read are also posted here everyday:

Subs singer:

Dinner last night. Does it look oily? Because it is! Handpulled noodles from a street vendor; 4RMB=$0.57.

Front of Jing'an su:

Dazibao. Very lucky to have seen this; very rare. Secret photography is my new specialty... These are public denunciations of friends, neighbors and family as rightists during the Cultural Revolution. The pieces of paper were posted in a public area then people wrote and wrote. You can see the emotion.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Subs and double translating

On Saturday, I attempted to watch my friend Anna at the World T&F Championships on TV but the Chinese preferred to show endless pingpong and badminton sooo I sat around till nighttime then went to see a Beijing band called Subs at 4Live with Lorenza. The music was ok but the stage presence was quite good; the singer is like Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's twin sister and she's got all those moves, too.

On Sunday, I rode the subway all around town till I almost fainted; right around hour 4...

This is my last week at Talk and I'm very busy trying to finish the assignments they want me to do for the October issue before I leave plus trying to my own stuff and Maggie wants me to edit some English she translated. I see now that the articles in Chinese are MUCH more propaganda-y than what they print in English. This is before my editing because the underlying message is clearer this way; it took me about an hour and a half to fluent-Englishize it:

"Chen Zhigang, a Chinese-American, works in the fur and wool business in New York. He owns a variety of shops in which to sell the high quality furs and wools. Mrs. Chen is the chief engineer of a manufacturing plant which transforms the furs for use in automobiles. She is also the owner of Zhongkai Estate.

Years ago, I heard that people could see how they spent their time.

When I met Mr. and Mrs. Chen at the City Lights Centre of Zhongkai, those words came to mind immediately. The clock moved quickly while they shared their wise words and their movements indicated times passed. The couple chatted casually and held hands as they left for the gym in their workout clothes.

Mr. Chen is ever the businessman in a red-striped T-shirt; he moves gently and gracefully. Mrs. Chen embodies a scholar; she is meek and refined in clean and fitted light gray shorts. Mr. Chen smiles and says, “We are an old couple who are back on vacation to visit. We just hope that we can have a relaxing time.”

Although they are over sixty years old, they are still lively and in high spirits. One cannot help but imagine how romantic the couple must have been in their youth. Old memories stir a bright smile on Mrs. Chen’s face.

About forty years ago, when they were both students at Shanghai Light Industries College, Mr. Chen was the chairman of the Student Union. He gave a speech to welcome new students and saw a cute girl in the audience staring at him. The meeting may have been destiny’s pull, for the chairman gazed back at the smart and graceful girl and after graduation, they were married.

Even now, the two remain a perfect couple with excellent temperament for each other. Time continues to pass but does little to cool the the love and affection between them.

In the first twenty years of their lives, they studied at school, met each other, and supported each other in all endeavors. Over their next twenty years together, they were both employed by large local enterprises. The Chens devoted the prime years of their lives to China. At the time, people were supposed to live their lives simply, but a shedding of the old ways occurred when they were about forty years old. Mrs. Chen was able to go abroad to study in the United States and she was soon followed by Mr. Chen. There, they started a business from scratch and within a decade, their business was worldwide.

When the Chens got New York the first time, there were many business opportunities but none of them quite appealed to the couple. Chinese businesses there prospered but nearly all of them were restaurants, supermarkets and similar types of manual work. The Chens knew this was not the sort of work for them as they were already almost fifty years old. Instead, they used their courage and experience to tap into a potential market.

They took aim at the high-end wool market. The hardest part, initially, was finding the correct marketing outlet, comparing the supplies of goods and locating prospective buyers. To combat these difficulties, Mr. and Mrs. Chen opened up their own business in order to meet the demands of the high quality wool market.

After 9/11, many shops on 7th Street in New York closed because the location is quite close to where the World Trade Towers stood. Smartly, the Chens took this chance to expand their business and confidence in the local market recovered rapidly. Business kept improving and they began to not only manufacture wool but also furs. When fur manufacturing first began in China, many of New York’s fur tradesmen were supercilious towards Chinese fur production. However, the Chens have now taken the upperhand as their shops are all over the high-end shopping malls of New York, Connecticut, Virginia and Maryland.

Some people say they were just lucky but nowadays lucky people also need a clear mind and courage aside from basic opportunities to get ahead in the world.

The Chens often suggest that Chinese producers sell their product in the U.S. but many are hesitant due to the import tax the U.S. inflicts upon Chinese products. At their urging, many producers visited the U.S. to assess the business environment but quickly withdrew their plans.

Is there anything to be afraid of? Mr. Chen still remembers the hard work they did at the beginning. Looking back over the last decade, that time seems to be just a drop in the bucket compared to everything that has happened since.

Time has treated them well not only physically but has also widened their world perspective and given them a special sort of spiritual richness.

The house that Mr. Chen bought for about $1 million USD over ten years ago when they first came to New York is already worth $4 million now. Mr. Chen thinks the current Shanghai is just like New York was then.

Time makes people sensible. Mr. Chen smiles as he says, “Eyes on the prize for the long run but ideas must change with the times. I hope Shanghainese can soon live as well as the people who are abroad.”

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Chen are usually quite relaxed when they come to China. They settle down in a delicately designed apartment in Zhongkai. In Shanghai, the first thing they do is go to the Town God’s Temple for a small steamed bun, then it’s off to the Nanjing Barbershop for physical rejuvenation. They also enjoy the quiet community center and friendly atmosphere of the local gym. Their activities bring to mind the Chinese poem by Tao Yuanming which says people should enjoy a leisurable life and ought not be bothered by that which doesn’t concern them.

Despite their success, Mr. and Mrs. Chen still remain busy with their business. They have led the fast-paced and aggressive life of the American business world for many years but their hearts remain full with Chinese wisdom: high ideals and a soft pace of life. These two styles combine within their hearts to create a beautiful and happy life."

Look... babies in drawers at the nursery:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Life and times at the propaganda museum

I am growing obsessed with tense in my writing. "Is everything in the same tense? Does this make sense? NO!! This is present, not past!" There is very little editing at the magazine so I want to make sure everything is perfect. There's no spell check on the computer so I catch typos by eye.

Yesterday, I left work early to interview the man who runs the propaganda poster art museum. He invited me to come back this morning to hear the lecture he was scheduled to give to the American Women's Club of Shanghai. Both experiences were very good and I hope to sell the article to a publication in the United States. My editor thinks I am writing it for here but I don't think it will get printed here so I'm just putting whatever I want into it. He emailed me yesterday and said, “You sure have a knack for picking the borderline subjects!” or something like that. That's me, always rocking the boat... I don't really think so but I guess my interests do extend beyond wondering what the next soft opening of a club is so we can party and get booze for free. The owner of the publication liked the busker piece enough to print it, so I am lucky in that regard as it's not their typical fare. This is a “high class” joint.

The American Women's Club of Shanghai was exactly what I was expecting it would be. Women in their 40s, 50s, 60s and occasionally 30s, mostly from the midwest, doing woman-y things. They were all very nice and I received an invitation to join. I don't think so though I do enjoy the domesticier side of life on occasion. My ambition at age 11 was to be a 1950s housewife. (Un?)coincidentally, 70% of the club is from Michigan. I haven't had so much midwestern hospitality or heard so much English in one spot in a long time, it was totally overwhelming! "So, how long have you been here? What are you doing? Where do you live? Are you here with your spouse? No? Alone! My goodness, well, we do have a few career girls in the club so please join! We do all sorts of things around Shanghai."

I've been listening to a live Breeders song for the last four days. KIM DEAL RULES

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Not much to say

My friend, Mike, works at a hospital in Shanghai. Last week, he was in the nursery. This little girl was abandoned, most likely because she IS a girl. This practice is still common in China though I think less common than it used to be... Newborn boys are often referred to as "big happiness" while girls are only "small happiness." Maggie's father left their family when she was one for no reason other than the fact that the only child they would have was her, a girl.

The best part of traveling is the opportunities to interact with people you'd never meet otherwise. Lorenza, Lilly and I went for dinner last night at a Japanese restaurant in Xintiandi (touristy area built in 1930s). Lorenza is from Italy and wanted to discuss American politics. I am not a big fan of politics but it was an interesting conversation nonetheless because she has such a vast knowledge about America already. To hear her talk, it sounds like the developed world is extremely interested in the US but mostly on a superficial level (movies, TV, culture, etc.) and most of the people who say "America sucks" are doing so out of ignorance. This particularly won me over, as I feel that most Americans who say "Towelheads" or "Muslim people are terrorists" and the like are also doing so out of ignorance. She wanted to hear our take on whether Obama or Clinton would win the Democratic primary and wanted the whole concept of primaries explained because in Italy, the parties just choose their candidates and put them up for the general election without prior fanfare. Their voter turnout is quite high and she was flabbergasted at the exceedingly low turnout we have in America because she feels it is the greatest democracy in the world.
Lorenza was there when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and got a direct taste of the state of race relations in America today. She said she was very surprised because she thought all that was over in the States. This led directly into education and right back into just who, exactly, doesn't vote and why. The other thing that shocked her about America was the Second Amendment and how prevalent guns are.. all I could do was recite the historical background and why the minimal language of it makes it so easily quotable for rightists and thus will probably never change. Our last topic was health care: why so many are uninsured, why the government doesn't provide health care, lobbyists, drug companies, why Bill Clinton was elected and his attemps at health care reform and why they failed...

The thing I always hate discussing politics is not the actual content but the fact that everyone thinks they know better than the person next to them. Sentences are cut off and ears shut rapidly. It's hardly worth having a conversation when someone is not listening, only mouthing off about what they're SO SURE they know, or doing it for so long and so loudly that no one else can get a word in edgewise.

I had cucumber sushi and learned from the menu that it exists due to folklore about a Japanese sea monster who loved cucumbers.

Speaking of race, these dolls are in many of the "kitschy" shops here. They seem rather offensive to me but maybe they hold a purpose I don't know about.

Have I mentioned I'm really looking forward to Beijing? I was reading about it in the guidebook and they have EIGHT Taoist temples there. I still have not been able to find one in Shanghai. I'm almost to the point where I'm tempted to say Taoist when someone asks me my religion.. I think I already live in the Taoist fashion. It's not a religion where you have to worship idols or have to go to a temple.. balance in life and meditation before decision are more important; a sort of "laissez-faire" approach to life.. things will happen as they happen and their effect on the individual is what they make of it. It's a more peaceful way of living.

Sunset over Pudong after work yesterday

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dining in China and the rise of punk

I spent the majority of the weekend sitting by the river.

On Saturday night, I met Maggie for dinner at a Japanese restaurant and on Sunday to the dumpling place with Lily, Lorenza (awesome new Italian who has spent the last month traveling through India). With Maggie, we had green noodles with a small amount of cheese and red hot sauce, some kind of flattened egg pizza with hot green leaves in the middle and vegetable salad. Eating salad with chopsticks was weird.

On Sunday, Lorenza and I went to the English language bookstore where I bought the longest book I could think of since I've already read the five I brought, two for work and some of them twice. So... I will be tackling War and Peace at some point in the next few months.. I also bought A Tale of Two Cities and The War of the Worlds.

At dinner that night, we got vegetable dumplings, flat doughy egg pizza-like thing and green stalks with tiny mushrooms. The dumpling place specializes in Northern Chinese food. I think the Chinese food in America is more like Cantonese (southern; nearer Hong Kong).

Dining in China is quite different than in America. You order a few dishes then everyone puts a little from each on their own small plate. It's odd if you each order one thing each for yourself. Chopsticks for everything and it's rude if you put the food right from the communal plate into your mouth; set it down on your mini-plate first. Green tea at almost every meal; water is expensive and difficult to come by at restaurants and bars. Most people on the street eat watermelons when they're thirsty because it's cheaper than bottled water and safer than tap water. Restaurants are SERVICE affairs, as it's expected they will be quick with your food. They bring each dish out as it's done and you start eating as soon as it gets there even if not everybody has their food yet. Spilling, slurping, putting your face down by the plate and elbows on the table are not a big deal. I've realized my American manners are a bit out the window because whenever someone new comes I wonder why they're being so timid. When the meal is over, you raise your hand, snap or signal to the waiter or waitress to bring the check and they don't think you're a pariah. If you are dining alone or with only one or two other people, you're expected to pay before the food is served. Lastly, no tipping. We tipped the first time we went out and they thought it was hilarious!

At "alldays," the convenience store that's everywhere. Most of the goods are packaged like at a 7-11 but in the front, they unfailingly have corn on the cob in a slowcooker and the Shanghai eggs (in the back of this photo):

Marshmallows are sold in an orderly fashion:

After dinner on Saturday, I went back to 4Live to see the 1234fest preview show. Brain Failure was down from Beijing. I think they are the Chinese band with the greatest potential to hit abroad that I've seen so far. They were a bit like Social Distortion and had all the stage moves down. They must be the most popular rock band in China because the crowd was nuts and it was super hot inside. It was 60RMB for four bands (=$8.40).

Brain Failure:

Going to a show in China is a different experience because the songs are introduced in Chinese and banter with the crowd is in Chinese, so everyone will cheer and I stand there wondering what the hell just happened. In other ways, it is exactly the same. The young women are at the very front of the stage in a single row trying to rock out and catch the eye of one of the band members while avoiding getting hit by the young men behind them who start slamming into each other at the first sign of a chord combined with a drumbeat. Mosh pits are a little different here, though.. one of the features is what I call the "Ring-Around-The-Rosy Of Death." Hold hands and spin around within a huge group of people as fast as possible.

I actually liked the first band better than Brain Failure because the singer thought he was the son of Iggy Pop and the grandchild of James Dean and the guitarist obviously liked Joe Strummer.

I found this bike of cute animals walking to the metro station. She's selling them. At the top are crickets and in the little cages are everything fuzzy. Chicks, ducklings, guinea pigs and bunnies. FUZZY

I really enjoyed the river ... and then I noticed there are cameras. Like, I'm just trying to sit on the wall and think about white dolphins and listen to some 1938 Orson Welles radio drama... ok?! They're everywhere if you look (lower lefthand corner).

A typhoon [hurricane] hit Taiwan over the weekend. It was pretty windy here but I've had worse in Providence. Stole this photo of Sepat coming into Taiwan:

Early Saturday morning, around 5:30am, there was someone on the other side of the river who exchanged waves with me. On the way to work today, I passed an old, toothless woman and smiled and she smiled back and said, "Hello" and I said, "Nihao" and these both made me really happy!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kevin Sullivan and how publishing works in China

I was walking in search of the English language bookstore yesterday and happened upon this:

Kevin Sullivan (best Canadian distance runner, trained in Ann Arbor for a long time and went to U of Mich. for the un-running knowledgable) is famous here?! No...

Big scandal in the office today: all the doors are locked and we have to use ID cards because two "suspicious" characters have been walking around the reception area and the bottom floor but have not gone upstairs. "They are maybe stealing something from the company!" says Denmark, the fun receptionist.

In China, publishers apply for approval from the government. I'm sure most of the approvals are a result of guanxi (Party connections). Once approved, publishers can produce as many publications as they want or can afford to. Our publisher is Ismay, and they publish the magazine I work for and a Chinese language newspaper. They're trying to launch another newspaper right now, too. If foreign publications want to sell in China, it's much easier and faster for them to partner with an already-approved Chinese publisher. This is what Rolling Stone tried to do in 2005 but were shut down after the first issue hit the stands. The "backlash" must have been too strong because even when a publisher is approved, each individual issue must also be approved. The next month's issue of our magazine is submitted to the "Publishing Bureau" on the 20th of the month. We get it back within a few days and are made aware of anything that needs to be pulled (this is what happened to my book review on "Madame Chiang Kai-shek"). Most of the censorship is an exercise in predicting what won't make it through and changing it in advance. This happened to my busker piece. Busking is technically illegal here and the first thing I submitted, I was informed, did not put enough (or any) of a "this is a bad thing to do. Don't support it." spin on the practice. No reasons are ever given for official censorship.

I think I have some graphic design friends... speaking of our publisher, they are looking to hire a foreign designer for both graphic and product design. So, if any of you artist types want to come to Shanghai, here's a chance!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Things I suck at

American chains in Shanghai in order of prevalence:
1. KFC
2. Pizza Hut
3. Starbucks
4. McDonald's
5. Wal-Mart
6. Burger King

One thing I definitely don't miss is driving on a highway and getting off at an exit in one state then driving another four hours to finding the exact same strip.

China is the secret master of:
1. umbrellas
2. Fudgsicles- best ever and only $0.16 or $0.32.

Shanghai is the flattest place I've ever been. This includes Ohio.

There's a course at my sports high school called "Humanities." It encompasses the history of the world with a focus on art. I avoided it and said, "Ah, too hard!" and now I keep getting assigned to write articles about art museum exhibitions. So, I madly wikipedia the different periods in an effort to sound like I know what I'm talking about. Romanticism? Enlightenment? What... ? I write things like, "Beautiful and muted, the piece features soft edges and a man biting a baby."

Last night I lay on the wall by the river and looked at the seven visible stars and thought about when my astronomer dream fell to the wayside. It was right around the time we were expected to know fractions in 4th grade... 5/8!?!? And I only have a 1/3 cup?! Way too hard. Really, though, I didn't understand fractions until college and I don't think I could cross multiply or divide them with each other right now if my life depended on it. Decimals are, and always will be, where it's at. Yes, I, too, am surprised that I got an economics degree.

I now love instant powdered instant soup. I discovered it yesterday. Just add hot water and stir a little bit and it's so good and only 5.20RMB=less than $1. You know, 5.2/7.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fake blindness and famous track star

As far as I can tell, the two most famous people in China are Yao Ming (NBA player) and Liu Xiang, the 110m hurdler who stole the gold in Athens. Liu Xiang, especially, is everywhere. The pressure is really on him to repeat in Beijing and I hope he does because I think he will feel great shame otherwise... the Chinese athletes are really under a lot of pressure for 2008!

I am attempting to write a profile on a local blind busker for Talk. Maggie and I hunted for them last night for hours but only found two which sucked because usually I see at least four or five if I'm walking around for that long. I think our mistake was that we went to People's Square which is the busiest metro station in Shanghai and thus has the most security kicking people out who obstruct traffic. Things aren't going very well for the article because the buskers are almost all from out of town and speak poor Mandarin but rich dialect so she can't understand what they're saying. We did interview one couple, usual suspects with the woman leading the blind man around by the arm but the longer we spoke, the greater the crowd was that gathered to wonder why the hell we were talking to these two, and the more apparent it became that the guy wasn't actually blind... he had his hat pulled way down below his eyes but kept lifting his head for "no reason" (to look at me). They're from Anhui Province which is a little west of here but wouldn't give their name or anything really all that interesting. I don't know if I'm going to be able to do this because of the language problems and everyone being so suspicious and Maggie thinking I'm crazy for wanting to do it in the first place.

This is what it looks like when you hit the Great Firewall. And you think, "Gee, that's funny, I was just on that website [wikipedia, livejournal, lotsofnoise, gmail, flickr] yesterday, where could it have gone...! If it's something which has become sensitive in the last two days, then it's just a completely blank page that comes up really quickly and you feel guilty for even googling or baiduing it.

Near where I live on Back Wanhangdu Lu:

Shanghai steamed dumplings mmmmm this is pretty modern and heavy duty, most of them are a little smaller and just wood like you see underneath:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Noise Propaganda + Olympic Food River

Big Brother continues to dominate with facial recognization on-the-street capabilities and high-tech enforcement of the one child policy

It was a music-filled weekend.. I found some more shows to go to. The nice thing about shows in China is that it's expected that the bands share the drumkit, so that takes away most of the set up and break down time. Carsick Cars and Snapline came down from Beijing to play so I interviewed them both, plus Muscle Snog, a local noise band. Carsick Cars was set to open for Sonic Youth in Beijing in April but were pulled from the bill by the government at the last minute so didn't get to play. Sonic Youth is taking them on a small European tour at the end of the month, which is an excellent consolation prize because it is so hard to get out of the country. CC is in the same spirit as SY and the Velvet Underground.. they actually closed with "All Tomorrow's Parties," sung in a Chinese accent. About half of CC's songs are in English, the other half are in Chinese. Snapline is a step back in time to 1970s RISD... they sound and move just like the Talking Heads! Awesome.

The thing about young men I meet here is that they almost always have some "crappy" low-paying for US, mid-paying for China, job but have a graduate degree in nuclear physics or mathematics or astrophysics or some other super smart thing I don't even know the name of. This is the case for Snapline's singer, who moves like Mick Jagger bred with Brian Eno but has the brain of Albert Einstein's son.

Speaking of men, I got asked out on a date just walking down the street by a Nigerian who is here studying Mandarin. When he told me where he was from, the very first thing I thought of was that he probably wanted me to send $1000 to receive up to $1 million in return (ye olde Nigerian internet business scam)... I couldn't help it. Bad.

Carsick Cars at 4Live Bar

Muscle Snog at 4Live Bar

Saturday day, Snapline and Carsick Cars were doing an in-store at some sort of artsy T-shirt co-op type shop, so I went to that, as well. It seems to only rain here on the weekend, and only when I'm trying to go somewhere new so that I'm bound to get lost and unable to pull out the map without making it a huge production of finding an awning and setting down the umbrella and wringing out my invariably-soaking-wet-dress-despite-the-beautiful-umbrella. I interviewed both of the bands at this show because I couldn't find them after the one at the bar. This one was pretty good because they all spoke English well but it's a little hard to interview 8 people at once, plus I don't have much interview experience, so I'm afraid some of the band members left feeling neglected and I came off as super nervously giggly.

Snapline at ENO

Saturday night, I went to see Boojii, the other band of one of the members of Muscle Snog. They were playing at a really chill Red Fez-like place. [Red Fez is a restaurant/bar in Providence that has red lighting and monkey fez and serves only dishes involving cheese]. The good part was the venue, the bad part was the fact that the DJ would play for an hour in between bands. The first DJ was ok and played the Supremes but the second one played 80s Chinese pop. I got there at 10:30 but Boojii wasn't on until 12 so I wandered down the street and found a park where I solidified my reputation as Creepy Foreigner being that I was the only one there who wasn't part of a young couple Almost Making Out on the benches or rocks by the water, nor was I a middle aged man sitting with other middle aged men. I sat on the rocks by a beautiful pond for a long time, then walked through the woods a little bit and again appreciated how much safer the streets (and woods) are in China. A man came up behind me, then swerved his head to continue staring as he passed so I said, "Nihao." Usually this is enough to make them embarrassed and look away but this guy was enthralled and started babbling really fast in Chinese. I said, "Ah, no, sorry I don't speak Chinese," so he started drawing characters on the palm of his hand-- this somehow makes it clearer when you don't know what a word means if you know even a little bit of Chinese. There must be some sort of methodology to the character system to make this help but I have no clue what it is. I went back to the bar where a sign had appeared on the door that said, "Surprise Guest: BANANA MONKEYS" -- local band very much sounding like a mix between the Strokes and Interpol. Didn't end up staying for Boojii because I couldn't take the 80s pop anymore and it was so smoky that my eyes were stinging.

Banana Monkeys

On Sunday, I went to the propaganda poster art museum. It features the propaganda posters produced by the Communist Party from 1949 to 1979 in a large room in the basement of an apartment building. It's a bit difficult to find but really no secret because it's in all the guide books. It was very interesting to read the translations of what the posters said. They were very anti-American, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, and pro-spread of Communism. Many of the slogans were supportive of the Viet Cong, the Cuban Revolution, Korean communism, communism in Africa and the Soviets. The posters refer to Americans as imperialists and featured strong-looking Chinese ("When the Army and the People join together, they are unstoppable") rooting out hidden Kuomintang and Americans. The Americans were always portrayed much like the Japanese were portrayed in World War II-era America propaganda posters-- green-tinged, small, sickly and evil looking.

Unfailingly, the posters revered Chairman Mao. Even the explanatory signs did not fault him aside from referring to the "mistake of the Culture Revolution." I don't know much about Mao but I understand a little better after having read the Madame Chiang Kai-shek book and visited the museum. It's clear to me that most of the people here don't care much for politics, perhaps even less so than in the US-- it's just not something that effects them. Based on the little I know, I don't think Mao was an evil man... he wanted the best for the people but as they say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." There were also two posters that supported the black rights movement and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in America-- I think not for any true ideological reasons but just because anything to upset American society was valued. "Firmly support US black people's justice struggle" and "Firmly support US people against US imperialism invading Vietnam," both from 1966. The only visitors to the museum were white, no Chinese.

The majority of China's population is not too interested in the Olympics. They see it as something for people with money and not for them, like much of what is advertised and on the news in China. They don't believe it will bring any benefits for them. Maggie thinks it's bad for China to have the Olympics, she feels they are not ready as a society, cost is too great and it will make China look bad. On CCTV9 yesterday, they said that China will be fully industrialized by 2010 but I feel this is a load of crap.. the cities will be but the countryside is still very different from the cities, especially economically. Read some more about it... The writing's a bit trite but whatever, it's ESPN. The pollution was really bad in Shanghai over the weekend. The new flat is on the 14th floor, so we were right in the midst of it. Beijing is taking 1.3 million cars off the road for a few days this week to see what will happen to the air quality, testing for next year.

Part cloud, part smog

I've mentioned before how Taiwan is a sensitive issue here. I also want to say that if Taiwan seems like a sensitive issue, then Tibet is something NOT TO BE DISCUSSED. The only time Tibet has been on the news has been to show people looking really happy and celebrating Tibetan-style. Culture is ok, politics is not. Four Canadians were deported last week for protesting China's claim over Tibet, IN TIBET. This didn't make the news here, I found out on the internet.

This is what I had for dinner on Saturday. Kimuchi & seaweed vegetable noodles at Ajisen Ramen (Shanghai Chinese/Japanese mix chain). Good but a bit spicy for my tastes. Chopsticks are used with everything, I don't consider using a fork, even at home.. the trip is an exercise in different eating styles because here is all chopsticks and in Ghana it is impolite to use your left hand to eat ("left hand reserved for toilet" says the lore). I'm left-handed...

Last night, I sat on the communal sitting area for our building (right by the river). I listened to Marissa Nadler and Hank Williams and Auto de Fa and Mattie May Thomas and watched the trash float by. About twice an hour, I would hear the splash of something else being thrown in from the other side. Very polluted river; I think it's a tributary of the Huangpi, the main river cutting Shanghai in half. I was out there so long that the tide went back out, so I saw the same trash going the other way, then three barges and a tugboat went by. I sit on the wall, usually until the guards come and make hand motions mimicking me falling into the river which translates as, "Get the hell off the wall, you crazy laowei [foreigner]!" Actually, they are very nice.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Police Brutality in North Providence

This is my "travel blog" but I feel I have to say something about this... my friend Alex Svoboda, one of the nicest and most caring people I know, was the victim of police brutality in North Providence over the weekend. There was a peaceful protest against labor practices for a supply company in New York and a local restaurant which used them-- Jacky's Galaxie. The North Providence police apparently decided to make an example of Alex. She was beaten and her left leg broke. She needs three surgeries to repair the damage. Really looks like someone who needs to be restrained, huh?...

I am so angry and disgusted..

Friday, August 10, 2007

Race and parks

I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt today that said: "Black girls: cool and simple." It's always questionable as to whether the bearer of an English item knows what it actually means but race is a different animal here, to be sure. In western China, there are different Chinese who actually look more like Pakistani or other Middle Eastern but here in the east, nearly everyone is Han ("traditional" Chinese-looking). The homogeneity of the population makes it easy for broad generalizations of other races to be accepted as fact. Despite terrorism having not hit China, "brown" people are shied away from. Indians, especially, are thought of as being "a bit off" and people are a little taken aback when I tell them I am going to India next. Even Maggie, yesterday, said, "Do you like Indian?" I said, "Indian food, you mean?" and she said, "No, people." I was like, "Uh.. I guess so?" What's not to like? Such a strange question! Being that almost everyone will be of one race each place I'm going has made me grasp just how strange the US is in the world. There really is no other place with such diversity of race and culture.

Shanghai is the land of awesome umbrellas. I never put much thought into umbrellas, other than that I want a small one but here I see a new one everyday that I like. Even these are kind of boring but I bought one last week that's supremely excellent.

I've been enjoying the parks lately. My new flat is right next to a beautiful park called Zhongshan [zjong-shaan] and I also go to one near work called Jing'an. Parks here are amazing, way better than anywhere I've ever been in the States. My favorite aspect of Zhongshan is that no motorized vehicles or bicycles are allowed, so I can walk almost all the way to the metro stop without fear of getting run over. In China, you don't just look left and right when you cross a street, you also must look back, ahead, every possible diagonal, up and down. And even then, you will come close to getting hit. Zhongshan is part beauty, part amusement rides for kids.

There's an overhead track that goes around a small area of the park. You pedal in this little thing and get a bird's eye view of the goings-on:

In the mornings and in the evenings, retired people meet at various open spaces and dance:

Read this critique of one of the restaurants that woman I wrote an article on founded:

"I had the meatloaf in City Diner last night. Maybe it was just me but portion size seemed obscene!

Do Americans really eat like this? Or maybe City Diner is just going overboard to show how American they are?

I walked in feeling really hungry but I still couldn't finish the plate. I probably managed three quarters, if that. The experience was painful. I was determined to be all American and finish the thing. It started hurting but I carried on. Eventually though I reached a point where I thought I was going to throw up if I ate another mouthful. Throwing up at the table is not part of US dining etiquite, right?"

True true to the max... I haven't had American food since I got here. I saw some photos from the subway flooding debacle in NYC on the internet and realized how fat Americans are.. it was shocking because I haven't seen a scene like that since I left. Literally 85% of the people in the photo were obese (Brooklyn). There are some fat people in China, but I have not seen a single person who is obese. The American lifestyle is really conducive to being overweight and I think the biggest problem is the normal portion size.

Politics at the Carrefour (grocery store). This sign means, "Taiwan is right here. PART OF CHINA."

Eggs are super popular. I don't think I've seen a dish yet that doesn't involve egg.