Saturday, December 25, 2010
Last night, the 20th, we stayed in a cheap little $20/rm. hotel by the airport in Bangkok. It was suppose to be a pretty new building with a pool, complimentary massage, shuttle etc. We had to get two rooms as this little hotel didn’t have big rooms. Most of that was true, but we did wonder about the lumpy pillows, water stained doors and their advertising of hot and cold water. It all ended up pretty good as a whole (I haven’t seen a bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower all in the same space in awhile), but of course there are always challenges, snaffoos, and elements of SE Asia that you just don’t have control over. We were going to meet Lois and Carl Grove, and their son Clinton, at a huge 4 story mall complete with 10 lane bowling alley and a roller coaster (Lois says hi to all AH folks!). As soon as we stepped out of the hotel, the transportation booker recognized us as green horns and tried to get us to pay 2 and ½ times as much for what it should cost for where we were going. Lois said taxis were cheap, so we called her to check out this quote-1st off, he wanted to be paid upfront and he was willing to bargain. Interestingly, he stuck to his negotiated price and wouldn’t take us for the real price. We stepped outside the property, we got a cab with a meter that brought us to the mall for the expected price. It sure was fun seeing the Groves. They all seem well and like living in Bangkok. Carl has picked up a large region with his job, so he’s headed in all directions throughout the year. Lois is teaching 1st grade (or K?) in a Christian International School, where Clinton also attends.
Morning was sunny, clear (with the usual haze), and 80ish. We were staying in bit of a seedy area-pretty close to the airport and 45 min. to any sights, so we took a walk to see some 3rd world sights with the kids. Pretty eye opening…dirt, wild dogs, multiple food stalls/restaurants that were in huts with old wooden and/or cement floors. Everything of course is open air-no windows-open crusty grills, fruit sold from vendors on motorcycles, and most food exposed all day. We even ventured into a couple of side streets where little old ladies were the proprietors of 15” x 10” stores attached to their homes. Joey and Hailey were thirsty soon and went into a “restaurant” where the owners were having some rice and chicken breakfast-I don't think they were open. They overcharged us for a couple of Pepsis and a water, but wouldn’t let us leave with the bottles. They put ice in plastic carry bags and poured the drinks in and provided a straw for all-carry out! All was good, until Anne realized that her bottled water was probably put in with ice made from tap water. That gave Joey and Hailey pause, so we started over as soon as possible. We ran across an elaborately decorated temple seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It had the traditional Thai architecture painted in a shiny gold. Pretty impressive sight. We wished we could have stayed until services were happening. We were a bit late as our flight was at 2 p.m., so we headed back to the hotel, checked out, and jumped into the shuttle to get there early. Bags were unloaded, we started for the door, and Anne's eyeballs were on the verge of bursting out of her sockets! "My pack! Holy Mother, did you put it in the van Doug? I laid it down next to you at the hotel! It has EVERYTHING in it--Passports, Visas, $, etc.!!" Well, we only had one sim card that worked. I sprinted to a cab, had Joey call the hotel, find our bag, check with the van, and I'd been there ASAP. We all talked about the snaffoos that we would encounter when travelling....oh boy, here we go...I grabbed the air between the cabby and myself and smothered him with the name and address of our hotel. "Do You KNOW where this is?" His quick reply, that is obligatory apparently was, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, sure, ok, ok." I was in obvious hurry/panic mode, on my face at least, and yet this guy starts putt putting down the road, looking in 6 directions, and slowing up at each fork in the road. OMG, we had a connection to catch in Jakarta, that would get us to Denpasar (Bali) at 1a.m.ish. I reiterated my need for him to know where he was going with a firmness that the man started to choke on. He asked, "Do you have a phone?" Oh god, great, I'm in charge here...I looked at him at showed him my empty sim card holder. Sooooo, down the highway we puttered, until God decided he needed to take control of this one since my guy was not going to be of much help. I wondered what the Big Guy was going to do to help. Of course, stick a police officer on the side of the road in the middle of pure flat horizons giving someone a ticket! Sweet!!! I directed him to pull over and find out where to go. Easy sneezy, and off we went. I bounced from the cab, ran into the office, and the attendant said that Anne got the bag and something about the van. Phewwwwwwww....so we head on back to the airport where Anne was waiting with the kids, but no backpack! What the...but Anne quickly let me know that she forgot that she had crammed it into her carry-on bag.....See kids, that's how these things get easily resolved!
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
This guy was delivering a manequin on his motorcycle...
I can't figure out how to get photos into my text and away from the top...grrr...anyway:
We turned the corner where we found many fashion stores with some hilarious Chinglish…check ‘em out….
On the way home, we usually go through a walking mall of golden, marbled cement. I figure it’s about 5 blocks/a good half mile long. The cement goes around everything between the buildings. Anne and I saw the workers that were sentenced to scrubbing all of the cement with one bucket of soapy water and 2 eighteen inch scrub brushes. One worker squirted extra detergent ahead of the other scrubber. It’s got to be like the Golden Gate Bridge, where they never stop painting all year long. That’s just how long it takes before it needs it again. Sometimes you just drop your jaw and stop, stare, and wonder…Notice they’re cleaning 4-5 sections at a time.
At the end of “Golden Street”, set up one day out of nowhere, is a British Mini car display, with a chassy bolted onto a wall. Ok, I’ve seen car “shows” on that street before, but this one has huge speakers blaring hard core rap about death. Sooooo Chinese; just random events pop up over night! Or, random decisions get made!
Joey went to the Pearl Tower in Pudong and walk around an 8-10 foot section of plexiglass that hangs out on the 78th story. The picture he took is looking straight down. You can walk around the entire floor like that apparently…Pretty wild…
In China, well, Shanghai anyway, lots of services want your continued service and will give you opportunity to purchase VIP cards for various amounts of $. We found a corner shoe shiner that is now shining our shoes for $.75 since we fronted $40. He gave us a card that works like a debit card with him. Also, after going to our local hair salon-which is right across the street from the shiner-for a couple of weeks, they tried to get us to be VIP’s for $500 down. We laughed, and got them down to $125, so now, we walk in, they seat you, squirt your hair with some water, lather you up and give you a shampoo/head massage for about 5-7 minutes. When that worker bee gets done, then they start a neck, shoulder, and upper back massage. I think I started nodding off after awhile! My last one-a few days ago was literally 10 minutes. You kind of forget why you’re there. I kept telling myself, “Well, no need to seek out a massage today; I’m good!” Then, since we of European decent don’t know much, you’re presented with the skills menu. Do you want the young funkadelic dude in black and white over in the corner with 7 of his buddies that are texting and surfing their buns off because the worker bees are busy, and that can’t understand a word you say for $5, or do you want the young funkadelic dude in the same get up etc. sitting there too that has 3 more months under his Polo patent leather belt (knock off presumably) for $8, ooooorrrrrrrr do you want the most revered young funkadelic, back room pot smoker-it can reek-that has the most experience in the “joint” for three times the usual price? I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing the $5 cut because Anne likes the #1 boy and has been lining us up for him and his #2 buddy, so I decided to see just how bad it could be. These are exciting times in the ol’ hood! When the nervous, new young buck came over, his apprentice and a couple of other peons of green watched with intent interest as he ventured into the gray straw of the American 6 footer. After all was said and done, it was no different than 90% of the other haircuts I’ve ever had, so I guess it sufficed. I went over to pay and remembered the VIP card! This ensures that we will forever get 50% off the regular price. Yes, I’m on the $2.50 track with Joey. I think we’re good for about a year, depending on how many highlights and colorings happen on the female side of the family. You ought to see the eyes light up when Annie and Hailey walk in! Cha Ching!!! Plus of course, by now, Anne has the whole store of young black hairs enamored and wanting to correct spelling and math tests with her while she waits for Mr. Big Guns.
'til next time, with stories from Bankok, Jakarta, and Bali
Monday, December 20, 2010
Anne and I have found our Saturday walks to be absolutely fabulous. We end up walking between 3-5 hours on average. The continued array of fascinating cultural activities, Chinglish (odd attempts at using English which often amuse), taxi events etc. makes our walks the absolute best part of our week. It all just seems so random, yet oh so entertaining. Last Saturday was particularly interesting as we ventured further out into some real “local” areas.
But before I begin, today, we took a cab to the airport. We saw our 3rd gas station. We’ve been here nearly 5 months. I don’t’ know where all the cars get their gas! There’s crush hour, big freeways, and we were on the freeway for an hour to get to the Pudong airport. Man, wherever they are, they must be packed all day long. Maybe they don’t need much gas. The cars are mostly small engine, and the speed limit on the freeway is 80 kph. I think that’s around 50 mph. It’s painfully slow, but then again, I’m sure it’s plenty fast when the roads are full.
In order to get on the freeway, our taxi had to get to a large crossroad. I have an example shot here of an intersection that has over 40 lanes coming and going!! So, the light we had to take a left at was very difficult to navigate as cars back up trying to get through. We could see our green arrow to go, but it was pretty clogged, even though there is a cop directing traffic about 100 yards ahead. No worries, about 20 cars, including us, just crossed 5 oncoming lanes and drove on the shoulder to get to the intersection where we could then take a left. No reaction by the cop. It’s all good. No wrecks, everyone’s happy, no honking…that’s reserved for cars/mopeds that “don’t” know you’re coming. No problem there! They all knew we were coming! That, was a new 1st…
So we get to the airport-pretty new, a bit bleak compared to back home-no art work or music and a bit dark. We grabbed a bite-I went with a safe noodle soup. Joey saw some spaghetti with meat sauce. Perfect-simple, the picture looked great. It came with a multitude of veggies in it, red sauce on top, and finished off with the meat-2 hotdogs laid across the top. FYI, all “sausage” in Shanghai is a hotdog. (Yes, even at a great Italian pizza joint we found; sliced up HD with salami—amazing!) Our gate was two floors down, which was where the tarmac was. We went through check-in, went outside, got on a 60 foot bus, and travelled across several runways to what looked like a 2-3 square mile cement parking lot where all aircraft parked. The busses deliver passengers to and from the terminal. We really couldn’t see the end of the “parking lot.” Not exactly wheelchair friendly! 25 stairs up to the cabin of a jet about the size of a 707. Bangkok here we come! Ü
Check out all the flower racks! You can purchase them at flower stores if you know someone that’s opening a new business. It’s good luck, congrats, and a beacon for the new business as a “Grand Opening” would be in the states. Only difference is, businesses here come and go weekly. They’re usually accompanied with firecrackers and fireworks to ward off evil spirits. Anne and I saw a new dumpling shop with a good sized line so we joined the crowd for some local fare. The dumplings are filled with balls of random street meat and spices. They get fried up and the juices from the meat fill the dumpling. Quite excellent! You can also get it in steamed dim sum, which are a bit larger in traditional dough (cao bao) for about 14 cents. Anyway, the dumpling place looked great, so we paid for 3 (san). I thought they were a bit spendy at 12 kwai ($1.70), but I hadn’t bought before, so I was just doing whatever it took. I got a bit alarmed as I saw them packaging them in little plastic bags. Everyone was getting them in multiples of 4. I realized I ordered 3 sets, 4 for 4 kwai. They shoveled out 12 of those puppies. We were miles from home and certainly weren’t that hungry. We just gave one of the bags of 6 to someone else in line. You would have thought we just gave them a new car. One woman was beside herself and just new this couldn’t be right. It pained her to watch us leaving her waving her money. We tried eating them hot and they just erupted in our faces. So there we were hanging our mugs over a patch of grass, drooling hot street meat juice while the locals just stared in wonder and amusement.
Right next door, another shop had been slicing and dicing fish for deep fried fish balls, right out in front on the sidewalk. Lord knows how long it all sits outside before bringing it in to mash up…The flaming iron bowls of food were just selected from the array of pre-prepared dishes. It’s common to just set it all out in bowls ready to be heated up.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I recall a kind and gentle man saying to me in his driveway after telling him about going to move and teach abroad in China for a few years, “Anne, I didn’t realize you were so hardy.” I snickered first of all because I have not heard that word used very often, “hardy”, especially when referring to people. A plant could be hardy, a cow in the winter could be hardy, but me? I remember responding, “Well, I’m not sure how hardy I am, but I guess I’ll find out.”
Turns out, I am hardier than I knew. I AM learning to be hardier, but I don’t have to be too hardy here in Shanghai. I have many comforts for my family, and myself but I am living among many who do not have any comforts. I am learning that I do like some comforts from home. I like MY face soap, MY perfume, MY razor blades, and MY shampoo. If given the choice, I’d pick them.
I am running out of all things American that we brought from home. We come over with 10 suitcases – clothes for four seasons that could last a year. All shoes for all sports as we were told it would be hard to find shoes to fit our big feet (not mine), but everyone else’s. We brought double pairs of running shoes to give ourselves a pair at Christmas. (Turns out we can get shoes here easily – even big sizes.) As I squeeze out the last drop of face soap, shampoo, toothpaste- I dread the realization that it’s time to start buying Chinese brand toiletries. Let me tell you, they are very different. Face soaps have whiteners in them to bleach your skin as pale as you can. It shows that you are an aristocrat and are not working in the rice patties. I’d prefer a little tint of tan in mine, thank you. The face soaps I’ve tried (five different brands) are all just awful. They foam up ok, but then when you wash them off – they just stick to your face. You can’t wash it off. You have this film on your face that is squeaky sticky. It is so gross; it just puts me in a bad mood. You want to wash your face again, but you can’t – they all do the same thing. I long for my Oil of Olay Foaming Face Wash for Sensitive Skin from Walgreens. I am bringing a years worth next summer.
I have become intentional with decisions about building my life here. We do not have many worldly items and live a very simple life. I like it. So far, I am not missing much. I do say I would love a bath or a hot tub. A teacher friend bought a 12-person hot tub with a TV screen and put it on his patio (he’s on the first floor)- I really am trying hard to get myself invited over. I even offered to babysit their cute little girl, but she’s going through a rough “patch” of the “terrific twos” so I’m not sure it would be worth it. Maybe Joey or Hailey could babysit and I could go over after the kid’s in bed. Ahh…now there’s a plan.
Doug and I were cruising around looking in shops last Saturday morning and we ran across a home décor shop specializing in modern Chinese items. Hot pink Buddhas, hot green fake bamboo coat trees, funky bright blue Chinesey vases…I did have my eye on the bright green fake bamboo vase (it would match nicely in our apartment), but I don’t want to haul it around the world with me. It was nice, but not THAT nice. I had bought some pussy willow branches the weekend before for $1 (you can get them dyed in any color you want) and I thought they would look cool in the bright green fake bamboo vase as our décor is more modern these days. (Side note: I bought the pussy willows because they reminded me of my Grandma Larson. She always had pussy willows in her house and I loved how they felt between my fingers. Bummer news…I can no longer feel their softness with my fingertips – too much computer keyboarding or playing with unifix cubes, I guess. I can feel them on the top of my hands or on my face though.)
Our ayi found a really cool place to put the soft and fluffy friends. She has complete control of our home. She arranges the furniture, dishes, and our clothes any way she sees fit. I have given over control of our home and I love it. I’ve never really been into that stuff anyway so I’m OK with it. I love that it’s clean all the time and I notice how smart she is with the way she organizes things. It just makes sense! She moved the refrigerator over so the cupboard doors can open better, moved a shoe cupboard that was out in the hall into the entry and filled it with our summer sandals, put up a hook in the kitchen for the dishtowels and her cleaning gloves, unclogged the kid’s shower, fixed the leaky sink, moved the dishes to a new cupboard, organized the Tupperware (OH MY!! China has the BEST Tupperware in the world! I will bring some home for sure as gifts.)
You can buy things very inexpensively over here. You can buy very expensive things too. Anything American or European or imported is expensive – more than the US. All other items are cheap. IKEA is cheap. Got desks for the kids’ rooms for $20 dollars. $3 to deliver and assemble! Love it! Chinese food is cheap and NOT like US Chinese food at all…lots of fish oil and they eat ALL parts of ALL animals – brains, balls, and butts. I’m sure my beef noodle soup has more surprises in it than I would like to know. I eat the noodles and sip some broth and usually leave the mystery meat. I’ve gotten pretty good at using chopsticks, as I’ve had to. No forks. I almost brought this “spork” (spoon/fork combo) from REI with me to keep in my purse, just in case, but I’ve survived without it. I’ve learned that you can just put your scraps on the table and it’s OK to bring your mouth really close to the bowl and it’s very acceptable to slurp and burp and pass wind at your leisure. Sure, hauk (sp?) a loogie at the same time, light up a cig, and then go pee on the sidewalk – it’s third world after all. Oh, and you can smoke pot or any other substance in a restaurant or hair salon if you’d like. No one seems to mind. If you call putting up with that, “hardy” – then I guess I’m hardy.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
One of my biggest fears that I had about coming to China was going to the dentist here. I like “the gas” when I get my teeth cleaned and have become accustomed to it. I usually get my teeth cleaned every three months because I am a tartar-making machine and my three-month mark was up a few weeks ago. I inquired around for dentists and how I could get “the gas” among teacher China vets. Bad news was found…nitrous oxide is not allowed for cleanings, only surgery. NO!!!
I found an American dentist and explained my situation to him and said that if I couldn’t have “the gas” I would need to come in dead drunk. He said he specialized in the “anxious patient” back in the states and reassured me he would take good care of me. I booked my appointment for after school on a Friday in case I needed to recover the next day. I fought the urge to get a “shot” (or two) at the local shot bar and jumped in a taxi after school last Friday and headed for the dentist. I was dropped off at a place that looked like a nondescript dump with lots of cement. (Common for China, you cannot judge a building by its exterior.) Upon entering, I noticed right away that it was a beautiful place with a few businesses, doctor’s offices, massage, and a large dental clinic. Nice place to suffer in, I guess. If I scream when she hits a nerve in one of my many “pockets”, the marble will allow the sound to vibrate throughout the building. My advanced apologies for the people getting a massage.
After filling out my paperwork, wiping the sweat from my brow, using the squatty potty for the last time (it IS China after all), I headed into the chair. I noticed the little sink/bowl to spit in from when I was a kid. They still have those here.
To make a short story long, a Chinese woman dentist, Dr. Barbara, cleaned my teeth by hand. Her assistant hovered close with a paper towel for Dr. Barbara to wipe all my tartar and plaque on. It was a team effort. I turned up my iPod as to try to escape to another land…the beaches of Maui. It worked. The skillful, swift hands of Dr. Barbara were amazing. I had not even one moment of unfomfortableness (I know, not a word.) When she was done polishing, the old fashioned way, I got to use the little sink. That’s when I missed. It’s a small bowl for a large American mouth full of long awaited water. My spit landed on the floor. Dr. Barbara just new a few words of dental “English” and those words were all used up when we were finished. I pointed to the floor and said in Chinese, “I’m sorry.” and she responded “ayi” – meaning the maid (cleaning lady) would take care of it. She actually said a lot more, but I only caught on to the word, “ayi” (pronounced eye-ee), and guessed at the rest. I do a lot of assuming and guessing these days. She was very kind about my missed attempt at bowl spitting.
I paid my RMB 350 ($ 53 USD) and the receptionist called a taxi for me. My clean teeth and I smiled all the way home.
I survived the dentist and now I know where to go every three months. I’m not sure how clean my teeth really are, but at least she didn’t hit a nerve. One more fear conquered for me. Next is trying to find a retinal specialist. Yikes.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Today I'm going to share some of the everyday interests...again I guess. It's so fun to walk out every Saturday. Today it was 5 hrs. of walking to a few new spots and getting back in time to go to our Wild West staff party 65 stories up, looking over the larger buildings across the river at the Bund. We'll be going with a couple of our kids' teachers. The significant her, will be in a wheel chair from having ligament surgery--yikes--here in Shanghai. The other, a literature expert working on his doctorate, almost done, out of Rome, via Kansas. Am I rambling?
Above, Anne, boiling over, Dec. 5th, after having checked out the local bakery! Nothing like a little good squid ink to make for a perfect pastry! It's suppose to be yummy...so I've heard...Top left is what it looks to enter an apartment complex. You're never quite sure where/when it ends. Some have shops, banks, hair salons, coffee shops, restaurants, and then some, like ours, are just apartments. These are in an ex-patriot area, yet certainly 99% Chinese. Walking by you might hear French, German, Swedish, Australian, Indian, English, and even Chinese. It seems that every week we go somewhere that we've already been to, some store is gutted and changed. Construction is a 24/7 affair here. We've bought some VIP cards for dry cleaning, hair cuts, and shoe shining because your fee gets cut in half! The key is to be able to buy it for cheap. You never know, the store/restaurant/salon may be gone the next time you walk by. It almost feels criminal when you go in to get your hair cut for 14 RMB, which is about $2 US. Shoes can get shined for $.70, and dry cleaning is $1 per item...
Monday, December 6, 2010
Doug, Anne, Joey, Hailey Gribble
Heng Sheng Gardens - 2 - #1602
299 Yaohong Road
Shanghai, China 201103
Thank you so much! Merry Christmas!
PS We are going to Bangkok, Thailand and the island of Bali, Indonesia for three weeks during our holiday break. Back to work on January 10. We are ready for a much needed vacation! Wishing you all a nice holiday too.