Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Know, I Know....I Know

I know...I've been a very bad blogger. It's been a while since I've posted and I am completely aware of those of you who are unhappy with this fact. What I can say is, it has been insanely busy around here. Who would have thought that not being employed would take up so much time?

I'm finding Shanghai to be a city of opportunity and activity. One of the more recent lessons I am learning is, if you are not careful, you can busy yourself into insanity. Add a little culture shock into that equation, and watch out!

Phil and I have been doing a lot lately. I attended a fashion show for a local designer last weekend. The following day, we attended a Chinese wedding. Just yesterday, I went on a tour of a water town called Tongli. This weekend, we are going for a short little getaway in a nearby city called Hangzhou. Then Phil is going to Nancheng and Beijing in the next two weeks! It's been busy to say the least.(I will post in the next few days on the wedding and Tongli with a lot of pictures, so stay tuned for that.)

All in all, life is going well for us here in China. We are definitely starting to experience some culture shock though. I find myself hanging out in my house a lot more these days. I am very aware of the importance of needing space and time in which to breathe. For the most part, I am giving myself that. Phil, however, does not have that luxury. Each day, he has to go out, deal with the taxis, travel to and from work, and just face the everyday challenges of working and communicating in a completely and totally different culture. Did I mention completely and totally different culture? Yeah.... I think we are getting closer to being able to blog on "You know you're experiencing culture shock when...." (when .... you want to beam an elderly lady over the head after she has disgustingly cleared her throat onto the street).

We have been meeting a lot of new people and making friends. I think one of the biggest concerns for us when we were considering this move, was making friends and being part of a community. It has been really cool meeting so many different people from so many different countries. Phil and I will be hosting our first dinner party next weekend with some of the people we have met, so we are looking forward to that. The theme will be "cuisines of the world" so I am really excited to share some of our favorites and see what others bring to share. For those of you who don't know, Phil and I love food. So we thought, what better way to get to know some people we have met, than with food as a theme?

And so, the Shanghai adventure goes on, with the cast of characters growing by the day. I certainly look forward to seeing what more is in store.

Monday, May 14, 2007

On Learning Mandarin....or at least trying to

So we have lived in Shanghai for over 2 months now. At this point, I have stopped counting the days. I can finally keep track of what day it is, although the date still escapes me. I no longer feel so new and wide eyed. And although I don’t have the experience of one who has lived here for 2 years, I feel fairly confident and at ease with my surroundings. We are starting to meet more and more people. Phil got out this weekend to play Ultimate Frisbee with a group of people training for league competition. I stayed home and relaxed.

In an effort to meet people, I have recently joined an expat organization known as the SEA (Shanghai Expat Association). There are over 50 nations represented in this group. It is a great way to meet other expats, learn about the city, take trips, connect with other business people, or just join a book club. I was recently asked and agreed to join the board of the SEA, which means my involvement will greatly increase. I am starting to meet people and make connections through this group, which is nice. I have met a good mix of foreign as well as American expats through this group. I would definitely like to meet more locals though. The government here does not allow the local Chinese to be a part of the SEA, so while I get to meet people from all over the world, I do not get to meet people who are native citizens of China through the SEA or organizations like this. I really want to make sure I don’t surround myself with western comforts and people alone. It is an easy and tempting thing to do at times. I want to make sure I immerse myself and develop relationships with the community around me. To effectively do this, it will help to learn the language.

Phil and I are currently taking mandarin classes. We have a teacher who comes to our house for private lessons 2 times/ week, 2 hours each time. I haven't really shared what it is like trying to learn Mandarin, so I will take this opportunity to do so.

In order to learn Chinese effectively, there are several things you will need to know. First and foremost- you must have a sense of humor. Once you find that, arm yourself with unlimited patience. Next, take everything you know about learning a language and throw it out the door. Intonation to turn a sentence into a question- forget about it. Sentence structure- in the trash. Just when you think you understand something- it will change. Just when you think it makes sense, it won't. And when you grasp a principle and the teacher tells you that principle does not apply to a particular word or phrase, don't even bother asking why. Why, you ask? Because the resounding answer will be- "that's just the way it is". Learning this language is one big T.I.C moment after another. (If you are unfamiliar with T.I.C., please refer to previous post). Oh and I would suggest padding the table you are at during your class, because banging your head on the structure below is a natural response at times. Seriously.

Although the language is insanely challenging, Phil and I are both up to it. We have always had a strong desire to learn another language fluently. What better opportunity than this. And so.... we press forward, with a pillow padded table and a lot of laughter.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Path Less Traveled

The view today is remarkable. When I woke up this morning, I noticed an unusual blue in the sky. There are many "sunny" days here in Shanghai, but due to the profound pollution, it is rare for these days to be accompanied by blue skies. On a day like today though, it is wonderful to look out onto the city to a view that doesn't seem to end. The enormity of this city sprawls before my eyes. All the modernity, hustle and bustle, construction, and endless buildings reaching toward the sky seem transformed into an urban mountain view......

Phil and I have just come off a week long holiday that the entire country took part in. This particular week off is known as the Labor Holiday. The way China handles vacation is a bit different. China has 3 main holidays. One is for the Chinese New Year, another for Labor Holiday in May, and another is in October. The week before the holiday begins, all people are expected to work 8 straight days. They work through the weekend and the following Monday. The vacation begins Tuesday and work resumes again the following Tuesday. Apparently, the initial holiday was only 3 days long and in an effort to boost tourism, someone decided to essentially trade days. So people work their typically free weekend and get those two extra days, thus turning the holiday into a week long vacation.

During these holidays, all major business shuts down, fireworks explode throughout the day, and masses of people (unlike anything I had seen before) descend on the major cities and tourist spots throughout China. So yeah for us, we happen to live in one of those major tourist destinations! When we told our language teacher we were planning on staying in Shanghai for the holiday, she looked at us with some concern, then told us we should just stay in for the first 3 days because the city would be swarming with people. Let me tell you, when a local tells you Shanghai will be swarming (when isn't it???), you take note.

So we decided we would stay in the first day and take the opportunity to finish unpacking those last few straggling boxes of non essential items. You know, the ones that can end up living side by side with us for years, until one day we realize we still haven't unpacked from 2 years ago. After our day in, we decided to brave the city in all of its Labor Holiday frenzy and see if it really was all that crowded.

Our first day out proved to be a relaxed one. We decided to go over to Puxi and check out one of the "western friendly" supermarkets in search of a rice cooker that actually had English on the buttons. Since we were going to be in that area, we also decided to track down an Indian grocer that was rumored to be nearby. After quite a bit of walking, we found both. Our journey had been a success. I have to tell you, it was a great joy to find this Indian grocer so I could replenish my seriously sad spice pantry. It is still in a sad state compared to what it was in the US, but now, I can at least make some of our favorite dishes.

The next day we decided to travel to Qibao, one of the "old cities" outside of the booming downtown. We headed out in the morning, made our way to the end of line 2 on the metro and took a taxi the rest of the way. When we arrived, we were met by a quaint looking arrangement of old architecture, and a sea of Chinese tourists. It was early enough in the day to know that we were in for some seriously crowded tourism. We decided to walk through Qibao, take a little boat ride down the river, take some pictures, and head out before any more people converged on this place. It was nice and quaint, but not worth the shoving and crowding taking place to stay any longer. We figured we live close enough, we can go back when the rest of China isn't there on holiday.

Another day we did one of our favorite things and went for lunch at an Indian restaurant. After surviving a frightening ride in a man powered taxi bike thing, we arrived at Bukhara. We almost jumped out of the contraption when he stopped. We payed for the seriously over priced (30 RMB ($3.75 USD)) ride and thanked God for sparing our lives. Okay, maybe I am being a little dramatic, but seriously, it was scary. You can check out some pictures of this in our photo album (click on the link to the right). So back to the Indian restaurant. This was number 7 for us and by far one of our favorites. By the time our Indian food loving friends come and visit us, we will know the good from the bad, as well as the best. And for those of you who know what I am talking about, this place had the best Naan in Shanghai. Yum.

Any other plans we had to visit more touristy places, were nixed once we realized the mass of people we would have to fight through. And that was okay. We really just spent time walking and exploring new areas and shops, we hung out with friends, ate a lot of good food, got some foot massages, and relaxed. I would say we took the holiday path less traveled. Thankfully, even in this seriously populated city, that is still possible.