Sunday, October 25, 2009

Waiting for Shanghai Expo 2010

First off, I wrote this blog about 2 weeks ago. Because of the Great Firewall of China, it has taken me this long to find a loophole to get to Blogger. I think I'll continue to write blogs in Word and then post them whenever I manage to get through the blocks to this website. If there is a long time between posts, you'll know why.

Coming back to Shanghai from The States last week, I saw some refreshing changes in the infrastructure of the city. With the 2010 Expo looming next April, the city is in construction turmoil. Every time we go out it seems that some building is being newly remodeled or another sidewalk is being improved. Even newly finished buildings are remodeling to add more glitz for the world’s fair. It is disheartening to know that we will be returning home a month before the Expo is underway because we have suffered through the dust and detours. But, I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

New sculptures are starting to show up in some of the parks, and foliage shaped like Expo symbols are surfacing on the street corners. I can see subtle changes taking place in the medians and on overpasses to beautify the city. Flower baskets are being hung, annuals are being planted, and festive decorations are being draped on buildings. My favorite improvement since returning is the number of sidewalks that are (almost) in working order. I have been very frustrated pushing Ella’s or Jack’s strollers on the chaotic streets because the sidewalks are dug up. All the sidewalks in our area are laid with brick and they are almost done except for the areas around drains. Thank you!!

Another frustration has been the number of new hires by the taxi companies. Every time we get into a taxi where the driver’s number starts with a 3 we know we might not get to where we’re going (yes, we’ve gotten out of a taxi in frustration), or we’ll have to use more energy trying to direct in Chinese. These new drivers can drive, but that’s about it. Most don’t even know where prominent city landmarks are. Once we had to direct the driver to a nearby massive tunnel under the river which everyone should know. I have learned that if the driver argues with us or our concierge at the Marriott about where we want to go, it’s best to just get out and try again. Not only do we spend more time in those taxis getting to where we want to go, but we also spend more money on the fare by wandering the streets of Shanghai. I hope the visitors to the Expo appreciate the tutorials we are giving these new drivers. Since returning though, I have not had a bad experience with a new driver. Maybe they are quick learners.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wet Market Day

Today was a good day to visit the wet market because my change purse was full. I love this kind of market for two reasons—it’s cheap and fresh. I can buy bananas for about ten cents each and an onion or a head of lettuce for about 25 cents each. I don’t remember what U.S. prices are for these things, but I doubt it could be cheaper.
Chinese people covet fresh produce, meat, and seafood which keeps the wet market a bustling place. The best time to go is early in the morning to get the pick of the fruit and veggies, although it always looks good to me. I like to go early because I know the food hasn’t been sitting in the heat all day. People here buy their food everyday because either their refrigerator is small (ours is about the size of a college dorm fridge) or nonexistent. This means the turnover rate is good. The wet market I visit is small and because I buy food frequently from the same vendors, they know me and have a good idea of what I’m going to buy. They all try to get me to stop and take a look, but instead of an aggressive solicitation, it’s very friendly and it’s more coaxing than anything. I like that most vendors will throw in some chives or cilantro or something extra they think will go with whatever else I’m buying.

Not only does the wet market sell produce, but vendors also sell live fish, shrimp, eel, various other seafood, chickens, and ducks. This is where the market gets its name. A market without live animals is simply a market. There is usually an egg stall, a few stalls selling nuts and other dried goods, a fresh pasta stall, and a tofu stall. One area I don’t touch with a ten foot pole is the pork and beef area. It’s funny how the Chinese are so particular about fresh food, but seem oblivious to the need for refrigeration or other sanitary precautions. What’s the point of fresh food if you don’t sanitize the counters first or wash your hands? The smell of meat sitting out is enough to keep me away. Some of the butchers do have refrigerators, but I have still come away with beef that tasted too old or pork with a funny smell. The shrimp, on the other hand, are fantastic. You can get half a pound of beautiful live prawns for $2.50. Mei, our nanny extraordinaire, brings them home, throws them in the freezer for half an hour, boils them up and peels them ready to eat. We are so spoiled!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

10 Things I Love About Shanghai

Yesterday as I was walking home from Ella’s preschool, I was almost run over by a police van that was driving on the sidewalk. It is not unusual at all to see motorcycles or even cars driving on the sidewalks and so I should have been watching, but I was talking to a friend and momentarily forgot that I should always be alert when out and about in a city of approximately 20 million people. There are instances like this that happen every day here and I find myself saying or feeling negative things about living here in Shanghai and yet we still choose to live here. I know there will be days when I vent my frustrations at the foreignness of this place, but today I’m going to talk about my favorite things about being here.

1. It’s easy to make friends because everyone has only been here a short time and people are always moving away so you have to keep looking for friends.

2. Our friends are from all over the world and so not only are we learning about Chinese culture, but we also see firsthand what German birthday parties are like, learn Aussie words, and get parenting tips specific to Malaysians.

3. I don’t know about the rest of China, but there’s a load to do here. New restaurants are always opening, there are museums galore, and interesting neighborhoods and unusual markets, and everyone comes here to shop.

4. We don’t need to own a car. Taxis are super cheap and the subway is only 2 blocks away. The subway already has stations at most important destinations, but they are currently expanding it to prepare for the Shanghai Expo in 2010 and they plan on opening 100 (I think) more stations before next April.

5. Every time I leave home I see something interesting or am learning something.

6. Shopping- We have a bronze warrior statue, wood inlay cricket boxes, hand painted bone china, freshwater pearls, and lots of fake stuff.

7. We can live comfortably on one income. I LOVE being a full time mom.

8. The Chinese really like fresh food. I love going to the wet market which is a market with produce fresh from the farm and live animals. We buy our fish and shrimp live and the fruits and vegetables look great and are cheap.

9. Domestic help is very common and almost expected. Mei (Ella and Jack’s nanny) is key to our happiness here. Not only does she help us with the kids, which alone is a huge job, but she also helps clean, cook, sew, interpret, and run errands.

10. Did I mention Mei also helps entertain the kids, gives them baths, does laundry, changes diapers, buys food, mails packages, and anything else I can think of. She is the personal assistant we all wish we had. She is the main reason I wanted to spend a second year in China.

I could go on, but “The 20 Best Things about Living in China” doesn’t have the same ring.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Beginning

I originally started this blog in January of 2008 when we moved to Shanghai, but I had so many problems navigating the Chinese government firewall, that I gave up after a week of trying. Our friend, Greg, has been coming to China to work for the past few years and on this last visit gave us reliable software (I hope) to view blogs and Facebook.

The other thing holding me back from beginning a blog was not finding time to write with two kids in the house. Fortunately, we hired Mei over a year ago and she comes Monday though Saturday from 8 a.m. till 6 p.m. She makes life very pleasant for us all.

Talking about our life in China is a BIG topic and I don't know where to begin. Even if I take an idea like cultural differences or taking a taxi (our main mode of transportation), I'll be talking for days. So, I've decided to just see what comes up during the day and write about small parts of our experience here.

I'm relieved to start this. I love looking back at our "Where are Jim and Anna" blog now that my memory of that trip is starting to fade and I'm hoping this will be as fulfilling as that blog was.