Hangzhou Got Shorted

My sister Amy arrived last Thursday night, which just so happened to coincide with the arrival of rain and considerably colder weather in the Shanghai area. We haven’t done much so far in Shanghai, although we did get to meet Michael of Chairman Meow and Living in China fame and his friends. Very cool group of people. Then we went to Hangzhou.

I gotta say, any decent city in China requires at least a week of touristing. I foolishly only gave us 3 days in Hangzhou, and I regret it. We saw West Lake, Nanshan Road’s bars, Ling Yin Temple, the Silk Market, In Time Department Store, “West Lake Heaven and Earth” (西湖天地), ZUCC, and snow. On Sunday the weather was horrible (even if it did snow), so we shopped all day. Ugh. Then yesterday we went to the silk market and we spent 3 hours there. I wanted to die. I was translator and haggler. I really got some good prices, but I don’t particularly enjoy that.

Amy enjoyed meeting all my ZUCC co-workers and other Hangzhou friends. They’re all really cool people. I should have some pictures of her visit up soon. Got some good ones.

Last night we made the difficult decision not to go to Beijing. It’s the wrong time of year for it (too cold, and it’s the Chinese New Year holiday now), and we just wouldn’t have enough time there. Plus, Amy wouldn’t get to see much of Shanghai even if we went to Beijing for only 3 or 4 days. You can’t see three amazing cities in two weeks.

So tonight is Chinese New Year’s Eve. We’ll be spending it with my girlfriend’s family. Happy Chinese New Year everybody!

John and Amy at Reggae Bar, Hangzhou

Shanghai Gloom?

Jocelyn at Speaking of China recently painted a rather dismal picture of life in Shanghai:

I think of those 10 or so months I’d spent in Shanghai. Somehow staying in that “booming metropolis” had swiftly beaten much of the spontaneity out of my life. There’s something inextricably stifling about Shanghai. The people hardly smile at you. The shopkeepers at times seem reluctant to utter “Welcome” as you walk in the door. Most entertainment options offer little for those interested in something non-conventional. Oh, there is a multitude of cultural activities around the city, from traditional opera to music and theatre. But there are few “scenes” in the city that bring together a group of people with similar interests. I believe I grew tired of the little available and the difficulty of making friends there. I chose to become a “hermit” of sorts, finding pleasure instead in the small subtleties of everyday life. It satisfied me nevertheless.

(She wrote this in the context of a comparison of Shanghai to Taipei. Check it out, it’s good reading.)

Reading something like that, I can’t help but feel a little bit anxious about my new life here in Shanghai. But then I think, HA! I’m going to kick Shanghai’s sorry big ass. I am going to have a damn good time here, I’m going to continue to improve my Chinese, and I’m going to make more Chinese friends here than I ever had in Hanghzou. And they’re going to be cool.

One of my secrets for accomplishing this will be in learning Shanghai dialect. Comprehension at the very least. I made friends on the bus yesterday with a Shanghainese guy. I was reading my book on the Shanghainese dialect, and he started talking to me about it. It’s really complex. The subject of me teaching him English for free never even came up. Anyway, I got his number. BOOM, new friend! It was almost as easy as getting a Chinese girl’s number. (hehe)

Then later that day my girlfriend’s mom gave me a lesson in Shanghainese. My Chinese name in Shanghainese sounds like “Poogie.” Haha! Awesome.

And my sister Amy arrives later today (wow, I need to go to sleep!). It’s gonna be a great 2 weeks!

Someone Listened?!

A while back, when SARS was the topic dominating the China blog neighborhood, I wrote about a letter I sent to the media. It sure seemed that nothing came of it. I have just discovered that it did produce at least one small mention in the media.

Why Shanghai?

A lot of people have asked me why I decided to move to Shanghai. A few years ago I would have laughed at the idea of myself making a home here. But, things have a funny way of working out…. Some of you might be wondering the converse, though — why not Shanghai?

When I first came to China, I chose Hangzhou (over Shanghai) for a number of reasons.

  1. Climate. Hangzhou is not too cold in the winter, and the winter doesn’t drag on too much. [Shanghai’s climate is virtually identical to Hangzhou’s.]
  2. Environment. Hangzhou is surrounded by green hills and wooded areas, and, of course, it also has the famous West Lake. [Shanghai has parks, but it is still the big bity. Concrete jungle.]
  3. Size. Although its population is close to 7 million, Hangzhou is a “mid-sized” city in China. In addition, the actual area the city covers is not really that large. Living there, you really feel that it’s not a big city. [Shanghai’s population, on the other hand, has topped 20 million. It is huge in all senses of the word.]
  4. Language. Hangzhou has its own local dialect which is virtually incomprehensible to those merely versed in Mandarin, but the dialect is not as widely used as you might think. Since Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and also very much a “college town,” Mandarin is very widespread (if not always standard). This makes it a better place to study Chinese. [In comparison, Shanghai dialect is much more widely used in Shanghai, and knowledge of it is much more integral to success there. Also, there are many, many Chinese people that speak good English in Shanghai, which doesn’t help if you’re trying hard to learn Chinese.]
  5. Girls. Believe it or not, Hangzhou’s reputation for beautiful women was not a factor in my choice of Hangzhou. Furthermore, after being in China a while, I think it’s all a load of crap. Many places in China are famous for this reason (Hangzhou, Suzhou, Sichuan, Dalian, etc.). It’s just a variation on the “the grass is always greener” phenomenon. One thing Hangzhou does have going for it in this category is that it’s a college town, so there are tons of college-aged girls. [Shanghai women know how to dress well and wear makeup. They are hot, hot, HOT. It seems like the hottest ones are often either working girls or out for money, though.]
  6. Pollution. Pollution is a huge issue for foreigners in China, so I wanted to pick one of the cleaner Chinese cities. Relatively speaking, Hangzhou fits the bill (there are some nightmarish cities out there), but it’s by no means pristine. [Shanghai does not at all seem more polluted. I guess it’s because factories are largely located in the countryside (like right behind ZUCC).]

For the reasons above, as well as the fact that I never felt like a “city person,” I chose Hangzhou over Shanghai. It was an excellent choice. My number one goal here in China is attainment of a high degree of fluency in Mandarin, and Hangzhou has been a great place to pursue that dream. As my language proficiency pushes into the “advanced stage,” though, I have had to re-evaluate the situation.

As a university English teacher in China, I can’t justifiy the use of Chinese in the classroom, so my job (with the exception of the minor “foreign teacher liaison position”) was conducted entirely in English.

I’ve never been good at befriending my students, and I always found the language issue problematic. They want to practice English, I want to practice Chinese.

As my Chinese got better and better, I just felt that if my aim was mastery of Chinese, the most logical way to further my goal was to find a job where I could use Chinese on the job, all the time.

Thus Shanghai. Hangzhou has very little call for foreigners that speak Chinese. The fact that jobs in Shanghai pay way better is a small added bonus, but far from a driving factor for me.

Often in jest, expats in China sometimes refer to foreigners living in Shanghai as having “sold out.” I’m sure many do come here for the pay. You can earn a Western salary here (if you’re lucky). And I remember when I first came to Hangzhou and met other expats who had been here longer, I learned about the phenomenon of foreigners abandoning Hangzhou in favor of Shanghai after they’d been in China a while. And I remember thinking to myself, “Not me! Hangzhou is the city for me.” Whatever “the real China” may be, Shanghai is most definitely not it. So I can’t help but ask myself, “have I sold out?”

The answer is, of course, NO. But I have to make sure I keep focused on my goals. I wouldn’t be the first disillusioned Westerner to embrace the mystic, ascetic East for whatever reason, in all its third world charm, merely to get caught up in this new red capitalism. I wanted out of the rat race, not merely into a new “race.”

So I guess that about sums it up. Yes, my girlfriend also lives in Shanghai. And yes, that was also a factor (and a catalyst). But of course it wasn’t that simple. And I will definitely miss living in Hangzhou.

Back Online

So I finally got my ADSL access today. I am proper satisfied. It’s very fast, and I can even upgrade to twice this speed for a mere extra 10 rmb per month (I currently have to pay 130).

So now I can get back on top of my e-mail. Still, if you sent me any e-mails these past few months, there’s a good chance they were lost in my hard drive crash, so please e-mail me again. I’m using Thunderbird as my mail client now, instead of Microsoft Outlook. John B tells me it’s better for Asian language support. Hopefully it’ll work out.

Just in case you were looking for something China-related that goes even beyond my own existence here, I got something for ya. So tell me, do you know the difference between a Chinaman and a chink? Go find out.

Related note: Ever hear of the Chink Bros?

Coming Soon…

Happy New Year, everybody. It’s been a while since my last entry, I know. In the meantime a lot has happened (although really, not much).

I have completely moved into my new apartment in Shanghai, and it’s awesome. My ZUCC co-worker friends were all going to help me with the final move, but they all bailed on me at the last minute for lame reasons like “no money,” except for Greg. He was a great help, and strong as an ox, that lad. Alf tried to placate me by later showing up with a potted plant for me. What a charmer.

Anyway, I don’t hold grudges, so I’ll be happy to put any of them up should they feel like coming to visit me in Shanghai. Those guys are great, and I’ll really miss them. Sometimes it’s hard for me to explain even to myself why I would voluntarily leave such a great community of people.

I also met the notorious Brad (of BradF.com) recently. Very chill guy. Much more into music than I expected (if you read Chinese, make sure you check out his ideas for his new band!). Hopefully I’ll be hanging out with him again soon.

I finally bought a new hard drive yesterday. 80 GB of Seagate goodness. Works like a champ so far. I’ve actually found that I didn’t lose as much data as I thought I did, due to my inadvertently backing important documents up in the past for various reasons. That includes my book, to my extreme relief. My publisher has just recently informed me that they’ve finally made the official decision to publish it. Cool. Only took 3 months.

Hmmm, every paragraph is beginning with the word “I”. But not this one.

My ADSL internet access will be installed tomorrow, and then I can finally quit with this internet cafe hanky panky.

I paid a huge wad of cash for my apartment on Christmas Day. My new job doesn’t start until after Chinese New Year. I was getting paid very little all last semester because I was teaching very few clases to make time for my full-time Chinese studies. That all amounts to me being pooooor. My older sister Amy is coming for a visit next Wednesday. Fortunately she’s bringing funds. Everything’s gonna be cool, I’m sure.

Things are looking good. I have lots of ideas for Sinosplice in the months to come, but I’m gonna need that internet access first. Expect more pictures. My new surroundings have imparted new inspiration to me.

Hard Drive Dead

Oh man, I am pissed. I know I should have been backing up my hard drive all along, but I’ve got remarkably good luck with computers. But John B and Carl convinced me to reinstall Windows using XP Corporate edition in English, since the language support is all there anyway. I also wanted Office XP. I also wanted to reformat my hard drive and get off of the FAT32 file system. So I had to back everything up.

Well, wouldn’t you know it… right when I’m starting to back everything up, the hard drive dies. I’m not a hardware expert, but hard drives have these little thingies inside them that spin around at very high speeds. They must spin. It seems some of mine have fused together. So instead of doing its job, my hard drive makes a sad clicking noise, and my CPU fails to recognize any hard drive at all.

Besides losing my entire addressbook AGAIN, I’ve lost a bunch of pictures, which really bums me. I can try to recover data from the crashed HD, but I’ve been advised not to get my hopes up too high.

I had to take Carl back to the computer market today to swap out his motherboard for a working one. My original plan was to buy a new hard drive immediately, but I had a fateful telephone conversation with my girlfriend last night.

Why is it that girls pretend to be strangers to logic most of their lives, blithely prancing about their affairs of shopping and gossip, but then can cruelly whip it out at the opportune moment and spear a vulnerable man with it?

“Why don’t you wait until after you move to Shanghai to buy a new hard drive? That way if anything goes wrong, it’s a lot easier to return it?”

I can’t argue with that. So I’ll be without a computer for a while. The final move is scheduled for January 4th.


So another Christmas has come and gone. Despite my feeling that “Christmas just doesn’t exist this year” I still tried to celebrate it somehow. I knew I’d be in Shanghai on Christmas Day forking over the first three months’ rent to my new landlord, so I wanted to celebrate Christmas Eve with my ZUCC co-worker buddies. It was my idea to go to Banana Leaf, a relatively new addition to Hangzhou’s restaurant scene.

Banana Leaf is a chain, but it rules. I first had the pleasure of dining at this lively Thai establishment in Shanghai, and I absolutely loved the food. Banana Leaf is very much going for atmosphere, though, so they don’t stop at just good food. The place is decorated to look kind of tropical jungly, and there’s a singing dancing staff doing roving performances throughout the restaurant in Chinese, English, and even Spanish (“La Bamba” is the one that I recall most readily).

Anyway, that’s the place I chose for all my co-workers to eat on Christmas Eve. Not everyone made it, though. It was Carl, Greg, Russell, Wayne, Alf, two Chinese friends, and me. Since it was Christmas, the performing staff were all dressed up in Santa suits, and one of them even had the full beard going. Thai Santa Claus. They were amazingly enthusiastic and bubbly the whole time, singing dancing, going by in congo lines. What really kept us amused was how one of the guys kept poking Russell in a flirtacious way. Some of the other guys were making eyes at us. These are all Thai (?)* guys dressed up in Santa suits, mind you. So it was pretty damn amusing.

Everyone liked the food, even if Greg was a little disappointed that the half a roast pig never showed up. They ran out.

After that it was a bit of an adventure getting a taxi. Who’da thunk all of Hangzhou would be out for a night on the town on Christmas Eve? I guess Chinese people are getting into it. It’s a good enough excuse to go out, anyway.

Then we were off to Reggae Bar (which was inexplicably left off of Greg’s Brief Overview of Hangzhou’s Nightspots, to my dismay). Reggae Bar was all decked up Christmas-like, with a full-on Christmas tree and Christmas lights strung throughout the bar. It was also packed. Standing room only. A good mix of foreigners and Chinese, as usual.

Lenny tried to entice me with the bottle of vodka he had bought, but I stuck to beer all night. There was much dancing and merriment. I had a pretty good amount of alcohol, I think. At one point I wouldn’t let Alf stop dancing. The funny thing is it actually worked; he kept on dancing as if somehow compelled by me insisting and blocking the exit.

Surprise, surprise, I missed my 9am train the next morning. I had already bought the ticket and everything. I was awakened just after 9 by an international phone call from my good friend Paco. So I zoomed off to the bus station and caught a bus to Xu Jia Hui that was leaving in 10 minutes. It all worked out.

My new Shanghai apartment is pretty badass. It’s on Nanyang Road (南阳路), right behind the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel on West Nanjing Road. So I’ve got a Taco Popo (decent Mexican food in China!) right around the corner, as well as a pizza delivery joint, and a Starbucks, and several bars, and lotsa Chinese restaurants, including a cozy little Guilin joint that sells rice noodle dishes for 5-6 rmb! Jing An Temple is a 5 minute walk away. I’m loving it.

OK, that’s all for now. I still have lots of moving to do. Ugh.

*I think many of them may have been Filipino.

P.S. Happy Birthday, Illy!


It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I was arriving home in Florida for a surprise visit. Prior to last Christmas, I had been in China two Christmases in a row. Yet this year I feel more divorced from this “Christmas” thing than ever before. This year Christmas is just that Western holiday between the HSK and my move to Shanghai.

Speaking of the HSK, I think I did “OK.” I think I’m borderline between 7 and 8. Maybe it was unrealistic to expect to be able to learn enough vocabulary in one semester to get an 8 when I don’t read literary Chinese all that often at all. In any case, I’m not getting my hopes up too high for that 8.

So now I have that huge HSK weight off my shoulders, and a whole three days between today and Christmas. But I have to give my students final exams those three days.

We have a pretty decent-sized foreign teacher community here at ZUCC, but I don’t think any of the younger crowd is celebrating Christmas in any Christmassy way. No Christmas trees, no Christmas lights, no Christmas songs, no gift exchange. And there’s sure as hell no eggnog. There’s Christmas mass even in Hangzhou, but it just doesn’t feel the same.

I might even run off to Shanghai on Christmas Day to check out my new apartment there*. My girlfriend’s mom is awesome — she found me a killer pad at an amazing price (and she also knit me a cool cap). But I have to go hurry and check it out to close the deal. As chance would have it, Christmas also happens to be one of the few days my girlfriend isn’t working. So that’s that.

The thing is, I’m not really bummed about any of this. China does not really have Christmas, it just has enough little reminders everywhere to alert you to the fact that Christmas really is going on again elsewhere in the world. So my co-workers’ attitudes, rather than seeming all bah-humbuggy to me, seem perfectly natural. Enlightened, even. Why bother to celebrate Christmas?

I guess to me, Christmas is something that happens at home. And when it happens at home and I’m actually there for it, like last year, it’s just all the more special.

So does the fact that I’m fine with there being no Christmas for me here in China mean I’m more adapted to China? Does it mean China has really become a second home for me? Or am I becoming a soulless Scrooge?

Rather than dwell on those questions too long, I think I’ll just go get me an apartment in Shanghai. Merry Christmas.

*Oh yeah, I got a good job in Shanghai — more on that later. This post is supposed to be somewhat “heavy” and “introspective.” No room for good news here!

Thank you, Korea!

I have a new favorite piece of software, and the Republic of Korea to thank for it. It’s called NPC TV. The technology isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it provides me with a very welcome breath of fresh air here in China. You see, NPC TV lets you view live digital broadcasts from countries all over the world, in one easy application. It’s really quite amazing. Here is a list of countries with broadcasts currently on NPC TV (and the numbers of channels offered):

Korea (62), USA (63), UK (12), Canada (9), Australia (5), Netherlands (11), Italy (15), Japan (17), China (28), Brazil (9), France (5), Germany (7), Spain (18), Russia (5), Turkey (11), Thailand (10)

The quality of the video feeds varies greatly. Some channels don’t work at all, others work great (even at my less-than-speedy DSL connection speed). Some are so good that they look great even in fullscreen mode. (NOTE: In a few cases, Realplayer is required.)

A warning about the USA channels though — there’s no CNN, no ESPN, no Comedy Central, no MTV. In fact, they seem to be mostly religious channels. There seem to be a good number of public access channels and there are several C-Spans. There are several Home Shopping channels. My favorite American channel is “Fighting TV – the first 24 hour extreme fighting television network online.” It’s a really fast connection, and looks great even at fullscreen.

The UK offers BBC World (yes, BBC World, and it works great even in China!) and Bloomberg. Bloomberg is actually available through several countries’ feeds.

Australia’s the Basement is pretty cool.

France offers a bunch of channels with French people talking all snooty-like in French.

I tuned into one German music channel, and I got Ja Rule. (No, not in German!)

If you like Japanese music, you can get lots of it in Japan’s channels. Great quality too, I was watching it for a while last night. There are also several Japanese news feeds.

I’m not sure if any of Russia’s feeds actually work. They haven’t yet for me.

Oh yeah, there’s also radio (BBC News, anyone?) and Korean flash animations.

Anyway, if you’re one of those rare individuals interested in the world outside your immediate environs, you gotta check out this program! It grants new validity to the concept “anything I need to know about the outside world I can learn on TV” by combining it with its new relative, “anything I need to know about the outside world I can learn online.”

Of course, the program isn’t perfect. It’s not even a full release. As far as I know, it hasn’t gotten any attention yet (in English) online. When I search for “npctv” or “npc tv” all I get are Korean sites and a few sites about the National Press Club. The developer is Npcsoft. You’re not likely to find the homepage very useful, however, unless you’re Korean.

I got the program through a Korean classmate. Before you run off to the Npcsoft site, let me just say that I thought I’d be nice and host it here. So download it! Oh, and don’t link to that file elsewhere, because it’s not gonna work if you do.

Now remember, the program is made for Koreans, and although they can be very nice people, they tend to use Korean in their software, which makes it a bit harder to use for the rest of us. It’s still easy to use, but when it asks you if you want to update through a string of garbage characters, it’s a good idea to click on YES.

Have fun.

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