David Lancashire of AdsoTrans fame is in town this weekend. He wrote a little about Shanghai in his new blog.
My roommate Lenny is leaving Shanghai for Taipei tomorrow (with his new t-shirt!). I’m moving out of this apartment in early January. It’s been a great place, and I really like having the extra room for guests. These past few months we’ve had lots of visitors, like Mark of toshuo, Poagao, Alf, Greg (house guest extraordinaire), Lenny’s sister, and now David.
This “free hotel” business isn’t going to last much longer, but until I move into my new place, I don’t mind it at all. With Lenny gone, this three bedroom apartment is going to seem quite empty.
Some of you may have noticed that when I put up my new Tone Pair Drills I added a new Products section to this website along with it. I’ll introduce one of the items here from various fascinating sociopolitical angles.
The shirt says 请讲普通话 which means “please speak Mandarin” (rather than some other local dialect). The inspiration for this shirt can be seen at countless bus stops all over Shanghai: completely ineffectual “请讲普通话” propaganda. The Shanghainese continue blissfully barking at each other in their dialect regardless.
Simply by wearing this one shirt, you can:
– subtly poke fun of the PRC’s language policies
– inform Chinese people around you that you want to talk to them in Chinese
– inform Chinese people around you that you don’t want to engage them in whatever crazy dialect they speak (especially useful in Shanghai)
But I also created this shirt for another special reason. My roommate Lenny plans to move to Taiwan in December. He has made it clear on several occasions that he won’t put up for the degenerate dialect of Mandarin the Taiwanese call 国语, and he has made it his personal mission to reform the speaking habits of the whole island.
While I’m sure he will have no problem at all with that task (maybe he can even get Prince Roy to help, although Mark and Poagao may be thorns in his side), I thought he could use this shirt to aid his righteous crusade in some small way. The shirt is great for Taiwan because:
– The Taiwanese never say 普通话 (Mandarin), as that’s a politicized PRC word; they say 国语 (also Mandarin).
– Three out of five of the characters on the shirt are simplified. Simplified characters are, of course, an aesthetic affront to the Taiwanese which offends every fiber of their being.
Obviously there are many reasons why you need to order this shirt now. (Oh yeah, also: I ordered some merchandise before deciding to go with CafePress, and I can confirm that the quality of their stuff doesn’t suck anymore.) For more Sinosplice merchandise, check out the Sinosplice Store (more stuff to come soon).
Thanks to Dan of Shanghaiist who spread word of my “satellite TV for beer” deal, yesterday I successfully traded a satellite dish with box for 4 cases (96 bottles) of Sol beer. Lenny and John B can verify that the Sol is much tastier than the satellite dish could ever be. Thanks also to Peter for his generous bid.
I’m leaving for the States tomorrow for a two week visit. Will there be any beer left when I get back? Hmmm…
This visit home is a first in a way because of the awesome deal I got on my plane ticket. It’s the first time I have paid less than 8000 rmb for a round-trip plane ticket to Tampa–I only paid 5600 rmb! It’s also the first time I’ll have less than two connecting flights. This is the simplest (best) route I’ve ever taken: Shanghai – Chicago – Tampa. The American Airlines direct flight from Shanghai to Chicago just started.
Anyway, if posts are light, it’s because I’m busy trying to gain 10 pounds in 2 weeks.
About a month after saying goodbye to Zhou Ayi (the housekeeper that went bad), I found a better job that once again enabled me to be home evenings for a cooking ayi. I was not at all discouraged by my previous bad experience; I was ready for a new ayi (and so was the apartment).
I used the “agency method.” When I walked into the little office, there was a woman at a desk, several middle-aged woman sprawled across chairs around the room, and a youngish woman knitting in the corner. The woman at the desk ventured a cautious ni hao at me, and 5 minutes later, after paying a one-time 30 RMB administrative fee, I was talking to my new ayi. She was the one in the corner knitting.
My new ayi was in her thirties, a little too young to be an “ayi” really, since someone you address as “ayi” is usually roughly in your mother’s generation. She wanted me to call her Xiao Wang.
Xiao Wang was from China’s northeast, from a town outside Harbin. She spoke with a fairly strong Dongbei accent, but I didn’t find her hard to understand. I’ve always found the Dongbei cadence to be rather amusing, so while I can’t consider it “normal,” I still like hearing it from time to time. Maybe it was partly because of my last experience, but I was soon crazy about my new ayi.
Don’t get the wrong idea, now… at no time were there any inappropriate thoughts. It was just that to me, Xiao Wang was everything I thought an ayi should be. And I was so relieved to have a great ayi in charge of the housework once again that even her faults somehow seemed endearing. It was a kind of crush, all right.
Some of Xiao Wang’s qualities:
– She actually gets dishes clean.
– Her cooking is not oily.
– She never makes just qingcai. She adds hot peppers to them. Tasty!
– She talks with that great accent, with the wrong tone on the occasional word.
– If you ask her not to clean/tidy an area, she stays well away. (She never goes in Lenny’s room… hehe)
– She forgets things a lot. (The first week, she forgot to bring the new mop three days in a row.)
– She gets food for cheap. She knows, for example, that vegetables are cheaper at noon than in the evening, and cheaper on weekdays than on weekends (and takes advantage of that fact). Our food bill is now less than half what it was under Zhou Ayi.
– She voluntarily writes down all her expenses for me — every single item she buys.
– She makes authentic Dongbei dumplings for us and calls it a meal. (She even made enough to freeze a bunch to eat later.)
– She throws carrots into a lot of dishes that I’ve never known to have carrots.
– She has no watch and forgets to check the time, so she frequently stays past the two hour mark. I often find myself urging her to get on home to her family.
– She makes good kung pao chicken — without those annoying tofu pieces that get in the way of the meat.
– She almost always arrives 10 minutes late, and apologizes every time.
– She refuses to taste her own food, relying on my description of the taste to make any changes to a recipe.
– She keeps the house really clean.
– She doesn’t know how to use her cell phone except to make and receive calls. (I thought I’d do her a favor and teach her how to use her phone to receive and send text messages, but then I discovered that “Bird” phones really are impossible to use.)
– For the first month, she complained repeatedly about how dirty the kitchen was, and that she didn’t understand how the previous ayi could have let it get that bad.
Needless to say, Xiao Wang is great. My girlfriend loves her. John B and his wife love her. Lenny likes her. We moved from the hourly wage to the monthly payment system pretty quickly and gave her a decent raise. We hope she sticks around a while.
When I bought my new bike, at the forefront of my mind was “this is so going to get stolen.” Bike theft is so common here that my roommate Lenny tells me he thinks of bikes as a disposable product. I think of it more like gambling. But in this game, “winning” means having your bike stolen, and the more you gamble, the higher chances you have of winning. For this reason I always go with as cheap a bike as I can find. It just has to be fully functional and big enough for me to ride. (If I weren’t so tall, I could find bikes for much cheaper.)
When I got my new bike, I also bought bike locks. I wasn’t sure which kind to buy… I know that some of them are incredibly easy to break. The U-locks for instance, can be opened with a ballpoint pen, I understand. Not cool. No U-lock for me. So which lock is good?
The clerk was amazingly useless. She just kept recommending the expensive ones, and she couldn’t even tell me why they were better. The one that was supposedly “best” was a thick chain lock. In Hanghzou I used to rely totally on the kind of lock that is attached to the back wheel and I never once had my bike stolen. So I bought one of each of those locks. Two locks.
When it came time to park, I realized one reason why bike theft is so common in China. When I used to bike all around the campus of the University of Florida, there were bike racks everywhere. Really sturdy metal frames, set in the ground with concrete. You felt pretty secure when you locked the frame of your bike to one of those. But bike racks are relatively rare here in Shanghai. So I’m finding the chain lock I bought to be of very limited value.
One thing a lot of people do is take their bike into their building and up the elevator. Then they either keep it in the hall by their apartment door, or they actually keep it in their apartment. I don’t like that method at all. Bikes should be kept outside, thieves or no.
My apartment complex has this underground parking garage/mosquito farm. I’m not sure how safe it keeps my bike, but it seems safe. In addition, there are locks set in the ground that can lock your bike wheel securely to the ground (above). You have to pay if you want a key to one of those “ground locks,” though.
I noticed that a lot of them are unused. I also saw that one other biker used a chain lock to lock his bike securely to one of the empty ground locks. I decided that was a good idea, so I did that too. When I returned to my bike a day or two later, I found this hand-written note on my bike (left).
Without even reading the note, I knew why I had gotten it. But, dilligent student of Chinese that I am, I wanted to know exactly what the note said. Did it threaten me with something, or what? The handwriting was really hard for me to make out, however. I found that I could only decipher about half of it on my own. I enlisted my girlfriend’s help, and it actually took some effort for her to decipher every character.
Can you read it? Take the challenge!
When you’re ready for the answer, drag your cursor from one bracket to the other: [ 如需要 / 地桩锁 / 请到物 / 业申请！ / 不要占用 / 别人的地 / 桩锁！！！ ]
In English it basically means, “If you need a ground lock, please apply at the office! Do not occupy other people’s ground locks!!!”
I found a thick metal pipe I can lock my bike to instead. Let’s see how long I can keep this bike.