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Archive for April, 2010

Meet the new Bund, same as the old Bund

The past weekend, G,M & I went for a short stroll along part of the newly refurbished Bund promenade, the walkway along the Huangpu River which features a number of historic buildings built in Shanghai’s previous golden days in the early 20th century. I don’t want to spend too much time explaining about the Bund, because much has been written about its history and its buildings by writers far more knowledgeable and eloquent than myself. Here’s some info from good ol’ Wikipedia if you fancy learning a bit more about it.

It’s well worth reading about, if you want to understand anything about the history of this city, but the salient point for the purposes of this post is that about 10 months ago (not long after we’d moved here), the Bund was closed so it could be rebuild and unveiled all nice and shiny spanking new for Expo. I only went there once before it closed, and I’ll be honest: it was shite. Hot, dusty, nowhere to sit, nothing really to recommend it at all. Now, in all fairness, they were already starting to demolish sections of it, so it’s perhaps not fair of me to say that’s all it was. However I have talked to other people who had been there before it was starting to close down, and they also said it was entirely underwhelming.

So with much fanfare, it reopened a short time ago, maybe 2 weeks ago, after its 500 million rmb facelift. We hadn’t planned to go over there specifically, but on Saturday  it was a nice day and we didn’t have anything else really on, so we took the ferry across the river and had a short stroll.

It was pretty boring. I mean, it’s OK for people watching, I guess, but so is anyplace else in this town really. But, it was a nice day, so we found a spot on the bench and had a little rest and watched the people.

Now, we only walked a very short bit of it, so perhaps it is vastly more exciting in other sections, I don’t know. But the bit we were on was just, like, nothing. Lots of people, yes, but that’s about it. I know the bulk of the money went more towards building a traffic tunnel, to ease congestion along the waterfront, but as for the walkway, it was pretty dull. I guess I wanted it to be a place more like South Bank in London, with performers, varied seating, a tree here and there, cafes and such along route – but it is not like that at all, just a big stretch of concrete. But again, I have not seen all of it. Maybe it’s better in other parts. God, I hope so.

As I said though it was a nice day, and for me there was a good deal of entertainment to be had when G dozed off for a bit, and I got to observe the series of locals that would come by and study in great detail the giant unconscious foreigner. He was quite the attraction for a while there.

The kids are alright

Spotted today in a shop that sells baby clothes, toddler toys, stuffed animals, etc:

Because the kids, you know, they love their cannabis.

All creatures small and slimy

You may remember a little bit ago, I posted about our goldfish Leo who passed away a scant three days after joining our other fish Penelope. Of course this meant we needed to find a new companion for Penelope, so we went back to another pet market to find her a new friend – whom M has named Fabio. Yes, that’s right, Fabio.

Although M has firmly decided that he is a boy, she also likes to point out that he has orange lipstick and eye shadow. Very postmodern and liberated little fellow, he is.

I decided I also fancied having a couple of smaller goldfish for my desk, so we picked up these two

which have been named Blaze and Lady Marmalade.

Now unfortunately, the past few days our First Fish Miss Penelope has not been looking so good. She seems to have some sort of a sore or ulcer on one side, and her tail is starting to flake off a bit from finrot. You can see her boo boo in this photo:

and she generally seems a bit down and un-perky. So I had a look online to see what I can do and I found a few sites with lots of advice.

One piece of advice was to  give her a bath in .6% salt water for 5-10 minutes (this is 6 tsp per gallon, apparently.) So OK, I can do that. Then after that I am supposed to dab a nit of Neosporin or other antibiotic ointment on the sore.

Seriously, have you ever tried to put Neosporin on a goldfish? You know, it’s not like having a dog who need a bit of medicated creme or something, where you can put them in a headlock  with your knees and slap it on there. IT’S A FISH. Out of water. Flopping around. Well, I had a go and I did my best. I picked her up in the net and tried to gently smush a gob of the stuff on there. While she flipped and flopped and slimed all over the place. And I’m sure it totally stressed her out, which can’t be good if she is already, like, ill, right? But anyway I did what I could. Now she is in a separate bowl (my salad bowl, actually) in  .3% salt water, and I have to change the water like twice a day so it stays more or less pure, and we do this for a few days, until she either gets better or dies.

There is also supposedly some sort of medicated food I can buy to give her but I haven’t the first clue how I would ask for that in the pet market. If they even have it, as I feel reasonably certain that if I went to the market and said I wanted to buy medicated food for my goldfish, they would look at me like I was insane for wanting to buy expensive food for a sick fish, when I could just buy a healthy new fish for 1 kuai. (That’s, like, 10p, or a dime.) And to be honest, I can’t say that thought didn’t occur to me too as I was trying to smear neosporin on a slimy moving target that I hoped was not about to flip out of the net onto the kitchen floor.

Hopefully the salted water will work, and we can all go on with our lives.

In other news: Tadpoles. We are down to 5 out of the original 13. However these five have now been going strong for a number of weeks, and have all developed adorable little froggy legs out their backsides!

As you can see they are not black anymore, more a dusky brownish-grey and in part translucent; at the right angle with the light behind them we can see some of the developing organs, which is interesting (probably more so to me than for M, but whatever). Have put gravel in their container now so they have a bit of a ‘beach’ and they seem to like to swim up as far as they can, rest on the rocks and poke their faces (they have faces now) out for a few minutes at a time.  Also, when they swim around the container now, they no longer stay ‘upside up’, for lack of a better way to put it; sometimes they will float on their backs  – which was freaking me out because I’m would be like “Oh no, it’s dead” and then suddenly it will flip over and swim away.  Cheeky buggers.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

Ok so as some of you know, my birthday was this past Thursday. I am not 64, but I am now 41, which is a) that much closer to 64 than I’ve ever been, and b) a bit of a drag as it now means I am truly “in my 40s”. (Somehow just being 40 didn’t seem to count as much, because a ‘0’ is just, well, it’s zero, it’s nothing, right? But a ‘1’ is a thing and so it’s for real.) Yes I know, suck it up and get on with it, age is only a number and blah blah blah blah and all that other stuff we say to old people (like me) so they don’t feel so bad about being old (like me).

Well anyway as birthdays go, it was really rather a good one! My friend Dru took me out for lunch at a fab little place called Closed Door, where we had some verra verra nice sangria

and I had some mucho delicioso linguini with clams and courgette and chorizo

and then finished it off with a banana and chocolate tart that I can’t think about too much because it was so good it makes me feel like crying that I can’t eat one every single day.

I had promised M that after I picked her up from school, we would go to the bakery around the corner and pick out a small cake of some sort to share that evening, because she was utterly distraught at the thought that it could be someone’s birthday and there might be no cake. Gus was out of town at the time (arrived home very late that night) so it was just the two of us girls. She chose the Strawberry Princess Cakewhich I could not stop her digging into before I managed to turn the camera on but hey ho. Two desserts in one day for me, woo hoo!

Last year, when I turned 40, I didn’t really get to have a proper party, as we were, you know, moving to Shanghai, and so the focus at the time was really more on that than all about ME ME ME. (We did have a lovely going away party though, and on my actual birthday my wonderful friends Teila and Andrew had M and I over for pizza and a movie and it was all good, so I shouldn’t moan really. BUT I WILL.) So this year I decided to have the party I didn’t have last year and threw myself a big 40+1 bash at a fun club in town called Brown Sugar last night. It was great fun, I just invited basically everyone I’ve met in the past year, about 20 people turned up and we drank us some liquor and danced to the music and played dice games and had a jolly nice time of it. The End.

Shanghai Deng Ni Lai

Yesterday I was walking home from a friend’s house with M when I ran into two young women from our compound’s Residents Committee. I’d met them before so they kind of knew me, and they asked me if I was going to be busy tomorrow morning (today) between 9:30 and 10:30 am. Some VIP-type Expo-related people were coming to have a look around the joint because apparently where I live is one of a few housing developments that were selected as ‘model harmonious communities’ that various VIP-type Expo-related people will be dragged around town to have a look at. From what I gather. And so these ladies wanted to know, could I possibly come over in the morning to help welcome the VIP-type Expo-related people to our compound.

Welcome VIP-types! We have many colourful flags for you!

So I was like, yeah sure what the heck. An hour of my time, why not.

So this is how I came to find myself this morning, the token white person, sitting in a room with a bunch of Chinese ladies, plus an Indian woman, and another lady who told me she was from Brazil, and a woman who looked maybe like she might also be Indian or possibly Pakistani or maybe Sri Lankan or even Egyptian or maybe something else altogether, I don’t know, learning to sing a song called Shanghai Deng Ni Lai. Which translates literally as Shanghai Wait You Come. Doesn’t make much sense in English I know (and possibly sounds slightly salacious)  but basically as a phrase it means something like Shanghai, Your Time is Coming.

Compound managers wait to meet VIP's; children bemused.

So we practice the song for about a half hour. Most of the others have clearly been at this for weeks now, myself and a handful of others who have been drafted in last minute wade in and do our best. I think I manage to do OK with it, considering I’ve just turned up, and despite not being able to quite master that nasal cat-strangling tone so popular in Chinese music. Then we go outside, some police cars pull up, followed by some shiny black cars with dark windows. Some guys wearing long coats and earpieces jump out and start opening doors, and out come the VIPs.

Can you guess who they were? No? That’s too bad, because neither can I. I have no idea who they were. Well that’s not entirely true, one of them was Han Zheng, the Mayor of Shanghai. I know this because I did hear someone refer to one of the group in English as The Mayor and when I got home I googled Mayor of Shanghai and said, “oh, yeah, I saw that guy.” But Han Zheng was not the most VI of the VIPs, I gathered; he was playing host and escorting the other people in the group. Whoever they were.

Who are these people?

So anyway, we greet the VIPs, we clap, there’s some handshaking, some (mercifully) short speeches of which I only understand every fifth word, and the VIP’s go off to be greeted again by the men in the black suits pictured above. We ladies go back inside and now we go stand up on some risers. A few minutes later, the VIPs come in and we sing our lovely song that we have learned for them. And everyone claps and then there are more short speeches, and more handshaking.

And then it was over and I went home.

Movin’ and Groovin’

So I’ve mentioned a couple times we moved last week. We didn’t move far though; just to another building in the same compound. In fact, we’ve moved to an apartment that is nearly identical in layout to our old apartment. You might ask, why? Why bother with all the hassle of moving, only to go to a place that is nearly the same?

The answer is, nearly the same is not the same as the same. Here is the view from our old balcony:

and here is the view from our new balcony:

Our old flat was fine in many ways, it really was. But, the fact that it fronted onto the main road, along with the fact that we were only on the third floor, meant that we couldn’t ever really use the balcony just to ‘hang out’ and enjoy a cup of coffee on a sunny morning, or a glass of wine on a warm evening. Traffic. Dust. Noise. Mosquitos. Taxi drivers using the compound wall as a pissoir. Just generally not altogether pleasant. (Although I did like watching the bats dive around the treetops feasting on bugs in late spring; but I can still do that from the new place.)

So yeah, now instead of watching cement trucks rumbling by, I get to look at flowering fruit trees, the putting green, the picnic area and the playground. I think it was a good move, hey?

Alas, Poor Leo

You may have read my entry from last week (or the week before, can’t remember) where I mentioned we had recently acquired a goldfish, Penelope. Well, on Sunday, after a lovely Easter brunch at the Hilton, we went to one of the ‘flower and pet markets’ here and bought her a lovely new big (ish) bowl, with some pretty rocks for the bottom and a nice little aquatic plant – and we also picked out a new friend for her as well.

Now G must have helped M catch at least a dozen fish from one of those tubs, but each time she was like “No! Not that one! That’s not the right one!” I can’t tell you what her criteria was, but apparently she had a very specific idea about just which sort of fish would do, and somehow G had to figure it out and find just the right one out of the roughly 100 goldfish in the tub.

Eventually he succeeded in netting an acceptable specimen. M declared his name to be “Leo”, and that he is Penelope’s boyfriend.

Luvly jubly. So we take him home, get the new bowl set up, with the pretty rocks, and the little plant, and all of that jazz, and introduce the two fish to each other and their new home. And it’s all happily families since then, Penelope and Leo, getting along swimmingly (yes, that was awful, I know), active, nice colour, all good stuff.

Then tonight just as was about bedtime, I happen to notice that Leo is looking decidedly unwell. And by unwell I mean, laying on his side in the bottom of the bowl under the plant, gills flapping rapidly. Which is never really a good sign.

So of course M is like “What’s wrong with Leo?”

I said, “Well it looks as though he is feeling a bit poorly.”

She said, “Maybe he ate too much food and has a stomach ache.”


“Well,” she said, “maybe we will just let him sleep and in the morning he will feel better.”

Of course I knew full well this fish was not bloody likely to see another sunrise but I did what all good parents do, or at least what all parents who want to stall for time do; I lied and said “That’s a great idea, let’s let him rest and we will see how he is feeling in the morning.”

I tell you what, Leo is not going to be feeling better in the morning. Because Leo is dead. Long live Leo!

you never know what’s just around the corner

Today I went to the police station to register our new place of residence. Well actually, yesterday I went to do this, but realised I was missing a photocopy of one of the 4000 pages I needed to have photocopied and so I had to come back today. In fact I should have gone last week because foreigners are supposed to go report within 24 hours when you change residence and in theory you can be fined like 500 rmb for every day you’re late but it’s one of those rarely enforced things. Mostly so long as you do it within the week it’s cool. But it’s a freakin’ pain in the arse because you have to bring a million documents and fill out fifty forms and do some kind of half English-half mandarin game of charades with the desk clerk, whilst all the locals in the waiting area look on with great amusement. As if the Chinese government doesn’t already know where I am every minute of every day.

So anyway, although it’s a nice day and I could have walked (it’s about a 30 minute walk at a casual clip), I decided to take a taxi because I had to go to the supermarket after. I get in this cab and the guy takes me a different way than I’ve been before; it’s a bit more roundabout, although not altogether wrong, but I was sitting in the back debating about whether or not to argue with him for taking me a longer way so he could drive up the fare. But in the end I decide that maybe this is just the best way he knows to go; as I said it wasn’t waaaay out of the way. As we’re nearing the road we need to turn on to, I see this place:

Now, I can’t read Chinese or anything, but I know a temple when I see one, and this one looks kind of spiffy. I made a mental note of where it is, and within another two minutes I’m at the cop shop.

Whilst I’m waiting my turn, I have a look at my map (as best I can; it is totally falling apart now from so much use, I must remember to get a new one) to see if there is anything indicated at the junction where I saw that building but of course, there is nothing. But it’s only about 3 blocks from the police station so I decided that before heading to the supermarket I will take a little walk and check it out, see if it is worth coming back to someday when I have more time.

I poke my head in the door and am greeted by this guy:

Now you might not think that a giant angry-looking ginger bloke with three eyes giving you the finger and threatening to brain  you with a pipe is a sign that says “Welcome! Please do come in”, but the bloke at the little desk next to him was very happy to take my 5 kuai, hand me some incense and wave me in, so what the heck, I went in.

And the place was just amazing.

And there was no one else there. Well, no other tourists, anyway.

Turns out the place is called Shanghai Supreme Clarity Temple, and it is a Taoist temple. I know pretty much nothing about Taoism, except that in Japan, there is a large amount of Taoist symbolism present in sumo wrestling, but that’s about it. Oh no wait, that’s Shintoism. So in fact clearly I know absolutely nothing about it. But there were people there engaged in some sort of worship service, and some people who obviously worked there (cleaners and such) but other than that, it was just me. A little later I saw some sort of official-ish looking tour group, people in business suits, maybe Taiwanese or Koreans, being ushered around. And eventually one other young Western woman. Other than that, no one.

I looked it up on this here internet thing when I got home, but I couldn’t find anything about the place. So weird. But it was great, I could take lots of pictures without having lots of other people taking pictures in my pictures! So, here are some of my pictures:

What I can’t get in pictures was the other stuff that made walking around in there so intense – the pervasive scent of the incense, and the sounds. There were two different areas where there was some sort of worship or service going on, and sometimes the air would just be full of this incredible cacophony of music, all manner of bells and gongs and drums and flutes. Then maybe one would stop and there would just be sound from one area, maybe just some chanting, and then it would all start again, and then other times it would all stop and just be completely quiet for a few moments (except for the muted city noise outside the walls), and then start again, and so on. I used the movie setting on my camera to try to capture a bit of it – the sound quality is not great and there’s not too much to see (I was trying to be discreet and not be all like “HEY Y’ALL TAO PEOPLE, I’M A JUST GONNA BE FILMING THIS FOR MY BLOG, YOU JUST CARRY ON, PRETEND LIKE I’M NOT HERE”) but hopefully it gives you some sense of how it sounded as I was walking around:  Temple Music

And if that cab driver had not taken this different route to get me to the police station, and instead had taken me the way I’ve gone every other time, I’d possibly never have passed by and seen this place, and never known it was there. Thanks, Mr. Taxi Man!

So yeah, then after all that I finally went to the supermarket. Which sucked. So I’m going to end this here.

I need a moelbrle, and a fluuply, and a glieg…

**ok I started writing this a week ago and never finished/posted it as I got totally consumed with moving. More on that soon. But for now just pretend you are reading this a week ago, mmmkay?***

Sorry, haven’t written in a few days – getting ready for the move and all that sort of thing. Got the keys for the new place Friday as the new landlord (who seems really lovely) was going to be very busy this week, so she gave them to us a few days early, which is great because we wanted to get some shelves for the one big pantry-type closet off the kitchen. It’s actually an “ayi room” – a room for your housekeeper to live in, as lots of people here have live-in helpers. I haven’t yet reached the point of indulgence where I need some poor woman to follow me around 24/7 tidying up in my wake though.

So we went of to IKEA, to get some basic shelving units, from the Gorm range. So, we are now officially no longer Gormless. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

IKEA in Shanghai, what a weird place. On the one hand, it looks exactly like every other IKEA anywhere. On the other, it’s full of Chinese people. Well duh, right? Except the thing is, while in the West IKEA is seen as a generally low-to-mid cost option, here it is an emporium of aspiration, a theme park of Western lifestyle design. People bring their visitors from the provinces to IKEA like they bring them to the museums and other tourist sites. As you walk through you might see three generations of a family posed next to a Display of Billy bookcases having their photo taken.

Also in the summertime, well, you know, many working class people do not have air conditioning, so they will pack a lunch and come to IKEA for the day the way my family might have taken a trip down the parkway to the Jersey Shore. So you wander around the shop floor and in every little display room, there’s a family moved in for the duration of opening hours – Dad on the sofa with his feet up reading the paper, Grandma snoring softly in the armchair, Mom offering around snacks and Junior laying on the carpet playing with some bit of kit he’s toted out of the kid’s section. Like dioramas come to life. They probably won’t buy anything – the place is always packed, but there are almost never lines at the checkout – and from what I gather, IKEA’s not making anywhere near the profit in their China stores as they do elsewhere – if not for the lower labor costs here, they’d barely break even. Their official unofficial position on it though is, that kid on the carpet playing there, 12-15 years from now he is going to be a university grad looking to furnish his first flat, and where’s he gonna go to get his gear do you think?

Hey, here’s a “kids say the darndest things” anecdote for you: in the taxi on the way there, as we were getting close I could see the top of the big blue building with the big yellow letters ahead down the road. So I pointed it out to M and said “Look sweetie, see those letters? I-K-E-A – what do you think that spells?”

She looked a me with the biggest grin and shouted “Meatballs!”