Monthly Archives: May 2011

Simple Chinese

I was asked before coming to China if I had considered Taiwan instead (of the mainland).  My answer – I don’t want to go to Taiwan because Chinese is difficult enough and I don’t want to have to learn the traditional characters.  You see – in terms of their language (despite both speaking Mandarin Chinese) Taiwan and China are worlds apart.  As to whether or not they are separate countries – I will just say “No comment” for the time being.

For a little lesson in the differences between Mainland China Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese check out this article by BBC News: China and Taiwan

I would have to agree with the eight year old student in the article.  Writing Chinese characters (or 汉字)is very tiring and difficult.  I am still flabbergasted by the thought of having to learn and write traditional characters.  I will stick to Mainland China’s simple characters for now.

Simple… like the ones I learn in Chinese class.









Oh, those are just a few.  But speaking of Chinese characters, I think I impressed my students today when I wrote a sentence on the board in Chinese.  Go Julia! The English teacher can write in Chinese!!

Another side note… I managed to entertain a stranger at Starbucks by telling Roger (who is a Brit) that I was now teaching his former students “proper American English”.  The man sitting across from us burst into laughter as he too was British and found my claim quite entertaining.  🙂



Around China

I love taking pictures and I love traveling.  Whenever I see pictures or videos of someplace I have never been, I long to go there and see it for myself.  That is part of the reason why I did the Masters of International Management program at Portland State University and that is partially why I came China.  There are so many fascinating, beautiful and unique things to see in the world, I don’t know how anyone ever has the time (or the opportunity) to see them all.  I have only seen a few of the spectacular things in the world that I would love to see.  When I experience these things I want to share them with everyone I know!  That is part of the reason for my blog – and that is why I love taking photos.  However, sometimes I wish my photography skills (and my camera) were of a little higher standards.

A friend posted this link to The Atlantic’s In Focus with Alan Taylor and I had to share it.  The photography is amazing and, coincidentally, is it all capturing China – various scenes from the past month around the country I am living in.  Take a look here: Scenes from China – Alan Taylor – In Focus.

There is so much to see in China!  I have been here for over four months now and in that time I have only ventured outside of the Shanghai city limits once.  Work and school has consumed so much of my time that I haven’t had much time to travel.  Plus, Shanghai is so huge! There are still many, many parts of the city that I don’t know about or I’ve never seen.

The one day I did venture out of Shanghai, I went to Suzhou – it is about a 30 minute ride on the bullet train or an hour on the slow train.  It was just a half-day trip when we had a 3-day weekend for the Chinese Labor day a few weeks ago.  It was an amazing trip, I saw some interesting things and met up with a fellow MIM alum – but never blogged about it.  I only got around to posting pictures on Facebook – if you want to check them out: Click here

The leaning tower of Suzhou - Yunyan Temple Pagoda at Tiger Hill

Soon I will see a bit more of the country (and I promise to blog about it!) as I am heading to Qingdao (home of Tsingdao beer) in June for a couple days with friends.  Another Chinese holiday (the Dragon Boat Festival) is the perfect excuse to travel – unfortunately, it means everything is CROWDED  as all 1.3 billion of us are off work, out and about!

The Suzhou train station after a 3 day weekend.

Until next time…


An interesting article from BBC News reporter Rebecca Marston on how the rich in China are spending money, you should definitely read it.  (Link:

As the article states, “As a wine lover it is a horror story…”

Another interesting article (that based on the comments had a bit of controversy surrounding it) was done by Korean-American Wesley Yang in the New York Magazine.  It is a long one, but if you have the time to read it – it is very interesting, whether or not you agree with his viewpoints.  (Link:  I found it interesting because it spoke to some of the things I have been discussing in my day to day life here in China with others I know.

One being the tiger moms (or tiger parents, tiger grandparents) who push their children so-so hard in their studies and education.  I think this is a topic I could devote an entire blog post too when I have more time to get into it.  The other topic being Asian men when it comes to dating. As a western woman in China, I doubt I will ever be approached by an Asian man.  An (Asian) friend said another western girl she knows mentioned the same thing, in over a year in China, Chinese men never approached her.  Chinese guys don’t talk to me. They aren’t as outgoing and direct as Western guys, they don’t speak their mind and go for what they want which this article states affects both careers and their dating life.

And a quick picture:

Capitalism & Communism in (not-so) perfect harmony

Grocery Stores

When I first got to Shanghai walking into a grocery store overwhelmed me, the sights, the disorganization, the endless Chinese characters and odd food items none of which made sense to me. In the past few months, though, I have grown accustom to the Chinese CenturyMart less than a block from my apartment where I can get just about everything I need.  I eat out most of the time anyways.  Occasionally, I go to a different grocery store in my general area if I am looking for a slightly different variety or if I just happen to stumble upon one and want to pick something up.

My need for coffee, however, brings me away from the normal Chinese grocery stores as the coffee they sell is  A) instant crap full of sugar B) instant crap that tastes like crap or C)very, very, rarely something ground that was probably roasted 10 years ago.  Did I mention I’m a bit of a snob for my coffee?  I had just finished the somewhat decent (and very cheap) bag of ground coffee I had picked up on my last trip to Ikea and needed to restock.

There is a grocery store near Jingan Temple (in the basement connected to the Jingan Temple subway stop actually) that I stumbled upon one day that has a wide selection of imported and specialty foods. A lot of Japanese items, more importantly, a selection of whole coffee beans, and a grinder so you can have them ground there. (You have to pay for it and bring it back into the store with the receipt before they will grind it for you.) The store isn’t as expensive as some other shops, and I had been pleased with coffee I bought there previously, so I decided to head that way to get some coffee.

Once I was in that part of town, I went to run another errand and it put me right outside a City Shop. City Shop is a grocery store filled with all sorts of American and other imported goods that you can’t find elsewhere in the city but they are expensive. The store is small, probably at most an eighth the size of your typical American grocery store, but there is good stuff!  I decided to run into City Shop to look. Yes, it is true; City Shop is like a tourist attraction for me.  I go and wander around, normally not buying anything, instead just gawking at the American foods, the selection and the prices!

Cheeses!  Decent looking meat! Recognizable brands of wine (for about 4-5X what you would pay in the States)! An entire AISLE of cereal (for $10-$15 a box)!  It was almost lunch time and the deli sandwiches caught my eye, I decided to splurge and bought a turkey sandwich, a block of sharp cheddar cheese (Land O’Lakes has nothing on Tillamook), and some dark chocolate (every girl needs a secret stash).

As I was waiting to check out, I noticed the lady in front of me.  She bought one plastic bag worth of groceries and a pack of toilet paper for 891 RMB. I started to think of how outrageous this was, as I normally go to the grocery store and get the same quantity of items for under 100rmb. Maybe she had something extravagant in that plastic bag, but I highly doubt it having seen the prices in the store.  On the top of the bag sat a bag of Tostitos Scoops tortilla chips. I began to scoff at the thought of expats who fill their cupboards with imported goods, have their ayis cook western meals for them, and only eat at western restaurants where everything is recognizable and familiar.

Granted, I was there myself, checking out with my block of cheese, lunch for the day, and sucking down my Starbucks Americano I had bought next door.  Yet, it still baffles me how often you see people in Shanghai living as if they were still in their home countries with all the luxuries affordable to them because of their high expat salaries and their “hardship” pay for having to live in a third world country.  I know people like this, I am friends with people like this and occasionally I like to soak up some of the imported and/or high-end luxuries available to us in Shanghai.  But I feel there is a difference between occasional luxuries and ignoring or refusing to participate in the culture and way of life in the country you reside in. Anyways, that is just my little rant about foreigners (like me) in Shanghai.

I had my coffee from one shop, my lunch from City Shop and I headed home.  I still had another errand to run and after eating my lunch, I headed way out to the middle of Pudong (the other side of the Huangpu River) to run my errand.  I was walking through Pudong, thinking about how it felt like a different country with its big roads, endless views of massive urban sprawl (without the tall building of “downtown” Shanghai), everything was so spread out and far apart.  While I was there, I ran into a Carrefour, a big French supermarket that has done well in China, now I have been to a couple Carrefours before on my side of town, but this Carrefour took up most of a huge city block!  This place looked massive!  Wanting again to see the selection available, I wandered inside.  I went inside and was greeted by a store which reminded me of an American Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer – it was huge!  They must have EVERYTHING here!

As I slowly walked around the store, picking my jaw up off the ground, I realized that going back to the states might be a bit of a culture shock for me.  The grocery stores in Oregon might present me with the same overwhelming feeling that the small crowded grocery store in Shanghai presented me with.  Not because of an unfamiliar language, but the size and the availability and variety of items.

I didn’t get anything or spend too much time Carrefour, I still had to trek back across town and despite the fact that they had so much to offer, an imported items section that was massive, and much greater variety (at prices far below those at CityShop), I realized there wasn’t really anything I needed.  I live quite well off the basics available to me at my neighborhood CenturyMart.

Oh… speaking of food, I had my first taste of bullfrog last week.  And people are right – it tastes just like chicken!

Thank God for Ayis

If you haven’t read about my ayi – you totally should do so in the blog post (here) I did back a few weeks ago. I haven’t blogged in over a week and I feel like a slacker, no energy really tonight, but I wanted to give some props to my ayi tonight. She totally just saved me…

I left work, walked home, was getting into the elevator at about 9:15pm when I started digging in my purse for my keys. I ALWAYS double check to make sure I have my keys before I leave the apartment, my roommate is often out of town on business trips (as she is currently) and she has warned me that having the landlord or a locksmith come unlock the door is quite spendy. Well… as I’m getting in the elevator, digging in my purse, I realize my keys are not there.

I have 28 floors to panic in the elevator… I think, maybe they fell out of my purse at school – I can call another teacher, see if she is still there and have her look… no cell service in the elevator but once I get to my floor it is my only hope…

That is until I get to my floor and see one of the two doors to my apartment (double doors – locks on both) is open!! There is a light on inside!!

Yes, it is true, my ayi who doesn’t speak a word of English noticed that the crazy American girl left her keys at home. She was laying down resting on my roommates bed and just waiting for me to get home. Live Savor. Wow. Thank you God for that little blessing today. I got into my apartment, was lectured in Chinese and had my keys shaken at me… and did my best to apologize and thank my ayi profusely for saving my butt.

It would not have been a happy ending to an already frustrating day, otherwise.

Secrets in 上海 II

You’re too late…

Built as an auto-parts factory, supposedly an opium storage facility at one time, and for the past several years the home of up to 40 international artists, 696 Weihai Road in Shanghai is one of the city’s secrets that you may be too late to discover. Always full of information, my friend Roger let me in on this secret Saturday night – when a friend brought him to the last big event at 696, as the tenants have been given notice by the Chinese government that they are being evicted.

"Inside" one artists studio - the walls may not all be in the best condition

Graffiti - Roger got much more interesting (and controversial) pictures the night before

Plans for the run-down, yet historic, full of character and artistic buildings are unknown – but because of their prime location in Shanghai, a block away from a massive Louis Vuitton store and malls filled with other high end luxury brands – they will probably be demolished and replaced with retailers and other corporations willing to pay an exorbitant price for a modern workspace in Shanghai.

The alley way leading into 696

While I missed out on the open bar, food, DJ’s, endless partying, painting of a car and artistic displays that occurred throughout the night on Saturday. I did convince another friend, Daniel, to go check the place out with me on Sunday, as supposedly May 3rd (today) is the last chance to do so.  Of course, I got us lost on the way, as I only knew it was “near Jing’an Villa” (my other Secret in Shanghai) but I had us wandering around the wrong neighborhood for about 1.5 hours before I realized I was subway stop off…

When we arrived at the correct location, 696 was mostly abandoned, everyone likely tired and resting from the party the night before.  However, we did find plenty to explore…

Car painted at Saturday's party

We were able to speak to the artist who helped arrange the painting of this car at the party, as a promotion for some company.  He has a PhD in Art and is a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.  The art he had displayed in his studio, shared with another artist on the fourth floor of one of the buildings, was fantastic.  The detail and complexities in his oil work left me awestruck.  Below is the only picture I got in his studio.

Oil Painting

A few other artists had their studios open as well, or art on display outside.

An artist's display - in a beautiful room

Appreciating art

The son of an artist playing, while dad worked

Showing us his father's art, the lips that spoke back to you

An artist's plastic body leaning against a barbed wire fence

Moon's art

More of Moon's art

Outside Moon's Studio

Peering into an artist's studio through dirty glass

The otherside of the same dirty window

Most doors, however, were closed and locked. Yet, in wandering around the various buildings, up dark staircases, though the dust and grime of the past several decades, we could still find the personality, character and idiosyncrasies that made 696 a fascinating place to explore.

A stairwell, with laundry and meat hung to dry

Dried flowers left in a window

A painted window

Closed doors

The buildings in 696

A passageway between buildings, with the sun shining through holes in the walls and ceiling


This room was unexpected – completely formally decorated, with food and drinks still on the table, it was as if people sitting here for a dinner party had just vanished into thin air.  The room didn’t seem to fit in with the rest and the furniture, deep red walls, dried roses and dishes on the table made it eerie and mysterious.

Unexpected and formal

Other rooms were completely abandoned, only trash and discarded items left behind – signs of those who had already responded to the eviction notice.

An empty studio - left for demolition

A busted bust and other trash left behind on a rooftop

Another emptied studio

Up rusted staircases, around precarious second and third story outside pathways, by peoples homes from which they are being evicted and up a ladder we made it to the rooftop of one of the buildings in 696 for a shot of the city of Shanghai in the background.  Standing on the roof, you can see the red row houses of Jing’an Villa and the skyscrapers of Shanghai behind me.

On the roof

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