Monthly Archives: June 2011

Busy Vacation

A vacation is for relaxing, right?  Well not this one.  I have been go-go-go since the moment I got back into Portland on Monday afternoon.

Jetlag is finally easing off a bit.  I managed to stay awake until past 11pm last night AND managed to sleep until 8am this morning.  Still tired, but not falling asleep in movie theaters tired.  (Tuesday afternoon I went and saw a movie with a really good friend and I desperately wanted to just close my eyes and sleep for a little while during the movie… )

Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro seem so… small town.  Small buildings, the couple of  ‘skyscrapers’ downtown aren’t THAT much bigger than my apartment building in Shanghai.  They feel so spread out.  The buildings are far apart, the roads are wide and seem empty, there is so much SPACE, so much greenery, so many allergens!  Yes, I am finally away from Shanghai Smog and you would think breathing was easy.  Well, it was easy and delightful until my Pacific Northwest allergies kicked in.  An outdoor wedding in the allergy capital of the world is not going to make for a pretty maid of honor. (Lane/Linn and Benton counties – Linn county is the “Grass seed capital of the world, but if you suffer from seasonal allergies – Allergy capital works).  Ugh.

It is still a bit surreal being back in the states.  It makes me realize how different Shanghai really is.  It may not be the “real China” as I mentioned in a post earlier this week, but it certainly is a long way from Portland, Oregon.

My days have been packed with people, appointments, good American (and Mexican) food and fun.  Today, I actually have a few minutes to recoup, repack and organize my next couple days.  Tomorrow, I have a bachelorette party to throw, my sister’s wedding is only  days away!



Happy Birthday!

In Shanghai, my birthday is almost over.  But in Portland it has just begun.  I am exhausted, jet lagged and full of excitement. 

Happy Birthday to me!  June 28th is my day and this year it is my first full day back in the States after over 5 months of being in Asia.  This morning feels almost as if I never left. Everything is so familiar and normal, but yet so strange.

I came into my old job with Beth this morning, as she is kindly letting me use her car for the day.  We went to Starbucks just like old times and I shocked a bunch of my old co-workers by appearing at 7:30am just like I did everyday the three and a half years that I worked here.  It is like being in the twilight zone, all so familiar… but so not the norm anymore.

Everything is clean too!  Walking through the old tunnel at OHSU between Casey Eye Institute, the Dental school and Doernbecher garage – a tunnel that I always thought was old, nasty and dirty – it felt CLEAN.  Everything here is so clean! 

Oh, and it is like 70 degrees outside, if that, cloudy and raining and everyone is saying it is so hot and humid.  Oh if they only knew… on the other hand, I’m having my best hair day in months because of the LACK of humidity.

Well, I have people to see and things to do.  I have a happy hour planned with a ton of friends in the Portland area tonight, so if you are in the area – call me and you should stop by!

Loving being home!

Initial Shock…

I got off my 11 hour flight in Vancouver, BC at about 12:20pm on June 27th.  My flight had left Shanghai at 3:55pm that same day (well, was scheduled to leave, we actually sat on the plane for an hour before taking off.)  After going back in time a few hours, I got off the plane, waited in line to go through customs and directly boarded my next flight.  Uninterested in getting on another plane, but excited to get home.  In my very short, less than an hour stint in the Vancouver airport I noticed this:

1. It smelled like cinnamon rolls.  It was amazingly delicious smelling.  Not a Shanghai smell for sure!

2. People were incredibly friendly.  I mean, they smiled and stuff!  This guy almost ran into me and he said, “Excuse me.”  Weird.  Then I boarded the plane and I was caught off guard when the flight attendant said, “How are you?” Me, what? How am I?  Why would you ask, I mean… I’m good, I’m tired… why do you care?

Landing in Portland and meeting my friend and former co-worker Beth I noticed a few other things.

There are hardly any Asians around here… and tons of blondes!  In fact… there aren’t many people around here.  Where did they all go?  As I write this I just realized, in Beth’s condo, I’m in complete  silence, there are no honking horns, no fireworks going off, no noises from outside, or upstairs… it is still.

We went to Starbucks and New Seasons… the selection!  The friendly people!  And everything is so clean!  Driving into Portland I said, “Oh what cute little buildings you have!” Speaking of the downtown Portland area as it is quite ‘cute’ and ‘little’ compared to Shanghai.

My alarm on my phone just went off… it is 8am in Shanghai.  I have officially been awake for 24 hours.  No, I did not sleep on the plane.  I need to get some dinner in me – my 5th meal of my long day.  Then I think I might crash.

Portland is beautiful, green and clean.  Beth says it is hot and humid… I think it is cool and dry myself.  🙂


A foreign teacher that was substituting at our school today mentioned that he wants to get out of Shanghai and spend time somewhere else in China to experience ‘the real China’.  That is a common phrase amongst those in Shanghai who really like to experience culture and different countries – Shanghai is not ‘the real China’. Shanghai is a huge city, with every western luxury imaginable (although sometimes at a hefty price), with residents from all over the world, food from all over the world, and a blend of cultures from all over the world.  It isn’t ‘really’ China.’

Then I made a comment which vastly overstated this fact, I said, “Yea, Shanghai is not China.  Shanghai is like, well, everywhere else in the world.  Shanghai might as well be in America.”  Haha… no sooner than saying this did I realize how quickly I had thrown all the unique, fascinating, disgusting and ‘Eastern’ peculiarities of Shanghai out the window.

So, I stopped and admitted that in just over a days time, I would step off the plane and realize how untrue my statement was.  I’m going back to Oregon for two weeks, to visit and most importantly to play my role as Maid of Honor in my sister’s wedding.  I haven’t been out of the States for too long, it’s only been just over 5 months, but my comment today made me wonder if I would experience a bit of reverse culture shock when I get back to green, clean, friendly, liberal Portland, Oregon.

The last time I was in Asia, in March 2010, I had been away for 4 weeks and definitely viewed the US in a slightly different way when I got back.  I had spent my last several days in Cambodia, seeing not only temples and amazing sites but also the absolute poverty and the affects of a genocide that killed nearly a fourth of the population of the country.  Coming home from opened my eyes to how well we have it in the US.  Yet, a quick trip is also quickly forgotten.

So, will I experience reverse culture shock when I get back to the States in about a day?  What will I notice?  What will seem different?  What will make it feel like a never left?  I guess only time will tell…

In the meantime, I need to finish packing!

Back to my pretty city!

Shanghai 2nds

Well, you can’t always be number one, but China seems to be pretty good at being number 2.

I mentioned previously, it was announced early this year that China beat out Japan as the second largest economy in the world.

I also posted when they broke ground for Shanghai Disney (links: my blog, Shanghai Disney Resort) which will be the second Disney resort in China (the first being Hong Kong Disneyland).

In the past couple days I have been reminded of a couple other 2nds happening in Shanghai:

The world’s largest IKEA is in Sweden, naturally.  The world’s second largest IKEA – SHANGHAI!  At 49,400 square METERS (almost 532,000 sq. feet), the largest IKEA in Asia and the second largest in the world opened today in Pudong.  Link

Shanghai, as the article mentions is the first city in China to have more than one IKEA.  A third will be opening in 2014, and discussions are underway for a forth.  Apparently, the growing middle class needs furnishing.

Shanghai is home to the 3rd tallest building in the world (the Shanghai World Financial Center seen from my bedroom window below) but why stop there.  It was briefly the 2nd tallest (after the Taipei 101 Tower) until the Dubai Tower (Burj Khalifa) was built in 2010.  But we will let the SWFC slip back to 4th place in order to put ourselves back in second place.

The Shanghai World Financial Center and the Jin Mao tower as seen today from my bedroom.

Under construction for some time now, the Shanghai Tower (or Shanghai Dragon) is starting to make an appearance as its construction has hit the 100 meter mark.  By 2014, when it is completed it will be 632 meters, dwarfing the 492 meter SWFC and the 366 meter Jin Mao Tower it will sit next to.  Of course, there are plans for an even taller building to be completed in Shenzhen, China in 2015.  But we will take number two while it lasts.

You can see some pictures of what the cool tower will look like and the construction so far here: Link

Or you can just check out my view point.  By moving from my bedroom to the kitchen and REALLY utilizing the zoom on my little canon, I come up with this shot of the cranes working on the new tower right between SWFC and Jin Mao.

This might be something big...

Looks like my view is only going to get better… maybe I should stick around awhile. 😉

Second is better than last, which is how our milk is rated.  As the Chinese dairy industries have the lowest standards for milk in the world: Link. Why I drink the stuff is beyond me, but it hasn’t killed me yet.

Second place is also better than being used a second time, as are many of the bottles from imported beers and liquors.  Oh yes, I have long known that you must be wary of the quality of beverages you are served in bars.  So when I saw this little piece of news about thousands of bottles – with foreign labels – being refilled with local cheap beer I wasn’t terribly surprised. Link

Okay, enough of China’s seconds.  What about being first!  Well, according to North Korea’s “Global Happiness Index” China is the happiest place on earth!  The United States, by the way, according to North Korea – is in 203rd place. Link

Ah, yes…. life is grand in Shanghai!

Turning Chinese…

You know you’ve been in China awhile when (or not in Portland at least):

Someone asks where you live and you point in a certain direction and respond, “About a 27 kuai cab ride that way.”  You then take a cab home and it is exactly 27 kuai.

It is over 70 degrees outside (Fahrenheit) and you think about grabbing a jacket before you leave home.

A cool, cloudy day with temps in the low 70’s is a refreshing change from the heat.

You don’t really care when you walk out of the subway station, across town from home, without an umbrella and realize it is pouring rain because you know you can buy one right there for less than $2.

Even though it is hot and humid out you drink hot or warm water out of habit.

You live in a city of 25 million and think it’s a small town when you run into people you know out and about.

You feel like you need to get out of Shanghai to get away from all the Westerners.

You sometimes do a double take when you see someone with blond hair.  Even though you are blond yourself.

You visit a small town of 3 million to “get away from the city”.

You bump into people in the subway station and the thought of apologizing or saying excuse me doesn’t even cross your mind.

Five Chinese, a Brit and an American go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, the Brit and the American do all the ordering and the Chinese don’t even look at the menu.

You start asking people if they have eaten when you see them.

You get frustrated eating pasta with a fork and grab a pair of chopsticks instead.

You drink room temperature milk out of a cardboard packet (?) (I don’t know a good word for the container…)

You make buying decisions based on whether or not they will knock the price down another 5-10rmb ($0.75-$1.50)

You don’t use the packaged wet towel/napkin provided for you at the restaurant because you know they will charge you 1-2rmb for it.  Instead you take a pack of tissues out of your purse and use one as a napkin.

There is toilet paper in the restroom by the sink and you grab some before you go in a stall – then are shocked that there is actually toilet paper IN the stall.

You have friends that don’t know what Facebook is.

You have an account with a Chinese social network.

Your English sentence structure starts to resemble Chinese sentence structure, and you start to add “ma” and “ba” to the end of sentences.

Food in Qingdao

Qingdao is located on the Shandong Peninsula, serves as a major seaport and naval base, and historically was a fishing village.  Needless to say when going to Qingdao you can expect an abundance of seafood.  I knew this when I went to Qingdao and despite having spent my entire life having to explain to people that I DON’T like seafood, ANY seafood, – I figured it would be okay and I would figure out what to eat when I got there.  I also always say I am willing to try anything (well… most things) at least once, even if I’m absolutely certain I won’t like it.

After getting up early to get to the airport, flying to Qingdao, taking a bus to our hotel and checking in, the four of us girls were hungry!  A nice girl who lives in Qingdao sat next to us on the bus from the airport and the Chinese girls managed to get an abundant amount of information from her on where to go, what to see, how to get places, etc.  She recommended a little place right up the street from our hotel to get lunch.  It was a little alley way filled with lots of vendors and teeny restaurants serving a variety of local foods, mostly seafood, but a few other things as well.

Fish, fish, squid...

All sorts of sea creatures to eat!

Don't like seafood? That's okay, we have beetles and scorpions!

I gave stinky tofu a second chance, and this time I have to say – it wasn’t so bad!!  Not nearly as strong of a flavor as the first time I had it, and not as strong of a stench either.  I only sampled the other girls, as I had treated myself to deep fried bananas at the same location.

Stinky Tofu gets a second chance

The girls also had some BBQed squid on a stick, and Amanda had some shells with something chopped up inside of them.  I tried both, the squid I didn’t care for and it was far too chewy/tough, the stuff in the shells just tasted of the fresh garlic that was diced up with it, a taste that lasts ALL afternoon.

BBQ squid for May!

Stuff in shells

Something in a shell.... tastes like garlic!

We also had some bread and soup, the soup was 1.5rmb and the bread 0.7rmb (about $0.24 and $0.1 respectively).  We did not go broke over lunch – that is for sure!

That evening we went to a restaurant on Beer Street – mentioned in my Beer in Qingdao blog.  It was mostly seafood and I said I would try it but definitely needed one non-seafood dish.  We ended up ordering a beef dish, a shellfish dish, a soup with meatballs made of fish, some edamame and rice.

This is basically the menu for the restaurant. Prices are listed. Our shellfish, 18rmb for a big plate full of them - that is less than 3 dollars!

Shellfish and chilis - amazingly good!

I wasn’t very fond of the soup, but to my wonder and surprise those little shellfish were quite good!!  I didn’t want to go overboard on them as they still weirded me out a bit and I didn’t know how my body would react if suddenly after 20-some odd years I started chowing down on shellfish.  But I did eat quite a few.  (Everyone who knows me should be very proud right about now!)

Julia's first time trying the little creatures! (Pitcher of beer is nearby in case it doesn't taste so good...)

The edamame, beef dish and the rice were also delicious.  🙂

On Tuesday, our second day in Qingdao, our lunch and dinner were also experiences in themselves.  We stopped for lunch in a teeny little village on Laoshan (Mt. Lao) after our morning bus ride about 1.5 hrs outside of the city of Qingdao and after exploring some of the sites.  We had just finished a bit of a walk (30 min or so) up a hill, and right there at the top of the path we ran into a road and a restaurant.  I wasn’t very hungry but the other girls were so we stopped and I said “order whatever”.

The "menu" - sticks of dead stuff on the table, the live stuff in buckets at the end. This picture shows about half of the length of the restaurant.

We ended up with a soup made of “local, organic, Laoshan mushrooms and chicken” and more shellfish.  The shellfish didn’t look as appetizing to me, it could have been the atmosphere of the little village restaurant, or it could have been the tentacles sticking out of them, or maybe just my lack of appetite.

Bigger shellfish

I think my face accurately describes my feelings

So I refrained… The soup was… not my favorite and after finding a bug and a black hair in it, I only managed a few bites before resorting to my rice.  The thought of organic local mushrooms made me think only of the garden I had just seen directly down the hill from the disgusting public restroom I had just used, the restroom without running water and I’m willing to bet shady plumbing.

The mushroom and chicken soup

Dinner on Tuesday was fabulous!  The afternoon beer, coffee & a lot more walking had restored my appetite.  As I mentioned in my previous post, our cab driver had recommended a location to us.  It was a Shandong restaurant as we were in Shandong province and figured we should eat some (more) of the local food.

The cabbie had mentioned a couple dishes the area is known for and we also consulted with the very friendly and helpful wait staff to make our decisions.  We ended up with another shellfish dish with chicken and chilis, a ginseng vegetable dish (apparently you can eat fresh ginseng as a vegetable!), a soup with “meatballs” (the menu did not clarify what type of meat), a traditional pork dish from the area, rice, two types of local bread and a local iced tea.

The pork dish - doesn't look like much but it is AMAZING, and tender enough to melt in your mouth!

Yes, this is quite the common dish in Qingdao!

"Meatball" soup

Everything was exceptional!!  Okay, so I wasn’t fond of the soup again because the “meat” in the meat balls was (at least partially) fish and tasted too fishy for me.  The typical shellfish & red chili dish that seems to be the most common dish in Qingdao was fantastic!  Even for the one who “doesn’t like seafood”.  The ginseng was chopped and sautéed with ginger and celery, also delightful.  The pork dish was AMAZING, granted it was very fatty as many pork dishes in China are, but we devoured it. Even Amanda who normally does not like eating the fatty parts of pork thought it was exceptional.  The breads were fresh, moist and full of flavor, even the rice was cooked perfectly.  I think all of us would highly recommend a visit to Lao Zhuan Cun Shangdong Restaurant on Minjiang Road if you are ever in Qingdao and looking for a meal.  The price tag: about 50rmb/person or about $7.70.

Birthday coffee at Starbucks!

On Wednesday, we just had food at a food court in a shopping center for lunch. Nothing to exciting, and then cake and coffee as it was Amanda’s birthday and we needed to celebrate!  Dinner was overpriced airport food, I had a microwaved hamburger at a coffee shop (yea… it was about as good as it sounds) and the other girls feasted on instant noodles.

Ever wonder how to eat starfish? Apparently you break off the legs, like this.

Throw the legs on the grill (they are up at the top) - and then, I'm assuming, suck out the meat from the inside.

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