Monthly Archives: August 2011

Just Another Day

I normally teach twelve classes a week; although, my thirteenth class will be starting in a couple weeks. This weekend one of the other foreign teachers in my school was out, so I taught two of her classes on Saturday in addition to mine.  Meaning, I taught 8 classes over the course of Saturday and Sunday – surprisingly, I survived with much less time for preparation than I’m accustom and my voiced survived.

My Sunday is always a busy day – as I teach 4 classes every Sunday.  So what does a typical Sunday look like for teacher Julia?  Here are some events of my day today:

I had a conversation with a 5 year old about his little sister, how she goes to a different school and has a green backpack but he has a red backpack.

Another 5 year old told my coworker that I have a knife on my back.  (I believe the translation was actually a knife in my back…) When I asked where the knife was she lifted up my shirt and pointed to my tattoo (which apparently looks like a knife to her).

I listened to two students argue in class (in Chinese) over who was speaking Chinese in class.

I was scolded by my students for speaking Chinese in class. (I referred to Chinese currency as kuai.)

I was told (in response to the question, “Does Julia have blond hair?”) “No, she doesn’t. She has gray hair.”

When a coworker was commenting on the very long braided rat-tail of one of the students at the school, I learned that it is customary for some Chinese boys to never cut this strand of hair until they turn ten years old at which time it is cut off.  No one was sure exactly which people this was customary among, although “a region around Shanghai” was speculated; nor did anyone know the reasoning or tradition behind it.  When the boy was asked why his hair wasn’t cut, he responded, “我不知道.” (I don’t know.)

I listened to one of my 4 year old students reading English and brought another teacher over to show off how good his pronunciation was. I also met his father who, when I expressed my delight in his son’s English, told me when the boy was two he taught him how to speak with both Japanese and French accents.

I finally went an entire class period without calling a set of twins by the wrong name; however, I did mix up the twins in another class for the millionth time.

I was told how to order yet another type of delicious dumplings from the small restaurant next to my school and went and bought dumplings for a co-worker and myself.  Spending 12 kuai (less than 2 dollars) for the two of us.

I relayed orders for milk tea (or bubble tea) from one teacher to another – in Chinese.  Because if I know anything in Chinese, I know how to order 珍珠奶茶.

I taught the sentence: “I am pooping.” And when one student left for the bathroom, I asked the class, “What is James doing?” The entire class responded, “He is pooping.”  If my male students are so obsessed with talking about poop, I at least ensure they do so in a grammatically correct manner.

I explained the difference between the English words chili and chilly, and their uses to four of my Chinese co-workers, one of whom has the English name Chilly.

I sighed a breathe of relief and announced at 3:40pm that I finally had 20 minutes to relax before my last class at 4pm, then immediately sat down at my desk and saw the stack of 55 reports waiting to be filled out.

And, lastly, to top of my day – I, for the first time, had a student spit in my face.  I took him by his t-shirt, pulled him out of the class, through the lobby where his grandmother was sitting and into the teachers office where I sat him down and told the Chinese teacher to please instruct him not to ever spit in his teacher’s face again. He was later brought back to class and apologized. The Chinese teacher explained, as he stood there about to cry, that he merely wanted to let me know what another student had done to him; yet, he didn’t know how to say it in English.

I did get a chuckle after class when I learned that when the Chinese teacher told him an apology might not calm my anger and asked him what he should do about it, he responded, “She can spit in my face.”

And after almost ten long hours at the school, I came home with a sore throat, exhausted, but smiling.  If nothing else, every day is certainly an adventure.


My Memo

I have always been a dog person.  I absolutely love dogs, especially big dogs.  However, when I was in college at Oregon State, I wanted a pet and my landlord said, “No dogs!”  So I went and found myself a cat, who over the past 9 years I have grown to love dearly.  Jack is part of my family and I was very, very sad to have to leave him behind in the States.  I knew that Shanghai would be no place for my cat who loves going outside and roaming around; so luckily, he has a wonderful new home with my mom and her husband.

My boy, Jack, playing with a plant at his new home in Eugene

I do miss Jack, and most of my life I have had animals around.  When I see the cats on the streets of Shanghai, I want to take them home and love on them – even more so when I see little homeless kittens. So when my roommate asked the other day if I would mind getting a cat, it was hard for me to say no.  I knew no one would ever replace my dear Jack and also that I will eventually have to leave this cat behind when I go back to the States.  Yet, having a cat still seemed like something I could deal with.  Not nearly as much work as a dog, cute, cuddly and sweet.  Jane said she wanted a Persian – I said I wanted to rescue a street kitten.

The very next day, after our cat discussion, my roommate, Jane, called me up and said, “I found kittens! Come help me pick one out!” I thought she was out to dinner with friends, so I was a bit confused.  It turned out she was out to dinner – and outside the restaurant where she was eating someone had dropped off 4 little teeny kittens.  The people running the restaurant were trying to give them away.

Left behind tabby...

Jane refuses to have a black cat, even an adorable black tabby cat, so we were left with the two white cats with black spots to chose from.  We picked one, went inside where Jane still had to eat her dinner and I grabbed a drink and began discussing names.  Jane’s friend and friend’s boyfriend were there and we were throwing out every possible name or word we thought of for a name.  After about an hour of either Jane, me or both of us turning down suggestions, I finally asked, “What is the name of this place anyways?”  Memo.  So it was decided, we named our new dear kitten Memo – after the place where we got her.


Riding home in style

Memo came home in a Jack Daniels box, taking the taxi with Jane and I.  Before coming home we swung by the pet shop that is just next to our apartment complex.  They had closed at 9pm and it was 9:30pm.  Yet, Jane managed to convince them (the door was unlocked still so we walked in) to give our little dirty street kitten named Memo a bath before we took her home.

Not appreciating our first bath - luckily I convinced Jane that cats do not need to be bathed on a regular basis

Equipped with food and litter for the night, from the people at the restaurant, and a clean kitten, we went home to play with Memo until we were all ready to sleep.  The next morning, we were back in the pet shop for more supplies, the cleaning of Memo’s ears (which desperately needed it) and trimming of her nails.

Spoiled already - eating dinner in bed! (actually ON my bed)

Memo is a little teeny thing, only about 45 days old.  She has teeth and can eat dry cat food, she knows how to use the litter box, but can barely jump on my low bed and feels so fragile in my hands!  She is scared to leave my bedroom and burrows under the covers to sleep when no one is around. Her black spots are actually striped and she looks like she is wearing a crown with the spot on her head.

Passed out under my comforter

She is a lucky girl coming home with us, and will most certainly be spoiled.

Shanghai Ink

Everyday is an adventure in Shanghai, but yesterday a few girls decided to go on an adventure I had yet to experience in a foreign country.  I believe the idea started with Cat, another American teaching at Kid Castle in Shanghai.  She wanted to get some ink for her birthday which is coming up soon.  Lindsay, a Canadian teaching at Kid Castle who also happens to have a birthday in the next couple weeks, decided to join her.

A friend of Lindsay had a large tattoo done in Shanghai, and the work was fantastic.  He recommended the place to Lindsay and Cat with only one warning – they don’t speak any English.  Small details, when you want to discuss artwork that will permanently be placed on your body, right?

So Lindsay recruited Mandy, a Taiwanese co-worker, to help with the translation and scheduling. My co-worker and friend from Taiwan, May and I heard about the girls plan and decided to join.  As did two other friends, one more American and another Taiwanese.

So yesterday was tattoo day.  I met Lindsay at the subway and we made our way over to meet May, Penny and Mandy around 3pm at the tattoo parlor.  Cat and Tara joined shortly thereafter.  On the way, Lindsay still was undecided as to exactly what she wanted but had some ideas – and with the help of a computer would be able to show her best idea to the artist.

It was slow going when we first got there, us girls all sitting around in the smoke filled lobby area of the tattoo parlor, looking through books of pictures, discussing ideas, and trying to get a grasp on price range.  There were 2 Chinese men there when we got there, but when Lindsay started talking specifically about the tattoo she wanted we were informed she would have to wait for the “tattoo master” because of the level of detail in her tattoo.  The artist who was there would not be doing hers, and the other man there at the time was an “intern” and doesn’t do any of the work.  (I referred to him as the air freshener – as he sat around chain smoking for a good portion of the time we were downstairs.)  Lindsay inquired as to when the tattoo master would be back, another day?  Another week?  Oh no, he will be here in 10 minutes!  Wonderful!

Once the ideas were formed, the price negotiations began.  They were a bit steeper than we imagined at first, but with 3 girls there all wanting tattoos the Chinese speakers managed to negotiate the prices down a bit.  Once Cat came and let them know she wanted to get 2 tattoos, the prices were dropped a bit again.

Probably an hour and a half after Lindsay and I arrived at the tattoo parlor, the designs were decided on, the prices were dropped one final time, and the 4 girls were ready to get their tattoos.  Cat was getting INI tattooed on the inside of her finger and a Chinese symbol 凰 (huáng or phoenix) tattooed on her back – the price 600 rmb ($93) for two small tattoos.  May decided to get a blue and black star tattooed behind her ear – the price 500 rmb ($78).  Mandy, who was the only one who had never gotten a tattoo before, decided on a small angel (fairy?) on her back with BTS2010 written under it for 700 rmb ($110).  Lindsay’s was the biggest, most detailed and was the only one done by the tattoo master, it is a picture from the cover of her favorite book (which apparently I need to read) A Fine Balance.  It actually took just about as long to prepare and do Lindsay’s tattoo as it did for the other artist to do the 4 small tattoos on the other 3 girls.  The final price for Lindsay – 2300 rmb ($360).

The smoke filled lobby was bothering a couple of us and we were craving coffee, so Cat, Tara and I set off to grab some coffee for everyone while the artists got started on Lindsay and May. We had been at the tattoo parlor for probably a good two hours, and we were finally going to move upstairs and get the show on the road!

It was a nice place, clean and respectable, the guys were obviously very talented and it had come recommended.  Although there was some discussion and debate; all of the girls were ready to have their tattoos done at this place.  The language barrier was tough, and Lindsay, especially, spent a lot of time discussing via Mandy as translator the specifics and details of her tattoo.  The colors, the size, the precise location and position, the price, the details of the shading… When we first walked in she was wary as to whether or not she would be able to clearly illustrate what she wanted, but I think we were all confident with the artist’s ability when he started and only more so when he finished his work.

As for me, I watched and took pictures.  It was definitely a fun time – even if I didn’t get any ink of my own.  Around 8pm we were finished, paid and hungry so 6 out of the 7 of us went out for dinner and drinks to celebrate our freshly tattooed friends!

Here are just some of the shots I took:

Price, designs and waiting.... the long process before the ink!

Discussions we don't understand

Browsing for ideas

The peanut gallery! Anxious to watch and photograph the start of Lindsay's tattoo.

Does she look excited?

Apparently behind the ear hurts...

May is the first one finished! I left the sepia theme to show the beautiful blue!

The first-timer is a bit nervous!

Here she goes! First ink.

Mandy is the second one done!

An artist capturing his work

Lindsay watches intently as her process begins

Coffee & Tattoos

She is done and happy!

A perfect replica

It was Cat's idea - but she is the last to begin

Tattoo #1 - done!

On to number two...

Who smiles while getting a tattoo? Our dear Cat does!

The last of the five tattoos is done!

My freshly inked girls and the non-English speaking hard working artists

If you are in Shanghai and in need of some tattoos, I would recommend checking this place out.  Their website is, they are located at 654 Yan’an Xi Lu near Jiangsu Lu (延安西路654号near 江苏路).


As it is summertime, I’m not taking Chinese classes at the moment and I’m always up for getting out and having a little adventure, I decided to take an afternoon and go to Suzhou (苏州).  I have been to Suzhou twice before, once a couple months ago with my friend Roger when we met up with Katherine from the MIM program, and once over a year ago when I was in China with the MIM program.  But it is a neat city with lots of things to do, plus it is only about 30 minutes away by high speed train so I decided to go back.

I invited my friend, Heather, to go with me, who I learned had never been to Suzhou in her 3 years in Shanghai, and we headed off for a Monday day-cation!  I didn’t really know my way around town, or what exactly to go see, but I jotted down a few notes on places to check out before I took off and decided to just figure it out when we got there.

One of the places I wrote down was the Lingering Garden or Liu Yuan (留园).  Suzhou is famous for their gardens. I had previously been to the Humble Administrator’s Garden with the MIM program and Roger and I went to Tiger Hill to see the leaning tower of Suzhou, as I like to call it.  Therefore, I picked a new one.  After two failed attempts of getting on buses I thought went to the Lingering Garden, we finally found a bus from the train station to take us there.

It really leans!

The 40rmb peak season entry fee we figured was justifiable because of the extensive upkeep that must be done on such a large beautiful garden.  And a beautiful garden it was!  I think it is much smaller than the Humble Administrator’s Garden, and unlike the last two times I visited tourist attractions in Suzhou, we didn’t have a tour guide to stop and explain to us the history, meaning and significance of each plant, stone, sculpture and building.  Instead, Heather and I just lingered around the Lingering Garden.

The very green lingering garden

It was pleasant, even though the rain decided to come as soon as we walked in.  Thankfully there were plenty of covered passages and walkways with greenery draped over them to keep us dry.

What I would recommend the most, if you ever decide to linger around this garden – is to make sure to read the signs.  Because there is some delightful Chinglish to see on the signs!  I got pictures of a few good ones, but there were many more.

Be warned! In case you are tempted to take a dip...

I'm not sure how to omnivorously do something...

Ahh... the bright scenery of civilized human beings!

Feeling ill? Try being a bit more civilized.

After the gardens, I some how managed to find the little area of canals lined with old buildings, and trendy little shops and cafe’s Roger had taken me to before.  We wandered around town for a few hours, had some ice cream at DQ and then headed back to Shanghai!

Woman selling fruit

What does this say to you?

Classic Suzhou

Wet and Miserable

So our dreaded typhoon Muifa came and went without making too much noise.  Luckily for me, the threat of the typhoon caused my school to decide Saturday afternoon that they would cancel all classes on Sunday.  A free Sunday followed by my normal Monday/Tuesday off??  Sure, I’ll take it!

The storm itself was rather disappointing.  Other than dropping buckets of rain on Shanghai, mostly during the night/early morning hours, and some wind, Muifa didn’t cause much disturbance for Shanghai residents.

On the inside looking out

I did manage to get on the wrong side of a police line surrounded by firemen though…

In the days before the storm, and Sunday afternoon there were actually some gorgeous blue skies and white fluffy clouds to be seen!  It was quite impressive and almost made me feel the air was clean!  We are back to smog now, and the residents of Shanghai can go back to being miserable.

Despite North Korea’s report a couple months back that China is number one on their “Global Happiness Index”, see my post Shanghai Seconds, China has recently let us know that Shanghai is far from the happiest place in China to live.  In fact, there are 96 cities in China that are “happier”.  Even Beijing beat us by a hair coming in as the 95th happiest city to live in within China.  That’s right, China put out a national city survey that ranked the major metropolitan areas and cities in China in terms of their “happiness”.

Apparently, having all the western amenities, a beautiful skyline (while not clothed in smog), the highest standard of living and the highest amount of disposable income in the country does nothing for those of us who call Shanghai home.  What is used to calculate happiness?  According to the authors of the survey: “The criteria for happiness include a sense of belonging, safety and satisfaction of a city’s residents, and how much outsiders appreciate the city…” Link: Shanghai Daily

I don’t see why outsiders wouldn’t appreciate Shanghai, personally I love when waitstaff in restaurant treat me like an unnecessary disturbance and burden, when I get pushed around in the subway, run down on the street by cab drivers, yelled at in Chinese by the lady in the train station who doesn’t really feel like selling me a ticket, cut in front of in any line anywhere, ripped off by vendors…  Oh, China… one thing is for sure, without a sense of humor I would certainly be miserable!

An uncommon site - a couple days before Typhoon Muifa

The Avocado Lady

I was out at dinner the other night at a little natural/healthy food restaurant in Tianzifang when I mentioned how much I missed avocados.  The restaurant (Origin) did have avocados on the menu and I actually ordered some to go on my delicious sandwich. When I mentioned missing them someone at the table said, “You need to go see the avocado lady!”

The avocado lady?  Oh yea, I think I had read something about her before. The 6 of us at the table then starting discussing the avocado lady, where she was located and what she sold.  Apparently, she has just about everything.  At 274 Wulumuqi Lu, it looks like your typical Chinese produce store, I was told, but it is packed with foreigners. When you go inside you realize the avocado lady is famous for much more than just her avocados.

Famous?  Really, Julia?  Can a little Chinese woman really be famous because she sells avocados in Shanghai?  Don’t believe me, do what I did and Google “Shanghai avocado lady” and see what comes up.  She indeed is famous.

So late this morning I headed over, I noticed the dark clouds in the sky but I was already out – it was only one subway stop out of my way and I really wanted to see what the avocado lady had to offer.  It was starting to rain as I walked a couple blocks from the subway (Changshu Lu) to her store, when I got there all the legends came true. Despite the rain, many foreigners were visiting her.  She had the best selection of produce I think I have ever seen in China and just about anything else a little foreign heart could desire.

Camera phone shot - I turned on my camera and realized the memory card was in my laptop. The Avocado Lady!

Once I was there, the downpour started.  I quickly decided on a few things to buy, I didn’t have much money on me and had to carry everything home.  But I was without an umbrella and it was POURING.  I hoped it would quickly blow over and the avocado lady was happy to let me hang out for awhile. Several foreigners came in and out while I was there.  One was ecstatic to learn there were dried lentils for sale. Another had moved to town 3 days earlier and already was a regular customer.

What does the avocado lady have, beside avocados and produce?  Well, I got some Campbells tomato soup, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, avocados, mangoes, and edamame.  She had olives, tuna in a can, olive oil, truffle oil, artichoke hearts, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, fresh basil and rosemary, cheese, Philadelphia cream cheese, kidney beans, soy milk, Tabasco sauce, REAL maple syrup, cereal, imported wine…. just to name a few things.

Lots of goodies!

The girl who had just moved to town said the lady even pulled Vegemite out of a back corner for her once. Not only does the avocado lady have it all, she speaks English and sells everything at a decent price – unlike the high end grocery stores in Shanghai cholk full of imported items. Above all, she is friendly!  After about 20 minutes of me waiting out the pouring rain, she handed me an umbrella and insisted I took it, saying in English, “I trust you.”

The avocado lady is a smart one too, not only does she know what us laowai want – but she knows we will keep coming back.  I will definitely be back to visit her, buy some treats and bring back her umbrella.

I was very thankful for that umbrella, as when I got off the subway by my apartment it was raining ever harder.  It helped keep me dry, at least from the waist up, as I walked down the creek street to my apartment.  Second storm in two days… and I have a feeling it will get worse:

Super typhoon to hit Shanghai.

Food, Friends, Farewells III

Our Street Food Friends Say Farewell

China is street food – you see it everywhere.  I have posted pictures of it.  There have been articles on CNN about the street food in Shanghai.  Some of us eat it, with caution and the knowledge that it could cause us harm but the desire and curiosity to keep us from caring.  Some avoid it at all costs.  Without street food you don’t get the real flavor of China.  Without street food, what would one snack on at all hours of the night stumbling home from a bar? Without street food, how could you grab breakfast on the way to school or work for under a dollar every day? And how would you get lunch on the way home for the same price?

Okay, so I live in a country of food scandals, a country with a lack of regulation and enforcement on food safety precautions.  That is all part of the adventure.  If I were worried about getting sick all the time, I wouldn’t live in China! China pushes you out of your comfort zone, lets you try and experience things you never thought you would. Street food is one of those things I happen to like.

This is why, I was very disappointed to read the following article:

Unlicensed roadside food to be banned

From the article:

GRABBING a street-food breakfast on the way to work could soon become a thing of the past for Shanghai residents, as the unlicensed vendors will be banned starting September 1, when the Shanghai Food Safety Regulation takes effect.

All food sellers will be required to have a license, and while current street vendors can apply for licenses, they must operate their businesses only at designated spots and during certain times.

“We’ve already set aside designated areas and periods for street vendors, outside of which street food selling are prohibited,” said Yan Zuqiang, director of the Shanghai Food Safety Committee.

All vendors must register at their local government or neighborhood committee and apply for a license.

Yup, that’s right.  Shanghai is banning street food. That is like taking China out of Shanghai.  We all know Shanghai is the most international city in China, but it is still China!  You can’t just do away with people cooking up stinky tofu in dirty oil on the side of the streets.  It’s not right!

So we say farewell to our street food friends.

And to stick with my Food, Friends, Farewell alliteration – I will close with a fabulous photo of a (random) fire on the Bund.

Fire on the Bund

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