Tag Archives: laowai

Top 11 in 2011

2011 was a crazy and adventurous year for me.  11 days into 2011, I embarked on a journey which not only inspired this blog, but has changed my life.  On January 11, 2011, I said good-bye to family and friends and left for a year (or more) in Shanghai.  As my first year in China and 2011 come to an end, I want to reflect on some of the memories I have from the last year of my life (in China).

Of course, I will include links to my blogs which originally recorded these memories in case you missed them.

1. Hong Kong

Hong Kong

After taking off from the States, before arriving at my destination for the year, I spent five days in beautiful Hong Kong.  Traveling alone is never easy, but I had a couple motives for being there.  First, to get my visa for China.  I left on a plane to Asia before actually having my Chinese visa needed to enter the country.  Secondly,  I managed to time my trip and my move to China to coincide with my friend Irene’s wedding in Hong Kong.

Sightseeing on my own!

When I walked off the plane in Hong Kong, alone, in a city and country I didn’t know, where they spoke a language I didn’t know, with two huge suitcases full of everything I thought I needed for a year abroad, I remember having this thought, “What the expletive did I just get myself into?”

The LONG cable car ride!

2. Chinese New Year (another post) –

Shortly after arriving in China and starting my job teaching at Kid Castle, I had 11 days off of work for the Chinese New Year holiday.  It was a difficult time as the few people I had met in Shanghai had left town, and I was in a strange place by myself with nothing to do.  But it gave me the chance to explore my new home, write lots of blogs and experience what Shanghai had to offer.  And, naturally, gaze in wonder and delight at the millions, or billions of fireworks lit off around Shanghai for the occasion.  The most remarkable fireworks I have ever seen, and they went on for hours and hours, and days and days…

Fireworks below my bedroom window!

3. Day trips & Exploring –

Whether exploring Shanghai on my own, going to Suzhou with friends or Hangzhou with my mom & Matt, I’ve had a lot of fun seeing China through little day trips and outings to explore my city and the surrounding areas.


Sitting on a bus with my friend Roger, counting the minutes until our train leaves, wondering if the bus driver will ever pull into the Suzhou train station he is circling, then running as fast as we can through the station only to miss our train was one of the most hilarious moments I can remember this year.  The hilarity was only magnified  as Roger captured the whole event on video on his iphone.

Finding greenery, nature and the cherry blossoms of spring in a park in Shanghai, outside the hustle and bustle of the center of the city with Adam, Yumi and friends from their school.


Wandering around the beautiful, ancient water town of Zhujiajiao with my mom and Matt, negotiating with a rickshaw driver to get us into the center of town, finding amazing hole in the wall restaurants, taking loads of pictures, buying souvenirs and people watching.

4. Food and Beer

I once heard that there are over 45,000 restaurants in Shanghai.  I believe it.  And there are probably two new ones opening, and one closing down just about every day.  You can get a meal for under a dollar in Shanghai, or you can pay over $100 (USD) per person.  I have eaten street food (which doesn’t even count as a restaurant) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I bought breakfast for three for under $2. I have paid about $8 for a cup of coffee, not espresso, nothing fancy just a boring cup of bad coffee.  I have paid over $12 for a glass of wine and $10 for a beer.


Shanghai has amazing cuisine from all over China.  If, right now, you are sitting in the US thinking to yourself “I don’t like Chinese food”, you have never been to China.  Chinese food could be anything!  There are so many different amazing, delectable, weird and perhaps disgusting foods that originate from all over China.  I love Chinese food, there is so much variety in Chinese food.  The girl who never could tolerate spicy food in the first 28 years of her life picked a Sichuan restaurant for her 29th birthday dinner, and ordered bullfrog!

Pomegranate flowers

Craving something different?  Shanghai is an international city, the choices of cuisine are endless.  I have eaten French, German, Greek, Korean, Jamaican, Mexican, American, Nepali, Italian, Indonesian, Japanese, Thai, Taiwanese and Turkish food in Shanghai.

I love to eat, I love good food and I love good drinks.  So many great memories are formed over delicious food and beverages.


I have my favorites, I have my go-to comfort food locations, I have the locations that are convenient for quick meals while I’m working, but there are so many more places to explore and try!

5. Qingdao

For the Dragon Boat Festival in June, I was able to get out of the big city of Shanghai for a couple days and visit  the little town of Qingdao (population 8.7 million) with a couple of my friends and co-workers.  It was a great time, despite dreary wet weather, to see another part of this huge country, hang out with friends, and enjoy the beer capital of China.

Yes, this is China - Not Europe. Qingdao!

We explored the town of Qingdao, got a ride from a stranger in a downpour and thunderstorm when there were no taxis to be found, ate Shandong cuisine, drank beer from a plastic bag, explored the famous Laoshan (Lao Mountain or 崂山) and did some shopping.

Fun on the beach in Qingdao

6. Familiar Faces –

Moving halfway across the world by yourself is nerve-wracking, even for the bravest and most adventurous souls. While I have met many people in Shanghai and made many friends, it was a great pleasure to have some familiar faces in Shanghai with me for most of my first year in China.

Adam and Yumi Bray were here the longest.  Adam and Yumi both graduated from Portland State’s Master’s of International Management program with me in 2010.   They actually met in the program and afterwards got married and moved to Shanghai to study Chinese.  While we were never close during the MIM program we became great friends while living in Shanghai.  I loved going shopping and getting massages with Yumi, and when Adam was around there was always beer to drink and trouble to cause.  Unfortunately, (for me) Adam and Yumi moved back to the States just before Christmas, but they will always be a part of my 2011 memories.

Salman was also in the MIM program with us.  He came over on the same program as Adam and Yumi to learn Chinese. After about 5 months in Shanghai, Salman moved to Beijing to pursue employment opportunities there.  I miss the laughter that always comes with hanging out with Salman, but I know he isn’t too far away.  I will always remember seeing him walking towards me on Wangfujing in the middle of Beijing and telling my mom, amidst thousands of Asian faces, “He is the one right there, with the dark hair!” when my mom, May and I met up with him in September for some delicious hot pot.

Junyi is originally from Beijing, and moved back to Beijing this past year (also after graduating from the MIM with Adam, Yumi, Salman and me).  Being in a different part of the country didn’t keep him for coming down and visiting us in Shanghai, from calling me at 2am or from being a familiar face for me in China.  He showed us around Beijing, and always provides fun, excitement and laughter.

The 5 MIMers eating Sichuan food and drinking beer for my birthday in Shanghai!

I was so happy to have my early birthday dinner in Shanghai with four of my friends from grad school!

7. My Sister’s Wedding

The biggest event of the year! And it wasn’t in China.  The end of June, I flew back to Portland, Oregon to spend two rushed, busy, crazy weeks with family and friends.  Birthdays, the fourth of July, a bachelorette party and the most amazing wedding I have ever attended.  On July 9th, 2011, my big sister married the man of her dreams.

A happy bride and groom

Gorgeous girls!

Not only was the setting beautiful, the decorations beautiful, the bride beautiful and the wedding party looking pretty hot, but it was an awesome time with spent with family and new extended family, friends and loved ones.

8. Mommy!

Another highlight of my year, was having my mom and her husband Matt come visit me in China for about 12 days.  It was really a dream come true for all of us.  My mom and Matt had both long dreamed of someday visiting China, my mom of course also has always wanted to come visit me in the places I have gone.  It was my dream to have family come see my life here, show them around and introduce them to the things and places which are part of my everyday life that I have grown to love.

Nothing was as exciting as the moment my mom and Matt appeared in the subway station by my house, me waiting anxiously to greet them! (Excuse my blurry cell phone pic)

It was an action-packed vacation!  No rest for the jet-lagged! On their first day of travel they journeyed by private car, plane, high speed train, subway, public bus, taxi and foot.

On their first full day in China, I had them out of bed and on the road before 7am, I don’t think I stopped going until after they were back in the States!  Hangzhou, Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, a bullet train to Beijing and the Great Wall.  Villages, cities, temples, gardens, historical sites, modern China, food, beer, coffee and probably a zillion photographs between the three of us shutterbugs.

My mom and me at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing

Two of my greatest weeks in China were spent with my mom, showing her around and discovering new places with her.  Now, she just needs to come back so we can do it again!

Climbing the Great Wall

9. Taiwan

Another National holiday, another week off work, another chance to see the world!  In October, I escaped the millions of Chinese traveling for National Day and landed in Taiwan.  Whether or not Taiwan is in fact the same country as China, I will let you debate on your own.  But I happen to know they do not celebrate or recognize October 1st, the date of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Therefore, I found it the perfect opportunity to go visit friends and be shown around the beautiful island of Taiwan.

Sun Moon Lake

Five days in not enough to see all Taiwan has to offer, and it certainly isn’t enough to eat all the food they have to offer (although I tried…) Despite being a quick trip, I was able to enjoy a relaxing vacation in Taiwan.  I saw bits of Taipei (even though the weather tried to keep me from it), I had dinner with more MIM alumni living in Taiwan, I visited Taichung (the home town of my friend May who I was traveling with), I explored the village and surrounding area of Houli by bike, I saw my co-worker and friend Osteen’s home town of Caotun, the beautiful Sun Moon Lake and the town of Jiji, famous for being rocked by a horrific earthquake in 1999.

10. New Friends –

I have met so many wonderful people in Shanghai.  Chinese and foreigners like me.  Some grew up here, some came for a short time, some came for a long time, some have come and gone in the year that I have been here.  I have gotten to know amazing co-workers at Kid Castle, like my Chinese colleagues who always make me laugh, and the other foreign teachers who are each on their own adventure in a place so different from their homes.

Some co-workers and me at Qiandao Lake

May and me on the Bund

I have created amazing friendships and a church family through both of the churches I have attended in Shanghai, Shanghai Community Fellowship and Abundant Grace International Fellowship.  They have been my support and my lifeline in 2011 and I know I have found some lifelong friends in them.

I stumbled upon the perfect apartment on smartshanghai.com and in doing so found a great friend and roommate who I have lived with for the past 11 months.

All my new friends in Shanghai have given me wonderful memories of 2011!

11. My Kids

I came to China with a job, a job to teach Chinese kids English.  I had never taught before in my life, I had been around kids, worked with kids, dealt with kids, but never had to control a classroom of 20 children that didn’t understand my language.  My students have been a huge part of my life for the past year.  They have made me smile and laugh, they have made me angry and frustrated, they have made me cry and they have made my day.

How can you not love this face? He is also about the sweetest most loving boy in the world.

There are students who I only taught for a short time, subbing for another teacher, there are students who I have taught all year.  There are students I will greatly miss when I’m not longer teaching them, and students that I honestly probably won’t remember.

Brian, Howard, Gland, James, Jerry, Henry, Judie, Amy, Alina, Maxine and Lisa!

I have students who run across the school screaming my name to give me a hug every time they see me.  They can be delightful, they can be little spoiled brats, they can test my patience like nothing else, they can cause me to lose my voice.  Some of them I don’t think have ever retained or learned a word I told them, others are so smart they blow me away each day.

My year was full of memories at work with all my little Chinese students and my fantastic co-workers who made my job worthwhile.

I hope 2012 brings more memories and fantastic adventures in China and where ever life may take me.  Happy New Year!  I wish the best for you and your families this year as well!


Beijing – A love/hate

Beijing and Shanghai are different worlds.  When I first came to China, just to visit, with the MIM program in 2010, I enjoyed the history, historical sites and tourist attractions in Beijing.  But when we got to Shanghai, I was blown away.  Shanghai is an awesome city.  Even at that time, after spending only about 5 days in each city, I said, “If I were to even live in Beijing or Shanghai, I would live in Shanghai.  Beijing is great to visit, but I would rather live in Shanghai.”

The Temple of Heaven! A rare shot without a million other tourists.

Well, fast forward 18 months, I’m living in Shanghai and when M&M (mom and Matt) are in town, I take my second ever trip to Beijing.  Another 4 days in Beijing and I draw the same conclusion.  I much rather be in Shanghai.

The air was awful in Beijing, not that I can hold that against them – chances are if you pick four random days out of the year to visit Shanghai you won’t be blessed with blue skies either.  Foreigners aren’t as plentiful, which isn’t a bad thing while living in a city – but I think Beijing gets enough foreign visitors who don’t know anything, that everyone assumes you can just screw over and rip off every foreigner you see.  In Shanghai, there is such a large expat community, with people from all over the world that LIVE here.  There are plenty of laowai (foreigners) in Shanghai that have been here for 3, 5, 10 years, who speak Chinese, who know what they are doing.  I don’t think Beijing is as used to that large of a community of foreign residents.  So taking a taxi, for example, becomes a major headache unless you look and speak like them.

I hated taxis in Beijing.  The worst cab riding experiences ever!  And if you think you can top me, just tell me this: Have you ever had a cabbie stop to get gas (when their tank was half full) AND go take a leak while you were on the meter?  Plus, he was coughing like crazy and spitting constantly, he told May he had been sick for the past few days but was back at work because he needed the money.  I love taking cabs in Shanghai.  I hate taking cabs in Beijing.  Even if you can manage to flag one down (empty cabs drive by and just ignore you constantly), it doesn’t mean they will be willing to take you to your destination, or they don’t want to rip you off by bargaining a price and not using their meter.

Do I need to say where this is? It is at 慕田峪 actually.

This being said, everyone – if given the chance – should visit Beijing (and eat the roast duck).  The Forbidden City, Tiananmen, the Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and the access to many locations on the Great Wall are fantastic, beautiful and historic sight seeing opportunities.  Even with hazy skies, you can get stunning pictures.  The culture runs deep and history surrounds you – unlike the westernized, modern, metropolitan Shanghai.

Obligitory Forbidden City photo

My favorite part of Beijing though – was not at the historic wall to keep out the mongols, it was not in the palaces and forbidden gardens of past emperors which survived the many dynasties. My favorite part of Beijing – the part of Beijing that I loved, that I wish Shanghai had – were the huotongs.   Hutong (胡同 – translation alley or lane) are small, old alleys, passageways of historic homes and buildings that make up large areas in Beijing and have been protected by the government so they are not torn down and replaced by skyscrapers and tall apartment complexes. I thought it was just one area of town when I first went to Beijing, but I quickly learned there are hutong all over Beijing – each a huge network of these small alleys, waiting to be explored and full of treasures to discover.

Wandering thru a 胡同

I loved walking around in, getting lost in, finding new places in the hutong.  May and I went to a bar one night to meet a friend of hers from the UK – he gave us instructions on how to get there.  As we turned off the main road into this teeny, dark alleyway, about the width of a car, we wondered if there was actually anything down there.  It was about a ten minute walk down this alleyway to the bar.  At one point we saw some neon lights and signs of restaurants, but the bar (Yes Bar or 好吧) was not there.  A few more minutes of dark houses and no sign of anything that looked like a place of business we found it – a little teeny bar, stuck in the middle of an seemingly abandoned hutong – with a selection of beers from all over the world.  We went back again the next night.  In the two nights we were there, we were the only customers  and we just hung out and talked with the bartender from Xinjiang, China (the far northwest province in China).

Way back tucked away in another hutong – in a nearby part of town – is another killer find for any beer loving American tourist. Thanks to MJ, brewmaster at my all time favorite, Boxing Cat Brewery, I knew of this little treasure in Beijing.  A microbrewery run by a bunch of Americans that has been brewing and selling beer out of a location in a Beijing hutong for less than a year.  Great Leap Brewery was one of the top things on our to do list in Beijing.  It took some time to find – both times we went – but it was well worth it.  With 9 freshly brewed, local mircobrews on tap, a killer garden setting to sit and relax in, and the owners there to chat with you can’t complain!  Oh, yea – and the beers were FANTASTIC too.  If you are ever looking for beer in Beijing, I highly, highly, recommend checking them out!  (see link here – they are also on Facebook.)

We found it! The door to the best beer in Beijing!

The view from the door of Great Leap Brewing - this isn't on some big, busy street!

The menu - 9 delicious beers on tap! (Actually, I think I only tasted 6 of the 9)

BEER! I believe this was the Danshan Wheat, a wheat beer brewed with tea leaves for a very unique but refreshing flavor.

The hutongs are old houses, communities. Not big fancy houses but little small rooms (which now can be extremely expensive to rent or buy) where Chinese families grew up and many still live.  Things are simpler in the hutongs and things like, well, your own bathroom, aren’t necessarily available.  My mom was shocked with the number of public toilets everywhere in China – but especially in the hutong.  After I witnessed an older woman coming and dumping a bucket with her days “waste” in one of the public toilets, we inquired about it.  My friend (and fellow MIM alum) Junyi, who grew up in a hutong near the Yes Bar, confirmed our suspicions.  Most homes within the hutong don’t have their own bathroom.  They use the public toilets and probably bathe in a sponge bath manner.  Some of the nicer residences, with the help of a larger income and lots of official paperwork, may have added bathrooms to their homes.  The majority, however, even the businesses and restaurants, rely on the public toilets.

Life in Beijing takes place in the hutong.  I would go back to Beijing, despite my many frustrations with the city, just to explore hutongs.  And of course, take more pictures.  Below are a bunch of the shots I got of life in a Beijing hutong.


A front door

We wandered into this little area - several families probably live here.

Front gates left open allow you to see into people's lives.

Sitting on the roof, watching the birds

Playing in the street

Selling a variety of eggs

Veggies on the street

Along a touristy/popular hutong

By Mom

I asked my mom and Matt to share about their China experience on my blog.  Here is what my mom had to say and some of her photos.

Jodi’s China Blog

China!  Wow .  It is another world.  It was better and worse than I had expected.

I have to say, in moving to Eugene, Oregon a year ago after about 18 years in the Rogue Valley, I was overwhelmed with the BIG city of Eugene and its 156,185 people.  Let’s just say my perspective has changed a bit.  Shanghai has about 23 million people, the most populous city in the world.  The number is too big for my little brain to wrap around.   That’s New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio and maybe San Diego all put together.  (Disclaimer – finding reliable, recent statistics online that specify the cities proper versus the metro areas is a bit of a challenge, so don’t quote me on this!)

From Shanghai we went to Beijing with a mere 12 million, though arriving in Beijing and going to tourist sites on a Chinese holiday, I wasn’t aware of the massive drop in population.  But what was amazing to me in all this massive humanity is just that – the humanity of the people.  Julia has mentioned the pushiness of people when it comes to lines and subways.  Sure, we saw that.  But we also saw people laughing, smiling, eating, humming, sleeping, cleaning, going to work, taking children to school.  The same activities we all do.  People living their everyday lives.

Impressively, with so many people everywhere, we were actually amazed at how civil everyone was.  Sure, there were people cutting blatantly into lines at the train station.  But as cars, cyclists, bus drivers, pedestrians, taxis and scooters all vied to get into the same lane at the same time, no one seemed to get upset.  I didn’t see anyone yelling or swearing or flipping anyone off at being cut off.  Being cut off is just part of the fabric of society.  Just keep nosing into the vaguest hint of a gap, and you’ll get there.   What’s to get upset about? It was actually rather refreshing.

In this millennium, Westerners are quite common in the big cities of Beijing and especially the very commercial Shanghai.  We saw other westerners everywhere we went.  We definitely are not a novelty in China any more.  So it was quite a surprise as we were out at the touristy places to find Chinese clandestinely (or not) taking pictures of us.  I suppose it serves us right as we were snapping photos of cute little kids, the food vendors, the bricklayer and cyclists pedaling down the streets.

Bricks in a Beijing Hutong

Julia has gotten a bit used to Chinese taking her picture.  But then she’s a good-looking blond young women.  Our very first day out, numerous Chinese would pull their cameras out from across the pagoda or out on the walkway to get a picture of Matt or me – the old people!   Near Tiananmen Square, a middle-aged gentleman in a worn suit (perhaps a man from out in the countryside, first trip to the Big City, a tourist himself), sidled right up to Matt and indicated that he wanted a picture with Matt, which of course turned into me,  the man and his whole entourage in the picture.

Posing for a picture near Tianamen Square (Julia's picture - M&M were busy!)

The award for best tourist attraction has to be Matt.  In Beijing’s Summer Palace, as Matt and Julia were sitting on a rock wall waiting for me to come back from the toilets (better left un-described!), a man came up to Matt, indicating interest in the camera (mine) Matt was holding.  (Wouldn’t want to lose a lens cap in those toilets, for sure.)  After a little incomprehensible small talk, the man started poking Matt’s knee.  It being a warm day, Matt was in shorts.  The man giggled a bit and then reached down to Matt’s calf, delighted to feel the hair on Matt’s legs.  While Matt thought people had been looking at his Keen sandals, they were apparently just impressed with nice, hairy western (male) legs!

The street scene:  Matt has described the traffic, both on the roads and the sidewalks.  But there is so much more than traffic on the sidewalks.  The sidewalks are where life is lived.  Yes, there are the vendors vending their food or flowers or trinkets, but this is where services are also rendered.  The bicycle repair guy has his “shop” set up on the sidewalk just around the corner from Julia’s apartment.  His shop consists of a rickety plywood box with old worn tires and rags underneath it.   Need your car detailed?  Just drive it up on the sidewalk in the middle of the busy block at the detailing guy’s place and he’ll do it there for you.

Making our breakfast! Notice the hand in the tin near the front, that is a do it yourself cash register!

Wonderful street food!

For many of these businesses, people seem to just set up shop outside their home.  Open the front door and set up shop on the step.  Closing hours don’t really exist.  If it’s a hot summer evening, what else is there to do but sit on your front step and talk to the neighbors?  If you’re just sitting out on your front step, might as well keep the business open.  10:30 at night and you could still buy mangoes, cabbage, squash and quail eggs or have about anything repaired.

Veggies on the street

Definitely another world.

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.

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.

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!

Ayi (阿姨)

I was talking to my lovely sister online Monday morning and mentioned that because of the Chinese national Tomb Sweeping holiday that I had the day off of school.  She asked if I would be sweeping any tombs, and I responded, “No, but I did take the sheets of my bed so my maid can wash them.”  As I was saying (typing) this, I realized that she might not realize that I have an Ayi (I hate the word maid).  It so common in Shanghai, especially among other foreigners, to mention your ayi, I completely forgot that in the states it might seem a bit, well, hoity-toity.

Ayi or 阿姨 translates to maternal aunt / step-mother / childcare worker / nursemaid / woman of similar age to one’s parents according to my online Chinese-English dictionary.  Yet it is one of the first Chinese words many expats/foreigners moving to China will learn.  An ayi will clean for you, cook for you, take care of your children, buy your groceries, do your laundry, clean up after your pets, or anything else you want her to do.

My ayi doesn’t do all of these things, I sometimes wish I had an ayi to cook, but mine simply cleans and does laundry.  She is supposed to come by twice a week, but I am certain there are weeks that she comes by four times.  She does my laundry every time she comes by, which is sort of odd – I have never felt the need to do laundry when there are so few things to be washed.  She empties all the trash bins in the apartment, which is great because they are all quite small (and we don’t throw toilet paper in the toilet in China – so I am happy I don’t need to empty THAT trash can).  She will do dishes too.  As a somewhat OCD person, I have always hated having dirty dishes in the sink. However, without a (electronic) dishwasher there is nowhere to stash them and I seldom eat at home.  Therefore, I have gotten used to the sight of a couple dishes in the sink, as I know my ayi will be here any day now and clean them up.

Am I spoiled? Perhaps.  I haven’t washed my own clothes in over 2 months.  I am not fond of all my clothes being hung dry – I would prefer a drier at times, but I’m not the one to hang them up, I don’t take them down, I don’t fold them.  I also know many of my clothes are hand washed when I would have just thrown them in the washer with everything else.  If I leave my jacket on the bed it is nicely hung on the back of a chair in my room for me.  The blanket I use to keep warm in my favorite window seat is always folded neatly.  Last month, while my roommate was out of town she even paid the electricity bill for us.

I’m certain if you could hire someone to do all this for you – for the steep monthly price of $30, you would indulge as well.  Yes, I pay $30 (200rmb) for such luxurious treatment.  In fact, my ayi is paid 400rmb/month as my roommate and I split the cost.  In cash, on the first of the month.

Oh but she gets benefits too, for instance, occasionally this crazy foreigner buys some food she doesn’t like or decides something has been in the fridge a bit too long and tosses it.  My ayi will have nothing to do with that.  I have on a couple occasions noticed food I threw in the trash sitting in the basket of her bicycle in the hallway for her to take home.  Once she did leave me a note, in English, telling me not to waste food.  It wasn’t my fault my friends sent me home from a nice restaurant with leftover seafood that I won’t eat!!

I’m not sure exactly how she wrote that note, or who actually wrote it.  I know she doesn’t speak a lick of English.  She does go off in Chinese (Chinese that I do not understand a WORD of) to me all the time, but never says more than “bye-bye” in English.   Someone else must have written it.

Perhaps it was one of her friends who come along for cleaning and gossip from time to time.  I heard a commotion in my apartment once, I went out to find my ayi cleaning with two friends – both older Chinese woman, standing around watching and chattering non-stop.  They all LOVED me, of course, wanted to touch my hair and tell me, “hen piaoliang!” (Very pretty!)  They were so excited when after chatting away to me I looked at them and said, “ting bu dong.” (I don’t understand.)  The pretty blond speaks Chinese!!

I am pretty easy to clean up after, considering my previously mentioned OCD tendencies and the fact that I was raised by my mother.  The guy who lived here before me was apparently a complete slob.  So I leave a couple dishes and some clothes to be washed but it isn’t much.  I think my ayi likes me.  And I like her – well for 200 rmb a month, what’s not to like?

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