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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Home for the Holidays

I have been completely slacking on the blog since I left Shanghai for the holidays. I flew directly to New York–a good 15 hour flight–which was not so bad. Forcing myself to stay awake so I would crash at home, I had a full supply of books and movies. I landed at JFK Airport with a long layover ahead of me…which became ever longer due to holiday delays and such. So, 15 hour flight, 8 hour layover, 1 hour flight and I was finally home in Boston. It feels so good to be here for the holidays since I was not able to be last year. I equate winter in the Northeast with Christmas, so it is a beautiful thing!

My Christmas was spent north of Boston with the family, followed by being stuck at my sister’s apartment thanks to a snowstorm. It  feels good to be back east. I had not dug a car out of the snow then had to push it because it was stuck in years. When you are away from where you grew up for a long time, the feelings the location inspire when you return are simply wonderful. Plus, Massachusetts is wicked awesome, everyone should visit. Speaking of, Robert will be flying to Boston after Christmas to spend New Years up north. Excited!

Happy Holidays!

Mean Disney Girls

Anyone that knows me knows I adore the movie Mean Girls. I have showed it to nearly all of my high school and university students in China. Great social commentary, makes for awesome discussion in the classroom, and I just never get sick of watching it. The following video combines the Mean Girls trailer with our most beloved Disney characters. Enjoy!

早茶: Tranquility

My last morning tea in Shanghai for a while…

“Tranquility is the essence of life.”

I need to catch a flight, but will take this as a sign that it will be a calm, tranquil one. Flying from Shanghai to New York JFK, then I having a silly long layover at JFK tomorrow afternoon before heading to Boston. Pointless! But, I have plenty of books and films. Happy Holidays!

Putonghua Accents

My putonghua (Mandarin) is not good. I am ok with that. I have never officially studied and just pick up what I do. With that said, I have gotten pretty confident in what I can say and understand. However, there are some days when I simply do not get it. Someone will say something to me and I cannot for the life of me distinguish ONE word. It is especially frustrating when this happens in a situation I am familiar with.

I thought for a while that I was just having off days. However, I have yet another example that further confirms the complexities and confusion of accents. I was in a bathhouse (surprise, surprise). It was the first time I had been to this one, so I had to feel it out first. The woman in the locker room starting talking and asking me….something. My mind went blank. Nothing was registering. I felt lost, alone, naked (literally). I usually keep something in my bag to help with a given situation–for example, I have a “bathhouse” vocab page in my notebook… Yep, the notebook I always carry around and never need but the one time I reach for it, it was not there! Lacking my bathhouse vocabulary and completely unaware of what she was saying I attempted to speak. You know, basic phrases to indicate what I was about to do–shower, steam and sauna myself, then have as much of my dead skin removed as possible.  She looked at me the same way I was blankly staring at her before and says ting bu dong, she doesn’t understand me. That hurts to hear because I am the one who is supposed to be saying that! I scurry into the shower and wash off the shame of having lived in China a year and am unable to accomplish that basic conversation.

After my shower and lounging in the steam room and sauna, I get on the scrub table. The new woman starts talking to me and all of a sudden my Chinese ears are working again! It made no sense until I asked where she was from. DongBei, she replied. The northeast. Liaoning province, which is where Dalian is located. Dong bei ren, how I love you. When I didn’t understand she would slow down and it more clearly. It was a beautiful thing. The woman from the locker room came into the showers and seemed pretty shocked we were talking. I was too to be honest. DongBei lady served as a translator and we all talked for a while as I got scrubbed down. When I went to the lockers the other woman said something and yet again I could not understand ONE word. This time I smiled and just accepted that we were not destined to talk on this chilly December night.

Another example of the terrible, terrible accents that exist outside of northeastern China. I was speaking with a taxi driver and when we got close to the destination I said the building number, si shi liu (46). He replied si si lou. I said si shi liu to confirm. He laughed, explaining that in Shanghai local people say it this way. So I repeat until he gives me the thumbs up. Si si lou. To my untrained ear I am hearing something about a building or floor in a building. Perhaps four four building or death four building. Yes, my friends, that’s how good my Chinese is! But to be fair, when my friend Andrew was visiting from Dalian, we shared this common bond of not understanding and he has studied quite a bit! For some reason in Shanghai they tend to abandon the “sh” sound and a few other quirks. If I have learned one thing about living abroad or China, in particular, is that you will consistently not get things. You just have to learn how to react appropriately, not get frustrated and smile about it. Part of the beauty of living in  a foreign culture.

The following is from the blog Veggie Discourse. They are maps representing (somewhat jokingly) how people from different regions of China view each other. Enjoy.

China According to Dongbei (northeastern) People.

China According to Beijing People


China According to Shanghai People

More Locations Here!



Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Museum

Propaganda in China can be both interesting and laughable. Some messages I have seen are unreal (and humorous)! I carry around one particular propaganda-like postcard that states: “Let’s unite to elite those with no time and money to travel.” It has a bunch of Chinese cultural revolution-like characters in the drawing. But beyond the humor or absurdity, Chinese propaganda shows a unique side of history. It follows a political progression of messages that were handed to Chinese people.

The Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Museum is, as far as I have been told, one of a kind. It was started as a private collection by Yang Peiming and subsequently grew into the museum it is today. If you are in Shanghai it is worth checking out. It gives a Chinese perspective to world events–not of the world event itself, but of how China was meant to react to it according to the government. There is propaganda related to Vietnam, the states, soviet Russia, etc. The soviet and Maoist stuff was some of my favorite. It is nifty to see how not only the messages evolved, but the art of propaganda itself. I learned, for example, that earlier propaganda is more colorful and cartoon-like, whereas later stuff is mostly done in red and more realistic.

Do not expect a huge museum with a large stairway to usher you into halls upon halls of magnificent works. Quite the contrary. All I had was the address and when I arrived there was no signage indicating where to go. I figured I got it wrong and was almost ready to leave. Instead, I approached the guard gate at the apartment buildings of said address and they handed me a business card with directions to the building with the posters. It is totally nondescript and in the basement of residential apartments–which, in a way, makes it cooler. It is not very large, but I spent about and hour there. The posters are divided into sections from around the 1940s forward and have overviews (in English) of various time periods regarding the propaganda. The museum definitely targets foreigners and tourists and is listed in guidebooks including Lonely Planet and Frommers. The director and I had a good talk over a few posters. He is extremely warm and talkative!

Check it out. I may be bias because I like this kind of stuff, but I have not yet seen another collection of propaganda like this in China. Admission is 20Rmb.

Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Museum
868 Huashan Lu, near Fuxing Lu
Buillding B, Floor B (basement)
French Concession, near Changshu Metro

Her Morning Elegance by Oren Lavie

A beautiful song and video. I was reminded of it by my last post on Mila’s Daydreams. You will see the similarities. This is one of those makes-your-heart-happy tunes.

Mila’s Daydream

I am working on a Saturday, again. Ugh! It has to be done. I leave for Christmas on Thursday. To keep myself content while working, I find little internet distractions. The following is from a woman’s blog during her maternity leave. She started it as a hobby. Whenever her little newborn girl would take a nap, she would try to imagine her daughters dreams and create that world around her and snap a photo. It truly brightened my day! This little hobby has developed a tremendous following and she has asked that the photos do not get sold or used without her permission as she is a professional advertising copyright and designer. So here is a link to her blog and a video of some of Mila’s Daydreams. Her husband did the music for the video (how sweet!). I personally enjoy the elephant one.

早茶: From Patience to Practice to Perfection

It has been freezing in Shanghai! It’s not so much the temperature, but the infrastructure. Yes, snowy weather is cold, but I can cope. I’m from Massachusetts! The issue here is that buildings are not insulated. It makes quite the difference. I can have my heat on all day and it is still chilly. I tried turning it off at night to save energy, but woke up shivering. My morning tea has been necessary to keep warm on these frigid mornings. Today’s message:

“Patience gives the power to practice, practice gives the power that leads to perfection.”

What I appreciate most here is patience. If I have learned anything in my “old age”, it is to be patient and trust that what is meant to pass will. Be sure to differentiate between patient and passive. I think they can be easy to mix up because both involve a sort of waiting. I am advocating being actively patient. Go for what makes your heart happy, but understand that, as cliche as this sounds, the best things do take time.

So back to my tea message… patience allows you to practice which leads to perfection. Fair statement. Though one part left me a bit unsettled–the word perfection. Is that always the goal? We all strive to be our best, but there is a difference is our best the same as perfection. What is perfection? Some people’e drive for it have driven them mad or at least made them less happy. The goal of perfection can become such a focus that people forget there is a life outside of it to be lived. Striving to be something or do something you are proud of is perhaps a better goal than perfection–at least in my case. I can be picky and prefer things a particularly way–a way that is perfect to me. I have had to learn to moderate how far I am willing to go to make something perfect in my eyes. I think that is why today the word perfection seems daunting. Oddly enough, it used to be one of my favorite words. Seriously. I adored the word perfection the way I still enjoy the word muffin. You could look back into my middle and high school journals and clearly see that! Clearly my definition of perfection has changed as do most ideas as we get older. I wonder how my concept of perfection compares to others.

Either way, what I am walking away with this morning is to consciously take time and put in effort in order to achieve goals, and remember things do not happen overnight (unfortunately sometimes!). I will leave you with a quote I heard somewhere in my life: “Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” Have a lovely day/night depending on your time zone!

BBC: Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes

Post-Expo Pollution and Other Chinese Health Hazards


During Shanghai Expo, Oct2010

I have been getting sick on and off the past few weeks. I tend to blame it on the winter coming on…or perhaps it’s just the air. The World Expo in Shanghai wrapped up at the end of October. While the Expo was running from April until October, the government had ordered factories to shut down, construction to stopped, etc. to reduce pollution for the six months of the Expo. It worked! When I arrive in Shanghai there were blue skies. It was lovely. However, once November hit, things began to change.

An air pollution index below 50 is excellent, 50-100 is good, and above 100 indicates hazard. I have also read that when pollution gets above 250-300 that a person in optimal health will feel effects such as decreased stamina, weakened immune system, etc. During the Expo, levels were good. However, just a day after the compulsory anti-pollution measures were suspended, air index levels were quickly on the rise. Some blame it on the winter weather that carries pollution from inland provinces. The spike in the index seems too great to put only on weather. Plus, it’s a known fact that production and construction have returned to maximum levels in Shanghai now that the tourists have left.

Just after the Expo the index climbed over 100–the highest in 5 years. November 1, it was 156. On November 13, it hit 370. Three-hundred seventy! No wonder I get sick easily here. I love walking around the city. Surprisingly and the worst part, I don’t really notice it’s that bad. On the other hand, when I was in Beijing last week, I definitely noticed–a blanket of yellow/brown haze sprawled every direction engulfing the city. To track Beijing air pollution, there is a nifty little twitter tool that updates the air index for Beijing a few times each day. When levels recently hit over 500, the site was forced to create a new rating that went beyond “hazardous” to “crazy bad”. Seriously. Air pollution in Beijing has reach “crazy bad” and Shanghai is working its way there as well.

Post-Expo Pollution

According to National Geographic: Chinese Air Pollution Deadliest in World, “Air pollution is estimated to cause approximately two million premature deaths worldwide per year. A World Health Organization (WHO) report estimates that diseases triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens each year, and polluted drinking water kills another 95,600.”

It is very frustrating to see how swift the government is to institute quick-fixes for events like the 2008 Olympics, the 60th Anniversary Parade in 2009, or the 2010 Expo. All three events–sources of tremendous national pride and international attention–saw clear skies. Skies that people in Beijing see maybe a few times a year, let alone days in a row! If the Chinese government can shoot chemicals into the sky to make it blue for a parade, put a ban on cars for the Olympics and halt construction in a metropolis like Shanghai, I would imagine they have people on their team that are working on more widespread plans. Let’s just hope we start seeing some long-term action at work soon.

There are numerous health hazards beyond pollution in China (as in any country!). The following is a list by month of some of the worst health-related incidents in China in 2010. Thanks to ChinaHush. Includes: melamine milk scandal, killer plastic surgery, H1N1, H5N1 and toxic McNuggets.


Memo of Health Incidents in China 2010.