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Category Archives: Shanghai

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

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!

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.

Eat: Vegetarian Lifestyle

For my December detox, finding vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Shanghai has been surprisingly easy. And fun. There was one vegan restaurant in my neighborhood in Dalian that I have fond memories of and I am pleased to say I am developing similar affections for Vegetarian Lifestyle. They have three locations in Shanghai:

  1. 77 Songshan Lu, near Huaihai Lu (嵩山路77号,近淮海中路) — There is a large KTV sign above an alley. Walk in there and it is the first restaurant to your left.
  2. 258 Fengxian Lu, near Jiangning Lu (奉贤路258号,近江宁路)
  3. 848 Huangjin Cheng Dao, near Shuicheng Nan Lu (黄金城道848号,近水城南路)

I have only been to the one on Songshan Road as it is right in my neighborhood. Hoping to check out the one by Jade Buddha Temple this week. Prices are reasonable, food is organic and vegan and they have some good fresh juice.

Photos of My Shanghai Flat

This is long overdue, but here are some photos of where I have been residing. It is in Luwan District on HuaiHai Road. It is an awesome, central and safe location. I walk to People’s Square, Xintiandi, the French Concession, Bund, Nanjing Road, etc. I clearly love walking everywhere. Life in Shanghai is good. It is a very easy place to live compared to the north. It feels like everything is at your fingertips and the weather is lovely. I will miss it over the holidays!

View of People’s Square

Dining Room

View from Bed

Living Room


Y+ Yoga Gets an A+

Y+ Yoga has two studios in Shanghai–Xintiandi and Fuxing Lu. Since I live right near Xintiandi, that’s the one I go to. I was introduced to the studio by my roommate/landlord’s girlfriend who is local Shanghainese and super sweet. They have tons of different classes and levels, so you can find whatever you are looking for–flow yoga, yin yoga, meditation, hot yoga, stretch, detox flow, etc. More than 80 classes per week are offered in Chinese and English!

Xintiandi Studio: 2/F, 202 Hubin Lu near Shunchang Lu  —-  湖滨路202号2楼近顺昌路

Fuxing Road Studio: 2/F, Bldg 2, 299 Fuxing Xi Lu near Huashan Lu  —-  复兴西路299号2号楼2楼近华山路

A Monday Night in China

I am staying with a friend until he recovers from a recent surgery. He happens to live in the neighborhood where all my favorite spa/bathhouses are. Last night his lady friend was over, so I decided to go for a late night run. It was wonderful–30ish degrees, that Christmas chill in the air, dimly lit Chinese streets. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. While I tend to be a person who emphasizes the journey over the destination…this run was more about the destination. I ran myself to my favorite Korean bathhouse, New Star on Jinhui Road.

I walked my sweaty bum in there around 21:30, handed over my shoes and beelined for the women’s shower area. Here’s my typical routine. Arrive at the locker and get completely naked. China has made me much more comfortable with my body. It is really nice. So everyone’s naked (women’s only area!) and I grab a number to get in line for a body scrub. First you have to take a thorough shower. There are stand up or sit down stations. I opted to sit because there is a mirror in front of your seat and I’m vain and lazy. Plus, you can just chill and scrub yourself. There are girls and women of all ages just naked and enjoying the wet room. I personally love seeing families together. Mom, Grandma and children just cleaning up! It is a great place to people watch. Benefit of being in China: it’s totally ok to stare and look at other people. Granted you have to be alright with people giving you a good hard up and down, but it’s nothing really. Keep in mind, you are completely naked the entire time you are in the wet area during the scrubs, massages and all. So be prepared for this. It can be overwhelming to the American mind if you are not used to this type of environment or just do not like being naked!

After my shower, I move between the different temperature hot tubs and wait for my number to be called. To give you a better picture of the layout of this particular bathhouse, you walk through double doors from the locker room into one giant room “wet room” (if you will) with stand up and sit down showers all over. The  pools or hot tubs are straight across the room under a large dome that makes it always seem like day time. There is a steam room and a sauna off of the giant wet room to the left. There is also another wet room off the large shower, hot tub one that is filled with 12 plastic massage tables where they do the body scrubs and wet massages. This is my favorite! There are many options. This time I opted for the usual body scrub where they use these intense scrubbing mitts that remove ALL your dead skin. If you have a lot, there will be piles of grayish skin all over you and the table. It feels amazing! I particularly like New Star’s scrub because they are very thorough, take their time and  get everywhere (literally). They cover you in milk to do the scrub, which smells surprisingly good. After it is done, she washes you with soap and you go rinse off. I then returned to the table to be massaged with honey. Yes, just straight honey, after which, you are covered in plastic so your skin absorbs everything. She then covers your face in cucumber and continues the honey massage. I can’t begin to describe how awesome it is. I want to do this every day. You walk out with new skin! Just writing about it, makes me want to go back tonight. There are other treatments listed on the wall, but this is the basic one I prefer.

After the milk and honey scrub, I shower again, exit the wet area, dry off and am given oversized pajamas. I make my way to the co-ed saunas, get myself some ginger tea and lay around sweating everything out of my body for a few hours while reading. I don’t understand why this is not the most popular activity in the entire world. It’s sheer bliss, especially when you find a bathhouse you really like. It is possible to have a so so experience. So, it is worth searching for the right place!


While I was reading in a little sauna hut (the floor in this one is covered in volcanic rocks), a guy asked me in Chinese if I could read ok in this light. When I looked up he was shocked and said, “I thought you were Chinese!” I beamed with excitement at hearing this. I said, “No no, but I would like to be.” He laughed. I’m so witty in Chinese. I had made a friend! We talked for a long time. He is from Inner Mongolia and in Shanghai for business. He works in the garment industry. Often people who are traveling will just stay overnight in a bathhouse because it is cheaper than a hotel and, in my opinion, much more comfortable. I have been thinking…next time I travel through China, I might just sleep around in bathhouses! Anyhow, my new friend is a great guy. I got to see photos of his wife, parents and son (who I accidentally called his daughter…he quickly indicated that the child is wearing red, which means it’s a boy…who knew). He will be in the states in January, so we exchanged information said a sweaty goodbye and parted ways. It was already 1:30! Time flies in a bathhouse. I considered staying overnight, it was so relaxing. One of the best parts is that all of this cost maybe $30USD. A worthwhile experience. I headed out into the brisk night air feeling refreshed and relaxed. A perfect way to spend a Monday night indeed.

An Evening with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra

Working in the music world in Shanghai has its benefits. One, in particular, was seeing the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra a few weekends ago. A friend who works at the Shanghai Conservatory invited me to join her at the school to see the Shanghai Phil perform. They were leaving for a tour in Europe that Monday, so this was a preparation concert. My friend’s husband is one of the conductors, so it was nice to see him off to Europe with her and their friends. The concert was exceptional! The highlight for me was the 11 year old pianist who performed with the orchestra. She was simply phenomenal! I could not stop staring at her hands. Part of me wishes I had stayed more involved with music. It was my life when I was younger. It is incredible how we change. Fortunately, it is something that does not leave you, so I feel very fortunate to be hanging out the conservatory absorbing that environment and have complain respect, admirable, adoration for fellow musicians.

The Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra performing at the Shanghai Conservatory

Korean Bathhouse in Shanghai

Since I had two friends in Shanghai from out of town (Andrew from Dalian and Alan from New York), I thought spending a rainy day at a bathhouse was in order. I am slightly addicted to bathhousees and have been attempting to try as many as possible throughout the city. Today, I decided on one in a Korean neighborhood called New Star. It is in the Gubei/Hongqiao area at 1 Jinhui Nan Lu (金汇南路1号).

Thumbs up to New Star. I highly recommend it out of the spas I have been to so far. Heated floors, great hot tubs and my favorite body scrub I have ever gotten. They were extremely thorough and provided many scrub options (milk, honey, salt, massages) in English. After spending a good hour hanging around naked in the women’s wet spa area and having my scrub, I met the guys at the restaurant where they were finishing up lunch (I took a little longer than planned so they went ahead and ordered. Good call guys). We wandered the floors of the bathhouse feeling out what to do with our day. What I love about this one is they have the co-ed sauna area to sprawl in. By the way, everyone is wearing pajamas at this point. The saunas are in these nifty little round, hut structures and they vary in temperature, humidity, etc. Just like the sauna in Dalian (which I miss dearly!).

Andrew being cupped.

We decided to go for the heavy duty treatments first. I did not want to make the guys too nervous, but TCM massage (Traditional Chinese Medicine) can be rough. In Chinese, it’s called tui na (推拿), literally “push, take”….which is what they do with your skin and muscles. It is painful at times, but totally worth it. Following the massage, Alan decided he was finished and Andrew and I got scraping and cupping done. Having all 3 treatments in a row is a doozy! I have done massage and cupping together before, but this was my first scraping experience. It sounds worse than it is. They kept saying my back was pretty good, but Andrew’s was terrible. You can almost see that based on our level of injury when all was done:

My back after tuina, scraping & cupping

Andrew's back after tuina, scraping & cupping

The men seemed to feel beaten down and sore so they went to get foot massages from two giggled Chinese girls, while I headed to the saunas with my book and some tea. I could spend everyday in the sauna with books and tea. Completely peaceful and afterwards you feel so much healthier and your skin glows! Do not let the photos scare you off! I highly, highly recommend a bathhouse experience. You can opt out of any treatments that leave marks. Some days I just go to hang out in the wet spa then lay in the saunas without getting any major treatments. Great place to detox, lounge with friends, or relax with yourself.