Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Happy Holidays

posted by Alan
(click on the pictures to see them full size)

I guess everyone is in full holiday mode right now back in the US. Being over here, it's easy to forget things like black friday shopping and Thanksgiving morning football. While the 'holiday season' isn't as boisterous as it is back in the States, China (I guess I can only speak for Shanghai) is beginning to take on it's own way of celebrating the seasons.

It felt strange to work on Thanksgiving Day. This made it easy to forget that it was actually Thanksgiving. But the large expat community here in Shanghai goes a long way in helping you feel a little slice of Home while you're overseas. We embrace the Chinese culture and really do cherish the local lifestyle, but Shanghai really is that international of a city where this mix of Western and Eastern lifestyles IS the local culture in this city.

Daisy and the Feast; "Happy T-Dry"

Thanksgiving Dinner for us was hosted by our friend Jeff(california). Turkey is pretty non-existent out here, but a few hotels ship them in and for a substantial price, a full Thanksgiving meal can be ordered. This, along with the pot luck dishes that everyone brought (Daisy did Mac and Cheese) made up a ThanksG dinner that rivals most at home. Although my family ThanksG dinners are pretty hard to top. We topped the night off with a few rounds of MAFIA. Thanks Jeff, Matt and our friends here for helping us feel closer to home. The only thing that killed the feeling was knowing we had to work the next day. We had another ThanksG dinner on Saturday night, but this time we skipped the turkey and just had three different kinds of chicken.

Helen(Sao Paolo, Brazil) and Daisy tearing apart the turkey

The city has really taken on the Christmas spirit since then. Christmas lights and decorations can be seen everywhere you go in Shanghai. Almost all of the hotels have Christmas music playing and fake trees are all over the place. It's very exciting to see China open it's doors to the world in this way. Part of me would like to be here for Christmas to celebrate with my company and local friends and get to share with them the joy of what Christmas is all about. This week I took a clothing donation at my company for some of the needy people here in Shanghai and the response so far has been awesome. I have to empty the donation box every day after work because it's always full! A few of my coworkers have asked me about what we're doing and why and some have even expressed a desire to come along. As great as it would be to be here with them during this time, I can't deny that Daisy and I are both definitely looking forward to coming back to New York to spend Christmas at home.

Decorations in my office; street decor in Shanghai

We'll be getting in on December 18th and will come back to Shanghai on January 8th. We don't have cell phones yet, but we're always reachable by email:
We definitely would love to see as many of you as possible while we're home, so get in touch!

Response to comments:
The answers to last post:
1. FAKE - almost any DVD you find here will be fake.
2. REAL - real Kellogs Frosted Flakes. Why they changed the name? I have no idea.
3. REAL - Coca Cola is EVERYWHERE. I saw Coke ads on some of the most desolate roads in Africa. Amazing.
4. REAL - Oreos also available with chocolate, strawberry and mint green frosting. None are as good as the original.
5. FAKE - it's a safe assumption that anything Crocs here is also fake.
6. REAL - As much as North Face is faked here, this is a real one. I only know because I bought it in the US. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to tell.
Glennis - I should've put a disclaimer that anyone who has lived in China before is not eligible to participate. And yes, your pinyin is correct, but I had to adjust it for American pronunciation's sake.
Libby - If you come visit, I think I should hold your wallet. Like a designated driver.
Corey - We'll see if you're able to figure out what shoes I wear when I'm back are real or fake.
Brendon - You got em all right except for the Coke. Thought too hard about it. I wear everything around in the States. I'll keep you guys guessing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Zhen de, Jia de? (Real or fake?)

posted by Alan
*click on the pictures to see them full sized

Most people know that China is the counterfeit capitol of the world(unofficially). Everything from DVD's, sneakers, bags, watches, clothing, food and even Tylenol have been copied and sold here.

Now, I'm not here to debate the moral issue of using these goods (over here, sometimes there just is no alternative). In fact, the quality of the duplicates have gotten SO good, that oftentimes the only way to tell that they're fake at all is where you're buying them and how much you're getting them for. And even then, you wonder if they're real but just stolen or defective in some way.

Since coming here in April, i'd say the most faked brands have to be Crocs and UGG's. They are both EVERYWHERE. You can buy them in stores, at fake markets, off a blanket or a cart on the street in any style and color you could ever want on your feet. UGG's just started popping up because winter is coming, and Daisy and I were completely at a loss as to whether they were real or fake. Thats how good the quality is. There's actually debate about whether they're fake or are they somehow factory surplus or something. But it's clear that fake UGG's rule the Shanghai winter, while Crocs own the summer. UGG's can usually be bargained down to about $18 USD and Crocs could usually be had for about $3-$5 USD.

Now, because I've lived here before, many of my friends automatically assumed that things I was wearing or using were fake. I DO have some fakes, but I also lived in America for 90% of my life and occasionally purchased some genuine products over that time. But it actually amused me, having people ask "Is that real?" To keep people guessing, my usual response would be something along the lines of "If you have to ask, then it doesn't matter." For some reason, certain people pride themselves on being able to differentiate between real and fake goods. So, here's the contest. Check out the items below, listed by number and see if you can guess if they're real or fake.

1. Battlestar Galactica Season 4 Box Set (for nerdy Daisy)

2. a.k.a Frosted Flakes

3. in Chinese phonetics, this says "Kuh Kou Kuh La"

4. "Ow Li Ow (Oreo)

5. Croc slippers

6. North Fake?

Response to comments:
How does one type an awkward silence?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Halloween in China

posted by Alan
*click on pictures to see them full sized

As mentioned in the last post, Halloween is slowly gaining steam as a holiday to celebrate here in China. As with most Western holidays, foreigners celebrate it on their own, but the concept of dressing up and scaring each other was just too much fun for the local Chinese to resist.

Our company is very forward thinking(especially for a Chinese company), and one of the reasons I was brought here was to introduce a Western way of thinking to the company culture. Like the rest of China, our company is trying to adopt a more global mindset and that's part of the reason why we decided to have a big Halloween party to which we invited our clients, families and friends.

Haunted House construction took 3 days and 2 weeks of planning; I taught them how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

The party included a costume contest, raffle prizes, food, games and a photo station. But the centerpiece of the party was our Haunted House. It was my job to come up with a concept for a Haunted House that we could build inside one of our meeting rooms. It was actually pretty elaborate, taking three days to build and used over 180 yards of black curtain, cardboard, mannequins, a fog machine, blacklights and sound system. I also recruited 8 of my friends to come and help me run the House from the inside. It turned out to be a HUGE success and was actually pretty creepy. People were genuinely frightened and we even made a little girl cry. The measure of any good Haunted House.

The party and Haunted House went really well and I know it went a LONG way in showing my co-workers why I'm here, helping them to recognize the effort and time that I'm investing in them and I can see it's reaching them. They're starting to realize that I'm not here just to get a job and make some money in China. Enthusiasm has been even higher for my classes and one-on-one lessons since then.

Daisy and I; my awesome Haunted House crew; the Hall of Hands

Halloween Night in Shanghai seemed like one big party. We live in a popular area with bars and restaurants all around, and it seemed like each one of them was having a Halloween party. While it was still mostly foreigners out and in costume, there was definitely a good number of Chinese locals out in full costume as well. It was really cool to see that blend of Chinese and Western culture come to life. What made it even more fun was that many places in Shanghai don't have cover charges, so we were just able to party hop and walk from one party to the next. For some reason, the trick-or-treating tradition seems to have gotten lost in the Halloween festivities here. We made it home in time for 3:30AM kickoff of the Florida vs. Georgia football game and ordered in some 24/7 McDonald's delivery. Halloween is a fun time in Shanghai.

Best costumes seen that night: A guy dressed up as a Rubber Duckie (he got the costume from Japan), the Thriller Michael Jackson (I don't know WHERE he got the jacket), and a "Gold Digger" (they're notorious here in Shanghai, so one girl went with it and dressed in all gold with construction gear and money sticking out of her costume.)

Up next: Thanksgiving. Although I don't think that's a holiday that China will be adopting anytime soon...or ever.

Response to comments:
Johnny - That camcorder was classic. Possibly the best $150 I ever spent. It even knew not to record our performance of H-Town's 'Knockin Da Boots.' Lets Go Mets.
Kent - I'm surprised it's not more celebrated Down Under. Isn't everything a party down there? It's not even really an "American" holiday, although I guess we kind of took it over and totally commercialized it.
Eric - .....
Robbie - Uh oh, who's gonna use the car?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Malaysia 09

posted by Alan
(click on the pictures to see them fullsize and the link below to see a full picture album)

Two posts with ZERO comments? Ouch. Well, we'll assume people are still reading this site and post anyway. We'll try to update more often too. This way everyone can not-comment more frequently. =)

Every first week of October in China is National Day. One of the three golden weeks in China where the entire country has a holiday from work. There aren't many personal vacation days in the Chinese work culture, so these Golden Weeks are the time to travel for EVERYONE.

We (Me, Daisy and 6 other friends) decided on a hidden treasure of an island off the eastern coast of Malaysia called "Tioman Island." It is listed by Time Magazine as one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world. One of the reasons it can preserve its beauty is because it takes some real travel and determination to get there. For us, that meant a 6 hour flight (connecting) to Kuala Lumpur(KL), the capitol city of Malaysia, a 5 hour sleep in a hotel, a 6 hour, early morning busride from KL to the port city of Mersing, where we would catch a 2 hour ferry ride to Tioman Island. It took over 24 hours from the time we left Shanghai to the time we finally stepped foot on the Island.

Our plan for the week was to get away from the hectic city life and spend time just resting and relaxing while appreciating all of this natural beauty. Tioman is a small island that is mostly jungle. There are about 8 beach areas along the shore, which is where small, family owned chalets and restaurants have been set up to host visitors. The only real way to travel from beach to beach is via boat. The island is known for its Scuba and snorkeling. Many areas of live coral, crazy looking fish, reef sharks, sea turtles, etc. Monkeys and Komodo Dragons roam the island as well. We all had our share of fresh fish on the beach, soaking in the warm ocean waters and really had an amazing time.

One of the biggest impressions I have from our trip was the attitude of the local island people towards money. Coming from China, we're conditioned to always be on guard for people trying to take advantage or scam us out of some money. On Tioman, it was the total opposite. Because there really wasn't much on the island, there was almost no point in becoming rich. This resulted in a very relaxed attitude towards money there. They made what they needed to in order to maintain their lifestyle, and they were satisfied with that. We were in a few situations where we asked if there was a charge for something and the answer was "It's up to you. If you want to pay, you can pay, if not, its ok." Then we'd ask "How much?" and again, they'd shrug and smile and say "It's up to you." Even when there WAS a price on something, it was never asked for or negotiated up front. They just said, "Go ahead, take it, pay us whenever." Granted, we were staying at the chalet on a secluded island so we weren't going anywhere, but there wasn't an urgency to guard or hoard money. It was such a pleasant and comforting feeling to be around.

If you'd like to hear more about our trip, feel free to ask us anytime, or you can just take a look at the pictures here: MALAYSIA '09

As I type this, plans are underway for a big Halloween party at my company. I'm setting up a Haunted House in one of our meeting rooms and we're inviting friends, family and clients to come the night before Halloween. Halloween hasn't reached the status that it has in America yet, but every year, it's being embraced more and more by the Chinese as a time to dress up and just have fun. I'll be sure to update you next on what Halloween is like in China.

Daisy and I have also begun our plans for our trip home for the holidays. We'll be coming home a week before Christmas and plan on staying until about a week after New Year, so we hope to have plenty of time to see everyone. We love living out here in Shanghai, but we definitely miss everyone back home and we're both really looking forward to coming back for bit.

Hmm, Yankees and Phillies? What's a Met fan to do? I think I'm actually leaning towards the Phillies. Few things are more annoying than a gloating Yankee fan. hahaha. I know I'm inviting the Mets fan abuse. BRING IT ON. (besides, we were injured all year, not our fault.)

Response to comments:
....let the silence be deafening....

Saturday, October 10, 2009

last month...or so

posted by Daisy
(click on pictures to see them full size)

I've had a month and a half to recover from my last entry so sorry in advance for the mega long monologue.

HK: I went to HK the last week of August to apply for my Z visa. When I wasn't at the visa office, I was exploring the city, eating, and window shopping. It's an interesting city where EVERYTHING is on top of each other, more so than any other city I've visited - with serious signage and space overload. The double-decker buses and the intense signage were overwhelmingly amazing. I was wondering if the double-decker buses don't crash into the signs above then if the signage ever falls off the buildings because there are just THAT many.

signage in HK; can't read but I think there's a sale at this store...

I've been there a handful of times over the last 10 years but it was a completely different feeling coming from Shanghai. It made me realize how different Shanghai's dynamic is compared to both HK and NY. The allure of ads and shops in HK and NY screams YOU NEED TO BUY THIS IF YOU WANT TO BE SOMEONE but in Shanghai I really don't get this feeling (or maybe the ads and shops aren't doing a good job attracting me). But I've noticed people around me could care less what I'm wearing, what designer, and where I go eat my meals, shop, etc. Of course when I dress better or go to pricey-er establishments, I receive more attention like anywhere else... but the pressure to be a certain way, dress a certain way, shop a certain place isn't here -- or I haven't felt it calling me. (Don't worry, I haven't become totally reckless to the point where I put on same unwashed clothes day after day...although the thought appeals to my laziness right now...) It's a liberating feeling and it made me miss Shanghai for the first time. After three days in HK, I was ready to return “home" with my Z visa in hand. And for you guys who go through this visa process periodically, you know my joy when I say I got my Residence Permit! No visa paperwork to deal with for a while!)

yummy Japanese honey lemon tea;
back in SH I was greeted by men covered head to toe ready zap me with their fever gun

TR: ...stands for Test Rite Group. That's the trading company I work for now... I've been here just over 1 month. The people on my team are cool. They're all really nice and Chinesey. I'm the only native English speaker on my team but their English is good and my boss is originally HK-nese so he speaks English (and Cantonese). But there’s always something comforting about meeting another native English speaker. About a month ago I recognized a girl walking out of our building. I met her briefly through a friend at ch'ch. Turns out she works here too! Yay! When she found out I worked here, it seemed like she was excited but at first in disbelief that I worked at TR too. There aren't many Americans here – there was her and now there's me. TWO! Nice... haha.

Every team has a different category so I'm in the Gardening Department. My team finds factories that make gardening tools and various sundry items and exports them to retailers all over the world – kind of like a middleman. I used to be on the buying end and now I'm on the sourcing/exporting end. Should be interesting! I came in at the end of the summer so it’s been slower than usual and people are still getting in last minute vacations – a good time for me to slowly transition into my new role.

And last week I got my first Chinese paycheck. Pretty normal but in my mind I wasn’t sure I was actually going to get paid until I got paid. My China mentality… expect nothing and deal with it when it does or doesn’t happen… Seems to work most of the time. When things work out, I am pleasantly surprised and slightly amazed with how things work out here. When things don't work out, I had no expectations in the first place. Doesn't work for everything but it keeps me rolling with the punches and from expecting America in China... all while trying to enjoy the China way.

a sea of cubicles...

+1 year: Thanks to those that sent emails and FB messages to wish us a happy anniversary! Feels like Alan and I met just a couple years ago…but that’s nearly eight years ago. Looking back on the last year, so many things have happened and it’s incredible seeing where we were and where we are now in a year's time -- and we did it together. I'm so thankful and I'm looking forward to more years together like our first : ) For our anniversary we spent the day riding bikes, walking through the park, and enjoying a Mexican dinner together.

With the help of some friends I helped throw two showers to celebrate the arrival of our friends Lizzy and Daniel's baby boy ~ Houston! It was tough planning something traditionally American IN China but totally worth it!

Baby Shower foods, pin-the-baby-on-Lizzy, and baby's most needed item ~ Huggies!" p.s. Lizzy baked the cake in the shape of a yellow school bus herself -- it was delicious!