Wednesday, July 29, 2009

CSL (Chinese as a Second Language)

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

It's been two weeks since I've started working. It has been a challenge to say the least. It's already difficult to figure out the way a new workplace works, but imagine trying to do that while learning a new culture and in a language you can barely speak. But I must say, it was a challenge I was expecting and one that I was ready for. I'll talk about the culture another time (i can write a book about how much i've learned about it already), but let's just start with the language thing.

It would take some major convincing for me to believe that there is any language harder to learn than Mandarin. It's not a superficial language that was developed simply as a way of communicating, but there are levels of complexity, history, art and culture all mixed into it. I distinctly remember back to my first stint in China. There was a point at which I had somewhat of a revelation and realized that I was starting to get a grasp of the language. Let's call it the "Grasping Point." Its a strange feeling to express. It's as if a light bulb turned on and i felt this confidence that i was beginning to understand and what i didnt understand, i could figure out. Has anyone else experienced this? Back then, coming from a background of ZERO mandarin, I hit that point about 3 months in.

This time, it's a whole different situation. In XinZheng, I was sheltered by the University Campus and to some extent, the small town in which I lived. We were foreigners in a small Chinese town that was NOT built for foreigners and expected nothing more from us. We were treated like oddities (in an innocent and loving way.) Everyday speech was simple. How to get around, order food, just the basics. If you were able to say "Hi, I don't speak Chinese" to one of the locals there, the reaction would be "WOW, THAT'S SO GREAT! YOU SPEAK CHINESE!"

Seriously, who came up with this stuff?

Here in Shanghai, nobody is impressed. First of all, it's a city filled with foreigners and these days, its alot of foreigners that CAN speak chinese. It's almost expected here. Second, I had most of my basic everyday needs taken care of for me back in XinZheng. I didn't have to deal with bills, rent, repairs, etc. Living on our own now in Shanghai has resulted in alot of scrambling to learn new words for everyday situations that we completely overlook while living in the comfort of our native country. To get a feel for what I'm talking about, try joining a gym or getting exactly what you want from Pinkberry without speaking any words. Third, Shanghai is extremely modern and very Westernized. It is completely possible and very tempting to get through life here without actually speaking any Chinese. Most anybody here under the age of 25 can speak pretty decent english and many stores and shops have English menus and options. Some stores are marketed COMPLETELY to english speaking customers. So speaking Chinese as practice here is a bit embarassing. Its hard not to feel dumb trying to communicate in Chinese at the level of a 3 year-old, when the person you're talking to is probably thinking "just say it in english and stop wasting my time."

This reason alone is one of the primary reasons I'm glad to be working at this company. Yes, many of the employees here are young and want to improve their English, but while working, in the interest of just getting things done, they usually just speak Chinese. I get ample amounts of free Chinese practice and have about 50 willing teachers all around me. I'm learning new words by the minute and am constantly being forced to put them to use. I can already tell that it has been helping and I can't wait to see where my speaking level is at a few months from now. I'm anxiously waiting to hit The Grasping Point again.

But I'm happy to accept this challenge and I firmly believe we weren't meant to just coast through life. We were made with the capacity to grow, and growth is a direct result of persevering through challenges. A life without challenge is a life of complacency, or as one famous author puts it "The Waiting Place." TWO WHOLE Chinese RMB to anyone that can tell me who that author is. The Waiting Place is a place that will lull you to sleep, and before you know it, you have passed through life having accomplished nothing. I guess the moral of this entry is: Get off your butt, embrace challenges in your life and hold on for the ride. You'll probably like where you end up.

As always, pictures. While I've been at work, Daisy has been playing housewife and cooking everyday. Pictures of her creations are below:
Chicken Parm & Spaghetti; Betty Crocker Brownies
Over the stove; working the oven while Rachel cleans the mixing bowl; goodies from home (thanks mom)

Actually, she's also been working with some clothing design label thing too. Be sure to ask her to update this blog and tell you all about it.

Response to comments:
Mayho - I guess it's normal to think an eclipse can be seen from everywhere. The sun is just up there, right? But yes, we're actually on the other side of the world, so it wouldnt make sense.
Sung - I read that in India, they had ALOT of supserstitions about the eclipse. They did alot of wacky stuff during it. I'm sure you can look some up. There were some in China too, but I think thats more in the past generations. Everyone here just thought it was really cool. And it was. So you'll visit us in Hawaii, but not in Shanghai?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Darkness Falls

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

Guys getting ready on the roof across fom us. the moon's shadow on the earth, announcement at my office about the eclipse party.

"A total solar eclipse is a spectacular natural phenomenon and many people travel to remote locations to observe one" says Wikipedia. Well, on Wednesday one actually came to us. This was the longest total solar eclipse during the 21st century (almost 7 minutes long) and only a thin sliver of India and China were able to see it. It just so happened that Shanghai was considered one of the best spots to view it. The whole city was ready to watch it with polarized sunglasses being sold everywhere.

eclipse brochure that came with sunglasses, Zoie and DZ gettin ready, 7 minutes of darkness begins
DZ and her shades, total darkness at 9:36 AM

Daisy and I headed over to my office, where my company got together and went up on a nearby rooftop at 9AM for the viewing party. It was raining the night before and the sky was covered with clouds. And of course, about 15 minutes before the eclipse was to begin, down came the rain. So we didn't get to actually SEE the eclipse, but wow, did it get dark. The sky quickly faded from light to dark within seconds and for about 7 minutes, at 9:36AM China time, it became night. It was a cool phenomenon and fun just being out there with everyone during it. I guess we'll just have to wait to see the next one in 120 years.

It also hit 100 degrees earlier this week. I take it as a bad sign when i exclaim something like "man, its hot out," most of the responses I seem to get are along the lines of "just wait until August." I'm thinking our next move may be to Hawaii.

Another good quote from Donald Miller, this time from his book Through Painted Deserts. Very eclipse related:
"We don't see light, we see what it touches."
I won't offer insight, I'll just let you chew on that one for a bit.

Some random pictures(i know thats really why u check our blog):
Zoie's wrship concert, the girls at small group
skyping fun with the kids, DZ at Tai Kang Road

Response to comments:
Kristen - Glad to be of educational assistance.
Corey - Um, I never actually said I was taking orders. haha. But I'll be glad to take you to the spot when you get out here to visit. You can buy yourself as many as you like.
Pat - They're not much different from the old school converse and puma's NBA guys used to wear back in the day. Makes you wonder that if they were able to play in those back then, are all of today's high-tech sneakers really worth it?

Thursday, July 16, 2009


(posted by Alan)
* Click on pictures to see them full sized and on the link below to see a full album.

This post is for those who are into the whole sneaker culture that has taken the urban fashion scene by storm over the past decade. I'm not much of a sneakerhead myself, but I do like to consider myself quite hip to whats going on with the kids these days.

So we're browsing the fake market, and Daisy sees a pair of sneakers that she really likes. They're a brand we've seen on some of my students back in Henan and a few local, common people (construction workers, old folk doin tai chi in the park, etc.) here in China. Really cheap, basically canvas and rubber, but very comfortable. Unfortunately, they don't have her size, but she really, really liked them.

Check the Warriors on his feet.

A little research is done, and it turns out that this Fei Yue brand is the sneaker you would have worn as a kid in the streets in the 70's and has since become a part of Shanghai nostalgia. As Shanghai has evolved into the modern, fashion-forward city it is now, this brand has fallen by the wayside, but Westerners have discovered the shoe ( Orlando Bloom in fei yue's) and in 2006, a French company bought the brand and took the trend to Europe, where the shoes are selling for $70 USD a pair. They have a cult following among Westerners here in Shanghai and there is one fabled, hole-in-the-wall shop here in the city that still is connected to the original factory.... and we found it. 28 RMB ($4 USD). They even come in the authentic, NYC deli-like, paper bag wrapping.

I picked up my own pair of Shanghai footwear history at the same shop. The Warrior basketball shoe. Also made in Shanghai and worn by the locals back in the 70's and 80's. These cost 39 RMB ($5.60 USD)

So what do you New York sneakerheads think? Coming soon to the East Village?

This post was so materialistic (yet, still packed with fascinating, historical facts!) I promise the next post will have much more substance.

Pedro? The Phillies? Why?
Got a great tip and now we're back online with what seems like full access to the internet. If you're in my part of the world and you want in, let me know and I'll hook you up.
Click here for pictures: PICTURES OF SHANGHAI SNEAKERS

Response to comments:
Corey - Control is an overriding theme over here. Let's leave it at that. Freedom is a universal concept. Yet, not universally practiced. Appreciate it.
Sung - I actually know the answer to your question. 85 degrees is the exact temperature at which coffee should be served (I didn't know that, someone told me). I'd like to hear some of the reasons you had in your head. Cool Ranch Doritos are imported. Although they have other flavored doritos here that are not imported. But not Cool Ranch... I'm still scratching my head on that one. And yes, there are still nutritional facts on things here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Back to Work

(posted by Alan)

So it's been about 4.5 months since I've actually been employed. A very interesting and exciting time for sure. But today, I formally accepted a job here in The 'Hai. One of the main reasons we moved to Shanghai BEFORE finding work is that possibilities are endless in this city. You will find yourself in situations and with opportunities that you never might have dreamed of. My tentative plan was to come here and teach English, as teaching positions in Shanghai are plentiful and quite lucrative. But how often does life actually go as we plan it?

Anyway, I'm now the International Brand Manager for a Chinese digital media company called Wangfan Interactive. I will be in charge of developing overseas clients, dealing with all international presentations and working with the employees in teaching them english, running Team Building activities and counseling them. They're all young, fresh out of college and its a really, really cool, creative and casual atmosphere. The office is alot of fun and looks like a clubhouse. With the way the globalization is going these days and China's unique position, this should be invaluble experience, not to mention the quickest way I can think of to pick up my Chinese speaking skills. Should be quite the adventure.

Some random pictures from the past month:
Rachel, DZ and deep fried bananas; Me, Adrian and shades. (yes, shaved my head again. sorry mom); Doritos. 29.9RMB is about $4.15 USD. I love em, but not that much.

So, Facebook has been blocked out here. Nothing is untouchable I guess. A friend mentioned today that when living in America, we often take for granted all of the rights that we really have. Moving here, or to one of the MANY countries in the world that are run similarly, we're giving alot of them up. Its a sobering thought. I probably shouldnt talk about the reason why Facebook and Twitter and many other sites are currently blocked here, but you can look it up on any of your unblocked web browsers at home. Violence and discrimination know no boundaries. Its quite the extreme situation, so the block should only last until the situation is under control, but for the sake of the people involved and not for our facebook privileges, lets pr8y that it settles down soon.

Here we go CEMQ, let's sweep the summer tournament.

More random pictures:
With my cousin Nick and his gf Annie at XuJiaHui(aka The Xu); DZ and her favorite bubble tea from 85degrees.

DZ @ Taco Loco (awesome burritos and banana smoothies); Flavor of the Month at Baskin Robbins with my name on it; DZ and Happy Lemon

Response to comments:
Corey - Twitter seems cool. But I was on it only for a day before it got shut down over here. I'm thinking it'll be up in a week or so.
Mimi - Those Hawaiian outfits can be yours for an absurd 180RMB. Who in the world would actually BUY that?
Gary - I was in a bathhouse that is only suitable for mature men who are secure in their masculinity.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


* posted by Alan
(click on the link at the bottom to see a full picture gallery with full size photos)

Happy 4th of July my fellow Americans. American freedom is much appreciated after living over here....I'll leave it at that before I get into trouble. Obviously China does not celebrate the 4th, but there are more than enough Americans in Shanghai for some celebrating. We had BBQ, we had American music at an American bar and we even had a 4th of July pancake breakfast (new tradition?)

Last night we went to a bathhouse. Im not really sure I'd call it a Chinese bathhouse, because nothing really makes it Chinese other than the fact that it was in China and all the employees were Chinese. All you can eat Dim Sum, open 24 hours with no time limit, very clean and they provide you with hideous tropical-themed pajamas to lounge around in. That would explain the picture below. I had female request to not put up their picture, but if you come visit, I'll show you. =)

Multiple hot tub/jacuzzis, sauna, steam room and cold tub. We also went for combination number B. Body scrub, back massage and milk treatment. The girls added in a cucumber mask.(guys and girls are separate except for the eating and lounging areas). All for about $29 USD. Reminded me a bit of Spa Castle in Queens. I can't speak for the girls, but men, as long as you're secure enough to handle same-sex nudity and other men touching you (and occassionally your man-parts) in a very professional manner, then it's an awesome time. My whole body is smooth as a baby's butt right now. I'm not sure if this is actually enticing anyone to come visit, so I'll stop here.

So I've caved and joined Twitter. Let's see what this tweeting stuff is all about. My twittername is, find me i guess? Oh, and my facebook account has been disabled for the past week. It has nothing to do with China, but I got hacked and security issues and blah blah. Facebook hasn't gotten back to me to help me fix it despite my repeated attempts to reach them, so I must openly trash their customer service on my blog. Facebook, if you're reading this, help me fix it and I will take it back. (EDIT: I'm back on facebook. Took 6 days, but I take it back. Facebook customer service is not trash. Just a little slow.)

Being halfway around the world does nothing to ease the angst of being a Mets fan. sigh.

Next post: Job update....maybe?

Click here for pictures: PICTURES OF JULY 4th IN SHANGHAI

Response to comments:
Gloria - response needed i guess.
Megan - Don't you know us by now? Fun wasn't the question, the question was 'how much?'
Sung - That trip is usually geared towards Chinese. We were the first foreign group they had. And yeah, $75 USD is a bit expensive for China, even for a weekend trip. But there are ALOT of rich people in Shanghai. You'd be amazed at the lifestyle some people live here. Tremendous abundance and tremendous need, both right here in the city. Now how do we bring the two together....