Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Living Like a Local

Hello All!

I have been counting the days...one week left in Minhang, then it's a worldwind tour with the hubby and kids through the country. This past week I have dutifully attended my language lessons with my tutor, Molly Zhu. Molly is a bubbly 20 year-old sophomore at East China Normal University and she is absolutely adorable! Molly, with her youth and knowledge of pop culture, has become an invaluable asset as I begin to grasp the meaning behind everyday colloquialisms. It helps that we catch the bus, buy food and drinks and I am forced to employ my skills consistently.

This week Alli and I have had some novel food experiences. First however, let me complain about the weather. You see in Baltimore, when we fuss about the weather someone always says, "Just wait five minutes, it'll change" In Shanghai, there is no such argument. If you complain about the weather, people just look at you as if you are stupid. I have never seen people accept rain with such quiet resignation. Alas, if you could see my hair, you'd know that I have reached the same stage of acceptance...

Anyway, back to food. As you may have gleaned from earlier posts, Alli and I have been overdosing on morning foods- stuffed buns, crepe-things and small fried dumplings (Allison calls these "pinch pots" because of their shape and because there is meat and some sort of soup inside them. They actually look like someone just pinched the tops to close the soup inside! Come on, it's a brilliant nickname- good job Alli!)

So what do we do for dinner? Well, we gorge again of course- c'mon we are Americans after all!
I have learned something interesting about dining in Chinese restaurants. I'll share it because it is both profound and oddly, not so obvious. Here it is...The FIRST thing in the menu is likely the ONLY thing the restaurant is good at making. No kidding! A fish place is only good at preparing fish (and only the way they like to do it!), a noodle place is only good for noodles, ect. That means, if you're like me and find something you like at a restaurant, do not go to another restaurant and ask for it! Order what the restaurant advertises and you will most likely be happy with what comes out of the kitchen. If all else fails, get beer- it's cheaper than bottled water at most places.

I have to share some of my favorite transliterated menu descriptions: #5- Daily Family Activity Fried Rice Noodle, #4- Chops the Pepper to Steam the Strong Smelling Fermented Bean Curd (Yes, your dinner will likely stink!), #3- Irritable Scalloped Kidney, #2- Fierce Appearance Green Pepper, #1- Private World Sub-Meat (it is the specialty of the restaurant). While I greatly appreciate the effort that these fancy restaurants have put into making their menu's Westerner-friendly, what the hell is Sub-Meat?

Next post, you get to hear about my sit-in at the Apple Authorized Repair shop. Yay, democracy!


Monday, August 3, 2009

Living in Min Hang- 1 Week Down, 2 to go

We've lived in the Min Hang District of Shanghai for one entire week. It has been an, um, experience. Though it has rained EVERY SINGLE DAY, we've been having a wonderful adventure. Our hosts, Peter and Linda are great, our apartment is comfortable and in an ideal location ( on the 1st floor AND beside the playground!). We truly lucked out.

My Chinese has improved dramatically- out of necessity. We are not living in a tourist friendly area, so there are few residents, merchants, or taxi drivers who speak any English at all. We go out 出去 chu qu (say, choo chewe) everyday...we do like to eat and we enjoy sightseeing! There is constant stretching of my language skills- I am very good at a Charades/Chinglish dialect! Really, you should have seen me trying to describe hair oil (something I forgot at home) to people who have NO IDEA what it is or why anyone would use it. The people at the shop kept pointing me toward the butter...suffice it to say, I still don't have any hair oil ( I wasn't about to improvise with butter!).

We're always out and about in our town, so we are becoming celebrities (or maybe just an urban myth, "You'll never believe what I saw this morning??) Now when we go to the main street, the guys on the motorcycles nod and say "Hullo, lady", and people rush to store windows trying to get a peek. We've perfected the old "smile and wave" and keep moving- quickly. At least the children have stopped screaming and running the other way!

We've had some great street food for breakfast. The red bean paste buns are still a big hit with Alli- now I know they're called dou sha bao, and she also loves chicken buns (ground chicken and spices steamed in a soft bun) called ji rou bao. She asks every morning if we can hurry and get her "bun buns" before they sell out. We usually get two of each and drink a bottle of orange drink (there is no real orange juice, only something that tastes like Tang...yes, Tang) on our way to the days activities. All of this, mind you, costs less than 1 USD- for both of us.

So far, our travels have taken us to the Hongqiao New City Pearl Market, a massive (flea market style) shopping extravaganza where you can have pearls custom strung for necklaces and bracelets and buy custom and prefabricated clothing (Allison got a qi pao- a traditional Chinese dress made of silk); the Bund, a major tourist and business center where we had a beautiful gourmet brunch at a restaurant called M (I got blueberry pancakes, eggs florentine and a Bloody Mary, yum!) , and to Fun Dazzle ( a bizarre Chuck E. Cheese-esque indoor climbing gym for kids). For Allison's birthday dinner Saturday night, we went to a restaurant called Charme- simply fabulous chinese architectural food. Imagine not wondering what the food is, but how to eat it...with chopsticks, to boot!! (Thank you Peter!) and came home to enjoy a beautiful cake that Peter and Linda bought Alli for her birthday.

I also appear to be going through cell phones like toilet paper- looking to get #3 in the morning (one and two have both bit the bullet and I've been unable to "jailbreak" my iPhone) If anyone knows how this can be done, please drop me a line!.

So much to tell- I've updated some pics on flickr, take a peek.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Roaming The Streets

Greetings All,
Well it's Tuesday in Shanghai. We woke up early (2 am- no surprises there!) and waited for 3 hours until sunrise. By 8 am, we were so tired that we fell asleep again!

When we got up again at 10am, it was raining heavily but I decided we should go outside and explore nonetheless. We walked down the main street in our district and balancing umbrella and camera, started to look for breakfast. I had convinced Alli that we would be able to find some of the green onion pancakes that she loved so much during our last last breakfast expedition. I was wrong- but only because it was too late in the morning by the time we had begun our search.

The world certainly seemed to be a more accommodating place now that we didn't have the burden of a hundred pieces of luggage- even if it was raining! We walked about 11 blocks, looking at various street vendors and their offerings, but I didn't feel like eating roasted feet, chins or ears of anything. We came across a Chinese bookstore, 书店 (shu dian, say shoo deean) and decided to go inside- the product of my curiosity and Alli's strong desire to get out of the rain.

We bought several books (Chinese language learning texts) and even got a free pencil for Allison! We asked the proprietor for suggestions for a good (clean) place to eat. She pointed to a place we passed earlier and said that it was a very good place for us to eat. So we went...it was great! I'll post pics later, but believe me when I call it a "diamond in the rough". We took home over half our meal, there was so much food that there was no need for us to go out for dinner later.

We walked home and stopped at a small department store to pick up a few essentials. We bought bread, juice, butter, cleaning supplies, juice, and some snacks. I took a pic of all the stuff we got- they cost just $12 USD!

After all this shopping and walking we were tired, so we went straight home and took a "nap". Yes, bed at 4pm!


Monday, July 27, 2009

Stress Settles In

Greetings All,
Today was moving day. Allison and I woke up early (again) and began packing in anticipation for our trip. At 7am, we decided to have our final breakfast at the hotel restaurant, so we went downstairs. We enjoyed the foods that has become our favorites, though Alli drank Sprite instead of hot tea (she said that the tea was too bitter today)

We went for a walk outside to gather some staples; chips, cookies, soda and juice (plus Snickers bars) because I felt a little apprehensive about the location of our new digs. As we walked, we realized that there was a bustling marketplace all around our hotel- we had never even seen it! Alli complained that her feet were hurting, so I decided that we should find some comfortable walking shoes. Yes, we bought knockoff Crocs!!!

On our way home, I decided that I needed to get a cellphone because it was unclear exactly where we would be living. For once, there was no one pestering me to buy something, so I was at a bit of a loss. I looked around and everyone 大家 (da jia, say da jah) {rhymes with Nadja!!} seemed to be focused on a large group of tourists who had just disembarked a tour bus. Oh well!

Eventually, I found a merchant and haggled down the price to 1/4 the asking figure and bought a cellphone (I'm sure I still paid too much though, but who cares!) I now have a working phone. Yay me!

That was the uneventful part of the day... If you want to share in my misery, read on. Otherwise, stop here and read again tomorrow!

For those intrepid souls who delight in the discomfort of others (or just want to remind themselves that normal people just don't do this sort of thing) I list the following unpleasantness.

We checked out of the hotel at noon and had to pay an enormous 240 yuan internet usage bill. From the front lobby, we hired a taxi to take us to our new digs, which the map showed me was across town. Outside was steamy and about 85 degrees- it had just finished raining...again.

Our 30 minute taxi ride took us to our new district, MinHang. That's where the real trouble started. You see, I had written down the address and phone number of our host, but sometime during the taxicab ride, I lost it. Yes, I lost our only means of contacting the person with whom we would be living! Hell!!! I thought I remembered the address, so I asked the driver to drop us off at the front gate of the compound. Imagine the sight- two (black) people, one a small, sleepy-looking kid, with three suitcases, a large duffle bag and each carrying a large backpack...roaming the streets with no where to go.

Alli and I entered the compound where I successfully (after nearly half an hour of using every Chinese phrase I know) asked the guards to direct us to the #32 building (our host's building). By this time, I was less and less pleased. The complex was old and rundown, the buildings were dirty and there were people filling water jugs and taking them home. Again, not pleased. When we got to #32, I rang the bell for apartment 102, but after a few minutes realized that this could NOT be the place we were looking for. We were definitely in the slums. Alli began to cry, and I felt like crying myself! But wait, I had a cellphone! I called home and had hubby pull up my Google account to get the phone number and address. He contacted Peter and Linda (our hosts) and they told me that I was on the western road instead of the eastern road. With relief, we hurriedly schlepped our suitcases out of there and promptly hailed a cab (whose driver laughed when I told him how far we were going- he really thought we should just walk!).

When we got to our new digs, about 3 minutes away- just across the main intersection, it was like entering a tropical oasis; palm trees, fancy cars, gated entrance...a foot bridge over a pond filled with goldfish and lotus blooms. We were so happy to have finally arrived! We met Peter and Linda, both of whom seem wonderful- Linda is gorgeous! We promptly entered our room-which looked exactly like the pictures, I might add, and fell asleep. An exhausting day filled with fretting and sweating...but a happy ending!

Till tomorrow, then.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Shanghai Tourists?

Greetings Everyone,
I have lots to share...and limited space and time to do it. Today is Sunday in Shanghai and, as usual, Allison and I were awake at the crack of dawn. Last night's adventures left me feeling extra confident, so I decided that Alli and I would enjoy street food for breakfast and walk to the Shanghai museum downtown (about 1.2 miles). We got up and dressed, checked our map (地图 di tu, say dee too), and headed out into the warm and very sunny day. It was about 80 degrees at 9am, so Allison was worried about getting too hot. I reminded her that we had packed her sun parasol, and she felt much better.

We wound our way through the city looking for street vendors. It was startling to see the number of homeless people sleeping on the ground, so Alli decided to leave them some money. We had a few Chinese coins, yuan, worth about a dollar each, so I dropped them near each sleeping body we came across. Every little bit helps, y'know?

In an alley about 8 blocks from the hotel, we finally found what we were looking for- Chinese breakfast! We had some delicious spring onion pancakes, they were really cheap and only cost one yuan each! We shared one and continued walking downtown. For a drink, I got a caramel flavored milk tea drink with tapioca bubbles in the bottom. To drink it properly, we were given a huge straw, and after every few sips a soft tapioca pearl would pop into our mouths. Weird, but really tasty. After a half an hour of walking, we got to downtown Shanghai and ordered some large meat filled steamed buns from another vendor. They were delicious, but so big we only ate one of them. Still, they were a steal at 2 yuan each (about 30 cents).

We walked another several blocks and saw the museum in the distance. It is truly a striking building! We had to take an underground tunnel to cross the street and encountered a complete underground mall. I swear, when they can't build any higher, the Chinese build lower! This "mall" had 1930's China as its theme and was amazing! We reached the surface again and entered the daylight, and saw....an amusement park?1? Rides and all! I told Alli we would come back for that another day, and we walked the short distance through People's Square to get to the museum.

Though we arrived at 10:30, we waited in the line (outside and in the heat) until 11:10 to enter the building. It was amazing...I had forgotten that I had seen it already, though this time with Allison's fresh perspective, it was much different.

After spending hours in the museum (the wing dedicated to China's minority cultures was closed, hmm, I wonder...) we decided to go get lunch at an upscale Chinese restaurant. We dined on spring rolls, shredded beef and fried rice- but skipped the "bull penis strengthens the body" soup and the "rooster testicles and veins of the earth" hot pot. Did you know that "veins of the earth" is just potatoes? How literal- and funny! ANyway, our entire fantastic meal was just $13! Cheaper than 2 meals at McD's for sure!

Tomorrow is our moving day, wish us luck!


Please check out our pictures on flickr, its the only place that I seem to be able to post reliably. My account is simonemollock. Send me an email if you have trouble!

Meeting New People

Hello Again,
So we have finished yet another day in Shanghai! Today's weather was beautiful, though decidedly abnormal for this area. It was warm, about 83 degrees, and pretty overcast- though we did see the sun at least twice. The best part was that there was no threat of rain!!

We began breakfast in the hotel restaurant again and went for a stroll outside and tried to find a phone booth that would accept my phone card. (We never did!) Alli began to glare at me after 15 minutes, so we came back to our room. As soon as we got onto the elevator, I swear I heard her stomach scream! We ran back to the room and dashed inside just in time...yup, travelers tummy. She was extremely upset and could not understand why her tummy was hurting so badly. Luckily, I brought Pepto, so after a dose and some quiet time, she was as good as new.

I was able to contact my former teacher, Weimin, today and she met us at the hotel around 11am to take us to lunch. She drives (not most Shanghai residents do) and the best part was that her car has a Chinese GPS. Amazing!
We had planned to go to the Shanghai Museum, but it was impossibly crowded, so we just went to lunch instead. We had a great time- Allison and Weimin really took to one another, it was sweet!

After Weimin went home, Allison and I decided to walk down Nanjing Road again and met two new friends, Daisy and Chao. Its amazing how people in China just befriend you at once (kind of like adoption for the day). They were very nice students from Qingdao University (amazingly, very close to Jinan city- where I will soon live) and invited us to accompany them to an authentic Chinese tea ceremony. Apparently the tea is approved by the Chinese government and is only available once every three years, so it was a not to be missed experience.

Allison and I went with Daisy and Chao (with Allison holding Daisy's hand, no less) and went to tea! It was amazing! And very expensive!! We tasted 8 different teas, along with several tea snacks. We learned which teas were good for which parts of the body, and best- I could understand most of it! The worst part was when the bill came- $752 yuan (convert that yourself- I'm still in denial) but we did get several boxes of tea...yes Claude, one is for you!

After all this, we went back to the hotel for a much earned rest and slept the rest of the afternoon away! When we next awoke, it was 10:30pm, and Alli and I were hungry. Contrary to her repeated requests, we could not just "order something and have it delivered" so I decided that we would try to find a night market. I consulted the internet and the map, and finally located one nearby, so we decided to walk. Yes, I took my 6 year old out walking at 12am in a search for street food. Mother of the Year, here I come!
Unfortunately, the market was closed by the time we got there, bu happily, we made another friend, Liu FuChao a 25 year old Chinese guy from Beijing on vacation in Shanghai. He spoke a little English (he proudly told me that he is self taught)and he was great company. For late dinner, we ate spring rolls, fried noodles and steamed dumplings (饺子jiao zi,say jaowe tzi). It was nearly 1:30, so we said goodbye and promised Fuchao that we would call him when we go to Beijing.

So, here we are again, at the ungodly hour of 2am, trying to go back to sleep...


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Our First Day

Greetings from the most populous country in the world!
I am happy to say that Allison and I have successfully made it to China and are settled into our temporary new digs. We are staying at the Jin Jiang New Asia Hotel in the Hong Kou district of Shanghai. No complaints yet...except that it appears that China has worked hard to keep me from accessing my blog!! So here it is, 1:19am Shanghai time and I have had to search for 3 hours to find a new proxy server just to post this update.

Our first full day in Shanghai went well enough...it was raining and hot at the same time- no amount of silicone product and flat iron could rescue Alli's hair, but thanks to my hairstylist Tarsha, mine is as straight as an arrow (Hurray!)

We woke up at 4am CN time and could not get back to bed, so we watched ballet (no language confusion there!) and chatted until the hotel restaurant opened for breakfast (早饭 zao fan- say zaowe fan) at 6:30am. The restaurant was already buzzing with "elderly" patrons, so we were stared at...and stared at...until everyone realized we were actually planning to eat there. Great food! We ate steamed dumplings, fried dumplings, and buns with red bean paste inside them. Yum.

After breakfast, we decided to pick a direction and walk till we found something interesting. We never did. It appears that we decided to walk directly into the manufacturing goods shopping area. While some may be turned on by the sight of transistors and cogs and sprockets- neither Alli or I were particularly turned on. I decided that we needed a taste of "real China" so we ducked into a market alley. It was amazing!! We saw all kinds of living seafood for sale and hundreds of different vegetables. So many colors and smells- too bad we had already eaten! At the end of the alley, there was a man selling jumbo prawns out of a wooden wash bucket. Really. They were alive and swimming around in the bucket- it was amazing!. As Allison peered over to take a look, one leaped out of the bucket towards her! She almost had a heart attack! When the tears started, I knew it was time to go...but did not knowing where I was encourage me to buy a map?

Heck no, I can get us around, right?

Later in the morning (about 2 wandering hours later), we found a shopping paradise- Nanjing Road. We walked and walked (Alli whined and whined) all the while being offered various Gucci and Louis Vuitton handbags by dozens of street merchants. Allison was in her element- she was asked to be in several photographs (so cute!) and she always smiled for the camera...my little supermodel!

By 1pm, we were beat. We needed lunch and Alli said she needed a taxi! I quote,"Mommy, can't we just go back to our apartment? Please?" (Imagine hearing that 6-8 times!) My kid is a nut!

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that insisted on seating us in the very front so we could serve as free advertising. We did- I think we should have gotten a cut of the afternoon's profits! Scary food alert, Allison wanted to have noodles with lunch and I could only understand that the noodles had seafood in them...seafood came alright. There were beautiful shrimp and SEA CUCUMBERS!!! big slimy chunks of grossness! No more noodles for us! We did have the most fantastic meal there though. When I get the ability (when China let's me, that is...)check out the pics of our roast duck appetizer and sweet and sour fish- Delicious!

Till later!

BTW, we avoided the bathroom like the plague! We only went to the one in our hotel room (Alli was scared of the smells!)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Still Counting Down...

你好, Ni hao (say, nee how)

13 days to go.
This week has been extremely busy, but I've finally wrapped my head around the very real fact that I'll be gone soon. I look in the mirror and shudder at how my hair will look in a few months- a truly scary thought!
On a lighter note, Allison has been bombarding me with questions about our trip. My favorites are - "Mom, how will I know what the cartoons are saying?" or "Mom, will I still be able to listen to the radio at night?" or perhaps best of all, "Mommy, how will we be able to stay awake all night in China, won't it be hard?" (This after I explained that there is a 12-hour time difference). She is constantly looking at the globe in the living room and is convinced that we should "hop over" to India to visit her buddy Jasmine's grandparents. She pointed to India on the globe and said, "See, it's right next to China!".

Finally, I am looking forward to fully enjoying my last days. I over-plan every detail! Always! It's a real problem! This weekend, I plan to attend my neighbors fabulous pig roast, get incredibly inebriated, eat way too much and then sleep till noon on Sunday- then its off to a week of exams! Next weekend, I am hosting an un-birthday party for Allison (she doesn't turn 7 until August 1st) and attending my own going away party. Two parties, two days in a row-whew!

Some things however, never change- as of tonight, I STILL have not begun packing!


Monday, July 6, 2009

Home, Sweet Home?

Okay, so it's official. I have just 17 days left at home-the comforts of my soft bed, the predictable way that my shower scalds me each morning and my regular cup of coffee will soon be a faded memory (much like Civil Procedure class...)
Happily, this minor bout of premature nostalgia is offset by the news that I have finally found a place for Allison and I to call home ! On July 27th, 4 days after we arrive in the city, Allison and I will move into our permanent Shanghai residence. It is a "homestay" apartment which means that we will be living with a host family for 3 weeks until Brandon and Olivia arrive. We get all the benefits of living in an authentic Chinese community; we can eat meals prepared by the family (and, if we prefer, with them) we will have constant access to native speakers (who are paid to be nice to us :-)), plus we don't have to do our own laundry or housekeeping. Our Chinese language skills will be fantastic- truly authentic or "di dao" (say dee daow) as the Chinese would call it.

Here are some pics of our upcoming new digs!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Posting Format

I have decided on a format for my blog posts so I can maintain a sense of consistency and regularity. In each day's post, you can expect to see some information on the following:

Any interesting things I have eaten, seen or smelled (yes, smelled!)
Pictures of the city and people I have met
A brief Chinese phrase (so you can learn, too!)
The social and political aspects of my daily life abroad

Through this blog, I hope to give you a first hand glimpse into my daily life abroad. Enjoy!

Zai jian ( say, zye g en)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why A Blog?

Greetings all,
I am Simone Mollock, a law student from the University of Baltimore.  I am going to study law in China!!  I have decided to chronicle the adventures, setbacks and successes I experience while studying abroad and compare them always to life in Baltimore.
I depart the United States on July 22, 2009 with my seven year-old daughter, Allison, and will spend four weeks in Shanghai where I will meet with my language tutor in preparation for the school year ahead. Hopefully, we will have lots of stories to tell...I know Allison is already practicing her Chinese!
Beginning in September 2009, I will commence classes at Shandong University (taught in Chinese!!) and live with my youngest daughter, Olivia, in Jinan city for the entire school year.  

Please feel free to drop me a line or ask me questions at my email address simone.mollock@gmail.com. You can also friend me on Facebook. I can't wait to hear from you!

Shanghai Apartment

Shanghai Apartment
Living and Diningroom

Shanghai Apartment

Shanghai Apartment
Our Bedroom

Shanghai Apartment

Shanghai Apartment
We have a garden!