China O’Brian

Finally I make a Proto-post about my Asian excursion. I was thinking since a lot of travel blogs end up with a couple posts in the first month and then one every 3 months after that, I would try to hold myself to one post every month. So, now that I’m 5 months late, let’s get right to it.

I organized my initial opinions on my arrival here by comparing it with Africa (Madagascar, La Reunion). I automatically slipped into Africa mode and found myself surprised at how good things are here. The weather in Shanghai is almost on par with Africa so far, since Shanghai’s latitude is about the same as Louisiana in the States. Smog is not nearly the problem it was in Antananarivo, Mada’s capital. Traffic, while still very noisy and congested, at least makes sense here when compared to other places I’ve seen. And people here work hard: While apartment hunting during my first week in Shanghai, I noticed large wall being constructed around a business complex, and, to my surprise, when I came back a couple days later I noticed it was finished. Subconsciously I expected it to take half the year, simply because I was still in the above mentioned “Africa Mode.” I was expecting to have to haggle for taxi prices and to guard myself from being ripped off at every turn, but the taxis use meters and many prices here are fixed and well advertised. This might be due to this place being Shanghai rather than some random town were foreigners don’t normally visit. All in all, I’m impressed all except for not being able to drink tap water. I was counting on being able to do that. Not sure why.

What took a little while for me to figure out is the milk situation. Milk in Africa was just French milk, and therefore very substandard. Most of the milk here, however, is utterly vile. See, most of the milk here is infused with plant matter, like aloe or whatever else. While that might be healthy or what not, it makes the milk impalpable. It wasn’t until my source of imported milk dried up that I started looking back into Chinese brands. Luckily Buff and I were able to find just one brand that keeps the ingredients at 100% milk.

Which is good, because the only meal I’ve prepared for myself at home is milk and cereal. If you live in the right place in Shanghai, there are tons of cheap eateries everywhere. Let me tell you, I live in the right place. I live in Pudong, meaning east of the Huangpu river. Those words alone usually scare off foreigners since it doesn’t cater to expats quite like Puxi, or west of the Huangpu river, does. The problem is that most foreigners live too far away from the river. It gets too modern and somewhat suburban. I met up with Wi-Hi alumni Shayne Fitz-Coy here, who lives way out in Pudong. He actually has to take a taxi to catch the metro, which for me is a 15 minute walk (I usually just hop on a bus, that cuts it down to a few minutes), and he’s never been to a Muslim noodle place, when there are 3 within a 2 minute walk from my flat. Anyway, when it costs anywhere from $.50-$1.00 for a good meal, I don’t see the logic of turning on my stove.

Speaking of my place, there it is as seen from the Pearl Tower:

my place

If you’ve seen Mission Impossible 3 then you should recognize the area, which is within walking distance of my place. I live on the 20th floor of a 25 story building with a window that looks right back at the Pearl Tower and the river. I don’t know many foreigners that can say that. What is neat also is I have a blend of the modern and ancient. On one side of my block, there are department stores filled with more expensive clothes than I will ever buy, but on the other side of the block locals sell fish and fruit on the side of the street the same way they have for thousands of years. The latter is the side where I get my $.50 haircuts.

Back to Africa comparisons for a moment, one fear I had about coming here is that everyone would insist on practicing their English on me. This was often the case in Africa, with both the Malagasy and the French, to an annoying degree, but surprisingly few people here try to speak English with me (unless they’re trying to sell me some item or some “service”). On the down side, dealing with Shanghai-nese accents is a challenge. The number “10” 十 (shi) in a thick Shanghai accent sounds a lot like “4” å›› (si), so that causes a great deal on confusion. It’s really unfortunate when “44” comes up, since it sounds like “444.” Oddly enough, how a Shanghai-nese speaker alters Mandarin is somewhat similar to how a Malagasy accent alters French, so I was able to catch on pretty quick.

It would be inaccurate to post about Shanghai and not mention fireworks, because I hear them every day. No exceptions. It’s usually just firecrackers, but one day I was sitting at my desk when there were sudden flashes and bangs at my window. A restaurant was setting off fireworks on the corner and about 20 stories up is where they would burst.

Lately I’ve been hanging out with some musical retirees from the Jiangsu province. In my apartment complex there are a few underground bike lots, and in one I’ve noticed a couple old men playing the Erhu, a kind of 2-string fiddle with a very distinctly Chinese sound, with a lady who would sing. I found that they were there every night from 7:30-9:30. While Buff was here visiting, I got up the courage to actually go down to listen and talk to these guys and they invited me to a some event. It’s like a retirement community get together that happens every week. The videos below tell the tale:

  • Video 1 – In the underground bike lot with the original crew
  • Video 2 – The next day at the weekly get-together
  • Video 3 – Same as above
  • Video 4 – When I came back that night, they party had moved back to the bike lot

I might have gotten myself into singing something for them for the Chinese New Years party they’re having. More on that as I get it.

In closing, let me just say that I love Chinese Muslims for bringing street-vending lamb kabobs and their Xinjiang black beer (新疆黑啤), the best Chinese beer out there.

lamby pie

12 thoughts on “China O’Brian

  1. Is this really Buff posting for you, Dick? Or is it really you? 🙂 Either way, it’s great to hear about your travels! In honor of your post, I plan to eat a little “Coon” tonight.

  2. Isn’t there some ancient Chinese proverb to the effect of “Beware of Muslims selling beer”? What’s up with that?

    This is great stuff though. Really an interesting little slice of life where you’re living. I only wish some of the clips were a bit longer.

    Note: The link for Video 4 seems to be the same as the link for Video 3.

  3. Fixed. Thanks. I was really tired when I was putting this all together.

    I try not to make a habit of making 30 mb vids, but rather around 10 mb. I’m a bit rusty on the timing since Buff was just here and she was taking everything with her camera.

  4. Brian,

    I am one of Mike’s friends from Albright, and must say that this was a great post for me to read. My wife and I are in the process of adopting a baby girl from China, and hope to being traveling their within the next year to year and a half to be bring her home. I would love to hear more about your trip, and any advice you can give on traveling and staying in China; we will be there for about 2 weeks.

  5. Well, just check back because I’m sure to post more.

    Advice for travel in China often depends on the region. One thing I can say is if you happen to go to Shanghai in the winter, bring layers of clothes, long underwear especially. They have some crazy culture about keeping windows and doors open to circulate air, even during near-freezing temperatures. I’m often freezing during class and a Chinese teacher will open up all the windows. They can get away with it, since it never quite gets freezing here, unlike Beijing where they actually would die if they didn’t have heating.

    Overall, China is a very safe place to travel and the people are very friendly and helpful, so I wouldn’t worry too much. If you want to ask anything specific, you can get me at dick(AT)protozoic(DOT)com.

  6. Grobee, you are a true ambassador for the country! Your fascinating post was then supplemented for us by Buff’s equally entertaining photos, and now we REALLY want to go. Come on, Tim and Meggie!

  7. Dick, I have been trying to talk Loki into going for some time now. Loki has decided to go to Puerto Rico instead – while I am still jealous of his trip, I feel he is taking the easy road since he already knows how to speak Puerto Rican. The challenge is going to a country where you don’t know the language (or in my case anything). Just imagine a white, uncultured, thirty something cripple guy dropped in the middle of China, it would be like watching Survivor Man on the Discovery Channel. Just thinking about it makes my adrenaline pump.

    In all honesty, I really want to come while you’re there, but don’t want to travel by myself either. Oh well, maybe I’ll get to go sometime in the distant future.

  8. DJWebb – Finish your dissertation, let me get a real job with actual time off (and income) and I’ll go to China with you. If Brian has left by that point, we’ll take him back with us. I’m sure he’ll be game.

    In the meantime – Dick, I want to see some new “T” pics. Also, I’m going to fire you my mailing address and you can send me some of that kebab in the post.

  9. Babak’s friend just opened a restaurant here in town that has the best kebabs–lamb, chicken, or beef– you will ever eat. Oddly the name of the place is Tuscany Grill and is located across form SU. We have sent a dozen or so friends and they all rave, even the picky, snooty ones who generally base their food reviews on price and atmosphere, neither of which is present here. Some of them (us) are hooked and go 2 or 3 times a week. The chef/owner bakes for Panera Bread at night, and his flat bread is the best, too. Delicious food, plentiful portions, cheap prices, all right here in Salisbury.

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