Archive for the 'shanghai' Category

Shanghai Museum

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

The Shanghai Museum is free, and I’ve been taking advantage of it to go during the week and just see one room at a time. Coins, pottery, bronzes, jade. It’s much more fun to take some time to look at one batch of objects than to try to see everything in two hours (my limit before I get tired of shuffling around).

This is the jade I liked best, it looks like a little Ebisu-sama, the Japanese god of wealth who is always depicted with a fish:


If you go to the Shanghai Museum and a young couple or a group of students asks you to take their picture in front of the museum, you might want to say no. Since I was going every day for a while, I got asked regularly and noticed the same people — who needs that many pictures of themselves? I searched for “people’s park scam” and found many reports of students inviting foreigners to tea, then asking them to pay the inflated bill, claiming to be poor students.

It feels rude to decline to take a photo, but the last day before I read up on this, I took four photos on my way through the park. No big deal if you’re only going once, but tedious if you’re going regularly.

Walk to Jing’An Temple

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I finished studying around 4:30 this afternoon and decided to go for a walk since the sun had come out while I was working. I ran into Donna right outside my apartment as I was heading toward HengShan Lu. About three hours later I ran into her again on PanYu Lu on my way home.

Google Maps now has a “walking” option so you can see how far you went on foot. Today’s tour was exactly 10 kilometers or 6¼ miles.


Google’s beta warning for the new feature is especially appropriate for Shanghai:


Settling in Shanghai

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

In less than 24 hours after I started looking, I signed a contract on an apartment in Shanghai. The rent is expensive by local standards, but almost a third of what I paid for my Tokyo and London apartments. 6000 RMB/month gets a one-bedroom apartment of around 55 square meters in a “serviced” building. Serviced means they have guards downstairs, maids if you need one, and a bilingual concierge who can send faxes and registered mail, and help with other things that require Chinese language ability.


It’s fully furnished, in the same building as Andrew’s place, directly across the street from the university, on the tenth floor, south-facing, very clean and quiet, but poorly insulated like all Shanghai buildings, so I wear a ski hat and fleece vest in the house. I am looking forward to spring!

I also got a mobile phone (I have to break myself of the habit of calling it a “keitai”) for 1000 RMB, an eight-month gym membership for 500 RMB (less than $100!), and some personal name cards with the Chinese name Yi Mao (no relation to the Chairman) gave me:

罗博特 = luóbótè = Robert

Freiburg –> Frankfurt –> Shanghai

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

I left Germany on Friday the 13th and arrived in Shanghai on Valentine’s Day, February 14th. I had a great time in Freiburg and am looking forward to spending some more time there this summer. Thanks, Imme!

I am staying in the same windowless hotel I stayed in during my reconnaissance mission, only this time they are replacing the sidewalks: both sides of the street at the same time so that workers, construction equipment, cement trucks, cars, scooters and pedestrians all compete for a lane!

Shanghai street fighter

Monday, October 20th, 2008

I mentioned in a previous post that Shanghai is dangerous, but that you’re not generally in danger from other people unless they are behind the wheel of a vehicle. Given the number of fistfights I’ve seen in the past week, I need to retract that statement.

On the way to the station this morning I saw a parking attendant goad a smaller scooter driver into an all-out fistfight. A middle-aged female bystander jumped in and started slugging the attendant when it looked like it was going in his favor and it ended in a stalemate. A traffic accident led to another fistfight, and an all-out brawl cleared one of the VIP booths at a nearby club called MT. The brawl continued in the street where the two shirtless guys pushed and kicked each other down the sidewalk before finally throwing their arms around each other’s shoulders and stumbling home together.

In every case, police or security just stood around and watched until the pugilists had punched themselves into weariness.

Who moved my cheese?

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Shinjuku Station in Tokyo funnels two million people a day through its miles of tunnels and 60 exits. A Japanese urban legend says that the exits rotate every fifteen minutes and that’s why it’s so easy to get lost underground there. It took me two years to learn all the exits by heart, so that one day when I was caught in Takashimaya without an umbrella during a typhoon, I was able to figure out a completely underground route home and stay dry.

The underground complex at XuJiaHui in Shanghai has only 14 exits, so it was easy enough to memorize them in a day, but there is one challenge: instead of rotating, the exits are randomly walled up overnight.

This is a photo of Exit 11, which I have used several times, including last night:

Today it’s a dead end. It looks like no exit existed there. (A blind person following the yellow paving stones will have some trouble with this.)

Another indication of the pace of change in Shanghai is this bookstore that’s mentioned in the current-year edition of the Lonely Planet city guide. It’s also walled up with concrete:

You lie, in faith, for you are call’d plain Cake

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Andrew and I took the MagLev train to Pudong Airport to pick up Joel. His plane was delayed so we killed time in the Hope Star Cafe, which advertises “Coffee and Cate”. “Who’s Cate?”, we asked the waitress, and she pointed at the display case and said, “Cake! Cake!”. Andrew said, “That’s what I love about this place, no attention to detail.”

Japanese, like Chinese, has almost exclusively “open” syllables, which means syllables ending in a vowel, like Yo-ko-ha-ma. Since the vowel represented by “u” is not strongly pronounced in Japanese, that sound is generally used as the ending to “closed” syllables in foreign languages, so “baseball” becomes be-su ba-ru. An exception is syllable-final “t”, which is pronounced “ts” when combined with “u”. In that case, Japanese uses “o” at the end of the syllable, so my name is Roba-to and a present is a gifto. (Some Japanese speakers are aware of this rule and conscientiously delete every “o” following a “t” or a “d” in English, so that a colleague once asked me if I was planning to wear my “tuxeed” [tuxedo] to the Christmas party.)

I noticed that the hotel elevator lists “Front Dest” [Front Desk] as a first-floor destination, and wonder if there is some similar transliteration rule in Chinese that makes “t” an easy mistake for word-final “k”.

Dragon Juice

Friday, October 17th, 2008

We drank the dragon juice. The dried ingredients had plumped up in the alcohol and looked fresh again — after three glasses, the tail of the snake was visible over the level of alcohol, which had turned from clear to red.

When I was a teenager, we moved to a place on the Kissimmee River in Florida, which is a habitat for cottonmouths, coral snakes, and other poisonous creatures. I broke the lock off the shed in the backyard and found it was full of racks of pickled snakes. I burned them all in a big formaldehyde-fueled pit fire, in which the snakes charred and writhed like the damned souls in Dante’s Inferno. Dragon Juice tastes exactly like what that looked like — both gave me nightmares.

Members Only

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

We went to a couple of expat hangouts on Tongren Road yesterday. Mallone’s for a burger, then Judy’s Too for a beer. It was still relatively early when we left, so we walked across the highway to Julu Lu to continue our survey. On the way, we saw a place called S-style Club, where “Club” was written in katakana.

We asked the doorman what kind of club it was and he said, “Sorry, members only.” Then we asked in Japanese what kind of place it was and he said, “Ah, you speak Japanese! Welcome, welcome!” The only membership criterion is that you speak Nihongo, apparently.

Tonight we went to Mesa for dinner. It is billed as “modern Australian”, and was as good as everyone said. Afterward we decided to try out Lounge 758, one of the dozens of karaoke clubs like S-style Club catering to Japanese staying at the New Otani Hotel in the French Concession. The hostesses were shocked when two big white guys walked in, and doubly shocked when we started speaking Japanese (they said afterward). The place was like a typical Japanese hostess/karaoke club, but only one-tenth the price, and with two women from Shanghai, so we finally got to hear what the local dialect sounds like.

It’s good for your health

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

As I mentioned, we ate pizza last night, and I thought this might be a good time to juxtapose the list of items that, in the short time I have been in China, have been recommended to me (sometimes with real zeal) as good for my health:

  • snake heart
  • snake egg
  • dog soup
  • fried baby rats, to be eaten just after they stop squeaking
  • snapping turtle
  • monkey brain
  • dragon juice

I’ll add to this list as time goes on.