Monday, July 30, 2012

Single in Shanghai

While I was growing up, my now 93-year-old bachelor Great Uncle Peter had a shrine to St. Joseph in his bedroom.  On the shrine, he would place pictures of all of his nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews in hopes that the Good Lord would lead them to love.  As teenagers, my single cousins and I would brace ourselves for the inevitable “So is there anyone you are sweet on right now?” that would pop out of his mouth every time we saw him.  I thought this question was mildly irritating and inappropriate, but looking back I realize all he wanted was for us to find our soul mates and live happily ever after.  Being a bachelor who had a lady friend for 50+ years, he wanted more for us.  I learned this weekend, things could be MUCH worse than a school picture taped to a shrine inside a home.  Chris and I took a trip to the Shanghai Marriage Market.

Two women check out some prospects at the Shanghai Marriage Market.

Yes single friends, if you are (or aren’t) looking for that special someone, you can take the Metro to People’s Square Park on the weekends and witness hundreds of parents trying to arrange fateful meetings between their eligible, single offspring. 

Parents browse potential suitors for their children.  Note how some parents use umbrellas and gift bags to make their child's profile stand out. 

Here is how the marriage market process works.  Eager parents post a poster containing a picture of their child with the his or her age, height, job, salary, educational experiences, real estate holdings, and future spousal requirements in People’s Square Park.  If the child does not know his or her parents are wanting to set them up, many times the parent will steal a picture of their child and post it in the park.

Parents looking for future daughter or son in laws will browse the want ad like sheets and contact the posters (who are often waiting on the park sidelines) to arrange a meeting between their offspring.  If it works out, all parties may live happily ever after. 
This is a sample posting for someone looking for a mate born in 1977-1982.

Upon seeing the madness of cackling parents, the following question popped in my head:
            “In a city of 23,000,000 people, why is there a need for a marriage market?”

My initial internal responses were simple.  Parents want to see their children happy.  Parents expect so much from this generation of Chinese citizens; hence their sons and daughters are too busy with studies and work to find a quality spouse. 
For 10-20 RMB ($1.50-$3.00) one may hire a matchmaker to facilitate the process.  While the initial cost is low, the matchmaker expect a handsome bonus and a wedding invitation if the match works out.

These answers were too simple for me.  I turned to the web and Googled Shanghai Marriage Market to get an answer to my question.

According to CNN, dating in China is pretty tough.  Thanks to the one child per household law, many parents selected to have male offspring.  Hence there are going to be 24,000,000 more marrying aged males than females in China in 2020.  Additionally, there is an unspoken “ABCD rule” where males of one class marry one class below them.  This rule has led to a surplus of intelligent, productive, beautiful women in Shanghai who are financially independent and looking for love.  To make matters more bizarre, if you are single over the age of 30, you are considered a “sheng nu” or a leftover woman.   Please know, dear readers, I do not agree with this system.  I am just providing this information to provide understanding of this practice.
One parent identifies a potential winner.

Here are more bachelors and bachelorettes.

The marriage market can backfire.  Check out the clip below.

Shanghai Love Market from Craig Rosenthal on Vimeo.

Gotta love it!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shanghai Shopaholic Take Two!

One of my biggest fears before moving to Shanghai was that I would not find any cute clothes that would fit me.  I am not the smallest person on the block, and Chinese sizes run snug.  (For example, Chris normally wears an XL knit shirts in the US.  In China, he has to buy 4XL.)  So before I left for Shanghai, I had a shopping spree in the states.  

Three months and 7384 miles later, the retail therapy bug bit me hard. My mission: I needed a couple of cool, cute dresses. Luckily, I did not have to travel far to come across a place that changed my view of clothes shopping forever: the South Bund Fabric Market.

Welcome to fabric heaven my friends!

As I arrived at the warehouse, I was skeptical.  Outside of the place were junk dealers pawning jewelry, bags, electronics, shoes, and other miscellaneous odds and ends.  I took a deep breath, walked through the industrial plastic door flaps and entered a fabric paradise.  All I could see was aisles and aisles of beautiful silks, cottons, wools, cashmeres, sequins, and seamstresses who were ready to stich up whatever I wanted. 

Pick your prom dress!

The market is home to  hundreds of stalls similar to the one shown here.
Look in here dance moms!!

After my initial fabric shock, I decided to make a few laps around the three floors to check out the goods.  I meandered among the suits, dresses and scarves and settled on a vendor who was putting the final touches on a darling little black dress.  I stepped inside the booth to take a closer look. 

“May I help you lady?” asked the tailor.

“I am looking to have a dress made, however I am not sure as to what I want yet.”  I replied.  I had no idea where to start with this process.

“Okay I help you.”  She started pulling books of dress pictures and swatches of materials so I could figure out what I wanted.  The combinations were endless.  I could have anything from a Chinese Cheongsam to an Audrey Hepburn number in any fabric I wanted!  This was going to be fun.

After I settled on a style and fabric, and the bargain wars began.  For those of you who keep up with the blog, setting a price for clothing is very similar to the negotiating game I played at the Honqiao Pearl Market last spring.  The tailor would type in a number into an ancient calculator.  I would type my counter offer.  After a few more tai guile’s and pleases we would settle on a price.  Then, I got measured for my new dress, placed half of the money down, and went on my merry way.    

One week later, I get exactly what I asked for!  (At a VERY cheap price!)

Here is one of the final products.

Chris checks out different jacket styles.

Then he gets measured for a new jacket.

This is the way to shop for clothes!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Lunch Date

Since I will not start my new job until early September, I have the luxury of being a tourist in my new hometown while Chris is at work.

Today, I decided I would do one of the most touristy things a person could do in Shanghai.  I went to the Yuyuan Garden tourist market.  As I was meandering among the tea, pearl, jade, and junk vendors, my stomach started to grumble so I decided to grab a bite to eat.  I passed by a cafeteria-style restaurant that had beautiful pictures of jaozi (dumplings).  It is really difficult to mess up jaozi, so I ducked in to snag some lunch.

 I grabbed a plate of noodles and an orange drink that was a dead wringer for the McDonald’s orange drink I drank as a kiddo, and parked myself at the only empty table in the restaurant.  I was happy to finally slurp some noodles.  (There is no polite way to eat noodles with chopsticks.  Everyone here slurps.) 

Two seconds after I sat down, an old Chinese couple sat down at the table with me.  Fortunately, they did not sit directly in front of me, so I could pretty much ignore them and eat in peace. 

About five minutes later, my date arrived.

I noticed that my date also has a thing for Jaozi, coincidence??  ;)
Yep, a random stranger took the seat directly in front of me and started eating his lunch.  I really didn’t know what to do.  Was I supposed to make small talk with him?  Was I supposed to pretend he was not there?  Was he one of those creepy people who like to scam tourists that I have read about online?  This was definitely a first for me.  Sharing a table with a stranger was one thing.  Sitting right across from a one while eating was an entirely different ballgame.  For me, sharing a meal with someone is usually a bonding experience.  I normally don’t eat with strangers unless I am at a networking or social function.

I did what my city girl instincts told me to do.  I looked down, finished my lunch, and at the end of the meal gave the man a “good day” nod.  I cleared my tray and went about my business.

I was still intrigued by my lunch when I arrived home, so I turned to the web to seek answers about my unique dining experience.  According to Wikipedia, I had dined at a yum cha restaurant.  Yum cha is Chinese for drink tea.  In yum cha restaurants, it is common to dine and drink tea with complete strangers.  I wish I would have known that beforehand.  Perhaps I could have practiced my Chinese.  Or at least gotten in a good gam bei!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mac Lovin

A little bird told me that tomorrow is going to be a BIG day for the Shanghainese Apple lovers.  If rumors are true, consumers will be able to purchase the new iPad in Shanghai.  Click here to see why it has taken Apple so long to officially release the tablet in Mainland China.

To check out the excitement, Chris and I took a field trip to the Apple store in Pudong, Shanghai last weekend.

This is the Pudong Apple store with the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the background.

I was surprised to find that no one had been camping out for the new iPad.
I like to refer to the Apple store as one of my happy places.  The Pudong location was no exception to the rule.  As we descended the glass stairs into the store, we were cheerily greeted by an English speaking salesperson who was more than happy to help us locate a Chinese charger for my devices.

Online learning is universal! 

I am very happy that I decided to purchase my iPhone, iPad and Macbook in the states; the prices in China are significantly higher.  Some products, like Apple TV, are not even sold in China.

Chris checks out some overpriced speakers.  They were pretty, though.

Chris is supposed to get an iPhone next week.  I wonder if he will get this cover...

The Pudong store is the proud owner of the largest Genius bar in the world.  The place was huge!
In my opinion, the Apple store is a great place to be.  I just hope that tomorrow does not bring a repeat of the iPhone 4S launch! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Cheesy

One of my biggest gripes about China is the lack of Cheese in the grocery store.  So when Chris and I saw that there was going to be an annual “Grilled Cheese Shanghai” competition at the Sinan Mansions, we knew we had to check it out. Gourmet grilled cheese and beer sounded like paradise!
This is definitely my kind of party!

Every competition has some rules.  There were three divisions: Variations on a Classic, Anything Goes and Chinese Style.

If you break the rules, you will be BOTH shunned and disqualified.  I LOVE it!!

Some of the entries were incredibly delectable.  I especially appreciated a Parmesan, Cheddar, and Buffalo style chicken on a baguette.

The Spinach, Feta, and Mozzarella was one of my favorites.  

Others were a little unconventional.

One Chicago based competitor cooked up a banana, honey and Brie grilled cheese.  Pretty yummy.

Unfortunately, the bananas did not work out as well with the Cheddar.

Chris was a huge fan of the grilled duck and Mozzarella sandwich.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to open the skies in the middle of the fun. 

Save the Cheese!!!

It's all good!  We found an overhang.

Overall, it was a great day to feel cheesy!

Actually, it is easy being cheesy!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I Get Around

One of the biggest shocks of living in Shanghai is the amount of effort it takes to get around this town.  Mind you, I am coming from a country where I could easily get where I needed to be by jumping in my car, firing up the air conditioning and taking off.  Can’t do that here.  At this point, I have three options:

  1. Walk
  2. Taxi
  3. Subway (The Metro)

Option One: Walking

I hope that by the end of this three-year stint that I have calves of steel!  Shanghai is fairly walker friendly, but with the triple digit heat indices and the oppressive humidity, a simple jaunt is an extended sauna trip.  I quickly realized I needed to explore other options.

108 degree heat indices do not make for pleasant walks.

Option Two: Taxis

One of the best things about living in the world’s most populous city is the abundance of cabs.  For me, cab transport is pretty easy most of the time.  All I have to do is type in my destination in my Smart Shangahi app, hail a cab (there are tons of them), show the driver the cab directions, and rest in comfort while the driver weaves through the Shanghai traffic.      

Chris hails a cab near the Sinan Mansions.

Green light on = the ride is available!

This is an example of the taxi screen ala Smart Shanghai.
Initially, this was my sole mode of transportation.  Then I realized that not all of the Smart Shanghai taxi instructions were correct.  I also realized some of these trips were starting to eat up my cash, especially when the driver knew he could take the scenic route without having me question where we were headed.  (That will change soon…Chinese lessons resume Monday!)  In the meantime, I needed to explore even more options.

Option Three:  The Metro

Ever since I watched one too many 80’s movies with creepy subway scenes, I have had a slight phobia of the subway.  (For example, click here to see the terrifying El scene in Adventures in Babysitting.  Please pardon the language.)  The prospect of having to deal with a dangerous situation in a foreign country initially made me turn my nose up at the Metro. Chris finally convinced me to try it, and I am happy to report that I am glad I did.

The Shanghai Metro is one of the cleanest, well marked, cheap, and cool methods of transport.  All of the stations I have visited have been extremely well lit, and all of the direction signs are in both Chinese and English!  For about $.50-$1.09 depending on the length of your ride, one can cruise the traffic free Shanghai underground in comfort.

Before taking my first ride, I downloaded the Metro Shanghai App for $.99.  This is by far and away one of the best apps to buy if you are traveling to Shanghai.  Metro Shanghai provides Metro Riders a map of the subway lines, maps for the area around each station and a station locater tool that leads the user to any station within 2km (1.25 mi) of their current location.  The best feature of this app, however, is the trip-planning tool that computes your 5 fastest routes, fares, and transfers after you enter your beginning and destination stations!

 If you don’t feel like purchasing the app, go on the Shanghai Metro website; they have a handy guide to riding the subway.  I love the “Take the Metro” link that task analyzes how to ride the subway…in 8 pages. 

My first Shanghai subway ride was nowhere near as scary as the Adventures in Babysitting clip.  After making my way through the endless underground hallways and taking a handful of elevators, I finally made it to the train.  After I boarded, I had a chance to gather some observations.

There is no such thing as a line in China.  Everyone kind of pushes their way off and on the trains and up and down escalators.
So many people...Where do they come from?

Get ready to shove through the lineless masses!!!

Subway seats are hot real estate.  If you want one, be prepared to shove to claim your property.

You can examine people's body language to see who may be giving up their seat at the next stop.

    There are no doors between the subway cars.  You can pretty much run up and down the train without getting hurt. 

Feel free to run from train to train.

     The subway is a great place to people watch, and get watched.  It is funny to see many young childrens’ reaction to seeing a large, American woman.  Many little ones stop and stare at me like I am the feature attraction at the zoo.

     Few people make any eye contact with you. 
Chris loves making eye contact.  He must always be the exception to the rule. 

      It is best to bring your iDevice or book to read so you have something to occupy your time on the train.

Perhaps in a few months, I will graduate to a bike.  Or even better I may purchase one of those little motor scooters that folks ride like Evil Kenevil.  In the meantime, the subway is the ride for me!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Adventures in Google Translate

After our Saturday adventures with Mr. Ma, I decided it was about time I tried a different method of communication. I needed to let him know that I was trying to blend in with the culture, and did not want to have another scream at the American session. So I decided to pull out my new best friend, my iPhone.
Meet my new best friend, my iPhone.

Yes, I know it may seem odd that I referred to a cell phone as my new bestie, but one needs to understand how instrumental this phone has been for my survival in Shanghai.  If I need to get dinner, the Smart Shanghai app will give me a screen I can show cab drivers so they can whisk me away to my restaurant of choice.  If I am lost, I can use my Google Maps app to lead me home.  If I need someone to interpret my bills, I whip out my Pleco app that scans the Chinese characters and the phone gives me a rough interpretation of what I am reading.  (That is, if the text is clear enough to scan.)  It also has Google Translate, an app that will remove all language barriers.  So I thought.

As a result of the weekend mess, we were promised the dryer repairman would install the dryer on Tuesday.  Mr. Ma arrived at 9:00 am as promised, and we greeted each other with ni haos.  He pointed towards the dryer and started speaking to me in his native tongue.  I pulled out my iPhone, fired up Google Translate, and went to town.

In order for this to work, I would have to train Ma on how to use the app.  I said, “Hello” into the phone.  “Ni hao” popped up on the screen. Perhaps this was going to work. I continued.  “All you have to do is speak into the phone, and it will translate what you say to English.”  More characters popped up.  Ma started laughing hysterically.  I knew something was up.  I pressed the microphone button, and let Ma take a turn.  He barked into the phone.

“We’ll be done after Jack is swimming in lasagna” appeared on the screen.  I started laughing like a hyena.  We tried it again.  This is what we got:

Okay, first Jack then Charles...this is REALLY working!

We were both laughing so hard we were in tears after this.
Ma then resumed his crack up session and went to work on the dryer.  After realizing he could not install the dryer because one of the feet and the manual was missing, we shared a few more laughs.  Here’s why:

Oh I get this one!  I can't get the dryer installed, so the delivery man will phone up when he is about to deliver the good dryer!

I think this app will call it a day.

The good news is that all of our appliances have been installed, the internet is working, and both the satellite and local cable is up.  The apartment is feeling like home!  AND Mandarin lessons resume Monday!  Now it's time to explore my new city!

Monday, July 9, 2012


If there was one quote that could sum up getting settled in our apartment, it would be:

"Understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to become comic stories the next." ~ Nora Ephron

Mind you, Chris and I aren’t facing any catastrophes; just minor irritations that when combined could bring a culture shocked chick to tears. 

For those of you who were wondering which apartment we selected, we selected apartment three!  If you would like to see our apartment pre move in, visit the Chris Goes House Hunting post to get the grand tour.

For me the apartment was love at first sight.  We just needed a few things to happen before we moved in:
1)   We needed internet.  (They call it DSL over here.)
2)   We needed a washer, drier and dishwasher.
3)   We needed cable (Satellite TV).
4)   We needed the place to be cleaned before we moved in. 

When we arrived at the apartment after our lengthy flight, our relocation agent, Ring, was at our new building waiting for us.  Unfortunately, the key and the landlord were not.  According to Ring, the landlord was thirty minutes out.  In the meantime, we decided to move our six suitcases, carry-ons, and other garb to the 20th floor (via elevator) so we could get settled as soon as the key arrived. 

15 minutes later, our landlord’s brother in law/ property manager, Mr. Ma, arrived with one key.  I was so excited to finally see our cool, clean Shanghainese paradise in person.  As I opened the door, there was a hot, dusty, cruel surprise!  The apartment looked the same as it did on the video, however no one had turned on the air conditioning, cleaned the place, or set up the internet and cable.  There was no washer, dishwasher or dryer to be found.  I immediately knew It was going to be a long week.

This is Mr. Ma the property manager.  He is a pretty cool cat!

Ring immediately sprung into action by calling vendors and yelling at them in Chinese.  15 minutes later an Ayi showed up and started to wipe down the place.  (For those of you who don’t know Ayi, Chinese for Auntie, is someone who is like a Chinese mom.  Ayis clean, cook, shop, and pretty much anything else a mom would do.)  She came in with some dish detergent and gave the place a quick wipe down, so I would feel comfortable taking a shower.

Ring also called the service man to see what was up with the air conditioner, seeing we could not turn on the unit because we did not understand how to hit the right combination for cool.  Did I also mention the temperatures are in Centigrade?  Lesson 18: Before you travel to China, make sure you have a rough idea of how to convert temperatures between Fahrenheit and Celsius.  That way you don’t have to ask,
“Is 23° C warm or cold?” 

Teacher friends, feel free to use this picture for your word problems.

I felt like a complete idiot because I could not figure this AC to save my life!  At least the controls are in English...unlike many other appliances.

Sensing I was about to lose my mind, Mr. Ma (who speaks NO English) decided to brighten my spirits.  He handed me the remote control, and showed me how to adjust my new limousine style chandelier.  While this was a nice gesture, I did not care that the light fixture came with a remote control that had four different light settings.  I WANTED A COOL, CLEAN PLACE TO SLEEP! 

Yes folks, this beauty comes with it's own remote control!  

Mr. Ma then walked me outside to show off the wonderful air-drying rack that he had installed.  I certainly hoped he did not consider this to be the dryer.  I was then notified that an electric dryer would be coming on Saturday. 

I am glad this is not my only dryer!

Fortunately, the apartment service man arrived 5 minutes after Ring called, and the place started to cool off.  However, I quickly realized that we were not going to be fully settled for a while.  We needed a plan…stat. 

The washer and drier were not going to be delivered until Saturday, so rather than having to wait at home for multiple days, Ring scheduled all of the service folks to come on Saturday morning.  In the meantime I would entertain myself by exploring the area. 

Saturday’s arrival felt like Christmas Morning!  I was FINALLY going to be able to do some laundry, catch up with my cable, surf the web and be lazy.  I was looking forward to being settled. 

Sandy (another relocation agent/ guardian angel) and Mr. Ma came over and helped Chris and I supervise the workers’ coming and goings. However, she was only able to stay with us until 10:30.  After that, Chris and I would have to be on our own with Mr. Ma and the workers.  Everything would fall into place.

This is Sandy one week after we moved in.  She and Leia became fast friends!  I don't know what Chris and I would do without she and Ring.

The phone company arrived first and installed our phones.  While we did not request landlines, it is nice to have the option to call someone if our cell phones die.   The only problem is our new landline phone number used to be a fax number.  So, instead of having a pleasant conversation each time the phone rings, we hear,
“Ni hao, we are going to send you a fax now” and the screeching music of a fax being transmitted. We are still looking into how we can get this fixed.

This is our Chinese landline phone.  I think it is telling me I have 23 missed faxes.

After we got our phone, we finally got Sattelite TV!  Sandy (relocation specialist) warned us that the satellite may not be activated until 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  I could be patient, what would a few more hours be?  At 3:30, I sat down to turn on the TV and take in some international satellite package action.  Instead, I got 2 TV channels; the first being the Chinese Cathlolic Channel and the other being the Asian Cultural Channel.  All of the other stations flashed the following message. 

At least the error message is in English.  It took us 4 days to get the cable functioning. 

I really wanted to throw the remote at the TV.  I emailed Sandy and Ring to see if they could come up with a solution.

The washer and dryer then arrived!  I was so excited to finally have the option of doing laundry.  Mr. Ma and some other workers installed the machine.  When he barked in Chinese at me and pointed at the new machine, I inferred the machine was ready to be used.  I looked at the knobs to figure out how to start a load only to realize that the writing on the machine is in Chinese.  I did not want to turn our laundry into Barbie clothes, so I Googled the make and model of our washer and dryer to see if I could download an English instruction manual.  No such luck.  Sandy had left, so there was not way anyone could interpret the instructions so Mr. Ma tried to teach me how to use the washer.  The dialogue went a little like this.

Mr. Ma: “什么不尝试你的品牌新的洗衣机呢?我注意到你有很多衣服,你的卧室地板上。

Me:  I am sorry I don’t speak Chinese.

Mr. Ma (in a louder voice, because he thinks I can’t hear him): 什么不尝试你的品牌新的洗衣机呢?我注意到你有很多衣服,你的卧室地板上.

Me:  Me wenti.  Wo shi meguoren.  Bu hui shuo Yongwen.  (That means I am sorry, I am American.  I do not speak Chinese.)   I was really trying here.

Mr. Ma marches me to the bedroom, points at the mountain of dirty clothes, then marches me back to the laundry room and points washer.

Mr. Ma:  什么不尝试你的品牌新的洗衣机呢? 我注意到你有很多衣服,你的卧室地板上。

(I finally get the picture.)

Me: I am sorry.  I am not going to do my laundry yet.  I don’t have any detergent, and my dryer is not hooked up. 

Mr. Ma looks at me like I was the laziest woman in the universe because I was not using the washer 3 minutes after it had been installed.  He then proceeds to start yelling in Chinese for a good 10 minutes, then skulks off for a cigarette.  I choke back tears, grab a glass of water and wait for the chaos to be over.

After the tantrum, the Internet man was ready to install our broadband. This was going to be the highlight of my day.  Finally I was going to be able to reconnect with the world in the comfort of my own home without having to worry about data overages on my phone. Wire was laid, plugs were plugged in, and the Internet man plugged the cat 5 cable directly into Chris's laptop.  Google suddenly popped up on the screen!  Then he plugged the cable into my laptop.  I finally had Internet!!  However, all work was not done.  We needed to get the wireless up and running.  Chris had the foresight to carry his router not he plane, so we could get us up and running.  I asked the broadband man,
            “Can I plug this wire into the router so we can get our wireless working?”
The worker shakes his head violently no, and starts rambling in Chinese.  He assumes he is finished with the installation, so he and Mr. Ma take off. 

            Tears finally spilled down my cheeks.  I was so tired of being yelled at in a language I don’t know, and all I wanted was to get some contact with the Western world.  I had enough; it was time for me to take control of my situation.  I took the cat 5 cable, plugged it into the router and plugged the router in to the power strip.  Strange Brew, our wireless network pops up on my screen.  Victory!!!!

At the end of Saturday night, the washer and dryer were not usable; I had access to two very amusing TV channels, and the wireless Internet was rocking!  One out of three tasks accomplished is not so bad.