Shanghai Expo 2010, Part 1

3 06 2010

So the Expo is huge – 5.28 square kilometers, which is what, 3.5 square miles, roughly? According to the Expo 2010 site, not exactly a wealth of knowledge, 246 countries participated in the Expo. I made a rough estimate of how many countries’ pavilions we saw, according to how many stamps we got at said pavilions, and how many I can remember that we didn’t get stamps at. And that number is … hang on, counting … 38 countries. So we saw roughly 15 percent of the countries’ pavilions, at least if the number provided by the Expo is accurate. In 12 hours. Like I said, big place.

The Expo site is situated on a stretch of the Huangpu River in South-Central Shanghai. No doubt lots of poor Chinese and La Mien shops were cleared out to make room for the Expo, so our thanks go out to those who were there before. Mmm…la mien. There were several metro stops near the site, but we chose the one on the north side, which actually ended up being a mistake, since we had to walk through the north side of the Expo, which consisted solely of business pavilions like Coca-Cola and China Mobile. When we got to the river, we found a dock where you could be ferried across the river to either the Asia Pavilion or the Europe Pavilion. I chose the Asia Pavilion, so Missy can blame me for us seeing lots of tiny Asian countries like the Kyrgyz Republic on our visit. It was chaotic getting on the ferry, with the Chinese tourists exhibiting their worst traits of pushing, shoving and running to get to the ferry which wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Missy ended up getting in a scrap with some old Chinese woman who apparently thought the world would end if she didn’t get on the ferry IMMEDIATELY. Here is a picture of me in the crowd on the ferry with the Huangpu behind us.

That’s right, an Albuquerque shirt, albeit one with sahuaros on it, which don’t actually grow in New Mexico.

After disembarking, we walked to the edge of the Asia side of the pavilion, hoping to work our way across the world – I guess. I’m not sure there was a plan, really. The first pavilion we went into was the Tajikistan one. Yes, there is a country called Tajikistan. Unfortunately, it, like many of the small countries’ pavilions, it was underwhelming. More like a small chamber of commerce office or science fair project than anything else. We quickly knocked out Kyrgystan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. We also tried to see the Iraq pavilion, but it was still under construction. I guess they have other stuff going on right now. In this picture, Missy expresses disappointment about Iraq.

Iraq being closed rendered me unable to use the tagline “Visit Iraq: It’s a gas.” Maybe next time. The first truly impressive pavilion we visited was the Vietnam one, which was quite beautiful and interesting, belying the reputation that the country seems to have among a lot of Westerners who travel there. The entire exterior was covered with bamboo, and the inside, which had instruments set up for musicians to play, looked like a cathedral. This is the interior of the Vietnam pavilion

Next up, Missy with more!





If you’re at an “antique” market in Shanghai, don’t pay more than 10% of the quoted price.

16 11 2009

Word to live by, my friends. Yesterday, the last day of our Shanghai mini break, we got up and out early. The day before we took awhile to get going, mostly because it is such a treat to sleep in a queen sized bed. (Have we talked about the size of our bed? I know some of you have seen it on video chat. It doesn’t have a western size- maybe “twin and a half”? It’s tight enough that I made Jeremiah push it against the wall until a few weeks ago because I was genuinely worried about falling out.) We headed to the train ticket office, easily bought a return ticket for that afternoon (seriously, we have vastly improved our train ticket purchasing skills), and headed to the Dong Tai “antique” market to pick up some Christmas tchotchkes cheesy enough to prove that we live in China. Nothing here is antique. It’s all reproductions that they leave out to get dusty which is fine by me.

The market had the hordes of foreigners Jeremiah mentioned in his Shanghai blog. (They really are EVERYWHERE and we clearly aren’t used to seeing non Asian people. I’m worried that we’ll stop and stare at every white and black person when we touch down in the US.) Tourists were walking around in small groups with enormous cameras around their necks. It was very strange to know that we are lumped in with those people in the vendors minds, well, we were until we started to haggle. For example, all of the vendors have these great reproduction posters or propaganda, 1930s Shanghai ladies, and old advertisements. When we’d ask “DuoShao Qian?” (Dwo Shaow Chien) or “How much?” they would say 100 Quai. About $15. Well, a poster in America costs $15 and they aren’t nearly as cool so I’m sure most tourists happily fork it over. Or, if they’ve been told to haggle, maybe they’ll offer 80 Quai, and the owner will pretend that they are killing them but happily take the money. We, however, paid 15 Quai for our first poster and when another vendor said he’d give us posters for what we paid previously, we told him we paid 10 Quai and he didn’t blink an eye. Next time, I’m offering 5!

One vendor asked us where we were from after a purchase (if you keep smiling through the whole interaction, you’re pals after the cash changes hands) and when we explained we were teachers from Nanjing. At the booth next door we had a much easier time buying something for cheap and Jeremiah saw that vendor’s wife come up and berate him for starting so low or something along those lines. We distinctly heard him repeat that we were teachers from Nanjing and she shrugged her shoulders in understanding that we lived here. Ha!

There are pictures up on the Flickr page http://www.mjchinablog.flickr.com/photos but here are some previews.

Not an antique in sight.

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Evidence from our second Chinese haircut (in Nanjing.) When white people get their hair cut, they also get a commemorative photo taken by every stylist in the salon.

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Everyone in Shanghai is preparing for the World Expo in 2010. The blue guy is the cartoon spokesman. The words are close to the actual slogan.

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Hits and misses in Shanghai

14 11 2009

So we’re now back after an eventful trip to Shanghai. The trip was a lot of fun, but I have two things to report that are either funny or exciting or both from yesterday.
First off, we were riding the taxi to Sun Yat-Sen’s former residence in the charming, pretty French Concession area when we pulled to a stop light. The light turned green, and we waited…and waited…and waited. So I looked over at the taxi driver and realized he was sleeping. That’s right, folks, our cab driver fell asleep at the wheel. In the middle of traffic. In one of the world’s largest cities. I tapped on the little plastic divider separating him from me so as to be sneaky about it and not embarrass him needlessly in front of Missy, and he woke with a start and continued on to the destination. How often does that happen? Anyway, the house was nice and I always find that historical stuff really interesting.
Secondly, we went to the Shanghai Acrobats show, also in the same area. We bought the tickets at the hostel, which, incidentally, is really nice and inexpensive, if you’re ever in Shanghai and don’t need a 5-star hotel. So we went to the theater, which was shuttered up right until 7, then went upstairs and took our seats on the balcony (we had the cheap seats). It was hard not to notice the fact that there was ONE Chinese person in the entire crowd – or one that wasn’t a tour guide, rather. So the show started with the guys leaping and spinning through rings, which is always a crowd-pleaser, particularly for kids. And in that first segment, there were, oh, five or six mistakes. I don’t know if any of you have seen Chinese Acrobats, but at least in the U.S., they rarely screw up at all, so it’s a little disconcerting to see them do a running leap and take out a row of rings they’re suppose to spin effortlessly through, especially when they’re going to do death-defying tricks later in the show. But hey, it was the first act, right? After that, there was a girl contorting her body in a variety of shapes, which was well-done, though the stage design wasn’t exactly gorgeous. The next few acts were also pretty good. One involved jugglers, and another had a girl spinning in a net while two guys with painted-on abs gyrated nearby.
The show came to a screeching halt, though, when this old man came out in a tux and did some card tricks. Yep, card tricks. He’d stand there and flash three or so cards in his hands – we think, since he was so small on the stage – then started juggling little bouncy balls. We think. Then he had some eggs in his coat pockets, which he switched from finger to finger. To finish that part of the show, he cracked the eggs and poured the yolk into a glass which he showed the crowd. Wow! Then for his grand finale, he pretty much just tossed everything he had used in his act into the crowd – except the eggs, of course. We came up with a good catchphrase for the show: You like acrobats? Well we have a card-thrower for you! Anyway, once he stepped off-stage, the show resumed with girls riding unicycles around, and there was a bit of slapstick involving a nervous tourist and a knife thrower. There was also one final “people nervously flying through the air” act, which of course began with a girl being flung up into the air, then almost falling to all of our horror. No one else was injured in the show, though, thankfully.
As for the rest of the night, we had a fantastic Mexican dinner, and we had some pretty decent Thai food for lunch at this trendy dinner area which was made up of rebuilt row houses from the ’30s, I guess. After the Mexican dinner, we ended up wandering around in circles looking for this club we had been told was nice, but only after an hour of walking and finally settling on a cab ride, we discovered that there was an 80 RMB show to see some British drum & bass guy, which didn’t really interest either of us. All in all, it was a fun day. -Jeremiah





Mexican Food.

14 11 2009

Two hours ago we ate Mexican food for the first time in 3 months.

Needless to say, we’re moving to Shanghai.

love, Missy





We’ve been Shanghaiied, Part 1

12 11 2009

So we’re in Shanghai at a hostel. Umm…Le Tour Traveler’s Rest Hostel, I think? It’s pretty nice. It’s near the French Concession area of Shanghai, which is the prettier, more upscale part of the city. Or one of them. Shanghai has a few. The hostel is big, the rooms are relatively cheap and clean, so we’re pretty happy. We had a couple drinks at the bar on top of the building, then we played an intense match of pingpong, I mean, table tennis – we are in China after all. As for who won, I’ll just say that Missy will sweeping up leaves with a wicker broom for a few extra days next week.
Anyway, we went to the Chinese Propaghanda Museum, which was pretty awesome. It was down in the basement of an apartment complex, as strange as that sounds, but they had an impressive collection of Communist propaganda posters from 1949-1979. Many of them were anti-US, surprise surprise, though that changed in 1972 when Nixon visited the country. Anyway, cool museum. We got some reproduction postcards and some artwork for our apartment/America, which is exciting.
After the museum, we went out to dinner at this place called Malone’s, where I’m happy to say we managed to eat a real burger AND a real veggie burger. A bit pricey, but this is Shanghai, and they did taste like real burgers, so we’ll take the hit with a smile. Tomorrow we’ll tourist it up at Jing’An Temple, maybe go to Sun Yat-Sen’s former residence, then meet up with laoshi buddies Ryan and Paige for evening hijinks. See you then.!
-Jeremiah





First full day in China is a hot, wet success!

23 08 2009

Hello again from Missy. This one might be long and boring so feel free to skim. I can guarantee future posts will NOT be this ridiculously long.

I’m determined to catch you up chronologically so I don’t forget anything from the past few days. For all of Jeremiah’s faithful readers, my poor memory is infamous, ask anyone. It’s a trait I vehemently deny but different groups of people throughout my life all seem to agree on this. Memory Schmemory. So, let’s travel back in time to Friday.

We woke up bright and early because of ridiculously early bedtime and had the free breakfast buffet at our hotel. I LOVED IT. I recognized almost nothing and had to take a few bits of everything that looked meatless (Jeremiah’s faithful readers- I’m a 16 year vegetarian.) My favorites were the pickled green beans, rice & eggs, pickled beets (say whaaat?), whole tomatoes that looked like plums, sesame seed pastries, dumplings with black beans inside, and the tea. Oh, the tea, the tea. It is gorgeous. They serve it before everything and there’s no bitterness or chalkiness like American hot tea. Yum.

Since we were up and out early we got to find and navigate the metro during rush hour. Similar to everything else, it only takes one halting, stuttering experience before you can navigate the waters. We needed help with the ticket machine because, although they have English instructions (pick line color, pick destination, insert money, etc.), none of the destinations on the map are in English. The thought was nice. This phenomenon is everywhere- a big sign in English offering help/hope, but only Chinese characters underneath it. My favorite today was one that said “Free Tourist Information” with Chinese maps and pamphlets.

I think Jeremiah already wrote about most of our touristy day but I’ll do a quick recap also. While walking from the metro station to the garden we walked down a authentic Shanghai neighborhood street complete with people doing their washing in the street and apartments that doubled as storefronts for street vendor cooking. It was really cool, friends. It felt like the perfect kickoff to our adventure (yeah, yeah, I said ‘adventure’ again.) We ended up in Old Town Shanghai which was tourist central. People from all over Asia were there with their guides holding triangular colored flags to lead the throngs through the sites. Everyone wanted to sell us a watch. I gestured that I was already wearing a watch and one guy said, “Cheaper!” which made me wondering how he could go cheaper than something I already owned. We also went into the nearby City God Temple for Shanghai and bought incense sticks to burn. Everyone lit their sticks, bowed three times in each direction and then threw them in a box that kept burning. Jeremiah and observed carefully and did our best to follow suit with respect. I’m pretty sure we wished for the same thing.

We had to walk back through Old Town Shanghai to get to the fancy gardens I can’t remember the name for (check JW’s blog) and I encountered my first fan. A woman pulled me over and gestured to her camera. I thought she wanted me to take a picture of her and her friend but it became clear quickly that she wanted a picture with the ginormous, sweaty American woman. I was happy to oblige. I think Jeremiah already posted a picture of this bizarre encounter. Fame, people. It’s coming.

The gardens were lovely, but the most exciting thing that happened at the gardens was that I PEED IN A SQUAT TOILET! Yes, folks, I did it and I did great. It actually was much easier than I expected and I don’t feel nervous about encountering another. I think I got lucky in that it was quite clean and porcelain with locking doors, I’ve been warned that many are just holes and smell awful. I’m sure you’ll be the first to know when I meet one of these monsters.

Right after my urination triumph, a thunderstorm quickly rolled in and everyone cleared out. I was delighted that it started to rain because, as you probably notice in all of the pictures where I’m wearing the gray dress, I was disgustingly sweaty and the rain hid my shame. Bear with me a moment while I acknowledge the heat- Friends, I have NEVER been as hot or sweaty as I am here. Houston has nothing, NOTHING, I say, on the heavy, wet air of Southeast China in August. It will be 87 degrees outside and overcast but we will both be drenched in about 10 minutes. Later that day when we read the guidebook about Nanjing it fondly called it ‘one of the three furnaces in China.’ Great.

To cool/dry off and avoid the rain, we headed for the Shanghai museum. We blew 90 minutes here looking through four floors of exhibits. Very nice. As we were leaving to find lunch, a friendly young man called Murphy asked us to take his picture in front of the door. We agreed and he immediately engaged us (one could say ‘Shanghai-ed’?), said he was on vacation also and that he was headed to a tea market festival thing that was right across the way. Would we like to go with him? We were hungry and ready for food and, truly, didn’t have any choice but to follow him. By the time we got into a mall and he wanted us to follow him up an escalator I finally stopped him and said, “Where are we going?” and he replied, “An authentic Chinese tea ceremony!” We quickly and briskly wished him luck and untangled ourselves to go find lunch. Later while reading part of our Living Abroad in China book we discovered that bringing tourists to an expensive tea ceremony scam was listed as one of the top 10 scams of China. I was very proud that we thwarted that one. I’m sure we’ll get duped somewhere else!

Gastronomy alert- Lunch was great. Free tea with every meal, chinese noodles, and pickled green beans (I love ’em!) We ordered a pinwheel cake made of green tea cake with cream filling that was equally interesting and delicious (is that what the Feast one you go on about was, Doug?) We’d been up for 9 hours by this time and decided to take the Metro back to the hotel to rest before heading out in the evening. We rawked the ticket kiosk solo this time and navigated ourselves back to the hotel like pros. As soon as the door shut, we stripped out of our sopping clothes and sat around in our underwear for a solid two hours. I don’t know how the natives manage. No one seems to gleam like we do.

We headed out that evening to see Shanghai at night and see The Bund. It was a bust. They’ve torn up the city in preparation for the World Expo 2010. There are signs and construction everywhere and they have a 20 ft wall of plywood covering the view to the river. Not so pretty. We also got hounded by everyone who tried to sell watches that morning to buy a river boat trip. They wouldn’t take no for an answer and then Jeremiah reminded me how to say “bu xie,” (JW note: pronounced BOO-SHAY) which means No Way, and they would giggle, bow and leave us alone. We stumbled upon the Shanghai Brewery for mediocre beer, fries, and girly martini. The best part about this place was that the music was Destiny’s Child circa 1998 (Ladies leave your man at home….) until the live musician started- a violinist with a karaoke backing track. Bizarre. Our friendly waiter brought us an English nightlife guide and we headed out to find some ex-pat bar with cheap food and then to Abbey Road, the Beatles themed bar.

On the way to the bar we both hit the wall. We managed to choke down some mediocre bar food and headed back to the hotel to hit the hay.

THE END

pic 1- Breakfast
pic 2- Post squat toilet triumph
pic 3- I miss my dog enough to make stupid faces at ancient statues.