Thursday, May 31, 2007

Water, cooking, and more

I have often acknowledged how lucky I am too have water flowing out of a tap whenever I choose. I have camped and traveled enough to know that this luxury is not always available. However, I have never had to live and work in a city with water. Water lines are forming and are longer than any lines I have ever saw while working at a grocery store during high school when snow was predicted.

I could not go out to eat last night, therefore I tried my hand at cooking. You can check out the pics, by clicking here or below on the album. Also, in the album is a pic from Shanghai, that reads "Memphis". The other pics are from a park near my home that I like to visit. It contains the remnants of an old temple that stood there before the city began to modernize. It is cool to see the old with the new.

Wuxi Park and Cooking

This weekend I have changed some plans around so that I may visit a friend in a nearby town to take a shower and do laundry. I don't have enough water to last me much longer, therefore I will have to visit the long lines soon enough. Everyone and every news station is talking about the water problem in China, except for the Int'l news channels are not saying a word. I will be looking forward to clean water so that I may shower regularly in my home, run my toothbrush under the faucet, wash my dishes, clean my clothes, eat out at the restaurants in town, and perhaps take water for granted again. Check out these pics of the lake where the water comes from...yummy!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What is that smell? Oh, its just the water.

Today started out like any other day. I woke up to my alarm and groaned about it being too early. After snoozing it once, I got up. I went to the shower and turned the water on. About half-way through my shower I started smelling something gross. I wasn't sure what it was. My dad would say, "it is just your upper lip." I quickly finished the shower, but couldn't seem to shake the smell until I got out of the bathroom. I figured there was something wrong with the drainage system in the building and forgot about it.

Side note: Smells in China are common. Every 100 feet may bring a new smell. Some of them are pleasant and many are not. This is just something you learn to live with and you begin to ignore after a few days.

Well, I get to work and my co-workers were all talking about the water. 'Water' is one of the few words of Chinese I know. I asked what was going on and they could only explain that it was "bad". They told me not to drink it, but showering was "maybe" ok.

Luckily I am not smelling any worse than I usually do today and my skin is not falling off. However, I found a few things online about it. It appears that CCTV9, the only English TV station in China, is reporting that seaweed in Lake Taihu is the cause. That seems a bit fishy. No one knows when the problem will be fixed. But this forum has a few words to say about it.

So, what do you do when the water running from every tap is bad? Nothing. You just wait till the problem is fixed. You can go to the supermarket and look at the empty shelves where bottled water belongs. You do not go out to eat, since your food will be cooked with the bad water. Instead, you buy ready made meals and cook with bottled water. No one has batted an eye at this. I think people in the US would handle this very differently. Tomorrow maybe my first "bottled water shower!"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Street Food

I recently got the opportunity to write an article for the local expat magazine, called Wuxi Life. It was about my experience going to Chicken Street in Wuxi. Chicken Street serves street food. What is street food? It is simply food that is sold on the street. But on this street, I would call it "gourmet street food". Why? Because we sat at a table, the selection was large, and nothing was pre-cooked. It is easier to describe with pictures.

This is the selection of food. Lots of skewers!

Then your food is cooked on a long grill.

The best part! Eating the food. Yummy green peppers.

Chicken Street is busiest from 12am - 2am. However while I was there between 8-9pm, I saw three gals with a case of half-liter bottles of beer sitting at a table eating. They had a long night ahead of them.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Chuck Shepherd, eat your heart out

Local news in China is often filled with odd stories. A lot of has to do with fake/tainted goods and the affects of all the building projects. Today I will share some of these headlines and stories to give you an idea of what one day's worth of headlines may bring.

First, there is the lady who has been kept underground in a small hole for the past six years. She was put in there pregnant and her daughter never met her until just the other day. Read the article here.

This article pertains to the concern for safety in China. Excerpt below:

"Face-lift after 'health check' on Xupu Bridge"
Xupu Bridge's 240 suspension cables are to have a large-scale renovation to make the bridge safer and more beautiful prior to the opening of World Expo 2010, the Shanghai Engineering Administrative Bureau has said. If no Expo, safety not an issue. (Italics added for emphasis.)

Funny stuff.

And finally, not to scare you too much..."Frozen fish from China recalled as two in Chicago fall ill"

"The list of potentially deadly products reaching the United States from China continued to grow Thursday, as an importer recalled frozen fish that may be tainted with a lethal toxin ..."

Please don't worry about me, I don't eat Chinese exports in Wuxi!

Shanghai Shopping

This past week has been one full of shopping. I was able to find a bike and went on my first big ride yesterday. I love the feeling in my legs that I have right now. I am looking forward to "really" start a lot of exploring now, that I have been unable to easily do with wheels.

Also, I went to Shanghai this weekend and Shaun and I checked out some of the markets. Shanghai offers lots of different markets depending on what you are looking to buy. The markets are spread out all over town, which means there is no "one-stop" shopping. At the markets you can find anything from any famous designer you want. If you don't see it, then you can go to the tailor, jeweler, or owner and have it custom made or ordered. Make sure you bargain hard, since they will try to rip off the foreigners. I talked down a lady from 1125 Yuan to 175 Yuan, so I only paid 15% of the price. Usually you pay about a third and no more than one-half.

If you didn't notice, I updated the look of my blog. I think it is a bit easier on the eyes.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shenzhen and Hong Kong

Monday morning I traveled down to Shenzhen. It was a two hour flight from the smallest airport I have flown out of, expect for my Uncle's airport in Arkansas for his crop dusting business. However, as usual, the service was great! I got served drinks twice and breakfast...all on a 2-hr flight. Didn't the US airlines offer service like this at one time or another?

I sat next to a cute Chinese girl and soon found out that she spoke great English. She works for Panasonic and travels to Shenzhen and other parts of the World regularly. When we landed, her driver took me to my hotel after dropping her off at work. That afternoon I did some work, which worked out great since it was raining the whole time. As night came I could not stay inside any longer and I headed out to go exploring. Shenzhen is an economic free trade zone. This makes for some awesome shopping! The video below does not do it justice, but is one of hundreds of streets to walk down. There is hardly a thing on the planet that is not offered here. Check it out...

The next day I planned to head to Hong Kong. I got up and it was still raining. I was reminded of my time in Vienna when it rained for a couple of days. So, I shrugged my shoulders and headed out. I thought I knew where the metro was located. I quickly found out that "Subway" in Shenzhen means a route under ground that will get you to the other side of the street, not to a train. So, I just kept walking. After thirty minutes of walking in the rain I found the station. I hopped on and went to the last stop. I exited and began going toward the border, but then did a quick 180 when I realized that I forgot my passport. Oops.

I was a bit more efficient getting back to the hotel and returning to the border. Although I did find a man standing in my room when I returned to the hotel. He was a hotel employee and was watching my TV. He was embarrassed that I "caught" him and he quickly exited. Funny stuff!

I got to Hong Kong and had a lovely ride from the border to the island. It was full of mountain with clouds hanging low all about them. I arrived and went straight for the water front. It was perfect timing; the rain stopped! I proceeded to see all I could in my short visit. Hong Kong is an incredible shopping city too. They even stock shoes in my size. Please check out the pics, videos, and my previous post to see and hear more about what I did.

This weekend will be another exciting one as I check out a party in Shanghai, possibly a band, some poker, some softball, and more.

Big Buddha and BBQ

To catch up on a few things, I wanted to post some pics from Shaun's visit this past weekend. Shaun and I had some great food, got some local sight seeing accomplished, and attended a BBQ with a bunch of local-foreigners.

Liangshan and Wuxi Life BBQ

I have been traveling a bit since arriving in China and have not taken the time to explore my own time. Shaun and I went to Liangshan to see the tallest, standing Buddha. He stands about 300 feet tall. We walked around the area for a couple of hours exploring a museum, the beautifully landscaped grounds, and the view of the lake from the top.

That night we went to a BBQ hosted by the local expat organization, Wuxi Life. It was good food and great company. Before Shaun returned to Shanghai we got in a little bit of shopping. This marked to first day I tried to find shoes that fit me.

So, in China you may feel like a freak of nature at times. After trying a half dozen places in Wuxi, then several more in Shenzhen on Monday, I could not find anyone stocking a shoe bigger than a 44 (US9-10). Also, I wear large or extra large shirts here and everyone touting stuff on the streets seems to think I want a sex DVD. If my ego wasn't so big, I might feel a bit self conscious about all this. I wonder what did Yao Ming do before he made it big in the NBA? Or how many foreigners are really buying sex DVDs?

Next update will be my visit to Shenzhen and Hong Kong this week!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Felt like I was in the US today

I have been in China one month now. Actually I "was" in China a month, but today I ventured out of the mainland and into Hong Kong. Right from the start when I walked up to the guy at the customs counter and he spoke he spoke perfect English to me, I knew I was in for a treat. I will tell all later, but I wanted to give a top ten of the things I loved about today. So, here I go...

Top ten things that made Hong Kong awesome:
1. Every Asian person I spoke to spoke English.
2. I ate cheese.
3. I sat down at a table with a fork and knife already on the table.
4. I found shoes that fit me (it seems that China carries nothing above a 44).
5. The lights on the buildings were in sync with the music during the nightly "Symphony of Lights."
6. I had a Brooklyn Brewery beer.
7. I drank the beer right from the bottle.
8. I returned to China with only HK$1.40 (I love exchanging the right amount of money).
9. I got served ice in my water.
10. Everyone understood what I was saying...the first time!

It was a nice break from the past month of struggling with the language and differences in culture. Now I am feeling refreshed and ready for the next few months. Thank you Hong Kong!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bike to Work Day

I hope you woke up this morning and decided to take your bike out and ride it to your job. Why? Because today is Bike to Work Day! Many cities around the US have organized events today, usually with free schwag to give away. I will admit that I walked to work today, since I have not gotten a bike in China yet.

If you didn't bike to work today, that is ok. Just try to make a conscious decision today to save energy or reduce waste, since that is what this day is about...Awareness!

China stuff...
This past week in China has been great, as all the past weeks here have been. Monday was spent recovering from the weekend's soreness. Tuesday I went to dinner with some local foreigners to a place they call "Chicken Street." This street was lined with people selling things on skewers. I picked out few different meats, some lotus root, potatoes, bread, greens, and a green pepper. I asked for it "hot". They brought everyones food together in one big tray. I ate chicken feet pads, some kind of tongue with soft bone separating each piece, and washed it all down with some cold brew. I will definitely be back there soon.

The rest of the week I have had lunches with my co-workers and I even attempted to cook last night. However, my plug-in stove would not work. So, the cooking will have to wait till that gets sorted out.

Shaun is coming to town. We are planning on doing a little sightseeing near my town and go to a BBQ. Next week I am off to Shenzhen in southern China. I will get to spend a day in Hong Kong too!

P.S. Seth and everyone at his bachelor party this weekend...have a great time! I am sorry I am missing this event. See you all in August!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

R.I.P: Raiford's

After countless good times and memories (actually, I probably don't remember everything that happened), Raiford's in Memphis has closed its doors. I was lucky enough to visit this place one last time in March.

For those of you who don't know, Raiford's is a disco club. However, it was unique in many ways. It was small, off the beaten path (actually next door to the Memphis projects), always had groovy beats, and stayed open late. The dance floor lit up and was surrounded by mirrors and fog machines, with a pole for the more adventurous dancers. There was a drum kit to play on and plush couches to sit on. You could bring your own liquor or just buy the $6 40oz beers they offered. Yes, only 40 oz beers were sold. Many people, including myself, will miss Raiford's and the inevitable 5am stop at CK's that followed on the way home.

Videos & Pics from Shanghai and Hangzhou

I wanted to catch up on some material that I have taken over the past couple of weeks. As of today, I have three more months in China. The time is flying by so quickly. Click on the picture below to see some pictures of Hangzhou. This is a great looking city...full of trees, parks, and water. These pictures were taken on a day I went there for work. Below the text are some videos that show some of the scenery of city life. They are not too exciting, but give you a little taste of China.


The weekend...
This past weekend was very busy. After dinner on Friday, I went to my second expat bar. If you don't know, these bars are where expatriates (working foreigners) go to hang out with each other. A bunch of locals got on stage and jammed a bit, which was nice. I woke up the next day and did not want to move! However, by noon I was up and off to meet a co-worker for some soccer. We took his scooter. I had been wanting to ride on one anyway, so this was perfect. He even let me drive it a little. We played soccer and then basketball. This was the first time in my life that I was the tallest person on the team and the first time that I can say that I "skooled" someone else in basketball (probably the last time too). It was great!

Sunday the fun continued with a couple of games of softball. When I arrived at China's official baseball park in Wuxi, I quickly realized it had been years since I played baseball. My team, Wuxi Life, won our games, but no thanks to me. I managed to make contact with the ball twice out of four times at bat, but was quickly gotten out each time. I will work on it a little before next weekend, so that I may contribute more than a warm body on the field.

Finally, in the food department I have recently tried pigs feet and chicken feet. I would eat the pigs feet again, but the chicken feet just didn't do it for me. I keep trying to put myself out there and experience China. Trying foods has never been a strong point of mine, but I constantly remind myself to go for it!

Now for the videos...
This video was taken from one of the many walkways in Shanghai that go around all four corners of the street. They require you to walk several stairs to get up and down them, but you don't have to worry about all the traffic below.

This video shows one of the many parks in Hangzhou. This city is within 1.5 hours of Shanghai. I really like the place. I hopefully will return to see a few more things there before I return to the States.

This last video shows the morning commute in Hangzhou. I love seeing all the bikes. The scooters in China are required to be battery powered. While electricity is not generated in a clean way, at least you are sucking in the fumes of the person's bike right in front of you. Enjoy!!

Monday, May 07, 2007

He said my name!

I was talking with my sister and nephew yesterday on the computer. And for the first time, Asher said my name! It was very cool.

Today is the official "back to work" day in China. The streets are full of commuters instead of shoppers. I am off to Hanzhou & Shanghai again this week. This time for work. Should be an adventure!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Shanghai Nights

Shanghai & Hangzhou with Shaun
Click on the link above to see pics from my adventures with Shaun over the past few days.

Shanghai rocked on Wednesday night! It was not because of the crowd, since there were only about a dozen of us. It rocked because I got to hear a great musician play his guitar. He played soulful blues songs, a few rock songs, and a couple of Hendrix songs for good measure. Jimy Graham and the few who were lucky enough to hear him had a great time.

We picked up train tickets to Hangzhou, China's most beautiful city (according to some commercial that keeps playing all the time). We got "standing tickets", since that was all that was available. We did not pick up return tickets. Suggestion: Never let the ticket guy talk you into this.

After arriving in Hangzhou, we tried to immediately get a return ticket to Shanghai. What did we find out?...there were none available. So, we said "oh well" and headed into the city, deciding that we would try later and figure out how to get back somehow.

Hangzhou was a beautiful place. We walked to the West Lake, the city's primary attraction. We got tickets for a boat tour of the islands located within the lake. It was a nice day, but the crowd was so intense that it really distracted from the entire experience and beauty of the place. These crowds are equivalent to Disney World in FL on a busy weekend. We did hear some great music, saw some beautiful structures, and many other little things that are unique to China.

After the tour we wanted to go see one more attraction, but we got on the wrong boat and ended up on the opposite shore than what we expected. When you can not communicate with anyone very well, this stuff happens. We decided to try to get a cab. This was not easy in this town because of the large crowds. We tried at every moment to get a taxi but none were available. We took a break after a while to cool off and have a cup of coffee. I decided I wanted some of the ice cream. I went up and wanted to try a flavor called "yam". I was told it was named after a fruit. However, they would not let me try a bite. I eventually told them that I would not buy any flavor if I did not get to try this one. Still, they insisted that I could not try a bite. At that point I gave in and got a more familiar flavor and enjoyed it thoroughly. In China I was told that the motto is, "you try, you buy". This certainly held true in this shop.

Eventually, after a collective hour of trying, we got a cab to the train station. The sign at the ticket booth said, "no tickets to Shanghai." So, we looked for buses and found a line that was incredibly long waiting for buses to Shanghai. Bus after bus came. The line moved quickly and in just over an hour we got on a bus bound for Shanghai. A few hours later we were back in Shanghai! Success!!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Back in Shanghai

Since arriving in China eight days ago, I am already on my third trip outside of Wuxi. I love it! I returned to Shanghai for a few days to hang out with Shaun during the May Holiday. We are hoping to leave town tomorrow and go check out one of the nearby cities, such as Suzhou or Hongzhou. Who knows if we will make since we do not have tickets yet. Either way, we are having a good time.

It was only a matter of time, but I have found a band to go see in China. We are going to check out a blues guitarist named Jimy Graham. I haven't heard of him but he has played with Janet Jackson and Bob Marley in the past. I am hoping for some sweet sounds from his guitar since it has been a while for me.

And click on the pic below to see some more pics from my town of Wuxi and a few of Shanghai. Enjoy!

Wuxi and Shanghai

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Shanghai Visit

I am living in a city of almost 5 million people, but most people have never heard of it. Lately, I have started telling people I am living in Shanghai, since that avoids the discussion of, "where exactly is Wuxi?" But I want to fix all of this today. Below is a map! Check it out.

Now you know where I live! I am that little dot north-west of Shanghai.

Yesterday I got to travel into Shanghai for work. Since there were no seats on the trains, a car and driver were hired. In the US, this would cost a lot of money, but in China these things are affordable. I didn't get to see much since I was working, although I did try eel and crab tofu for the first time. If you know me and my eating habits, that is a big step I took!

It is May Holiday and over 17 million people are out traveling on the trains, buses, and planes. This means that tickets are hard to come by. However, this afternoon I successfully scored tickets to and from Shanghai. Tomorrow I will go to Shanghai and meet up with Shaun. Hopefully we can get some tickets to a nearby town to do some sight seeing over the next few days. If not, Shanghai has plenty to see and do.

My language skills are improving. I have been ordering food and drinks with a little bit more ease. Buying the train tickets was difficult but they actually understood a few words I said. That was encouraging. I often think I am speaking nonsense when I try to say something in Chinese and most of the time I get looks from the listener that confirms this suspicion. However what keeps me going, besides my aching belly asking for food, is that twinkle of light that shows in their eyes when I get it right. Success feels soooo good!