Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shanghai last day and wrap-up

This was the front page article in the Shanghai Daily news today:

Does anybody believe that is the picture of an investor in the Chinese mainland stock exchange? He looks like a homeless guy who lives outside the stock exchange - asking for 2 RMB so he can buy a steaming pile of nothing.

I forgot to mention something that happened in the most amazing and wonderful Cha-Mate that every person in China should visit ;) A few minutes after I ordered tea and cake, they dropped off a handy-wipe and a small cup of yellow-ish liquid - it looked like jasmine tea. I cleaned my hands and took a sip of the liquid, thinking I had mistakenly ordered a miniscule amount of tea. The liquid didn't have much of a taste - so I left the rest of it on the table. A few minutes later, somebody came by, said a couple things in Chinese, looked slightly confused, and then took away the small cup. Was it a finger bowl? Or a courtesy palate-cleansing tea? Or a mistake? I don't know!!!

This morning, I went back to the Shanghai office to observe and assist with the first weekly videoconference since the improvements performed last week. It was a rousing success! My job and future trips to Shanghai are secured ;)

I went back to the hotel, had breakfast, caught up on email, and then tried to repack my luggage with all the gifts i had bought. I had to sit on my suitcase to close it and luckily the China ticketing desk of United Airlines doesn't have the same 50 Pounds restriction that they have in the US (maybe the same reason they don't have a quarter-pounder at McDonald's here ;))

Here's a photo of a KFC sign in China. After a week here, the Colonel seems to be looking more Asian all the time. Maybe it was a botched facelift a la Kenny Rogers. Or maybe he's trying to keep up with his closest competitor General Gao.

After packing, I was running a bit late for the airport, but I really wanted to try the subway and the MagLev (magnetic levitation) train before leaving. I would regret skipping them and twiddling my thumbs in the airport for 2 hours more than I would regret taking them and missing my flight :) Needless to say, it was totally worth the risk, even though I had to drag my luggage down several flights of stairs. Luckily I didn't buy any breakable porcelain china. When the MagLev hit top speed of 431 km/h, I tried to take a picture, but the train was shaking a bit and there was some glare. Anyway, engineers and train buffs may enjoy the picture of the track and the speedometer at peak speed. I also took a video of the train arriving and one of the speedometer during "take-off" - email me if interested.

There is an interesting souvenir pricing system in the airport. In the terminal, after I went through security and everything, there are official souvenir shops selling e.g. jade Buddhas for let's say $45 USD. In the hallway just next to the shop, there's a guy with a table setup selling the same jade buddha for $100 USD. But if you're not late for your flight, you can haggle him down to about $60 USD. The official no-haggle shops seem to be a better deal, but if you don't know that, then you will haggle with the guy and feel like you saved a ton of money. All of this is silly though because the Yu Garden souvenir shops have the same jade buddha for about $50 pre-haggle and $20 post-haggle. And of course the sales people buy them for about $2 USD and the manufacturer makes them for $1 USD and the jade-buddha-factory worker gets paid 5 cents per buddha. anyway.... my point was about the Shanghai airport vendors.

The flight was pleasant, I didn't get any sleep because it was still the afternoon Shanghai time, but I watched a couple movies, did some emailing, and caught up on some emails. Now I'm a little tired, missing Shanghai a lot, but enjoying being home. I can't wait for the next trip!

Monday, February 4, 2008

7th day in Shanghai

Wow, I've been here a week - leaving tomorrow. Carla asked me tonight if I'm happy to go - and I have to say no. I had a wonderful time here, travel is super fun in general, business travel is sometimes even more so. There are so many wonderful things I didn't get a chance to experience - I can't wait to come back!
Work was a typical day, I was wrapping up loose ends, sending out emails about the things accomplished, following up with people in Shanghai, and looping back with vendors in California to restart projects that were on hold. The weather was very nice today and the sky was the clearest it has been all week. Here's a picture I took from the office. The office closed early at 4pm - I wrapped things up and got out at 5pm. Getting a taxicab was surprisingly quick today. I decided to let the doormen at my hotel do their job and they did it very well - a whole team of doormen hid out at strategic locations throughout the street for about 20 minutes. At about 5:20 pm, I saw a taxicab pull in and one of our doormen jumped out. It was like a pit crew at the Indianapolis 500. (Wo)manpower is one resource China has plenty of - and they certainly know how to throw their numbers at a problem.

I was feeling a little Chinese fooded-out after Cantonese dim sum lunch today, so Carla and I went to another brewpub in Shanghai - on the Bund right where we were yesterday. It's a super Americany place - just like Gordon Biersch - but with better American food, if you can believe it!! The nachos were really really good - and the beer was good too. Due to public demand, here's a picture of Carla and me at the brewery.

Carla had to head back, but I wanted to "check up on" one of my employer's investments: Cha-mate. I think it means tea-friend in Chinese/English? It's basically the Chinese equivalent of Friendly's restaurant. Anyway, I did my duties as a good employee and went there to inspect their tea and dessert. While I was waiting for a table, they have bins with different flavors of tea for sale and I smelled a lot of them to see which I wanted to drink tonight and to take home. The Roselle tea smelled the best, so if you come to visit us in the next month, feel free to try some. It tastes almost as good as it smells. What's that thing that looks like croutons with cream on top? Why, it's Mr. Banana Cake making a special appearance with his co-stars Ms. Slice of tomato and Ms. Parsley. It was yummy in spite of the unexpected vegetable guests.

While walking to get a cab, I saw another silly sign - see if you can spot it.

BTW while writing this journal entry, I found a site that cracked me up: http://www.engrish.com/category_index.php?category=Chinglish

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Shanghai day 6

I didn't have to work today, so I started out at a leisurely pace and read the English-language Shanghai Daily paper over breakfast. I am wondering about the slant of the news media here on even trivial matters. After the articles about the snow/weather/airport closure/energy shortage/etc, three top headlines include:

"Tests clear dumplings of pesticides" - Have you heard about this? Have you heard that China was cleared in this matter?? Reading the article, they imply that the fault is with a Japanese delivery company, without actually saying it.  http://www.shanghaidaily.com/sp/article/2008/200802/20080203/article_347737.htm

"Microsoft finds inside resistance" - I'm not sure where "inside" comes from, but they interviewed a couple of random people who are against the proposed merger and there is a funny quote "Sergey and Larry are going to have no problems sleeping". BTW don't buy mutual funds from First American Funds, they apparently sell their holdings AFTER a stock price goes down. BUY, people!!!

"Oscar films are box-office poison" - an article about how the big oscar contenders "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for old Men" are losing money at the box office, but they list "Juno" as an exception. Quote "Most movie goers have seen neither of them - and never will." "Oscar-nominated films are often small, dark, and unintended for mass audiences." Huh???

How do these compare to US and Russian articles on the same barely-important topics?

I took a cab to the Yu Garden because apparently when I walked there yesterday I missed the entrance - I think I was walking in the Yu Garden parking lot or something like that ;) It's a nice place, very similiar to Dr. Sun's Chinese Garden in Vancouver, but maybe 10 times the size. By the time I decided I had seen enough of it, it took about 15 minutes of walking through the labrynth to find the exit!

Surrounding the Yu Garden is the largest area of souvenirs and trinkets you have ever seen. It's like San Francisco Chinatown after steroids. In the picture, you see that the booths stretch as far as the eye can see - and I was already in the middle of the street - there's the same amount in the other direction!! I spent a huge chunk of time there going from booth to booth and bartering with the locals. It's the thing to do.

Then I started walking back from the Yu Garden to the Marriott (again) and I passed this young man with an Acer PC strapped to his back while riding a bicycle. It seemed like a Kodak moment.

When I got to the 60% way point, I knew where to grab a cab, and I knew how to direct him to the Marriot, so everything was smooth sailing from that point. I left my bag of trinkets at the Marriott - and Carla and I headed to The Bund. That's the Chinese word for (I believe) riverbank. It's a beautiful area any time of day - we were there just before sunset. Here are a few pictures - Me at The Bund with a view of Pudong (East side of the city).

In the left hand side, you see the Shanghainese equivalent of the space needle - The Oriental Pearl Tower. More on that in a moment. Picture: Same view of Pudong from the Bund, but you can see it's a shipping channel. Coal barges were going back and forth here like crazy - it reminded me of an article in the Shanghai newspaper about how they are frantically keeping up with the need for electricity during this crazy weather.

And there's a picture of me posing with a statue of The Chairman.  Then we took the "Tourist Tunnel", which is literally an underground cable car. But it's not just any underground cable car - this one has a Sci-Fi theme. There's "cheesy-good" lights and colors and sounds and lasers and fog and all sorts of mayhem!! (More on cheesy-good vs cheesy-bad in a minute).


The entrance/exit/cable car turnaround.

View from the car with flash.

View from the car without flash.

View from the car with long exposure so you can see the motion in all its cheesiness.

On the Pudong side, we decided to have dinner at the top of the Oriental Pearl. It costs slightly more to have dinner there than it does just to visit the top. The food was ok. They had some interesting things, most of which I didn't try because (1) i'm a silly american and (2) the quality of things in this restaurant was not great and i've made it through the trip so far so i'd like to finish the trip in one piece. The more interesting things they had were: fried shark (i had it, nothing special), snails, bullfrogs, and "stirred root with spicy" (which i had, it was basically spaghetti made out of yams "with spicy") ;)

Here are two pictures from the Oriental Pearl - the first is of the Puxi (West) side after sunset - and the second is of one of many floating electronic billboards.

The Oriental Pearl has many levels (notice the various Pearls in the earlier picture from The Bund) and elevators - and you need a different elevator to get between each Pearl - I think it's a metaphor for something. The top floor (350 Meters) exhibit is "Fashion Miniature of History" - dolls and diaramas. Under that is the rotating restaurant/buffet (263 Meters) where we ate. Under that is a really cheesy-bad space exhibit where they show scale models of Chinese rockets and weird lighting and four different ET's hiding in niches and the place smells like The Heart at the Franklin Institute. Note that I am not grabbing ET's crotch in the picture - the room was completely dark and we only became visible through the magic of flash photography - I had no idea where my hand was!

A floor below that is an arcade where they have a bunch of "Rides of Your Life" / "Star Tours" type experiences that don't work. A floor below that is a roller coaster that was turned off (probably for the best). A floor below that: you can go outside to take more photos. Then we took a really cool glass elevator from what was probably about 81 Meters above ground back down to 3 meters below ground (gift shop).

Then we took the tourist tunnel back - and you can see more cheesy-good photos:

With no flash.

Long exposure.

Long exposure.

If if some reason you were interested enough in this tunnel to look at all 7 pictures, let me know and I'll send you the video of the tunnel cable car turnaround ;)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Fifth day in Shanghai

I finished the last major project at work - adjusting and testing the videoconference between our two offices. I took off the rest of Saturday (and all of Sunday). I went back to my room to drop off my laptop and I noticed something peculiar. The bed looked different that it normally does when I come to the hotel after work. I had sort of noticed this before, but I couldn't quite figure it out. These photos show the room at mid-day and then evening. Note that I didn't touch the lights, bed, etc - I guess this is what they mean by turn-down service...
A co-worker had recommended the Dim Sum lunch at the JW Marriott hotel - which is where Carla (the lady I met at the airport) is staying. We had all-you-can-eat dim sum, lots of really unique things that were super tasty - my favorite was the pan-fried sweet potato with peanuts and sesame seeds. We ordered 10 different things to try and it came to about $10 per person.

Then I decided to walk to the Yu Garden. A few people said it's something nice to see, but kind of touristy. I didn't bother to research it to see what's so nice about it. I had 3 hours to kill between lunch and dinner and I was in the right part of town - so I asked the doormen at the Marriott how to get to the Yu Garden. They thought I was crazy to want to walk all the way there in the light dusting of snow - surely something was lost in translation. "How far to the Yu Garden?" "About 10 minutes by taxicab". "How far by foot?" "30 minutes... but... What?!?!?!" Anyway it took about 45 minutes to get there at a leisurely pace and along to way I took the only picture so far that I appear in (I passed through a lovely park and there was a guy there who was taking some pictures for himself so I motioned him to use my camera). Picture is attached. Besides the goofy stance, it turned out well.

I'm not 100% sure I made it to the Yu Garden because I didn't check a guidebook to see what it's supposed to look like, and I didn't see much of anything when I got to the intersection where it's supposed to be. There were a few trees and bushes covered in snow, and a lot of mud and construction vehicles. Now that I am googling it, I'm quite sure I didn't actually see the Yu Garden as the description sounds picturesque. But I did find the souvenir gift shops bordering the garden, and picked up plenty of Chinese trinkets.

I was running a little late for the dinner meeting, so I started quickly walking back to the Marriott. About 60% of the way back, I finally saw a taxicab. I beat some other people into it, ran in and locked the door. When I said "Marriot" and the cab driver looked confused, I knew there was a problem. I looked through all of my notes to try to find the Chinese name of the Marriott, and I described it the best I could. I should've known something was up when he took me the exact wrong direction. Anyway we ended up at the Westin and I asked the doorman there to tell the cabbie the Chinese name of the Marriott. I ended up entering the Marriott rotating door just as Carla was entering it from the other side. Just made it!!

We went to a Szechwan Chinese restaurant with her students (she is teaching CAD design tools to circuit board engineers at Cisco). All of the food was spicy (hot) and very tasty. There is a special Szechwan black pepper they put in most of the foods that makes your lips and tongue go numb and tingle A LOT! It's very cool!! It was nice to have dinner with a bunch of locals.

Then we went back to the Marriott and had drinks at the Executive Club - apparently entrance, drinks, snacks, etc are all free if you stay at the Marriott enough. One interesting thing is that you can take a spiral staircase up from the Executive Club to a library - and there's a sign saying you are in the highest library in the world. The library is a small room with no windows but two telescopes that look out of place. We were trying to figure out how to use the telescopes when we noticed that one of the bookshelves is on a hinge - open the bookcase and a secret passageway appears that leads to the roof deck on the 60th floor. It was cool looking out over the city (although we couldn't see much of anything because of the snow - it's a complete white-out from that height).

Here's some background on the last three pictures:

There was a street vendor selling some kind of cushion. Sorry about the blurriness. From what I can figure out, it's an electric inflatable pillow? The English transliterated title doesn't quite explain things (ZHEJIANGCIXISHIFUAJZHENSHENGXINDIANQICHANG)

Here's a block I passed where they were apparently doing some construction. There's a huge pile of bamboo on the street in front of the building.

A few minutes later I passed a small alley were all of the balconies are supported by rickety bamboo! Scary!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Day 4 in Shanghai

Work was good, had the rest of my important meetings and they went as well as I had expected. Had a small Chinese take-out lunch (sweet yummy pork and something like spinach) with the office and then had another small lunch with my IT consultant at a very Western cafe (carrot cake and something called "Chinese soup"). I ordered Green tea and they were out. Then I ordered Jasmine tea and they brought me a Tetley tea bag from England. So much for authentic Chinese tea :)

Worked late today and have to go in early tomorrow, but hopefully Saturday and Sunday work will be short days. Went to dinner with my IT consultant - he took me to a Japanese steakhouse - it's better than any of the Japanese steakhouses in the US. Everything is prepared with lots of spices and sauces. The abalone was my favorite dish. I also had beef tongue FOR BUBBY (it was chewy and not quite worth it). I guess the Chinese like Japanese food because so far 3 people have taken me to Japanese in the past two days. Besides sushi (which I have mostly avoided this trip), I haven't had that much Japanese in years. My consultant says that Chinese people like Japanese restaurants because the Japanese stole the traditions of the Chinese in the olden days and preserved them - while the Chinese assimilated other cultures/customs and lost their own heritage - so going to a Japanese restaurant is like visiting an ancient Chinese past.