Sushu's Travel Journal

August 6, 2012

Taiwan, sort of

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:18 pm

So on Friday I left China for the second time this summer to fly to Taipei! This trip is actually a school-related trip: next February, me and MJ, the Chinese teacher at our school, plan on taking students to Taiwan as a school trip. MJ was already in Taiwan, but she was in 高雄 Kaohsiung (I hope I’m doing the Taiwanese spelling correctly…), and we were actually planning to meet up in 金门 Kinmen. MJ is familiar with the rest of Taiwan, but neither of us had been to Kinmen, so we wanted to go explore and figure out what are worthy sights to put on our itinerary. So even though I flew to Taipei on Friday, I left Saturday morning on another flight to Kinmen.

This meant that I was only in Taipei from 9pm Friday night to 9am Saturday morning (excluding airport transit time). I had to make the most of my time! I checked into a hostel right by the main train station, and then went up to the Shilin Night Market 士林夜市. That was pretty cool — there were lots of interesting foods and so many stalls full of merchandise. The level of sheer consumer goods reminded me of Japan — it seemed like everything you could possibly want to own (and more!) was on sale. Unlike Japan, though, you could do some amount of bargaining with the shop owners, and only 50% of the items were unbearably cute. The food was also super-awesome. I had fried milk, mango ice, a giant piece of fried chicken slab that was the size of my head (didn’t know chickens had that much continuous meat!), fresh pineapple and guava, and this thing that was half dorayaki and half fried egg (tastes better than it sounds!) If I wasn’t so laden with shopping bags, I would have also been tempted to try one of the carnival games that lined one street. (Funny variant: fishing for live shrimp?!)

Here’s a fuzzy picture of the egg-dorayaki thing:

So I got back to the hostel. The hostel manager was drunk and seemed to have been drinking since 7pm. He would pause occasionally to sign along to some opera snippet that was playing over the speakers, and then pour himself more whisky or baijiu. His mandarin was very hard to understand, and his English more so, but he said my mandarin was incomprehensible and decided to only speak to me in English with random snippets of French and Japanese. He didn’t seem to like Mainlanders much, maybe because his mother is a Taiwan aborigine??

I woke up at 7:30am on Saturday because I figured I would have about an hour to wander around Taipei in the morning. Unfortunately, all of the museums open at 9 or 10am, and I had to get on the subway for the airport by 9am, so I decided instead to go to Longshan Temple, which was just 2 subway stops away and on the same blue line that would take me to the airport. Longshan Temple 龙山寺 was pretty cool! Everyone was dressed in robes and standing around doing chanting and there were people putting food offerings on the table. There were also a whole corner of free scriptures, so I took some small items to show off to my students. After I came out of Longshan Temple, I saw a sign for a Qitian Gong (启天宫), and I was like, “is that a Daoist place?” So I followed the sign, walking through the early morning streets of a night market (lots of closed shops and people looking very hung over), to find a small temple hidden in the middle of a residential district. I decided to take a different path back to the subway station and found yet another Gong in a different residential district where several people were doing more chanting. Man, religion here is srs bsns! I also stopped at a FamilyMart and got a chawan-mushi and 2 onigiri: Buddhist vegetarian and pepper beef. (yum!)

Here’s some pictures of Taiwan alleys and hidden neighborhood temples

And here’s the obligatory “Things you can’t do at a park” image.

Some interesting things about that park:
- it was only a square city block, mostly concrete with not a lot of grass
- it abuts the Longshan Temple
- it is above a giant underground mall/market. There seems to be a lot of those in Taipei…

And here’s a random ad I saw in the metro:

It says something like “pray and you’ll love it!” Well, pray as in do some bowing motions to the god depicted?!

Then it’s off to Kinmen! Kinmen is actually about 30km from Fujian, so it’s really close to China, and actually an hour+ flight from Taiwan proper. Most people in Taiwan have never been to Kinmen, unless they were posted there for their military service.

In the misty distance you can see the city of Xiamen, in China. Yes, we’re THAT close. Even though Kinmen is that close, it still gets its electricity and other materials and services flown over from Taiwan, for political reasons. It’s actually much cheaper to fly to Kinmen from Shanghai by flying to Xiamen and then taking a ferry, but then I wouldn’t have had my 12 hours in Taipei!

I met up with MJ and her 2 kids (16 and 13), and an old friend of her uncle who is a 72-year-old retired military policeman. He was very spry and hired a taxi and took us around the island. We went to some military remants: bunkers, a fort, an underground water passageway, and underground passageways connecting major government institutions. Kinmen has a lot more nature tourists there now, so in addition to some heavily-KMT-biased military museums, we were also subjected to various museums touting the local birds such as the bee-eater.

Here’s some military stuff:

In a bunker, the window has a helpful painting next to it telling the soldiers what kind of gun to use out of which window.

We stayed in this cool village that was built by Chinese immigrants returning from Indonesia. (Here’s the link to the Bed and Breakfast) The village is full of part-western (Indonesian-Dutch inspired) and part-traditional (traditional Fujian style) architecture. It’s kinda cool to see the footprint of the Chinese diaspora.

Here’s some pictures of the village:

This is the Li family temple

This is a western-style mansion built in the 1930s by Indonesian-Chinese

Our own Bed and Breakfast has this blend of Chinese and European

On Sunday we walked around town, and then went to a knife factory where they made cleavers by pounding and grinding the steel from the shells that were lobbed at Kinmen over the years. A shell from the 8-23 incident can make 60 cleavers! And some of the later propaganda shell can make 20 cleavers. :) Talk about literally beating swords into plowshares… or I guess beating shell casings into cleavers…

Here’s the knife workshop

And in the middle here you can see the cleaver that they made in roughly 5 minutes.

Then we had to leave for the airport, where I saw this:

My gate was decorated as a promotion of the 14 recognized aborigine groups in Taiwan, and also of the Seediq Bale movie, which seems to be about indigenous resistance to Japanese colonization? Anyway, here’s the wikipedia article.

So, in all, it was a pretty whirlwind tour of not-really-Taiwan.

Some impressions:
- Kinmen apparently gives its citizens a lot of benefits — mostly $$ from its baijiu sales. On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of jobs on the island — the military tourism is down and the nature tourism has yet to take its place. The military sector there has also declined along with the military presence (around 5000 now).

- The Taiwan people I met were, on the one hand, quite familiar with Mainland China (they have family there, or have visited recently), and on the other hand, very disparaging of Mainland Chinese, sometimes to a point of hypocrisy. Our taxi driver complained about Mainland Chinese tourists jay-walking or walking down the middle of a street, but then does it himself. He complained about how the Mainland Chinese were always scrambling to try to get the best seat on a bus or something. When I pointed out that China has greater population pressures, he admitted that Taiwanese were the same way 30 years ago.

- Language was interesting — most things were announced in both Mandarin and the local Fujianese dialect (although I think people call it Taiwanese now?). I think there has been an increase in Taiwanese in tv shows and such. Taiwanese Mandarin is all over the place — I found some people really easy to understand, but others were really hard to understand, with vocabulary or sentence structure borrowed from Taiwanese. This is in contrast to China, where, thanks to various standardization efforts, it seems like everyone under the age of 30 speaks with a very standard northern Mandarin dialect with only minor variations. (I often sound odd because my Mandarin is very… Shanghainese Mandarin from the 80s??)

- Aspects of Taiwan were more like China than I expected. I guess I was expecting something more like Japan, but the small street-side shops selling 5-7 dishes, with grungy tables and a visible wok, reminds me of China. Other aspects were more ordered — people were generally more polite and professional, and there were nice societal norms like leaving the priority seats for the elderly, or standing on the right side of the elevator and walking on the left side of the elevator.

July 3, 2011

Back towards Zagreb

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:53 pm

Well, my hiking attempt this morning was somewhat hindered by weeds and what looker like poison oak in the path. Since I was in shorts and flip flops, the situation was not ideal. But I did come across some olive groves, a donkey, and a sheep path, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Now I am on a bus back to Zagreb, and tonight I will be meeting Joanne for dinner, ending the first solo leg of the trip. Despite my initial trepidation, I’ve really enjoyed travelling alone an keeping my own schedule. There was less wiffling because there was only one indecisive person (me) instead of many. It does mean that I turn more to the internet during the down times of bus rides and meals, though. On the whole, I’m looking forward to meeting up with Joanne and then Jono, but I am also looking forward to my second solo stint in Italy.

July 2, 2011

In Rijeka

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:50 pm

Just went to the weirdest castle ever….

Each of the three towers were in a different style, reflecting the three major (re)building efforts… 1200s, 1500s against the Ottomans, and finally, the late 1800s by an enterprising Austrian field marshall. He decided to put a greek temple mausoleum in the castle.


On the other hand, because the locals don’t really consider it a major site (far eclipsed by the nearby church that is on some holy pilgrimage location), visits are free, and no one was around to yel at me for some scampering about the old castle ruins. (They were mostly drinking coffee in the outdoor cafe inthe castle courtyard)

Next up is the most uncertain part of this mini excursion… I am catching a ferry to the islan of Cres, but it’s one hotel is completely booked. The hostel peole back at Zagreb (Bella and Sandra) says there will be people holding signs advertising private rooms on the pier. Let’s hope I get relatively unsketchy accomodations!

July 28, 2010

In Tokyo

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:41 pm

So we got into Tokyo very late Saturday night, due to a mysterious 3 hour delay by Air China. So late, in fact, that the cell phone place in Narita was closed and our sketchy guest house contact couldn’tmake it out to check us in, so instead we went out of the Ikebukuro north exit and walked around until we found a hotel, and checked in. Turned out it was a love hotel. They charged us extra for checking in before the overnight stay time, but didn’t explain. But that’s okay because we were tired and we were experiencing a love hotel. We picked the room from a panel of pictures. The room had a karaoke machine and a dedicated softcore porn channel and perhaps a jacuzzi. It was very posh! Apparently it was also one of the more expensive love hotels in the area. This area is on our walk from the guest house to Ikebukuro station, and it’s chock full of love hotels. There’s one that’s Panda themed, another that is Safari themed, and another that is Ganesha-themed. Some of them have very cheap overnight stays, like 4000 yen (about $50 by current exchange rate). I can totally see the couple’s way of living in Tokyo on the cheap as: check luggage in coin lockers during the day ($5), sleep at love hotel at night.

As for us, we are staying at a Guest House about 15 minute walk from Ikebukuro station, in Ikebukuro Honmachi 1 chome. It is a 5 minute walk from Kita-Ikebukuro, which isn’t on the standard Tokyo metro map because it is not JR and not Tokyo Metro. It is instead on a private “Tobu Tojo” line. Even though this station is just one short stop north of Ikebukuro, it is very much a residential district, with small 2 story houses and quiet narrow streets. Our neighborhood shops are mostly clustered around the Kita-Ikebukuro stop, and consist of: a convenient store, a bento shop, a sushi shop, a soba and unagi shop, a miscellaneous goods shop, a raw meat shop, 2 tobacco shops, and 2 Chinese food/ramen shops. There’s also a little map shop on a random street, and lots of parking lots, presumably for people who drive their car in and switch to the train at the Ikebukuro station. Our room has only a single twin bed in it, and a small desk, but the month rent is pretty reasonable (about 90,000, all told), so in the end it’s worth it.

These days Jono has been going to work at the Mozilla Japan office. I would stay at home looking up information about Nagasaki or Tokyo, then meet him for lunch by his office. Then I would go visit a museum or something, and then we’d meet for dinner and some hangings out.

Monday I got a GRUTT pass and visited the Ancient Orient Museum and the Planetarium in Sunshine City. At the Planetarium, I learned that planets beyond Saturn aren’t worth mentioning or displaying, and that the Weaver Girl is apparently a princess.

Tuesday I went to Ueno Park and visited the awesome and cute Shitamachi Museum where I played lots of old timey kids games, and fished a balloon out of water! And then in the evening we went to Akihabara and got some RPG books for Ewen. The RPG shop had EVERYTHING from old school D&D to Japanese RPGs to various board games, and the shop attendants knew whwere the most obscure things were. I picked up a martial arts role-playing game book. Then we went to Tokyo Tower, which was all right.

Tonight we wandered around Yoyogi Park (the Meiji Jingu was closed), and now we’re at a manga kissa. This one, in fact. The manga kissa is pretty awesome. We sit in this little cubicle, which is about 300 yen per hour. There is internet, tv channels, and a Playstation 2 insided the cubicle. Outside are shelves and shelves of manga and magazines and also a small DVD collection. There are several vending machines of free drinks, as well as fresh fruit juice and soft-serve ice cream. They offer free blankets and stuff if you want to stay the night. There is also a vending machine for yakisoba and takoyaki. It’s pretty awesome. A 10 hour overnight stay (check-in starting 9pm) is only 1900 yen ($22), which would be the single-person, non-love-hotel way of surviving Tokyo on the cheap.

On Friday we’re heading to Nagasaki! And next weekend we’re hitting 3 summer festivals in Tohoku. Should be exciting stuff. :D

July 23, 2010

World Expo Day 3

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:41 pm

Got there earlier today — noon. After a short digression at Slovakia (we’re suckers for pavilions with no lines, but they generally turn out to be unmemorable), we went over and lined up for the America pavilion. We really wanted to see how America would choose to present itself. Yesterday we were trying to figure out what “American food” would be, and had been excited about the possibility of mac-n-cheese, chili, and deep-dish pizza. The American Pavilion was … disappointing. First, the “American Diner” was just hot dog, pizza, hamburger, and a pulled-pork sandwich. The pavilion itself was composed of 4 sections. The first section was a 5-8 minute movie on 1 screen where a lot of Americans try and fail to say “Welcome to the American Pavilion” in Chinese. The second section was a 10-minute movie on 3 interacting screens about “the American Spirit”, which seemed to involve little multicultural kids drawing pictures of “cloud cars” and other “new energy” ideas, followed by a Chevron spokesperson and two random professors.

Obama shows up at the end to do a classic Obama speech about human ingenuity and curiosity, and inviting “you and your family to the United States of America”.

Then we were herded into a third room, where there were 5 screens in different shapes. Yup, it’s a third movie, this time 12 minutes long. It’s something about a little girl wanting to start an urban garden, and bringing the whole neighborhood together. In the middle, it rains, and they spritz water on us, thus making it a “4-D” movie. Har.

Finally, we were herded into the “corporate sponsor” room, where there were little plaques from each of the corporate sponsors talking about how awesome they are.

Um… where’s the display about the diversity and beauty of our land? The tourist highlights of our major cities? Or what about some sort of narrative about our history of immigration and adaptation? Or even information about our major industries and our technological contributions? Instead, the common theme seemed to be “American children are cute, thanks to our sponsors”.

In comparison, the Mexico pavilion had an interesting exploration of city and cultural memory, showcasing artwork interpretations of the concept of the “city”, starting with Mayan temples and Spanish cathedrals, and ending with this cool set of masks that you can look through to see a video of everyday life.

There were also cool interactive technology things that gave you more information about Mexico’s environmental challenges, and allowed you to explore the layers of history buried under the modern city, or even showed you how peoples’ lives were interconnected.
The screen you see in the background there is actually an interactive history of the land of Mexico city, showing the layers of civilization and construction.

Angola was also pretty good: there was a man hiding behind the door who randomly spritzed the people coming in. There were plaques talking about its slavery and colonial legacy, and a series of interesting plaques and accompanying short videos about different aspects of Angolan life and different sectors of its economy. There was a separate line for a 4D film, so we didn’t go to that, but overall it was very cohesive: all of the videos were made specifically for the World Expo, and presented a coherent message and interesting insight into Angola. I would dare say that Angola was cooler than America.

Speaking of things made specifically for the Expo, Slovenia gave each of us a cute pamphlet and a little book written by one of their philosophers specifically for the World Expo. We tried reading it — it was neo-Marxist and loved the word “Proletarianisation”. So we stopped. But still — it was made specifically for distribution at the pavilion!

We also went to a bunch of small African exhibits, which were cute if slightly camel-obsessed. Then we went to Venezuela, which had … a courtyard of hammocks.

And then a secret room with live music.

And then some plaques with photos and direct interview quotes from the streets of Caracas.

And then other plaques with Hugo Chavez extolling the virtues of socialism.

And then a statue of Simon Bolivar. A bit hodge-podge not unlike Pakistan.

We then hiked back to see if we can line up for Japan, but it was a 4 hour line and it was already 6:30pm, so instead we had dinner, hiked all the way back to the Americas Square for some live Tango music and dancing, and then took a boat tour ferry back. En route to the ferry dock, we ran into a parade with various floats showing sketchy Chinese interpretations of different cultures. The last float was “America”.
At the head of the float were some “Native Americans”. The float itself were some trumpets and a large top hat.

At the end of the float was Uncle Sam. I didn’t notice, but Jono says that they were all wearing white make-up, including the Native Americans.

It was somewhat bizarre that we started and ended our Expo day today with odd representations of America.

Jono says that the only 2 he still wants to see is Japan and Britain, both of which have very long lines, so on our way back from the Expo today we bought these cute foldable stools. Tomorrow will be a Waiting In Line day, for both of those have 4+ hour lines. I also want to visit one of the Scandinavian countries, so if we have time at the end of the day, we’ll hop in whichever has the shortest line.

July 21, 2010

World Expo Day 2

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , — admin @ 11:40 pm

Yesterday we got there at around 3pm and headed back at around 9pm. As Jono remarked, pavilions generally convey the following messages:
- “Our country is a friend of China!”
- “Our country is vibrant and modern and worthy of investment/trade!”
- “Our country has a deep and rich culture!”
And then there’s always a store so that you can buy their stuff.

There are 3 general approaches to the pavilions, I think mostly dependent on which people got their hands on the design.
1) National Museum: exhibits of culture and artwork, with detailed plaques (ex: Indonesia, Morocco)
2) Industry Expo: showing off lots of companies and main industry sectors. Many small booths and ads
3) Tourism Highlights: Pictures and videos of why you should visit, showing
Of course, mixing and matching happens as work is divided between, say, the national tourism bureau, the industry sponsors, and the national museum.

Pavilions we visited:
- Cultural Center — looks like giant flying saucer. Had nice view of the river and the exhibit halls. Had some boba on the 6th floor

- Nepal — is giant stupa + shop. Stupa was pretty awesome, but I was disappointed that they didn’t engineer the path up and down the stupa in a way to let us walk around it 7 times.

- Jordan, Afghanistan (“Land of opportunity”), Bahrain (“Pearl of Arabia”), all part of the Middle-East joint pavilion. Jordan was kind of cute, and some ceiling lights and showed off the Dead Sea. Afghanistan was basically a rug bazaar, no narrative whatsoever. Bahrain had a bunch of industry jargon about their business-friendly regulatory infrastructure, and their history of pearls and petrol.

- DPRK — 5 gallant scenes that you can take your picture in front of, a video of national music, and a shop selling great works of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader.

- Iran — Downstairs: a paragraph of welcome by Ahmadinejad, stuff about medical technology, some maps of the Persian Gulf. Upstairs: Persian rugs for sale. Was disappointed by lack of history, obviously in Industry Expo

- Morocco — pure national museum style, with the building itself a beautiful example of Moroccan architecture. Downstairs: exhibits of Moroccan crafts. Upstairs, a “medina” — Moroccan bazaar, but exhibit only, not real people selling stuff. Outside: real palm trees.

- Pakistan — Hilariously disorganized design — they couldn’t agree on a single font or uniform method of presenting images. Projections on mist next to tv screens next to turning slats next to back-lit posters. One hallway had on the right side photos of accomplished Pakistani women, and on the left side, the Mango Saga, wherein Pakistan gave Chairman Mao a mango and then he “gave it to the Chinese people”. There were 5 different photos of this mango. The next hallway had photos of various Pakistani leaders shaking hands with various Chinese leaders. Then there was a hallway about Pakistan’s UN participation.

- India — The inside of the pavilion was subdivided into a shop section, a food section, and a museum section. In the museum it was a circular hallway, with pictures of modern Indian life and people on the right side, and traditional Indian crafts on the left side. In the middle of the circle was an auditorium thing where they showed a 3D-in-the-round video about how chakras were connected with the elements that create urban harmony. Um… yeah.

Pavilions that we wanted to visit but couldn’t:
- Saudi Arabia: The line was over 9 hours long. It blocked up an entire street, and if the line was single-file, it would be over 4 km. Turns out there’s the BIGGEST IMAX EVER inside– instead of a half-dome, it’s a full sphere. Here’s a video:

- China: Apparently you need to line up 3 hours before it opens to get advance tickets for it. It’s also the largest pavilion there — there’s a 3 or 4 story building that forms the base where inside are individual pavilions from all the provinces. Then there is the China pavilion proper on top of that.

- Taiwan: Next to China were the Macau (shaped like a rabbit) and Hong Kong pavilions, and on the other side of China across the street was the Taiwan pavilion, which had a giant glowy sphere that’s actually a screen. We wanted to visit but apparently that also requires advance tickets.

- Japan: the line was super-long, but since it looks like a Zerg cocoon, and promises to have robots inside, we are determined to get in tomorrow.

- Korea: Looked cute, but once again, line kinda long-ish.

July 19, 2010

World Expo Day 1

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:37 pm

Yay! Jono’s here! He got in really late last night (2am), so this morning we got some pan-fried soupy dumplings (see here), and then Jono spent the morning and afternoon working on Test Pilot (there was some sort of code freeze today or something). So we didn’t head out to the World Expo until 5pm. We got there at 6, and went to the following:

- Riverside park — very quiet, with some water landscapes
- Australia — The building design was pretty cool — a bit like Ayers rock. There was a part where all of their famous landmarks were on the ceiling, upside down because they’re the land “down under” har har. They moved everyone along at a brisk pace, and the wall exhibits mostly seemed to be centered around three “mascot” kids. Then we got herded into a large round auditorium where instead of seats, there was a butt-height padded bar that we can sort of rest against. Then there was this weird show on these large rotating curved tv-screens featuring the 3 mascot kids talking about life in Australia. The screens would rise out of the ground to form a circle, and then sink back down to reveal a new centerpiece, and then rise back up again to show the 3D-animated mascot kids playing against the background of the new centerpiece.
- Philippines — where it was basically a big dance party. They had a DJ on some scaffolding, lots of swivelling lights, etc. In a corner was a massage parlor, and next to that a cafe area. In the middle were some displays of musical instruments and a Filipino snack company selling bags of chips.
- Malaysia — Despite advertising themselves as “the true Asia”, the exhibit hall just had 2 floors of discrete exhibits that seemed to have just been randomly assigned to different groups. For example, an exhibit about Malacca and Georgetown was followed by a display about the best golfing places followed by a broken video about why Malaysia is the spirit of Asia, followed by a display about race cars, followed by some people selling various tie-dyed fabrics, followed by a jungle display with fake plants, and then upstairs there’s a display by a company who is responsible for green power in Malaysia, a rubber company display, and a small gallery of Malaysian artworks and a man doing caricatures. Yeah, it was very confusing
- Indonesia — This one was really cool and designed like a museum. There were objects and live music and plaques and video. We climb a slow ramp up, wending around the structure. Most of it is open-air, and built with lots of bamboo. But yeah — there were exhibits about Indonesia’s biodiversity, fabric, music, metalworking, woodworking, major crops, a nice hallway juxtaposing the beauty of Borobudur on one side and the modern cityscape on the other side. It was just really well designed and cool.
- New Zealand — after going through a room with lots of videos showing how people live in New Zealand, we emerge onto a green rooftop and then walk our way down. The roof is pretty awesome — all the Chinese people kept touching it to check that it’s real grass and ferns.

By then it was 9:30pm so we made our way home on a super-crowded subway. And now Jono is super-tired and asleep. :D

July 15, 2010

Physically in China

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:27 pm

I am in China but still in the train en route to Beijing. Yesterday was 6 hours spent at Russian customs and then 5km later 6 hours spent at Chinese customs. Perhaps then worst day of the trip: trapped at a station and the trapped on a dark train with no toilet access and sporadic going through of my luggage.

My last cabin mate got off today at noon at Harbin, so now it is just me and the 4 next door: 2 Chinese students who have finished their college year abroad at Moscow, and two Norwegian girls newly graduated from law school and nursing school.

We will be arriving at Beijing at 6am tomorrow. I will probably escort the Norwegians to their hostel and then go to the airport. After a 2 hour flight and some public transit finangling, I will finally be in Shanghai and uncle’s home. But apparently, I shouldn’t stay at our Shanghai apartment because last year Jono and I made too much of a mess or something. So I’ll see if I can find a reasonable motel nearby that also has internet access. Dad wants us to be close enough to go home for dinner but not to actually stay there. Sigh. So I probably won’t be settled in China until late tomorrow night.

July 29, 2009

Meeting Ex-pats at the embassy

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:11 pm

So going to the Embassy was cool because I was in the special “American Citizen” line, which meant everyone else there was American. It was cool to see Indians and Koreans who were Americans, and to remind myself of the diversity in America. (In China you start to get used to seeing homogeneity of race everywhere — although I suppose I shouldn’t be thinking in these racial terms.)

Talking with people at the embassy was strange because on the one hand, I was glad to be with Americans and associating with them in a way that I’m familiar with — small talk and general friendliness, and speaking in English. On the other hand, I couldn’t really relate to their China experiences because I don’t feel like an ex-pat when I’m in China. It is my motherland, afterall. I suppose they feel about China the way I’d feel if I’d been living in Spain or Egypt for a year — “I’ve learned so much and had my world expanded by my experiences in a foreign land!” Whereas I feel like both countries are a homeland of sorts, so I mostly feel the need to educate one about the other — making the learning a 2-way street instead of an “enriching life experience” for solely myself.

Beijing vs. Shanghai

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:11 pm

- Beijing people are more friendly
- Shanghai people are more effective at getting things done.
- Beijing people care a lot about social relationships, even with random strangers
- Beijing people like dogs. A lot.
- Beijing people like squat toilets
- Beijing people care about appearances and privacy of their homes. On the other hand, they also spend evenings out socializing on the streets
- Shanghai has a more robust night life

I met a guy at the Embassy who said when he visited Shanghai 10 years ago, he loved it, but now after being in Beijing for a few years, he hated Shanghai when he visited it again.

I think the reason is that there’s a friendliness <-------> effectiveness spectrum. When you are new to China and have no connections with anyone, Shanghai is better because on the surface it’s more professional/better at dealing with Westerners. However, as you get used to China’s way of dealing with things and start building relationships, you like Beijing more because relationships matter more here.

Part of it, too, is where the US is on that spectrum. Perhaps 10 years ago Shanghai was a closer approximation to US levels of friendliness, but now Beijing is closer because Shanghai has gotten less friendly to the non-residents… ?

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