Thursday, December 18, 2008

Last week of teaching

Thursday and Friday were my last days of teaching. We covered one final chapter in each class, and then Friday was a Test Review and "Words of Advice" on how to manage their individual finances. After the end of class, the students gave me a round of applause. Even though they do this for all professors, I was very appreciative of the gesture.

Thursday night, the Teaching Assistants and two university administrators took me to a fancy restaurant where we ate family style in a private room. We sat around a circular table with a revolving glass plate on the table just like a "lazy Susan." The server placed dishes on the glass plate and we rotated the food while we ate. Rather than serving our plate with all the dishes at once, we ate one dish at a time. The meal included turtle, Peking duck eaten with a type of tortilla, goose leg, goose liver with cucumbers (pate de foie gras), bullfrog cooked in spicy sauce, vinegar vegetables, escargot eaten with a toothpick that resembled a pitch fork, crab dumplings, and some other vegetables that I wasn't sure of the name. I impressed my hosts by asking whether the crab dumplings were male or female and they were surprised I would know the difference. The goose leg was just that - the leg of a goose (claws and all) cooked in a sauce. We were given one plastic glove to hold the leg and then ate it like a drumstick. The skin of a goose is too slippery to eat with chopsticks. All you eat is skin because there is no meat. Dessert was a sweet soup of sorts. Three of the four at the dinner had been to Washington and we talked about Mt Rainier, Mt St Helens, Pike Place Market and St Martins University.

Now that I have finished classes I have a few more errands to run before the trip is over.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shanghai Museum and Yu Gardens

Saturday I toured the Shanghai Museum with Madam Jia and one of her assistants from the University. Madam Jia has worked for the university for over 30 years and acts as their unofficial ambassador to the world. The Shanghai Museum is the nicest museum in Shanghai with four floors of jade, pottery, calligraphy, painting, furniture and costumes. The museum had audio tours available in English that I used. All the descriptions were in English and Chinese, however. In the furniture area, I saw a real Chinese musical instrument (for my brothers and sisters, this is an inside joke). I also learned that bamboo is a symbol for a good man: flexible yet principled.

After the museum we ate lunch at a famous restaurant near the Yu Gardens. The Gardens are 300-year old gardens created by a noble as a sign of his wealth. We didn't tour the gardens since I had already seen the gardens at Suzhou (see earlier post), which are much larger.

Near the Gardens has sprung a shopping bazaar that has the feel of Disneyland, a mecca for both Chinese and foreigner tourists. Madam Jia knows several shopkeepers and restaurant owners and got us a table without a wait. The line had about 40-50 people in it. The restaurant was mentioned in my travel book as one of the best restaurants to sample Shanghai's specialty - dumplings. Beijing is known for duck, Shanghai for the dumplings. The lunch was excellent, which also included noodles, vinegar covered vegetables, thinly sliced beef, and cooked beans/peas. I couldn't tell the difference and I ate the whole pod, until Madam Jia told me to eat only the bean/pea inside. The dumplings were of four varieties - pork, female crab, male crab and vegetable - and were served throughout the meal in stackable steamers. Yes, the female crab and the male crab tasted slightly different. Madam Jia and her assistant tried to explain why, but it would be hard to re-explain.

After lunch we did some shopping, where I bought scarves and some knick-knacks for the kids. I also picked up a bag of bite-sized Dove chocolate bars to give to the De Vries family on Sunday. Because it was Saturday, the Yu Gardens was packed, and Susan, Madam Jia's assistant taught me a new phrase "bu you" (boo yo), which means I don't need it. Very handy to ward off the onslaught of Rolex salespeople.

As the taxi dropped us off at the hotel, Madam Jia pointed out a second cafeteria used by university students just across the street from my hotel. She introduced me to the guard and told him it was OK for me to eat there. The public isn't allowed. This cafeteria will be more convenient for me at dinner time. Cost for dinner is $0.90, which includes a full tray of food. There's also a washing machine and dryer which will save a little money from the hotel laundry service.

Today, Sunday, I visited the Urban Planning museum in the morning. The museum is much more interesting than it sounds. The place is dedicated to showing the urban expansion of Shanghai and specifically how it is preparing for the World Expo in May-October 2010. The museum includes a room-size model of the city of Shanghai as it will look in 10 years if all the planned buildings are completed. When I say room-size, I mean about half the size of standard basketball court - this thing is HUGE!

After the museum I attended church, where they had their Christmas program. The service was very international with both prayers in Chinese and singing in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish and English. I have a pinyin copy of Come All Ye Faithful if you're interested. I sang in the choir, which was pretty cool. Since the church is not your typical building, we rotated the chairs on the front right section of the room and that made a choir loft.

After church I strolled the Bund, took the Shanghai Tourist Tunnel (what a waste, but I had to try it), and then took the bus back to Pudong.

I got off the bus two stops early, on purpose. Just walking through Shanghai you see a big contrast between very rich and very poor. The very rich congregate at the Supermall near the closest metro stop to my hotel. The Supermall is 13 stories (2.3 million square feet) of shopping extravaganza with prices comparable to Seattle's Pacific Place Mall. Shanghai has even ritzier shopping, too on the Puxi side of the river. Contrasting the mall are the workers building new roadways and repairing existing ones even late in the evening on Sundays. You can see it in their faces they have led a hard life.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Frogs compared to my tennis shoe

Look what's for dinner - giant frogs

mei guo ren (pronounced may-gwo-ren)

This afternoon I visited the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum. It's a great place to take kids. It's a combination of the Bean Life Science Museum (in Provo) and the Seattle Science Center.

I then made my way through all the shopping areas downtown, including Fuzhou Rd and Nanjing Rd, and across the Huangpu River (via metro) to the Oriental Pearl Tower. In the basement of the Oriental Pearl Tower is the Shanghai History Museum. Friday evening it was pretty quiet in the museum so I quickly made my way through the exhibits, which were interesting. The signs were all in Mandarin, Japanese and English. Interestingly, World War II is known as the "War of Japanese Agression" and 1949 (when the Communists took over) was referred to as Liberation.

Finished in the main part of the museum I strolled through a small exhibit all in Chinese and a family of grandpa, grandma, mom, dad and a 5-yr old son were walking through. When the son saw me he jumped back like he had seen a ghost. So I said "boo!" Then I turned to look at the exhibits and I heard the kid say "mei guo ren" which means "American." I turned around and playfully teased him with "Bui shi, wo shi zhong guo ren," which means "no, I'm Chinese." The kid's parents thought that was funny and started talking to the son with something like "go ahead say hi." I told the kid my Chinese name and asked his and he told me. His parents must have thought this was a cool cultural exchange. I was just glad to be able to say something more in Chinese than "How much is it?" and "That's too expensive."

For dinner I had some amazing pastries from a bakery. I bought a salmon-filled flaky croissant-like pastry and a baguette stuffed with whipped cream and buttery sugar granules. These sound like French pastries, but the bakery had a Japanese name. I also ate a banana from a road-side vendor, who only had a few teeth, by the way.

I've decided to eat at either KFC or McDonalds once while I'm here. My personal rule is no eating American junk food when traveling abroad. If I want to poison myself, I might as well be close to home. In the case of China, fast food menus are probably different enough that it might be a cultural experience. KFC (1,600 stores in China) and McDonalds (760 stores) are on every major shopping corner. Other American retail brands I've seen in Shanghai are Cold Stone, Papa Murphy's, Burger King, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and Best Buy. Toys R Us, Home Depot and Wal-Mart are here, but I haven't seen them.

Here's another interesting tidbit. According to the New York Times (12/12/08), when asked their personal philosophy, 68 percent of Chinese polled said it could be summed up by the phrase "work hard and get rich." Only 4 percent summarized their personal belief with a Maoist credo: "Never think of yourself. Give everything in service to society." Capitalism has met its match.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shopping and visit to ex-pat bike shop

This morning I didn't have class so I rode my bike 4 miles to a shopping bazaar in the basement of the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum. Two people had told me about the bazaar so I decided to check it out. I didn't have an address so I wondered if "basement" was something like the "basement of the Alamo" in PeeWee Herman's movie. (Hint: there is no basement of the Alamo). Well, I found it, and at 10am on a weekday the place has few shoppers. Shopkeepers globbed onto me like bees on honey. The bazaar is just like the shops of the bottom floors of the Pike Place Market in Seattle, except in Shanghai the shopkeepers yell at you to buy their goods. "Buy shirts?" "You want DVDs?" "You buy shoes" etc etc. Hold on to your wallet!

I was on a mission to buy ties and cross that off my shopping list. I ended up buying about 25. I bargained for 10 yuan for the cheapest ties, equal to $1.50. I started bargaining with a second tie seller and told her I would pay 7 yuan. I had to walk away from her twice before she agreed to 7 yuan. Then her friend who owned the booth where I paid 10 yuan happened to walk by and told her I had paid 10 yuan, so she said the deal was off. I just walked away and bought somewhere else. By the way, I found a great shop with scarves, so I'll go back.

In the evening following my afternoon classes I took a taxi to SISU, a bicycle shop and cycling club for ex-pats. I met Bill Gaylord from Atlanta, GA who runs the business with three partners. SISU has weekly rides Wednesday nights. The club also hosts touring rides on the weekends. Unfortunately I teach Wednesdays from 6:00-7:35pm so I'll miss the ride next week. Maybe next time. Bill talked non-stop and told me something interesting: Shanghai is building 50 miles of new roads EACH WEEK! He said people ask him for updated maps, and he tells them no sense in trying to get a new map because the roads are always changing. I heard about this growth from someone else but didn't believe it until Bill confirmed it. Looking around Shanghai you can see it is the world's largest construction site. Not only are they building new roads, but the existing roads are all under construction, too.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sunday dinner, American style

Sunday morning I went to the 94th floor of the World Financial Center, the tallest building in Shanghai. The elevator ride took a matter of seconds, climbing 430 meters (about 1300 feet, the length of 4 football fields). My ears popped going up. At the top, the view was like being in an airplane looking down on all the buildings, people and cars in Shanghai. Very breathtaking. The sky is pretty hazy, though, so I couldn't see past maybe 15 miles in any direction. After the view, I took the metro to church. I met several others in the branch and several people were visiting. I guess this branch gets 10-12 visitors each week. One of the visitors was a guy named Liu who joined the church a few years ago in Montreal just after emigrating from China. Turns out he is living in the same town I lived in the West Island area of Montreal. Small world.

One of the church members, Cameron De Vries, invited me to dinner with his family of 7. After church I went back to the hotel, then rode my bike the 6 miles to the De Vries's house. The De Vries family is like ours, pretty talkative. He and his wife Tanya have five kids, ages 11, 9, 7, 4 and baby. The little kids were watching that cartoon movie our kids love, Veggie Tales "The Pirates Who Don't know Anything." The kids treated me like a celebrity - "Hey Tom, look at my bruise" "Tom, watch me do this ..." It was a real treat to eat with them. They answered a lot of my questions about the ex-pat lifestyle. For example, owning a car in Shanghai is very expensive so they don't have one. They take buses and the metro or a taxi everywhere. Just to license a car here costs $5-10,000. Also, private schools are extraordinarily expensive, to the tune of $20,000/year per child, so the De Vries are home schooling their kids. I suppose the ex-pat lifestyle is easier for young couples, olders couples with no kids at home, or families with just one or two kids. The food was great, including pumpkin pie and cold milk. I haven't had milk since I got here. I was very complimentary of them and thanked them graciously for the food.