Friday, February 27, 2009

Honqiao Bird & Flower Market

I took a trip to the Bird & Flower Market this week. It was amazing to see all the bonsai trees and other relatively exotic plants and flowers for sale. There were tons of orchids that were so beautifully perfect, I thought they might be fake (they weren't). There were some pretty unique other non-plant items for sale as well like stone dragons and soldiers and hand carved wood trinkets. A few landscape companies had shop set up in the market with outdoor examples of their designs. Definately beautiful.

As far as the bird part of the Bird & Flower market wasn't all that impressive. I only saw a few birds, but there were thousands of fish - different types of goldfish mostly. There were also baby bunnies and mice for sale. It was like a pet store market place for small animals (no dogs or cats).

Monday, February 23, 2009

If you think China is a 3rd world country...

For those of you that thought we were going to live in a dirt hut when we said we were moving to China, this post is for you. I am going to tell you about the ridiculous and awesomely dorky technological thingys we have to make our lives cooler and more comfortable.

1. We live in Shanghai and have a 630 area code phone number. Yep, that's right, you can call us as if we still live in DuPage County, Illinois, USA. Just mind the time change. I get really cranky at at least one telemarketer each night that doesn't believe me when I tell them they just called China and its 3AM.

2. iPhones are awesome. Yes, I fought with Scott about this purchase before we left. I am eating my angry words now. Our iPhones can translate English to Chinese so that I can give our Ayi instructions about Timmy or ask the hairdresser to give me a trim. The phones also have an application called Shanghai Taxi Guide. This application houses the names, addresses, & phone numbers of hundreds of restaurants, hotels and attractions in the city, AND has little buttons that say "Show Taxi Card" so that it will tell the taxi driver in Mandarin where to go. So cool.

3. Witopia Open VPN breaks the stronghold that the "Great Firewall of China" has on the Internet here. This is a Virtual Private Network service that does some stuff (yes that is the technical term for it) to allow us to surf the Internet as if we were in San Francisco instead of Shanghai. Here in China they employ around 30,000 people to sit and watch the Internet to see what people are doing and block them from doing it. So even harmless things get blocked and no one knows why. Witopia creates an encrypted tunnel and we get to surf all the way from California with no communist jerks watching what we are doing. That being said, this means we can watch American TV shows through Hulu & Fancast that technically don't have licensing to be watched internationally (yeah for 24).

4. Jaadu VNC is some amazingly dorky thing that Scott discovered that allows him to combine the coolness of an iPhone with the coolness of watching US television. Basically, this technology allows him to view his MacBook on his phone. Then, when his MacBook is connected to our television, his phone acts as a remote control. So this means we can stream American TV shows to our big TV and sit on the couch and control it all through Scott's phone. I told you this one was dorky.

5. Slingbox. This isn't really something we are using on a regular basis, but the other night Scott was able to watch Mike McDermott's Dad's TV on his laptop. Basically, now that we have busted through the Great Firewall of China, if someone in the States owns a Slingbox (ie: Mike McDermott's Dad), we are able to watch their Cable TV on our laptops through the Internet. Crazy stuff.

6. Skype. I know Oprah's been using this one for a long time, but how cool is it that Timmy's great grandpa can talk to him and see him from 8,000 miles away? AND ITS FREE!!! Web cams are pretty neat.

Scott, chime in here if I have not done this stuff justice. I don't claim to understand all of it, I just love the results of your nerdy-ness.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life Going On

Life is starting to feel more and more "normal" in a sort of bizarro way. People are starting to get to know us. Most notably is the guard that seems to be assigned to our building. He is the only guard that is always smiling and always says, "Hullo!" to me and Timmy. He even opens the door and carries stuff for me when I have Tim in tow.

Speaking of guards, so far I have failed to catch a picture or video of the guards at our complex in training, but when I do, you will all see it. Its like they send these guys through boot camp, BDUs and all. They run in formation while yelling stuff throughout the complex. Its sort of eerie because you think that its China's communist army training in your neighborhood until you realize these are really just doormen in training. I guess they take their job seriously.

Speaking of taking a job seriously, I got my hair washed yesterday. It was a two hour experience. Two hours to wash my hair! What? Well, this included an almost 60 minute back rub, a 30 minute shampoo process & 30 minutes of the salon's owner drying and straightening my hair. My hair has never been so straight and fabulous.

I want to give a little shout-out to Mrs. Zhang. I despise washing dishes by hand. Especially in a sink that was designed for someone much shorter than the average American. Mrs. Zhang, Timmy's Ayi (Nanny), does my dishes now whenever she is here. Now this wouldn't be all that weird, except that I never asked her to do it. She's so great.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Date

Tonight was the first time since we've been here that Scott and I could explore Shanghai without Timmy in tow. So for Valentine's Day we went to the area of town called Xujiahui. There are at least three regular (but ginormous) malls in this area, as well as at least three technology mall type things (including a huge Best Buy). For those of you who are regular followers of our lives, you may remember that in September I ate a HUGE cream puff and thought it was the greatest thing ever. Well on this night, I found the cream puff store again! We bought a half dozen to take home. Best Valentine's Day treat ever. See pictures...

Hot Pot Dinner

So on Monday our friend Jessica who lives down the street invited us over for dinner. Her in-laws are Chinese and live with her and her husband and son, so they prepared a Hot Pot dinner. Hot Pot is sort of like fondue. Monday night was the last official night of the Spring Festival holiday time (FINALLY!!!), so it was kind of fun to experience a home cooked Chinese meal. Jessica's mother in law even made homemade dumplings. On our way home there were fireworks everywhere you looked. Of course Timmy said, "Boom! Boom!" all the way home.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Moving Madness

So we found out today that we are moving tomorrow, at some point in the afternoon, but we don't know when. Also we found out today that our 30 days to acquire Z visas has expired. So we are now tourists until some point in the future when we will become residents. Oh China. Anyway, so tomorrow in the morning Timmy and I have to trek across the city to go get the aforementioned tourist visas and then come home and move to our new apartment. Right now I am taking a break from packing. We have 7 suitcases and 7 cardboard boxes with which to pack our entire house. It won't happen, but oh well.

So Ayi Mrs. Zhang is a Godsend. So far Timmy's newly acquired tantrum throwing powers have not scared her away yet. I spied on her and Timmy from our balcony today while they were playing outside. (It was 70 degrees today!) He seems to really like her, but only if he thinks I am not around. As soon as he sees me he flips out and begins whining, "Ma Ma, Ma Ma..." He gives her hugs and kisses when she leaves though and today he danced for her when she arrived.

Here is a cute picture from the day...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Miscellaneous Observations

I have noticed a few things in the almost a month that we've been here. First, no one uses paper towels or normal napkins for anything. If you want a disposable wiping apparatus, you use a tissue, a Kleenex. Its ridiculous. Imagine trying to clean a toddler's ketchup face with Kleenex! We use paper towels at home, but there is only one brand available in the grocery stores and its stuck in some back corner where you have to be a magician to find them.

Secondly, no one uses aluminium foil. Plastic wrap is the only way to go. They plastic wrap everything. I think this has something to do with the nobody uses an oven thing. I use foil to cook with all the time, but if I didn't have an oven I guess I wouldn't use foil either. Again, I have found some in the grocery store, but its in a aisle full of 100 brands of plastic wrap, and it takes five minutes to decipher the half English, half Chinese writing on everything to eventually find what you are looking for!

Thirdly, and I may need Scott to pipe in on this story, they use glue sticks for everything! My experience with glue sticks is that you don't use them unless you are planning to have whatever you are sticking together fall apart eventually. Here, they use them to glue things like passport pictures to forms! On the last day before Chinese New Year, some guy walks into Scott's office and hands him a strip of paper and a glue stick. He says this is for the door. For the door? What does that mean? I think Scott had to ask him five times before the guy realized that Scott really didn't know what that meant. Apparently before closing the office for the holiday week, its customary to glue stick the door shut with a piece of paper. I am guessing it has something to do with a superstition about evil spirits or something.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ayi To The Rescue!

So we've been looking for an Ayi to babysit Timmy a few times a week so that I don't go insane. An Ayi is the term used to describe a woman who works in your home as a nanny or housekeeper or cook or all three. Literally it means "Aunt." So with the help of one of Scott's coworkers, we have found a woman that we think will be a good fit for us, provided that she can put up with Timmy's shenanigans. She's going to spend the day with me and Tim on Friday, so we will keep you all posted. The only babysitters Timmy has ever had have all been friends and family, so this is a whole new world for him and for me.
In other news, we will supposedly be getting the keys to our new apartment tomorrow (Thursday). We have until the end of February to be out of our current place. It will be really nice to feel like we can finally settle in to a home. Our shipment of stuff from the US is scheduled to arrive at the port in Shanghai on February 20th. Then it has to sit there while the customs people decide how much to charge us in duties for all the stuff we shipped here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sandbox Birthday

Timmy and I went to a birthday party today for two of the girls in his playgroup. Cate is the 1 year old in the redish sweater and Esther is two wearing the goofy hat. It was at a restaurant called Sydney that has a huge sandbox in the center of the room for the kids to play in while the adults eat. There is also a huge movie screen where they played Veggie Tales and Madagascar. It was hard to get any good pictures of Timmy playing because he never sits still!