Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Shanghai Diary: The Numismatist's Dilemma

I've gotten very few coins while I'm here. I occasionally get a 1RMB coin and sometimes a coin that says "5" and one that says "1" on it. The 1 is .1 RMB so I imagine that the 5 is .5 RMB.

Another thing to love about China is that prices are pretty much just in RMB without any coins. It's rare that I'm paying for things and get a .1 or .5 coin back.

And, get this America... The .1 is smaller than the .5 coin! Imagine that! And, they have numbers on them! Crazy, right? It's not like a dime which doesn't say 10 on it anywhere and that's significantly smaller than a penny! This lack of enumeration and the disparity between size and value makes American money incredibly difficult for foreign people (and kids) to understand. Same even goes for our paper money. There's no color or size differentiation. Why is a $100 exactly the same dimensions as a $1?

American money is so far over-due for a face-lift, it's not even funny.

We've had changes to our bills but it's still the same old white men staring back at us. And some of the biggest anti-counterfeit things seem to happen on our $100 US and $50 US bills. I don't know about you but having one of those in my wallet is something of a rarity. Meanwhile, tin-foil hat-wearing Americans think that the anti-counterfeit strip in our money is a tracking device.

Americans are living under the delusion of privacy. We are either being tracked or could be tracked with ease. Over here in China, everyone knows that everything is tracked. I mean, again, almost every transaction can be done via the phone and the companies that run those apps are in bed with the government. Hell, the government gave them breaks in order to get the readers and acceptance of those payment methods in place. And they gave breaks to consumers to use them. Even a couple RMB back can make a huge difference, especially when everyone is hustling to make a .1 RMB.

Since I was a kid, the US Mint has tried time and again to introduce and re-introduce a dollar coin. Of course, there was the unwieldy Eisenhower Dollar which came out the year before I was born. Before that was the Peace Dollar. However, after Eisenhower was the disastrous Susan B. Anthony dollar which I remember being decried for -- get this -- being bad because blind people would mix it up for a quarter. Now, I know that's a valid concern but that is a very odd concern for sighted people to have. More than anything, I think it was an excuse being used to cover up that people didn't like having a woman on their money. Same goes for the Sacagawea dollar.

Canadians have been using loonies and toonies for decades and they seem to be doing okay. Likewise, they eliminated pennies in favor of a round-up / round down methodology that would probably cause riots in the U.S. "How dare you cheat me out of my two cents!"

Meanwhile, efforts to give a facelift to the $20 US have stalled yet again. Not only is this a gynophobic thing, but there's also racism involved. At least, that's like my opinion, man.

Shanghai Diary: After They've Seen Paree

I have a little more than four weeks left of my Shanghai trip. As I write that, my stomach drops. Over the course of the last two months, I've gone from being skeptical to depressed to elated and now back to depressed. The initial depression came from being alone during Golden Week, away from home, beating myself up over the stuff I did when I was 17 (due to transcribing those old journals from when I was in the UK). Now I'm depressed at the idea of not being here. It's not that I'm necessarily sad about going home but this trip has been something of an adventure and I don't want the adventure to end.

How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree)?

I've formally requested a return visit. My visa is only a 90 day work visa (and I'm here for 86 days) so I need to apply for a new one. I also am not sure if my request is out of line, necessary, or even desired. I need to be better about selling myself and why it would be good to have a person like me -- specifically me -- on the ground here in Shanghai. Likewise, I could also travel to some of the other countries in the APAC region that are ramping up their sites and online presence -- not only to work directly with the people in country but to help bridge the gap with the home office. I have a pretty good rapport with the IS group (as well as my own Marketing peeps and the Brand folks) which would make gathering and disseminating information a little smoother. Three months ago, I never thought I'd have written something like that.

Three months ago, I wasn't exactly sure what I'd be doing over here. I had one or two tasks -- and I'm working on those -- but wasn't sure if things would go well, or poorly. I brought a ton of books that I have yet to read, podcasts that I have yet to listen to, movies I have yet to watch. I'm not proud of that. I'm just saying that I've been busy -- in a good way. Yet, I haven't been busy enough with learning Mandarin. I'm only a few lessons past where I was when I left Detroit. True, when I listen to people talking here I can pick out a few more words but it's like hearing snatches of conversation rather than a full sentence. I don't have the building blocks for a full structure. I just have a few bricks.

I'm rather disappointed in myself. Today I got a phone call and the person on the other end started speaking Chinese. Rather than asking if he could speak English, I passed the phone over to Emily and asked her to translate. She handed it back and told me that he was switching to English. That was pure laziness. I must do better. Even if I don't understand someone, I need to tell them that rather than just passing the buck. Moreover, I need to learn the language better.

There aren't many teachers from high school or college that I would have liked to have kept in contact with apart from two or three of my film professors, my high school history, math, and Spanish teachers. I constantly think about Sra. Loder and the great job she did giving me a fairly robust education in Spanish. I wish that I could find someone who would make learning Mandarin as fun.

Let me just take a moment to emphasize again how important smart phones are over here. I've already talked about how you can just about leave the house with only your phone -- no wallet -- and be okay. For me, I still bring a wallet as my way to get into my apartment is a key card (like a hotel) and I don't want to carry that right next to my phone. I get paranoid that it will get de-magnetized.

When you have to sign in for public wifi, you'll get asked for your phone number and then have to enter the "captcha" (not really a captcha) code that gets sent to you via text in order to sign in. When you register for an app, you have to do the same thing. You pretty much have to have a phone number (and 99% of the time it's a China phone number) in order to do anything. They don't even ask for the country code / area code. It's assumed that you're +86, baby.

I was in a meeting recently where one of my co-workers (not Chinese) was talking about people signing up for a service with their email address. All the Chinese guys were like, "What?!? We don't do that!" And I had to agree with them. Email is not used over here very much. You use your phone number for contact. You use WeChat for keeping up on things.

When you pay your bill at a restaurant with WeChat Pay you might get them added to your WeChat as their friend / follower and start getting updates from them. Oh, you got some noodles at this place? Well, now you'll find out what the lunch specials are from their WeChat account.

I went to a restaurant with Andrea in the basement of Jin Mao Tower. When the waiter brought the bill, I asked to pay for it with WeChat. Nope. They do AliPay (no big deal), so I opened that app and he pointed to a QR code on the table. I scanned that and found that my complete itemized bill was associated with that table's QR code. I was asked to confirm the total and enter in my pin.

Emily tells me that there are a few restaurants in Shanghai that have robot servers as everything can be controlled via computer / app apart from the cooking.

I've noticed that the people here are much less concerned with the buzzterm from the U.S.: "staying hydrated." When you get a meal you may get a complimentary cup of tea. You don't usually get the whole pot. And you always have to ask for water. When you get your drink it's a rarity to get it refilled. There's no endless refills, just because they don't think you need them. When I go to lunch with the guys from work I'll get a glass of tea, a glass of water, and about four refills on the tea (and a to-go cup at the end) and one on the water. That -- and that everything has ice in it -- would be anathema to folks here.

Sure, bottled water is plentiful but it's still not typical to see people chugging from their Nongfu Springs bottle as they're wandering around the city.

QR codes were a topic for a hot second in the US. I remember scanning one on a table-top display at a Famous Dave's in order to join their mailing list. However, there were a couple problems:
  1. I had to download a QR reader in order to read the code. It's not like here where almost every app has a QR reader in it, esp. WeChat
  2. Almost every QR reader I used in the States is buggy as shit and it takes forever to recognize/read the code
  3. When I was finally taken to where the code was taking me, to a page on the Famous Dave's website, the page was not optimized for a mobile device. How fucked is that? You're showing people a QR code that will be read with their phone and then show a page where you're scrolling from side to side to fill in a form where the labels are separated from the fields and none of them are coded to show the right keyboards for the information requested
Yes, I'm on my user experience high horse on this one. But, damn it, think about this shit before you put it out in the world.

I'm so excited that A Better Tomorrow is opening this weekend in Shanghai. I'm not sure why it is, but it'll be great to see on the big screen again. I saw it that way once at The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor years ago. I want to say it was a double feature with Hard Boiled but I could be wrong. I just remember having seen both of those on the big screen and I think they were at the same theater. They could have been different screenings.

I know, I know, A Better Tomorrow won't have English subtitles but that's fine. I've seen the movie enough and it's universal enough for me to follow along with. This will also give me a story to tell when we record our A Better Tomorrow Series episode in December. I have maybe a half dozen or more movies to watch for that: The three A Better Tomorrow films, Bullet in the Head (the unofficial ABT3), Once a Thief (the '60s film, not the Woo film), Story of a Discharged Prisoner (the HK film that has roots in Once a Thief and that ABT is something of a remake of), The Korean ABT, and Return to A Better Tomorrow. Plus, I want to read the original Once a Thief book. I've already read books on Woo, ABT, and Bullet in the Head. Yeah, I usually try to do a little research before recording. Not everything I watch and hear may not come out in the episode -- I don't just vomit facts if I can help it -- but I think that a more informed host makes for a more informed discussion. And, if I can avoid asking stupid rhetorical questions that could have been answered with some fucking research...

Also opening this weekend is Justice League. This is the first time I've seen a movie open in China the same day as the U.S. -- at least I think it is. It's tough for me to keep up on release dates sometimes. It's not like the new Star Wars where I have the date memorized (it's easy as it's the day before I come back to the States). I really have no desire to see Justice League other than to see how it was "Marvel-ized" and to hear people speak English for two hours. Knowing DC it'll be well over two hours. Those movies are usually bloated messes. Yet, despite that, I have seen all of them. My unpopular opinion is that Wonder Woman, the best of the lot, is an okay movie. Not great. There are a few great parts to them but David Thewlis's mustache as Ares made me laugh my ass off (not the intended effect).

I hear that Henry Cavill's digitally-masked mustache is going to do the same for me.

"Let me tell you something: My father was a very big man. And all his life he wore a black mustache. When it was no longer black, he used a small brush, such as ladies use for their eyes. Mascara."

I put shit like that in these posts and I hope that people either know where their from or, moreover, that I'm making references to stuff. I don't know if I like that my brain works this way but it's the way it works.

I've learned that the right term for white people here is "lowai". Translates to "old white" which is doubly applicable to me. I was asking at lunch the other day, "Give me some good insults for white people."

Emily's response: "We are Chinese. We do not insult anyone. We are too polite."

Pictures from my drive home today (starting to get dark around 4:30, and the rain doesn't help), as well as the noodle place I've gone to a few times.

I still need my Chinese coworkers to order for me. Note the seating which is kind of communal. You don't get a table to yourself unless you're at a posh restaurant or someplace fairly empty. Otherwise, be aware that someone can sit at your table. With over a billion people, you're not guaranteed a four top to yourself.

Currently Reading: I'm still reading The Girl in the Volkswagen at night and I have the 33 1/3 book about Dead Kennedys's Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables that I read when I go out to eat on my own.

Currently Hearing: I downloaded "the Chinese Spotify" -- I can't tell you the name because it's in Chinese. It's got a ton of great music on it and is all free. One thing about being here in China is that copyright is a lot "looser". I have an app for movies/TV shows and this one for music. When I'm not on the VPN, I can use both to watch and listen to stuff for free.

Currently Watching: I'm downloading the latest episodes of "Jeopardy" so I can keep up on the Tournament of Champions. I just finished binging on "Mindhunter". I enjoyed it but it felt almost like a pre-quel to another series. I described it to Andrea as "Criminal Minds Lite" and "Like True Detective without all the mystical horseshit." It really ended, however, just as it seemed to get going.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Jive Turkey

I am now following several sites on WeChat for ExPats and live in an area that's very Western. That said, I've been getting a lot of messages lately about where to have turkey dinner on November 23rd (American Thanksgiving). I initially thought that this was something I'd like to do but, now, the more I think about it, the more sad the idea makes me. The clutching at American traditions while in a foreign country seems kind of pathetic. And, worse, the idea of eating alone on Thanksgiving would make the separation even worse.

Also, this "Turkey Dinner" promises to be a weird imitation of American food as well as prohibitively expensive. I'm seeing prices quoted for dinner starting at 800 RMB for "turkey and all the trimmings." That's ~$125 and that's nuts. Even at a quarter of the price, that's too much for dinner.

I'm going to say "fuck all that" and plan on going out for something as Chinese as I can get while I'm here in China. Why not? Plus, by the time I have dinner on Thanksgiving evening (I'll be working that day, it's not a holiday in China for whatever odd reason...), it'll be 'morning in America' and when it's dinner time back home, it'll be the morning of the following day. I'll be talking to the family back in the States that morning via WeChat video calling -- at least that's the plan. And I'll see them again for X-mas.

Speaking of... how odd is it to see all of the X-mas decorations starting to pop up over here? I mean... it's not even Thanksgiving(!). It seems that live revolves a lot around commerce over here -- which is an odd thing to say when discussing a communist country. But this is the land of little transactions happening all the time.

I was hearing about a service the other day where you can hire someone to come in and prepare a meal for you and clean your kitchen afterward. I could really use someone to give my scooter a good wash unless I can use the hose at my apartment complex. I think that's copacetic; I just have yet to try.

Of course just about anything that can be moved can be delivered. You see guys on scooters all day delivering packages and meals. And I know drones are used for a lot of deliveries as well. Jason and Laura saw a whole drone collection over at when they visited there.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Something Like a Latte

When I'm here in my apartment, I have a hard time watching new movies. That is, movies that I haven't seen before. I think it's because I'm always multi-tasking. Hell, I'm writing this as a movie is on TV. However, it's one I've seen dozens of times: The Big Sleep.

"You're not very tall, are you?"
"Well, uh, I try to be."

It's also a bit of a comfort, going back to familiar ground, be it Goodfellas, Hard Boiled, Groundhog Day, The Maltese Falcon, etc. At least one of those is for the podcast when it resumes. Frankly, it hasn't stopped. After I got home from work on Friday I started editing podcasts and haven't stopped for long other than to eat and to go to the movies.

Today I checked out Murder on the Orient Express. Like I mentioned yesterday, I was thrilled to find a 2D version of the film showing at my local theater. Fortunately, it'd been years since I saw the 1974 version so I'd forgotten how it played out. That version had Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot though frankly I associate that role more with Peter Ustinov, especially his turn in Evil Under the Sun. I think that must have been in heavy rotation on cable when I was young.

Some of Kenneth Branagh's Murder felt a little over-directed, especially the computer-generated helicopter shots of the train cutting through the countryside. Otherwise, I found it enjoyable. And, of course, it was nice to lose myself in the English though I will admit that I keep looking at the Chinese characters to see if I can relate them to what's being said. Pattern matching. At the moment I know three Chinese characters -- person, woman, and big. (Thank you Chineasy). I notice some patterns on occasion and a few other characters stand out but the rest of it eludes me.

Tomorrow I'm back at it. Pushing hard until I go.

Every week I send my boss, Jason, an email (usually overly verbose) of how things are going at the Shanghai office, what I've been working on, my accomplishments and challenges. I made as formal of a request as I could to say that I want to come back and that we should work on some kind of rotation -- six months on/six months out or three/three/three/three. Or, nine months here and three months back. Or 50 weeks here and 2 weeks back. Can you tell that I like it here?

If I came back, I don't imagine work would put me up at this place but that's fine. I'd actually be okay with something a little less posh -- not that I'm living high on the hog but I imagine I could live a little cheaper in a less Western area.

Regardless if I come back or not, I'm going to keep up with the Mandarin. I am trying to buckle down a bit more and listen to my Pimsleur lessons every morning and every night. What I'm studying right now -- words for children, sons, and daughters -- isn't entirely relevant to me right now but the adjectives and placements of the words around them are. Words for big/older, small/younger, and placement. Those will come in handy. I already use "da" when I'm asking for a large coffee.

Those darn baristas, however, are getting too good. They see me coming and know my order before I place it. This is going to force my hand. I'll have to learn how to order other things. I dunno. Like a latte or something.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Random Thoughts

Now that the world is ending -- at least that's how people are reacting to the 280 character limit on Twitter -- here are some quick thoughts that may or may not be 140 characters long:

  • I don't know how many times I've seen Mad Max: Fury Road but it never seems like enough.
  • We have the mental image of Chinese people wearing medical masks on the streets. Some of them are very elaborate. Almost to Immortan Joe levels. I expect a Chinese person to tell me, "Do not my friends become addicted to water..."
  • Got a little thrill when I found a theater playing movies in 2D rather than 3D. #ShanghaiVictory (The bad news is that the movie is Murder on the Orient Express but seeing a movie in English is a bit of an escape.)
  • 4AM last night I'm looking at show times and found that A Better Tomorrow is opening at several theaters next Friday. No English, I'm sure, but I don't care.
  • I've had more Indian food in the last six weeks than in the last 26 years. #winning.
  • The theme of my trip here is "I don't know what I'm eating but it sure is tasty."

Shanghai Diary: Andrea Returns

After all of the rigamarole of picking Andrea up, I was a little nuts yesterday morning when I dropped Andrea off at the airport. Emily had sent along a message I had requested to show to the Didi drive asking him to take me back to my office after dropping her off at Terminal 1. Unfortunately, she got dropped off at the wrong entrance, though it was the right terminal.

Once I got back in the car and on the road, I couldn't remember if I had kissed her goodbye or not. That question niggled at me throughout the entire rest of the day. I called her several times (via Skype since my phone can't call out of China) but her phone wouldn't accept my calls (no service). Talk about frustrating.

I got back to the office by 9:30 AM. Jason (H) and Emily were both gone on Friday and Michael Chen didn't come in until much later. That meant that I didn't really have anyone to go out to lunch with -- my other co-workers still slip out without inviting me. I can understand why -- who wants to entertain the white guy? I worked through lunch and finally left the office around 2 or so and ended up just walking back to my apartment.

I really liked that walk. It was good to be alone with my thoughts for once.

After being with Andrea for nearly one week solid, I felt more alone than ever. Still do.

I'm not sure if Andrea had a good time or not. I hope she did. I tried my best to be a good host.

I spent the evening editing two episodes of The Projection Booth and eliminating some of the files off my phone. Apparently my lack of listening to podcasts caught up with me. I moved about 5gig of podcasts off the phone and to my desktop.

I turned my ringer up and went to bed around midnight, knowing that Andrea's flight wouldn't get in until 1 or 2AM at the earliest. The bing of her WeChat woke me up and I couldn't really fall back asleep for a few hours (4ish AM). I slept for maybe two hours before waking up again and getting up.

The good news is that I kissed her goodbye. At least I didn't screw that up.

Shanghai Diary: Odds and Ends

Wednesday was a day of odds and ends. We started off at Costa Coffee, headed over to the Carrefour, ate a set lunch at Bollywood, and then headed to the IFC mall in Pudong where we got some xiaolongbao before heading down to the "science & technology mall" -- that crazy place I've written about before. Andrea wasn't very happy with the whole haggling thing. She got some shoes, a new bag, and some more silk scarves. I got talked into buying more shirts that I was guaranteed would fit this time. It's no wonder the first batch didn't fit -- at least one of them is a large when I tried on a 3XL.

Thursday I went back to work for a few hours. I had a kick-off for the project for which I was essentially sent over. Yes, more than halfway through my stay. The delay is due to, in part, the Adobe Experience Manager upgrade that is just wrapping up.

I had lunch with Emily which was really nice. I checked in with the developer Jason Huang when I got back to the office and then headed back to the apartment were we went over to the one "authentic" Chinese place on my block, Hei's House. ("Who's House?!? Hei's House....")

Overpriced but not too bad. I figured this was appropriate for Andrea's final dinner in Shanghai.

Shanghai Diary: Zhujiajiao

On Tuesday we went to the ancient water town Zhujiajio. We were picked up at our place a little before 10 and got to our destination a little after eleven. It was just Andrea and me along with our tour guide, Tom. He's been a tour guide for a long time, apparently, and did a good job of showing us around, though he moved at kind of a breakneck pace. I would have liked to have stopped for lunch while we were there or for one of the many pedicure places where they have fish that eat the dead skin off your feet. That was a thing in the US a few years back but was shut down due to health concerns. "This place is closed indefinitely by the Board of Health." "You don't look like any god damn Health Department to me..."

It was interesting walking across a bridge in this town that's older than the United States. Hell, it was older than Jamestown. Puts things in a bit of perspective.

We were back to the apartment a little after three. I think that this was actually the night where I ordered food but now I'm not sure. Things are a bit of a blur and I can't rely on the itinerary I put together as we got away from that fairly quickly.

No, I know. We went to a local place I hadn't been to (was saving it for Andrea), Las Tapas. It was decent though not somewhere I'm going to rush back to again. The best part was having goat cheese on toast.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Shanghai Diary: The Hunchback of Shanghai

On Monday morning we went back to Puxi and stood in line for two hours for some scallion pancakes that we saw featured on a few food shows before we came over. They were worth the wait -- for the taste and for the experience.

We then went over to Tianzifang where Andrea did some power shopping. She bought things for just about everyone but herself. I chose to wait on a bench so I wasn't "hovering" around her. I don't know how well she did on the bargaining but I trust she handled herself well.

When we got back to the apartment, Andrea fell asleep on the couch, I think that the jet leg finally caught up to her. Plus, she came over to Shanghai with a cold. I let her have my "Z-Pack" that was prescribed just in case I needed it. I hope between that and the pills we bought at the local pharmacy that she is all set up.

While she slept, I looked up a new food-ordering app but the "how-to" pictures were not representative of what I was seeing. So, I tried my hand at "èle ma" ( (which literally translates to "hungry?") and surprised myself by successfully placing an order. I got way too much food (leftovers for the weekend). Andrea got up around the time I finally placed the order. We sat and ate Chinese food and watched Groundhog's Day together.