Sunday, October 29, 2017

Shanghai Diary: The Little Things

I don't know if they dip their fries in mayonnaise here or not but there are some other little things I've observed:

I don't see a lot of people with tattoos. I need to look at women's ears to see if they are pierced. I have noticed that the married women I know wear wedding rings and have them on the same finger as we do in the West. I wonder where custom came from. I also wonder why, of all the characters used in Chinese, how did the world come to adopt Arabic numbers? (Thank you, Wikipedia).

There's a definite British influence on the English that's in the city. The sign for the elevators says "Lifts". But, that makes sense as the British had a stranglehold on the city in the past. I imagine I'll hear more about that past this week when I take the bus tour of the city, though I watched a few documentaries about Shanghai before I came here.

China is as big (bigger -- 3,705,410 sq mi vs. 3,537,436 sq. miles) than the continental United States but it's only got the one time zone. I think that's one way to unite the country. So, the sun sets sets at 4:24PM is Harbin, Heilongjiang and 7:11PM is Llhasa (which is still far from being the Westernmost part of the country. Here in Shanghai it sets around 5:30PM presently. That's quite a spread. That the sun goes down early, I leave my curtains open and wake up when the sun rises (around 6AM presently). I know it sounds like I'm obsessing but Winter always drives me a bit nuts with the lack of sunlight.

Today was a kind of overcast day - no rain - but a lot of fog (I think it was fog and not smog... or Smaug, the big dragon from The Hobbit). It's a little over two hours before sunset and I'm finally seeing the sun come out.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Slacking in Shanghai

The Great Firewall is an interesting thing. It's very odd to see what is blocked in China and what isn't. Of course, Facebook and Google are blocked -- as are some Google properties like YouTube or Blogger but then Gmail doesn't seem to be.

If I turn on my VPN, I can get to that stuff no problem. But, then, many of the native Chinese apps and websites won't load. Thus, I'm either flipping the VPN on and off or have it on on my laptop and then off on my phone.

I've got VPN here in my apartment and also at work (where it's on our network, rather than on our individual computers -- though sometimes I have to turn it on my computer if things seem blocked.

I plowed through the North Avenue Irregulars piece last night and now I'm putting off writing the Linda Lovelace for President piece. I'm also reading about Duel (I'm guesting on a podcast about that tomorrow) and Who Killed Teddy Bear(which will be the last episode of The Projection Booth I record in Shanghai, I reckon. I also need to edit the October episode of The Kolchak Tapes which I think is going to turn into the "early November" episode.

Next week I can't see a lot of editing happening as Andrea gets into town on Thursday night. I'll probably leave work a little early that day and then take a taxi to the airport to pick her up. Her flight gets in at 7:30 and, hopefully, won't be too much later than that.

I've been working on our itinerary for her time in town. I want to do a lot of touristy stuff while not overwhelming her with activities. This isn't going to be a "vacation", per se, but a "trip". No lounging on the veranda by the pool. Not that I've seen a pool around here, yet.

I noticed the other day that back in Detroit, while I get along with my female coworkers, I tend to hang out with my male coworkers. While here, I've been getting along with my male coworkers, and hanging out with my female coworkers, specifically Emily. She's a bit of a foodie so she's been great to recommend some restaurants. Meanwhile, her husband is a film fan. We're hoping to get her family together with Andrea and I when she's in town.

Every co-worker I've talked to so far is married with one kid (though there's no "one child" policy around anymore -- yet, I hear that it's more of a "two child" policy. My co-worker, Jade, is about to have her second child and I can't imagine how she's going to handle it. Every Thursday or Friday I ask my typical "do you have big plans for the weekend?" question and the answers from my co-workers are almost identical to a fault. They all seem to spend weekends taking their kids to classes. Not things like ballet or swing classes but to actual classes like English, Chinese, Music, Math, etc. And these classes run three hours long and happen on Saturday and Sunday. I hate to make broad cultural remarks but everyone seems so driven. I actually feel guilty when I say, "Oh, I'm going to watch some movies, do some grocery shopping, write some articles, read, record some podcasts, and do some audio editing." SLACKER!

I think tomorrow I need to get out of the apartment a bit more and do some exploring, maybe in the morning or after the Duel recording.

A sticker set on WeChat of a cute little ganshi? Yes, please.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Minor Victories

Just nod and smile. That's helping quite a bit over here when I use my limited Mandarin to try and convey a message. It's got to be frustrating for the person on the other side, knowing that they're talking to a complete idiot.

Today at lunch I managed to order a "set lunch" at the Japanese place I've been to before. I know they have a lot of pictures (and English) on their menu so I could point at something that looked appealing. I asked for some "bing shui" (ice water) to drink. I also wanted some hot tea. This caused a bit of a flurry because I think I just get one drink with my set lunch. I just nodded and smiled while the waitress pointed at a few things. "Hao de" ("How duh") I kept saying ("sure, sure"). I got the ice water. I didn't get the tea. I wasn't sad.

It's been kind of a "what did I just agree to?" and "what did I just eat?" kind of day. The set lunch had some interesting stuff that I imagine was tofu. There was also a salad, soup, pickled cucumbers, and something that I can only guess was congee. The main course was a delicious pork chop breaded in panko with a nice dipping sauce.

I got back to the office and wanted to try my luck again at the "self service" store that I talked about a few weeks ago (555). This time, I was ready. Other than being a little confused about the order of the queue for the check out machine, I did pretty well, scanning a few items and paying via WeChat. I got something that I'm assuming is ginko seeds. Regardless, they were yummy. I'd pull the package out of the garbage and take a picture of it, but the office ayi has already emptied it out.

I went from DTE where you had to empty your own garbage ("Know your own power") to Federal-Mogul where we've got at least one ayi that is always coming through the office every few minutes and sweeping, dusting, and picking up. Frankly, it makes me a bit uneasy but I think it's just because I'm not used to it. Also, it's not like Southfield where when the guy who picks up our recycling (Mitch) comes through, we all stop to talk with him (though Chris is always trash talking about basketball or football with him).

I kind of miss being able to make small talk with my waitress at lunch or dinner, though I have a few times when I'm at Pistolera or even Savor.

Savor is an interesting place. It's right next door to my apartment (close enough that I can hear the music they play when my windows are open) and they really cater to Westerners. They have quite a few people on staff who stand near the register and help the lofan with their orders. They have a long menu with checkboxes so we can easily mark off what we want.

I've only eaten a couple of meals there. I got there instead to order coffee for my morning protein shakes. They always look at me a little funny when I come in at night and order four or five coffees to go.

The other night I had dinner there and my hostess/waitress gave me quite a long story about how she used to work there then moved to the place across the street and then back again. It was nice to interact with another human being for a bit.

I need to start carrying around a book and get a few more on my phone (rather than just "Chinese For Dummies" which frankly isn't how I want to learn things -- not that I mind the "For Dummies" books but it's set up to just throw a bunch of related words at readers. I brought over a couple of those little Cult Movie books and a few 33 1/3 books. Those should be easy enough to carry around, even in my back pocket. Pretty soon I'm going to have to start wearing a jacket full time so I can always stock a book there.

Tonight I've got "working on articles" on my calendar. So, I'll be watching The North Avenue Irregulars and putting together a plot summary. I've got the bits from my interviews selected and I just need to start working those into the body proper once I get the skeleton laid out.

Speaking of skeletons..

Halloween is coming to China...

I downloaded The Rocky Horror Picture Show last week and plan on watching that on Tuesday for Halloween. I just hope it's the version I'm used to (No "Once in a While" and with "Superheroes").

When I got back to my apartment last night after the movie, I found two packages of stuff that I'd ordered via Baopals. I'm glad that that worked out. No locker needed -- though ironically I saw some of these lockers when I went into a grocery store last night near the theater. I look forward to the next time I hit that theater -- not just for the popcorn -- because there were a bunch of interesting-looking restaurants around. The more I explore, the more I get away from my little "Westernized safe zone." I'd call it "The Green Zone" but I'm not sure too many people would get the reference. Plus, it's a bit harsh.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Movie Theater Follow-Up

Things didn't go off without a hitch for my first movie-going experience here in Shanghai but they went pretty well.

It took me a little bit to find the theater itself which was hidden among a row of restaurants down from the Venetian Hotel. I was having trouble getting China Mobile to connect while out riding my scooter to use AMAP (kind of like Google Maps or Baidu Maps) to direct me there. I don't understand the directions that the "map lady" gives but I know enough to listen for the pings and figure out when a turn is coming. Though, frankly, it should have been a two turn trip from work to the theater.

Once I found it, I had no problem redeeming my ticket via WeChat with the lone box office / concession worker. However, when it came time for me to try and get the concession items I'd pre-ordered (a bottle of water and some popcorn), I couldn't find the code and the girl behind the counter thought I wanted to order something.

She was far more ingenious than I am. She had seen that I had WeChat so she borrowed my phone, got me on WiFi, added me as a friend and then we proceeded to "talk" to one another via WeChat (which has a translate function built right into it). So, now I have a new "friend". She figured out where my concession code was and hooked me up with my stuff. The ticket taker figured out pretty fast that I was out of my depth so she called over to another usher who escorted me through the labyrinthine halls (which were decorated like one of the Studio Gibli films).

I was reminded of the old Movies at Briarwood and how many twists and turns my Mom and I had to make in order to find the little theater playing The Gods Must Be Crazy.

I had learned from the Two White Chicks in China podcast that the popcorn would be sweet and not salty. It was kind of like caramel corn and it was delicious.

There was little pre-show before the movie started. Once the lights went down we were subjected to about a dozen 30 second (or less) spots -- a few beauty products, a couple of car spots. Then the movie started. No previews.

I thought something was messed up with the projection until I remembered that the movie was in 3D. There were no 2D options available (I kind of hate 3D movies that aren't shot in 3D). Once my glasses were on, I started to really started to lose myself in the film (despite the Chinese subtitles).

I had chosen my own seat (suggested by the app) and no one sat in front of me so I had a hard time gauging reaction to the film but I know I was the only one audibly laughing. I'm wondering if that's because the movie didn't translate, translated a few beats behind where I was with the audio, or just wasn't that funny. The Elton John bits were a bit rough but the movie overall elicited a chuckle or two.

As soon as the movie ended, the lights came back up and I pulled up the "Run Pee" app to see if there was anything after the end credits. Everyone filed out fairly quickly while I stayed to look at the cast list. I know I wasn't the only person in the audience who could read the credits but it was kind of nice to be able to read something in English.

I left in a state of reverie, feeling like I'd made a major accomplishment and crossed another hurdle. I saw standees for Blade Runner 2049 and Thor: Ragnarok and now I feel safe that I can enjoy them while I'm here.

There was little-to-no traffic out on my scooter ride home and, for whatever reason, this song started going through my head:

Shanghai Diary: Catching Up

I never feel like I'm busy enough and that's why I tend to take on a lot of projects both at work and in my personal life. However, I think I've finally put my hand on the mat and cried, "Uncle."

I'm still gung-ho on the day job -- which has (as predicted) become kind of a "night and day job" between the Shanghai and Southfield offices. I tend to wake up with the sun (around 6AM) and then I'm to the office around 8AM. I work until 4PM or 5PM (on Mondays I usually go a little later) before heading back to my apartment to grab dinner and prepare for my slate of calls that start at 8PM or 9PM. I work until 11PM or 12AM and then crash out and do it again the next day.

Fortunately, weekends allow me a lot of time to do non-work things. Some of that is dedicated to things like going grocery shopping. Most of it is dedicated to working on the podcast, so much so that I'm finding myself spending almost all of my time doing that during the precious daylight hours. I am falling behind on all the reading and movie-watching that that "job" requires making me feel like I've bitten off way more than I can chew.

Rather than doing a half-assed job with the episodes I've got scheduled to do while I'm here, I'm putting the podcast on hold and playing a little bit of "catch up" with the episodes I have banked. I've got a lot of interviews and "special episodes" that I haven't yet edited and put together that will keep me busy. Plus, I also have three episodes of The Kolchak Tapes to edit and put together.

I will admit that I feel guilty about doing this but, so far, everyone has been understanding.

I also need to turn my attention the rest of the week to the articles I've not written for an upcoming Bear Manor Media book. I wrote one article / chapter for them back in... really, I think it was 2011.... about Airplane II: The Sequel and another last year about 976-Evil II, but still have yet to write about Linda Lovelace for President and The North Avenue Irregulars. Meanwhile, I did interviews for both of those pieces back in 2013. Poor Edward Herrmann died back in 2014 and he deserves better treatment than me just sitting on the interview.

BTW, the character he portrayed in The North Avenue Irregulars, Albert Fay Hill (Michael Hill in the movie), also died in 2014. I tried to get in touch with him without any luck.

The night before last I didn't get to bed until after midnight and then slept poorly. I woke up at 5AM without any hope of falling back asleep, though I lay in bed until 6AM. I talked to Andrea (via WeChat) and was to work before 8AM. My ass was dragging all morning and I finally gave up hope of concentrating on work around noon when I looked up and noticed that no one else was in the office (my coworkers religiously leave for lunch at noon or shortly before).

I drove my scooter down to Pistolera -- a surprisingly great Mexican restaurant -- and then to the Carrefour where I stocked up on groceries and sundries (finally running out of little travel shampoos and soaps).

My back's been hurting for the last few days so on my way back to my apartment I decided to stop by one of the three massage parlors by my place.

My doctor back in Metro Detroit leaves a little something to be desired. Last time I went to see her I finally complained about the stiffness I get in my neck (fairly often). Rather than do anything she told me, "You're going to Shanghai and they're great at massage. You should get some." Thanks, doc.

Between my neck and back I decided that a massage would be good. I went to the place that I mentioned a few weeks ago where my co-worker Laura went (recommended by the Marriott where she was staying). As soon as I got in the door the man working the desk started saying, "Happy massage!" and pointing at the price list.

Yeah, I think a happy massage is the same think you think it is.

While the offer was tempting, it was also over 500 RMB and my bank account is pretty tight right now (waiting for all these Expense payments from work to hit my bank). I opted for a full body (non-oil) massage. It was 158 RMB which is about $24 US. I also tipped the masseuse 20 RMB -- tipping is kind of gauche over here but I did it anyway. I said something I didn't think I'd say (and that I know my masseuse didn't understand), "I know it's not the custom here but 'in my country' we tip people who do great work."

Today I'm more sore than ever but I took some ibuprofen and hope to work it on out. And, hey, now I know where I can get a "happy massage" when necessary. Or get ginger dressing on my feet!

One thing that I can do with my new WeChat pay capability is to order movie tickets via the app. Blade Runner 2049 opens on October 27 here so I've got it on the agenda I put together for Andrea while she's in town. In the meantime, I decided to go see Kingsmen 2 at a local theater here in order to try out the process.

The individual times of the shows are broken out into individual prices, usually based upon theater size and perks, I think, even more than times. That means, I can go see a movie in the evening at a matinee price, as long as I'm not in a "VIP" theater. Likewise, different movie theaters themselves have different prices (like we do back home). There's no standard price for a ticket, it seems. The app lists average prices by theater, and distance from your current location. If I was using Dainping, I could also see the average customer rating but that app is "too Chinese" for me so far. There's no English version available as far as I know. I'd look on the Google Play store but I don't want to turn on my VPN just to find out (for some sites and apps you have to use a VPN while others don't work if your VPN is on).

I picked at 6:20PM show and pre-ordered some concession items. I hear that they have sweet popcorn, not salty popcorn. I'm curious to confirm. I think I also ordered a bottle of water though it could be the "salted tonic water" I got once before which was very interesting. We'll see how this experience goes tonight. These are the little things that make a big difference to me.

I met one of my podcast listeners, Dan Katz, who responded after I put out my first "Shanghai Surprise" announcement. He was just moving to Shanghai at the time. We had some tea on Sunday and shared our experiences.

He told me about a site called "Baopals" where lofan like me can order things via Taobao and T-Mall without knowing Chinese. I placed an order for some underwear and protein bars. Very exciting. :)

We'll see if I put in the address correctly and if the delivery guys will bring things to my apartment or if they'll use a locker somewhere nearby. I haven't even experienced the locker system in the U.S. (Amazon is adopting this, for sure, and I don't know who else) but I hear that the delivery person will put the item in a locker and text me the unlock code. Sounds very convenient, depending on where the locker is. And, I imagine that there are lockers in a lot of places that I'm just not aware of.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Stupid Game

I have a very stupid game I play. Channel 22 on my cable -- not sure of the name -- plays a lot of anime, soap operas, "Sing China" (which is the China equivalent of "The Voice"), and another game show which is the China equivalent "America's Got Talent". But, best of all, they play a lot of Hong Kong movies from the '80s and '90s. Occasionally, I'll recognize these movies immediately but, more often, I'll sit and watch and try to figure out what movie it is. I'll look for familiar faces and then start to put together a cast list. Eventually I'll cross-reference the actors and actresses in IMDb until I come up with a title. Tonight's movie is Dances with Dragon.

I was talking to my co-worker, Emily, today about how I perceive -- or had perceived - mainland China and Hong Kong and that most of my impressions came from movies. I was hard pressed to name too many mainland films except for a couple by Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou and those were historical epics. But, HK films helped me learn a bit about Chinese culture, even if mainland culture and HK culture aren't always (often?) similar.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Shanghai Diary: One Month In

I got to Shanghai one month ago today.

If this hasn't come through before let me just state it outright: if I could stay here in Shanghai longer than my three month tour, I would in a heartbeat. I'm kind of hoping that I can go home for Christmas and then come back in early 2018. I am absolutely loving this city and being here.

There have been some struggles to get by but they've been minor and each time I get jump over one of those hurdles, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Now that I've got my mobile, bank card, and scooter, I feel like there's nothing I can't do. Of course, some of the language stuff -- especially reading characters -- still flummox me but, again, those are things to be overcome. Every day I learn a little more Mandarin and eventually I plan on trying to learn how to read some of it. I can barely write (my handwriting is atrocious) so I doubt I'll go into that area but if I could figure out a few characters, I might get by a bit better.

I'm already dreading the idea of selling my scooter and not having that daily challenge of trying to get around just on my incredible good looks.

Of course, (I miss the earth so much) I miss my wife (it's lonely out in space), I miss Avery, and I miss the animals. But, I'm just so excited to be here.

When it comes to the podcast, I feel like I've not been able to dedicate enough time to some of the shows that I've got scheduled and I'm thinking I may have to put the show on hold and move out some of the scheduled episodes a bit. This 12/13 hour time difference with the East Coast (15/16 with the West) is kicking my butt a bit. Where I've got interviews recorded, it's not been an issue but setting up times to interview and record have been a real challenge.

I think, too, that I need to be more protective of my time. Last Monday I got to work at 8AM and left at 6PM for trivia and then was back on the phone for meetings by 9:30 PM and would have gone to midnight had I had a call-in number for the 11PM meeting. Things are only going to get worse when the US "falls back" due to Daylight Saving and China stays the time. That'll increase the time difference to 13 hours with back home.

The more I'm here, the more of the jokes in this makes sense to me. And that's kind of scary.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Mustn't Keep Princess Waiting

When everyone around you is speaking a different language, you can get paranoid. Or, at least, I can. But then I have to remind myself of how egotistical that is. If someone was talking about me, it would have to mean that I'm worthwhile enough -- or embarrassing enough -- to discuss and I know I'm not.

When I was in my teens and early twenties -- before I got onto anti-depressants -- I used to get really paranoid. I remember driving myself crazy, thinking that my college roommates were talking about me behind my back. Again, that would require that I am worth talking about and I'm not.

Shanghai isn't the backwoods where seeing a white person might be akin to seeing a yeti. Moreover, no matter where you go, American cultural exports like music and movies continue to put us front of mind.

The more I'm over here, the more angry I get about "whitewashing" of characters in movies. It's like I've said on the podcast several times: imagine being in a world where no one on TV or in movies looks like you do. Or, if they do, they're a horrible stereotype. Now, I don't think that seeing a white face will ever be a rarity, but maybe it should be once in a while just to help drive that point home.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Step Into the Future

Spoiler Alert: We won Monday's trivia (by all of one point).

A team -- Pudongs Make A Right -- adopted me for the game and we did a pretty decent job. I would have gotten fairly thrashed without them as there were a lot of things like years for movies(!), the theme song for "The Walking Dead", and more that I didn't know. I was able to help out with a few categories. I thought we complemented one another pretty well. Unfortunately, I've got a meeting next Monday at 8PM that I can't miss so I'll have to sit out the horror-themed night.

Tuesday (10/17) started off rough. My scooter battery died on the way to work (thank goodness I was just a few yards from my office building). I need to do a better job about charging it weekly.

Also, and far worse, when I went in to pay for my usual cup of morning coffee, I found that my ATM card was missing. Where I keep my card, it has fallen out a few times from my wallet but I always noticed it. I was in a blind panic, though tried to keep my head.

I got up to my desk and called the "Lost or Stolen ATM Card" number found on my Credit Union's website only to have them tell me, "Oh, we don't deal with that. Just with credit cards."

I tried to put it out of my head. I had a few meetings that morning and went out to lunch with my co-worker, Emily. She had volunteered last week to send me some cash via WeChat if I gave it to her, so I knew that she had some (of my) money so I wasn't worried about being broke. However, she sent me just a few Yuan (RMB) via WeChat to pay for a coffee and I figured out that there was no way to accept it. I just had to have a Chinese bank account!

After lunching, I couldn't take the suspense anymore and went back to my apartment to toss the joint and see if I could find my ATM card. No dice. In a desperate measure, I went down to the front desk to see if they had a lost & found. As soon as I started speaking, the desk clerk reached down and placed my card on the counter. I couldn't express how grateful I was. "Xiexie" only took me so far. At least with Spanish I know to add a "muchas" in front of that "gracias" to emphasis it.

Crisis averted.

Going 40 kph on my scooter can get a little chilly. I've got a heavy winter coat but nothing light enough to wear on the bike without roasting. That said, I asked Serena if she could look on TaoBao or T-Mall (two popular shopping sites) and buy me a light jacket.

There's something I like about how frank she is. "When we met, your pants look like you lost weight but they didn't." Yeah. The jeans I brought with me from home were really big. I had started purging out larger sizes but mistakenly brought some bigger ones. Big in the waist. Too long in the leg. And baggy as heck. That was Serena's way of telling me that I should also buy some new pants. After a lot of back and forth about inches to centimeters and pounds to kilos, she ordered me a new jacket and jeans.

We met yesterday on the other side of the Huangpu where she gave me my new clothes and where we looked for a bank that would open up an account for me. She's a bit of a tigress. We tried four different banks and she was undeterred. Finally, at the fifth bank, my lack of a year-long visa was not a problem. We sat down, applied for, and got me a bank account and card from ICBC. We went out and grabbed some lunch in Xintiandi (my first taste of real Shanghai dumplings, a dish they're famous for) and connected my card to my WeChat.

I can't emphasis what a big deal this is over here. There are really three main forms of paying for things: WeChat Pay, AliPay, and cash. Even then, cash isn't the preferred method. Tuesday I took a taxi from work to my apartment (carrying my dead battery) and the driver didn't have enough change for my 100 RMB note (that's only approximately $16 US). Monday I took a taxi from the White Horse to my apartment (it was pissing down rain so no scooter that night) and the driver gave me a hard time for giving him a 20 RMB note with a slight tear in the corner. There's nothing quite like being yelled at in a foreign language. After a while it goes from upsetting to ridiculous.

Now, between the China Mobile phone and the WeChat pay (and I can enable AliPay if I want), I feel like a real boy. There's something liberating about it. Now I can order a taxi (or Uber/Lyft equivalent) via DD and pay for it via the app. Now I can get my QR code scanned at any restaurant or shop and pay immediately. I can almost leave my wallet at home and just use my phone for everything. This is what we've been promised for years in the US but Shanghai is already there. The phone is the passport to just about anything and everything.

Shanghai reminds me of Seattle. Even when rain isn't in the forecast, it's not a surprise when it arrives.

There's something I call "umbrella culture" here. Since rain is so much a part of life here, there are conveniences that have been crafted for it. When you go into restaurants they often have "umbrella caddies" where you can hang or place your umbrella while you're inside. Or, a place might have a dispenser wherein you can place your umbrella and have it wrapped in a plastic bag. Oddly, these plastic bags are easy to come by but finding a plastic bag for fruit or vegetables at Carrefour is damn near impossible...

With all the rain, one would think that other things in the city might get an adjustment, especially walking surfaces. When Laura and Jason were still here, I almost took a header in the Marriott parking lot because the damned walkway was slick marble that only got slicker during the rain.

Yesterday, as Serena and I were going from bank to bank, we were going down a tall flight of metal stairs and I could tell that they were going to get slippery with our wet shoes. No problems there. But once we got out of the stairwell my foot hit the top step of a little four-step walk-down and BLAMMO; I was on my ass before I could even make a sound. She absolutely panicked, thinking she was going to have to call an ambulance for this giant American. Fortunately, I was more shocked than hurt, though I think my ass might have some bruising and the palm of my left hand definitely does. Why there are still such slick surfaces for walkways in a rainy city will remain a mystery.

At Xintiandi I saw a movie theater with a "coming soon" poster for Blade Runner 2049. I'm very excited to see that and am hoping to take Andrea with me when she gets into town on November 2. I've been working on an itinerary of "touristy" stuff to do while she's here. Yesterday was kind of a scouting trip for tourist stuff to do.

After lunch, we went to Tian Zi Fang, a densely packed little neighborhood that's been turned into almost a bizarre of shops. This seems like the place that I'll want to take Andrea for souvenir shopping and to partake in some great food. I saw something that looked like a corndog but it said it was octopus. I was too full to try it. I did have a durian-flavored ice cream and I have to admit that I found the taste intriguing. I look forward to having some real durian soon.

I got myself talked into some headphones (the girl yelling out numbers after me until she came down a couple hundred RMB to 100 RMB) but that was it. There were some kitschy items with Chairman Mao on them that I may pick up next time I'm back.

And, since I'm a tourist, Serena took me to The Bund. It started raining again so the top of the Shanghai tower was in the clouds and people were quickly walking away. It was all pretty gorgeous. And, speaking of Blade Runner 2049, it reminded me a lot of the future.

We got some dinner at a place called "Lost Heaven" (I kept wanting to call it "Lost Highway" -- partially due to the Lynch film, partially because it's got a Silk Road theme) which was another killer meal.

I got to call a taxi with my DD (app) and pay for it with WeChat pay. I felt like I had just taken my first step into a much larger world...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Trivial Pursuits

I suppose it was a little over three years ago that my friend Jeff Dunlap moved back from Chicago to the Detroit area. When we (our college roommate, Jonathan, and I) asked him what he'd like to do when he came in, he answered simply, "Pub trivia."

I haven't been the same since.

The time was ripe. Over the months previous Andrea and I had wandered into a few places (thanks to Groupon) where we happened upon a trivia night while at my day job (I was at DTE Energy at the time), one of my co-workers shared his pub trivia exploits. I even tracked down a few places in Detroit to play a round with two of my favorite DTE co-workers.

I had played a little "Quiz Bowl" in college with Jeff, Jonathan, and a few other housemates. We named our team after Matt Lieberman. We called it "FOJWPP" (pronounced "Fodge-Whip") which, of course, stands for "Friends of Jewish Water Polo Players." We didn't fare too well, having our asses handed to us by a team called "Lamer than Last Year."

I don't remember if Jeff, Jonathan, Andrea and I won our first pub trivia game as a team but once we had a taste, we were game for more.

Or maybe it was just me.

I finally found something that I was halfway decent at.

Jeff was always good for finding the answer to something crazily obscure. Jonathan and Andrea could always provide good scientific answers (they both have biology and anatomy in their backgrounds) while Andrea is also terrific at brands and cooking (not to play into stereotypes). Meanwhile, I just know a lot of stupid shit that has never served any purpose before.

We found a game night that worked with Andrea's bowling schedule for the Fall and Spring and fell into a routine. It was a something of a big deal for me when I cleared out my calendar for every Tuesday night (no podcasting allowed) and committed to my first real team event that I'd ever been in. I take that back. I'd been on a bowling league before. This was the first team event where I could actually make a difference and not be a burden.

I know I went overboard with my newfound love. I became the jerk who would immediately write down the answer if I knew it and would often forget to even show the rest of my team what I'd written before I marched the answer slip up to the host. And, worse, I would second-guess my teammates, especially if they just had more of a gut feeling and didn't say, "I know this." Yet, I was fine going with my gut (which was often wrong).

Is it any wonder why things fell apart after two years of me being a bully?

I wanted to feel wanted and when it came to the second time we were in the regional finals, I felt like my teammates were being a little wishy-washy about who was going to attend. We could only have four people out of our usual seven or eight (Jonathan and Jeff's spouses joined the game as well as a friends of Jeff's and Jonathan's). I "gracefully" demurred to be part of the four that went to regionals in an effort to be fair. Yet, I was secretly hoping that this offer would be refused: "Oh, no, Mike. You need to be there, you're so great!" When that didn't come, I seethed. Then I became apoplectic. It was all part of my horrible passive-aggressive personality.

I wasn't graceful when I texted the group the day before the contest that I should be there and basically gave an ultimatum. Not cool, man. Not cool.

This posting was supposed to be about me looking for pub trivia here in Shanghai but, instead, it's turned into another round of facing my personality defects. Not cool, man. Not cool. Too much damned self-reflection and navel-gazing. That's not entertainment.

Suffice it to say, the Tuesday Night Trivia fell apart after that. Plus, there had been some dissent about the time and night that we would play. I admit, too, that the menu at our venue had become a little stale after two years.

I removed Trivia from my calendar and started scheduling interviews for Tuesday nights.

Before I left for China, one of my old trivia teammates sent me a link to an article about "Pub Quiz" places in Shanghai. It hadn't dawned on me in the slightest that this would be a something to even consider over here but then it seemed completely natural. A bunch of ex-pats getting together in a bar, drinking, and reminiscing via trivia? Yeah, that sounded about right.

I started looking at the places in the article -- most of the venues had closed or stopped doing trivia nights. I also wanted something local to my apartment so I wasn't taking the Metro an hour and a half across the Huangpu.

After posting on a Shanghai Ex-pat group on Facebook, I finally found a location just a few kilometers away from my place that does Monday night Pub Quiz, The White Horse. And, if you're gonna ride, ride the white pony.

I went there last week where a group of Canadians was supposed to adopt me. Alas, it was Canadian Thanksgiving so they weren't around. Fortunately, a nice chap named Lance came over (from the "Damned Yankees" team) and we teamed up. Between Lance's knowledge and some blind luck, we managed to win handily. I earned a free drink voucher and got to pick the following week's theme (Sci-Fi).

One of the strangest things about going to Pub Quiz last week was being in a place where almost everyone spoke English as their primary language.

This trip is definitely making me more empathetic to people who can't speak the language of a place (like me). There's this attitude in the U.S. of "If they come to the country, they better take the time to learn the damn language. English, motherfucker, do you speak it?!?"

Yes, I'll work to learn Mandarin but I can get around most of the time without it. Likewise, I'm sure a lot of U.S. immigrants would think or say the same thing. And, don't I know that English is an incredibly difficult language to use. Even just trying to find translations for English words and phrases in Mandarin lead me down rabbit holes of, "Oh, wait, that can be a homonym for this other word..." Just today I was thinking of how I'd ask for a receipt for something. Receipt is both a noun for the piece of paper and a the fact that something is being received. It's also a verb for marking a bill as paid. So, should I ask for a bill instead? But a bill usually implies that something hasn't been paid. And, again, one can bill someone or receive a bill.

This morning, too, I was trying to remember the word to tell the barista at Starbucks that my coffee was "to go." Or, in British vernacular, "take away". Just think about how many variations of those phrases you can think of. Are you talking about verbs or adjectives here?

BTW, you'd most likely want shōu jù (receipt) and dǎbāo (to go).

I'm off to The White Horse for that Sci-Fi trivia. #LLAP

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Crunchy Frog

The days are getting a little colder. Not too bad for a fat-ass like me. My layer of blubber keeps me warm even at the coldest depths of the ocean. However, riding around on my scooter, the wind cuts through me like an icy knife.

I asked Serena on Friday if she could order me a jacket and a new pair of jeans. After a lot of math (inches to centimeters, pounds to kilograms), she placed the order at T-Mall and it should be arriving today or tomorrow.

Before I came to Shanghai, I tried to do a lot of research. I've found that some of the things I "learned" are bullshit while others are holding fairly true. The people at the "Passport Health" place where I got vaccinated made me feel like there was disease lurking around every corner here. "Don't shower with your mouth open! Don't shave in the shower! Always wipe off your chopsticks before you use them because they don't clean them well!" You could say the same thing about any big city -- save for the chopsticks -- if you eat at a crappy restaurant you should expect crappy conditions. Even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall that I've been to here has been as clean as I'd expect from a big city greasy spoon (or greasy chopstick in this case). It's all good.

I was warned "Chinese people are very rude." I disagree with this broad generalization. There are things that Chinese people will say or ask that Americans tend to avoid. That brings me back to Serena ordering me pants. She told me that the jeans I wear are not very flattering at all and that they make me look fat. She has asked me a few times why I'm so fat and if I'm doing anything to lose weight. That's not something that you hear from relative strangers in the U.S. but I know she doesn't mean anything malicious. And, hey, I'm working on it so I don't feel that bad either. Moreover, I agree that the jeans I brought with me are awful. They're at least two inches too big in the waist and as much in length. I look like I'm swimming in them. The same goes for some of the shirts I brought. So, here's hoping these new jeans will be able to fit me.

About a year ago I ordered a leather jacket via eBay. It was a 3XL which should have fit me fine. When it arrived, I could barely fit my arm in one of the sleeves. Now I realize that this was a Chinese 3XL. In China I take at least a 7XL which is as big as the vendor for this new jacket carries. Again, I hope that this fits.

The other thing that Serena has asked me about a few times is why I don't have any children of my own. I tried explaining about how selfish I am and that I spend time and money on myself and am too involved in my own navel-gazing that I didn't feel mature enough to take care of a new life. I barely can give Andrea enough time, much less another human who would be wholly dependent on me.

When I look at the friends I grew up with (all those people I mentioned in my UK Journal posts), I don't see many kids. I don't know what it was about us but no one that I still talk to or occasionally hang out with is a parent: Jeff, Leon, Steve, Aimee. Most of my college housemates have two kids: Jonathan, Buck, Matt, and Matt. Yet, the Riverview group is childless.

Back in Southfield, the majority of my direct co-workers don't have any kids, though most of them are in their twenties. Yet, here in the Shanghai office, it seems like not having kids is the exception rather than the rule. It feels like most of my co-workers here are ten to twenty years younger, though it's hard for me to judge ages for white people so I'm rubbish at Asians.

On Saturday, the office had a big "family day." In fact, it felt like the whole area (the whole city?) had a family weekend. Some of the restaurants around me put up playground equipment and there were kids everywhere. I felt a little bad that I wasn't invited to the family day stuff at work but, after seeing pictures, I wouldn't have been comfortable since it was truly all about catering to the kids.

This experience is making me realize just how much more I need to reach out to guests that visit the Southfield office. Traveling can be a lonely affair. While I love the idea of going back to my apartment at the end of the day to watch movies, read, edit podcasts, and write, I also would like the occasional outing and seeing "the real Shanghai." Again, I don't know if it's a cultural thing or because everyone has their own lives and families, but there are times where I wish I had co-workers saying, "Hey, let's go out to so and so on Saturday..." Or, "Drinks after work tonight, are you coming?" Then, again, I think I'm okay without that. I imagine I missed that window and it was open when Jason and Laura were here.

I've talked to some people here and they're amazed that I don't have a "handler" from my office. An assigned friend, as it were. I told them that this would be perceived as weak in American business culture. Likewise, people are amazed that my co-workers aren't checking in more often with me, especially the mucky-mucks. Again, fine by me. I know enough of how to do the work assigned to me and try to help out with other things so I don't need constant contact. Just unconditional love.

Photo Dump

"Take me to Raccoon City..."

View on my ride home from work

Morning line for pork buns(?):

Enjoying some shade and reading:

Two of my co-workers at the local noodle shop where I had some "Crunchy Frog":

Friday, October 13, 2017

Shanghai Diary: A Little Too Ironic

The other morning one of my Shanghai co-workers came up to me and told me that she was listening to the news out of the United States.

"Oh, good," I thought, "Something stupid Trump has done again..."

No, instead. she was telling me about how expensive Szechuan sauce is in the US and that she heard that an ounce of it can go for $14K US. Then she assured me that Szechuan sauce is not nearly as expensive here in Shanghai and that I can get it for quite cheap.

It took a beat for this to register (sometimes it takes a second to work through the accent) and then I exclaimed, "Oh! Rick and Morty!."

She looked at me askance. Nodded. Laughed a little bit. And walked away.

Suffice it to say, I've found that some bits of irony, sarcasm, and pop culture references don't translate too well across cultures.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shanghai Diary: 555

I had my first panic attack of the Shanghai trip on Monday and it was over such a stupid thing.

Here I was, feeling so empowered and self-confident about my ability to get around in Shanghai when I ran across the simple problem of buying lunch.

My office building has about a dozen or so little restaurants around it, most of them around the bases of the several tall buildings around here. Some of them seem to be apartments, others office buildings. At the base of my building is a 7-11, a Starbucks, a little market, and a few other places I've yet to visit.

I strutted into one of these restaurants, ready to sit down and enjoy some fine local cuisine.

"E Ren!" I proclaimed (one person) as I entered. The guy started speaking very quickly to me and I wasn't quite sure what he meant. It was only through hindsight that I learned that I'd walked into the equivalent of a "fast food" restaurant where people didn't get sat, they ordered and then sat down. Alas, the menu to which he pointed was purely in Chinese, nary a picture to be seen for me to point at.

"Uh," I stammered (I don't understand). Finally, I turned tail and fled. I started going around the entire building, looking at every restaurant. All of them seemed to be the same set-up. I had met my match. Why didn't I take a picture of the menu and use Google Translate to help me out? Good question. That's another thing I thought of later.

I went in to the little market and started picking up things to eat only to realize when I went to check out that the store is somewhat self-service and I didn't find anyone taking cash, just WeChat Pay or AliPay -- two things I have yet to master as I don't have a Chinese bank account or credit card. Again, another suggestion for my company is to have a few accounts like this set up where everything can be paid out of that, esp. for travelers coming here for shorter stints.

So, long story short, "555" or "wu wu wu" or "the sound one makes when crying".

The rest of this week I've been going out to lunch with coworkers -- one from the Southfield office, the others from the Shanghai office -- and though I feel a bit like a tag-along, I know my limits at the moment and will try again when I gain some more confidence and language skills.

What I think of every morning I get on my scooter:


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

UK Journal: The Journey Back


The circle is nearly complete.

Here in Heathrow I sit.

It looks like the Please Mind Your Head posse shall be together on our trek back to the good old USA.

Yesterday we went to Wimbledon where I again bought batteries and then Michelle and I went to Big Star records where I almost bought the Cameo picture disc or the Fireworks 12" or the Hong Kong Garden 45 or the B-52s First album or the Wildflower 12" by The Cult but I got Burning from the Inside by Bauhaus which I'll listen to on the plane.

Natasha can kiss my ass! She's been saying shit about me. [Probably all deserved].

Hey baby! I'm just gonna follow the Way Out signs to America.

Then we went to Piccadilly and hung out until High Tea. It was nice to get the posse in effect at the formal event [that explains the clothes in the last post].


I want to leave but I'm really going to miss Michelle and Jimmy and Kevin. I'll miss the rest of bit but those guys are really cool.

DAMNATION. I really hate Panda Cola. But I hate leaving these dues even more. And that's a lot, let me tell ya.

I miss my home.
I miss my friends.
I miss my Mom & Dad.
I miss my family.
I miss Beat Box.
I miss Black Shampoo.
I miss The Mack.
I want my MTV.
I miss my stereo.
I miss iced tea.
I miss the pool.
I miss my room.
I miss America.
Steve, Leon, Jeff, Aimee, Andy. I miss 'em all.
I miss Tony & McGraw. Hell, even having Mollie and Dave.

[On the plane]

It's 7 o'clock AM. Back home - I woke up at 10PM Eastern Time. I'll arrive hopefully at 8PM. What a nice day I'm gonna have (am having). I have a sore throat. Not cool.

I'm just waiting for today's feature presentation... Rain Man.

Doug Dalryple's address

On the way home:

England: 11:15
Home: 6:15

Home sweet Home sweet Home sweet Home, Home, Home.

I called Leon while I was at JFK. It was so good to hear from him. Then I charged it to Dean Stahl's phone [is it any wonder why I was so hated?]

Later I called Steve but he wasn't home. And, it looks like neither would be able to come over Friday night. Leon has a job: Pizza Boy.

I miss my pals so much! I want to see them all!

Aimee and Steve are supposed to go to Aimee's cabin. DAMNATION.

Looks like they're gonna miss the hearing of the virgin Car Wash soundtrack.

Back in the USA meanwhile...

Here is is, BAM, and you say God Damn! [Public Enemy reference]

I miss my parent. I miss 'em all. Here I come! MORE GOLD! [Orgy of the Dead reference]

Whew. I am so tired.

England - did you enjoy it?

Uhhh... Kinda.


Yeah, somewhat.


It was nice to get away.

It was good to go somewhere a million miles away.

It was nice to leave Riverview, the one thing I did not miss.

[Postscript -- Two additional notebook pages were shoved inside]

Well, a month ago today I was in England, probably on my way to High Tea.

In that month I've found that I really enjoyed and needed these little books in order to remember stupid little things. I've also discovered how much I enjoyed the company of the Please Mind Your Head posse and needed them while I was in England.

So far I've gotten letters from Kevin and Michelle. I believe everyone here thinks I was going out with Michelle while there. Don't I wish. I guess it only adds to the Legend of Mike. I have come to accept that people will always think of me by that name.

[I had a real problem being called Mike for a long damn time.]


A month ago today was my first day back in the country.

I didn't tell you - Friday night, Steve and I went to the Record Exchange where I got "The Cramps Gravest Hits" and Isaac Hayes's "Juicy Fruit Disco Freak." Then, that night, Steve and Aimee went to the Shelter.

Now I find that trough story alone, Michelle seems infatuated by Steve Chesney. Damn my life.

I sincerely hope to see her soon. I'm homing I could on Spring Break but I need someone to go with me.

[Here endeth the journal. More thoughts to come.]

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Nàgè Por Favor

There must be some kind of weird "language wiring" that happens to one's brain. I'm not dreaming in Mandarin (yet, here's hoping). However, when I grasp for words (which happens a lot), if I don't know the word in Mandarin I dip back not to English but to Spanish. This makes for some undoubtedly comic moments like when I was trying to remember the word for "and" (Hé) and kept falling back to the Spanish "y" which sounds like the Mandarin word for the number one.

Reminds me of that exchange from Casablanca:

Carl: To America!
Mr. Leuchtag: Liebchen - sweetness, what watch?
Mrs. Leuchtag: Ten watch.
Mr. Leuchtag: Such watch?
Carl: Hm. You will get along beautiful in America, mm-hmm.

I'm in the office today. I can't say it's the first time because I was here two weeks ago and even spent a little time at my desk but this is my first day really being in the office proper. The drive on my scooter was a tiny bit adventurous insofar as trying not to hit other people who were going slower or being hit by people going faster. And then there was dodging cars and pedestrians. But, I made it without any (known) close calls.

The area where I'm at has a lot of little shops and there were people lining up at a number of them. I almost want to queue up to see what's being sold to merit such a crowd. Or maybe I'll take a picture and send it to my new Shanghai friend, Serena, and ask her to translate. Did that poor lady ever realize what kind of Pandora's box she was opening when she offered to help me? I can't imagine she did.

There's also some stores on the first floor of my work's building. We're up on the 16th and 17th floors (I'm on the 17th).

I rolled in around 8:30 or so and found that I was one of the first people on the floor but a lot of people all rolled in after me. Now I feel like the elephant in the room. A few people have acknowledged me and one guy even gave me a piece of grapefruit for breakfast. A small but very nice gesture.

Every desk in the office has a plant and there are air purifiers everywhere I turn. The air and water purification market has to be huge here. I've started drinking the water straight from the tap, without using my "Life Straw" but Serena warns me that I should boil it first.

I've been struggling with the internet in the office a lot today. The speed is pretty slow, probably because of having to run everything through a VPN.

Hoping that maybe someone will take pity on me and ask if I want to chī wǔfàn (to eat lunch) with them.

I'm also wanting to go over to the White Horse Pub tonight and try some local trivia there. Again, might be a little lonely on my own but maybe I can try to make some friends while I'm here. Or, if not, maybe I can kick some butt in trivia (fingers crossed).

Every night starting at 9PM local time the emails start pouring in from the Southfield office and I'm supposed to start getting on conference calls. That limits my ability to go out and be social. However, I'm hoping the Southfield group will recognize the need for me to go out once in a while.

UK Journal: The Passenger


I am a passenger
And I ride and I ride
I ride through the city's backside
I see the stars come out of the sky
Yeah, they're bright in a hollow sky
You know it looks so good tonight

Today we went to Hampton Court, former residence of kings and queens of England until the mid-1700s. And, so far that's all I've done today. Tomorrow is Camden Market.

The ladder is long [PiL reference] but my notebook is not. I better have enough room to write for the next four days.

[Note from Michelle on the next page]


Pissed I am!!!

Damn. I had a dream I was in a castle and the king was sick and someone sent him a card and I had Jimi Hendrix on it and there were [indecipherable] on his face then I saw a card that I sent to the king and instead of my name it said Applesauce and Cocoweats [sic]. Then I asked my grandmother and she told me that my sister was nicknamed Applesauce.

10: 30 Michelle's house

That was brought to you by Michelle who was not completely drunk but very sober when she had that dream.

Tonight I went to the famed Tolworth Tower and sat around with Michelle and Rob and two other skaters. Michelle and Rob however, kept making out, making me feel very uncomfortable. Oh well, lust is lust, but the best lust is your own and not watching it in others.

See baby, there ain't any slaves anymore and no strong-arm punk is gonna take ya and make you stay where you don't wanna be. [Black Shampoo reference]

Then we went back to Michelle's where her mum was having a party so we went down and Michelle called her real mom then we went back and sat in front of her house and she talked for about an hour. That was nice. She's really nice.

My penpal called me but obviously I wasn't there. She's supposed to call tom-row [in parenthesis it says "cafe spelling", I miss the reference] but I hope it's by 10:20 because that's when I'm supposed to leave and pick up Michelle for Camden Market. I forgot what time and where we are supposed to meet for the Museum of the Moving Image which I really want to go to!

4:30 Waterloo Stn.

9:30 Waterloo Mon.
3:30 Waterloo Tues

August 6, 1989...

A number. Another summer. Get down to the sound of the funky drummer. [Public Enemy reference]

Oh my! Spent a bit too much today -- which I shall not say here in the event of parental guidance which would lead to parental tongue lashing. But, let's take an inventory:

2 Bootleg PiL tapes
1 Set of Earrings
1 Blues Brothers T-Shirt
1 Siouxsie 12"
1 Plastics 45
7 Siouxsie collectors item 45s -- very very rare

Michelle got some really cool clothes -- a maroon velvet coat with matching bow tie and two free Jewish Beanies [I didn't know the term "yarmulke" yet but I guess it's good that I recognized what they were at least], a sweater, a black velvet dress, she is so gorgeous.

Jimmy and Heather had quite the fun time as he was nearly unconscious he was so drunk. He was: Disoriented, Disillusioned, and made some illogical decisions, as Kevin put it. I found this out from them when we went to MOMI which was pretty cool as EF payed for it!

Then we went to Taco Bell - yum! - and now here I am at the house with an awful headache.

Postscript: Saw the movie of the MTV commercial - but forgot its name - you know the commercial, 8 years later, French colorized.

[I was talking about Un Chien Andalou which had be cut down to 60 seconds for an MTV spot. That's how I got my culture in those days.]

[Addresses of Kevin Meaders, Jim Gehrke, Michelle "Superstar" Maxwell, Kalina Morin -- not sure who that is and I don't recall seeing her name before this]

[Then a note from Michelle]

Mike - Check this out =

Bands: Descendants, CRAMPS, Velvet Underground, Ventures (Keith's Band)

Read: The Abortion - Richard Brautigan, Diary of Sylvia Plath or any poetry available by her, Huckleberry Finn - then tell me what it's all about

Movies - definitely Blue Velvet, Carnal Knowledge, Dead of Winter

[More notes from Michelle]

Diminished by Darlene [her mom's name]

The Inbreds - If you can't keep it in your pants, keep it in the family [a band from West Virginia

[A note from Michelle]


Well, Mike, ONE MORE NIGHT!! Today, (by the way hello) I cut my host brothers hair and I couldn't find the broom so I stuck it in the crack of the kitchen. Host mother came home and found it. Can you believe that? She looks in the CRACKS OF THE FLOOR!! What a freak.

I can tell you're running out of things to say to here because you're talking about how much it cost to get over here. Are you not proud of the fact that I haven't had to pay for a week and a half in the tube. You'll have to come to WVa and go shopping.

I hope
we find
as good
as bargains
as we did
Your pen is
A piece of shit
goodby -
I'm going to get
Heathered [our term for being shitfaced]

August the seventh,

Called my penfriend (the her Michelle was referring to). She seems pretty cool. I really regret not meeting her. Great balls of fire.

Here I am - waiting for the damned Tolworth Train -- the sucker better not be late because I'm supposed to meet my homeboys in Wimbledon in order to see License to Kill.

Michelle is spending her evening with Rob. Oh well.

Why is it that I am enamored by girls who are already going out with someone else? SHEET!

Started packing. What a great feeling!

Today we went to the National Theater - pretty cool - especially the Olivier theater. Then we went and saw Big Ben then Kevin, Jimmy and I went to Oxford Street where I found an HMV and Virgin store that both carried "Commercial Zone" by PiL but neither had it in stock. DAMNATION.

Fuck. Looks like I'm hurtin'. The Train appears to be canceled.

We went to Taco Bell (for the third day in a row) then we went t o the poster store where I bought a picture of John Lydon, Elvis & Nixon, Jack Nicholson, and an Easy Rider poster.

Then when I got back Mrs. Lee told me Michelle called and called her "abrupt." "Not a very polite girl, is she?" That's my best friend you're talking about, girl.

So I went down and called Linda & Michelle then we went to Michelle's house where she modeled her new clothes. She is so beautiful.

Then we found out that her host mum has to drive us on Wednesday Morning. Mrs. Lee was in quite the tizzy! [Guessing Wednesday is the day we go back to the airport].

Now here I am. I said yo, the bother don't say he's nice. He know's he's nice, you know what I'm sayin' [Public Enemy reference]

Tonight I made it to Wimbledon where I met my man Jimmy who was waiting for Kevin and Funky Cold Kelina but we headed on over to the movie which started 20 minutes before and on the way back we met with K&K combo and wend to the KFC for about two hours and just talked. [Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut. I had quite the extensive palate].

On our way back we got Michelle the British Rail Poster [it was a poster shaming people about not paying for taking the tube]. Jimmy ripped it off and I talked him into giving it to me.

I need my Bauhaus tape.


Here I am in front of Michelle's house. Shall I serenade? Naw, I'll just sit here and eat my delicious lunch. Mmmm Mmm Good.

I would be the fashionable one but it's a bit too hot for my coat but I'll put it on later. Green shirt, black pants, palmated [???] shoes, b/w sport coat and hopefully Michelle's maroon bowtie.

[Note from Kevin?]

Here's a little story I've got to tell about 2 homeboys trip to hell. Went to London to have a ball. Went to Paris, she's way too tall. Back in London I love the weather. Just keep me the hell away from Heather. Jimmy and Kevin knocking at your door. It's the 1990 Homeboy tour!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Jaded Mandarin

Today was a bit of a rough day. I knew that I'd have a couple of these but was hoping to stave it off a bit.

After having constant companionship last week, I went through withdrawals this week being completely on my own without even my Shanghai co-workers to speak to as I've been on break for "Golden Week."

Sure, I've been speaking to my U.S. coworkers via conference calls, to Andrea via WeChat, and to other friends via Facebook, but there's something to be said for face-to-face conversation

I hope that next week will be a little easier as I'll be around my Shanghai co-workers. I'm not expecting instant companionship but maybe one or two of them will take pity on me and we can go out to lunch.

What makes it all a bit worse is what I've been doing when I'm not writing these Shanghai entries which is transcribing some old journals of that trip I took to the UK when I was 17. It's uncomfortable looking back, especially when I'm confronted with what a little shit I was.

What made today worse was that yesterday I did manage to have a some face-to-face interaction and conversation. While I was at China Mobile, trying to get a SIM Card and data package for my time here, a very nice local woman, Serena, took pity on me and helped me speak to the clerk.

Hell, when they asked for 100 RMB and told me that their credit card machine was down, Serena even paid the money because I was so short on cash! For her troubles, I took her out for some coffee. I'm sure it was a sight to see, this little Chinese lady riding behind this big gweilo on his scooter as we went to the coffee place across from my apartment (because I knew they took Visa).

We sat and talked for a good long time, she helped me with a few questions I had about Mandarin, and we probably shared more than strangers normally do but I think we both felt safe that we are from separate parts of the world.

Again, going back to my self-reflection (being alone is dangerous sometimes), I realized that I'm a country of only children. My people! I'm the only child of an only child as is nearly everyone around me.

Ironically, Serena is in Marketing and she even worked on the Hilton account for the Hawaiian branch. Suffice it to say, we had a lot to discuss. We talked stereotypes of Chinese and Americans. I know it's simple to say but people really are people wherever you go and a simple conversation can really help understand where people are coming from.

So, after having some conversation yesterday, I'm back to cold turkey today. Add to that the rain and that my scooter died (just a dead battery, it's charging up now) on the way to breakfast and that I'm still broke... It made for a depressing day. I get paid again today but the check won't hit until tonight. Until then, I'm relying on the few groceries I've bought so far and the places around here that I know take credit cards. I've submitted and re-submitted my first week expense report a half dozen times. The system doesn't know I'm in Shanghai so I keep missing when it thinks that something is $180 US rather than 180 RMB. Quite a big difference.

I hope things will get better soon.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

UK Journal: Free Nelson Mandela


Oh my!

Today I had quite a fun time. To start off, when we got out of the underground at Charring Cross some people were protesting apartheid in front of the South African embassy and they had a petition to sign to free Nelson Mandela...

And today's question to be asked by the intrepid Heather among the pygmies of London: "Who's he?"

Then I proceeded to call her fucking stupid and etc. which angered her to no end. [I'd hate to be called "etc" as well].

Then when Michelle and I asked the cops for direction... sorry, the bobbies, they proceeded to call Heather fucking stupid for signing the petition without knowing who he [Nelson Mandela] is.

Then we went into the National Gallery. Nice but hot inside. Some really good paintings but most were too... well... not to my taste. I got a great poster of the Execution of Lady Jane Grey [Paul Delaroche reference] and a few good post cards.

Then Michelle and I went to Tower Records instead of the Portrait Gallery where we found the Car Wash soundtrack! Aimee's dream is fulfilled.

Nothing else we did matters but I'll tell ya anyway: Found a magazine with Monty Python in it. Then we went back to some church where Heather proceeded to yell at me because three other idiots did not know who "that guy" is... "You mean Nelson Mandella?"

The protesters were being very vocal when we got there. It was great!!!

We then went to the Tate Gallery -- very cool -- a lot of modern art and a lot of it was good. Saw the Musical Interlude statue from Monty Python. The Kiss it is called.

Then Fran, Natasha, and I went to Pizza Hut where Natasha proceeded to start going on about the night in Paris.

Then we went to see How to Get Ahead in Advertising. I thought it was hilarious. Then, on the way back, Natasha wrote me a huge letter about how she thinks I'm some special guy - I don't know what to do about her. I mean, she's nice but really dorky. I don't want to sound mean but it's true.

I want a meaningless physical relationship. I don't feel in the mood for love. I want some good old carnal LUST.

[Natasha's Letter]

Aug 4, 1989


I am sometimes not 2 good with the spoken word, so I shall try 2 write out what I feel. This is difficult for me, and I feel stupid. I have felt upset that we have grown apart lately. The first week in England I felt like we were really close and good friends. I suppose I destroyed that in my stupidly getting drunk that night in Paris. I feel so bad about it. Getting drunk is the worse thing I have done in my life and it was a dumb thing 2 do... I just have some complicated problems at home that I a having trouble figuring out... still, it was dumb 2 drink. Believe me when I say drugs and alcohol are stupid. There is hardly a person more alive who isn't more against drugs than I am. I suppose you wouldn't know this, though - because you don't really know me completely. I am a nice person who made a stupid mistake... a human who makes mistakes and I wish we were closer. I like you a lot... I think I like you more than I've ever liked a guy. I care about you. I wish I was better at showing my feelings. I wish you could know the real me... When I am not having problems I am a very nice and caring person. I suppose it's like me to do something really dumb when I care about a person a lot. I hope you don't think I am a jerk, and I hope we can talk. I have wanted to talk to you for a long time and I still do... but I don't know whether you want to talk to me or not. I can't believe I'm writing this down. I kept telling myself I didn't care, but in my heart and soul I know I care about you a lot.


[And what did I do about that letter? I'm curious to find out as I don't remember. Knowing me, I blew it off completely because I'm a fucking asshole.]

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

UK Journal: The Unfettered Mind


Well, I'll tell ya.

Last night I went down and called Michelle, then we called Jimmy who invited us over to see a video: Revenge of the Nerds II. We met his host mum. She's great!

Susan and Gordon, you're so normal! [PiL reference]

And today we went to see Legal London but the Old Bailey was closed. I wanted to see the charades [Monty Python reference?]

So, Jimmy, Michelle, and I went to a few banks until we found the American Express office which cashed my money order and another (my last) traveler's cheque so I'll have at least 100 lbs during the weekend for Camden market. Then we went to Piccadilly and had Taco Bell! Mexican food is not popular here.

Then we went to Tower Records where I found the Shaft soundtrack. It was 11 lbs. Too much. Wait until Tues! I want to get Leon a "My friend went to London and all he got me was this lousy t-shirt" shirt. After that we went down and I got my Tao watch, which I love

[I still have this watch. The guts have been replaced which probably cost ten times as much as the original item.]

I want to get:
A paisley shirt
A Blues Bros. shirt
Another Siouxsie shirt.
Maybe a Bauhaus shirt?

I wanna go back to that poster shop and maybe get some more Rocky [Horror?], Blues Brothers, Jack Nicholson, and maybe the Israel [Siouxsie] poster.

Piss on you, I'm working for Mel Brooks [Blazing Saddles reference]

Oh, yeah, I wanna see about that Easy Rider poster! The Siouxsie poster in Camden was so cool.

Michelle wants us to go to some club there, but I think it might be a bit too rough.

I saw some great pictures of Jack Nicholson as the Joker in tower records the other night when I bought the Word Up! 12" and the 7" Theme from Shaft.

Found out from Jimmy and Kevin's host mum that "dude" means "twit" so that's why people around here don't like it when I say, "Hey, dude" or "Thanks, dude." [Or maybe they just knew it sounded stupid.]

Sitting on a park bench. All I need now is the words "Beat Box" dug into the hill in front of me in order to meditate properly. Who did that anyway? Was it the Breakdance Messiah or the hand of god himself who doth spray paint on Korvettes? [Long, dumb story]

It was Elvis. [Mojo Nixon reference, I think]

Michelle's supposed to meet me down here in about 40 minutes. Until then?

Carved on this bench it says "MILK". It's chillin' [Audio Two reference]

Oh my garsh, I saw Ton Loc's new video today!

I need safety pins. My jacket's lining is coming out.

How about those hostages? Another one dies in an hour. [Is that a reference to the Davao hostage crisis?]

I look forward to going home except for two things:
1) Leaving Kevin, Jimmy, & Michelle.
2) Being on a plane with Stacy and Natasha.

I have to buy new batteries.

Natasha asked me and I told her - she was extremely dumb that night. I hate drunks. If it had seen Kevin and Jimmy, I probably would have been mad but they don't just sit and drink for the purpose of being drunk. That's a thing a dork would do and I don't wanna be associated with a dork of that nature.

It's tennis on Tuesday, shipping champagne, football on Sunday, home on the train. It's in her nature. [PiL reference]


That night at the S&M Grocers...

Fuck. Real fun. Listening to those no-account skaters... Skate? Hell, even i could skate better and that is no boast, it is a fact. Michelle is huffin' and puffin' on the white cigar and havin' a good old time with her beau, Rob, who I envy more than you or I can imagine.

Ahh, love, fuck it.

Slurping and sweating. Who needs it? Besides me, that is.

I wish that Steve were here. Or even Leon or Andy. If McGraw, Hines, Steve, and Tony were here, these kids wold be shitting the proverbial brick.

My oh my, I think that I shall soon say goodbye.


11:30 Hampton Ct Station

We've Gone Full Parody.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. And thank you very much. And I don't have to even mention the Marines because we have General Kelly. Where’s General Kelly? Where is our General Kelly? He likes to keep a low profile. Look at him sitting in the back, but, boy, is he watching. You have no idea how he’s -- General Kelly, come up here. So General Kelly is a four-star. Not a bad general, right? You don't get any better than General Kelly.

But on behalf of the Marines, I’ll tell you, they've done some job, General.

Now, can we also mention Army? And can we also mention some people that I really got to know and respect even more in Texas, and that's the Coast Guard?

What a job the Coast Guard has done throughout this whole -- throughout this whole ordeal. (Applause.) They would go right into the middle of that -- I mean, I don't know, I wouldn’t want to be doing it, but I want to thank everybody. I want to thank the Coast Guard. They are special, special, very brave people.

And a lot of people got to see the real Coast Guard during this incredible trouble, and especially I think here and in Texas was incredible what they did. So thank you all very much. Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Really appreciate it.

Would you like to say something on behalf of your men and women?

AIR FORCE REPRESENTATIVE: Sir, I’m representing the Air Force.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I know that.


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

UK Journal: The Facade Slips


Oh my! What a great way to star August. About as good as last year's car accident. The day was fine but the evening...?

Yesterday I finally got ahold [sic] of Michelle and we went to Carnaby Street. I got a Siouxsie shirt and a new leather bracelet. So, we had fun during the day but then...

On our way home...

We took the Shepperton instead of the Chessington again. So we got off at Nubiton? And went back to Raynes Park and, instead of waiting for the Tolworth train we decided to go to Surbiton and take the Hoppa since that train arrived first but the hoppa was about 20 minutes late. So, it was 6:16 when I was supposed to be at home at 5:00 (I did call home to tell Mrs. Lee I'd be late) so we decided that we didn't have enough time so we called our mums to tell them that we'd just eat at Waterloo and she spazzed out!

"I'm very upset at you. You're 18 [sic] years old for god's sakes and cannot even take the right train. I'm very mad at your attitude. This is a home, not a hotel!" and then the bitch hung up on me!

Fuck off.

This is a house, not a home. She has done nothing to make me feel welcome so why should I even have the courtesy to call her?

[It's true, I do not have warm fuzzies in retrospect about Mrs. Lee. She was more of a landlady than a host mum. She always treated me like a dumbass instead of a kid making his way around in a different country.]

We met Kevin and Jim up at the station [Jim and Jimmy are the same person, by the way] and Kevin insists now that if anyone messes with his homeboy messes with him, so, as you read, I think I'll get the "Please Mind Your Head" posse after her.

Today she's as cool as a cucumber but I can feel the tension building. I don't want to set her off because it just make me want out of here even more than I do now.

Jimmy just called. I guess I'll head on down to the local payphone at 11:30 and make my calls.

I miss home.

Home sweet home.

I miss my family and friends.

I miss America.

Anyone who wants to gripe about America should go to Paris or England and I think they'll change their tune right quick.

Kevin says that he's going to go out every morning at sunrise and every night at sunset to put up and take down his American flag.

I don't plan on going abroad again for a very long time. I think that if i go anywhere it will be into the heart of America. I think I'd like to tour my wonderful country with the "Please Mind Your Head" posse and really see the sights. See a real country. I think I'll start packing.

[Lyrics to "America the Beautiful" here. No, I'm not kidding.]


Sitting on a park bench, eying little girls with bad intent. Waiting for Jimmy as Michelle cannot leave her house because her mum says the lock won't work and she has to leave.

Michelle is scared of her mum. How awful!

I want to call my mom and dad.

So, Mike, what did you miss most about home?
A. My friends and family.

So, Mike, what did you like best about England?
A. My friends.

What about your family?
A. What family?

Your host family.
A. What family?

Oh, my friends, I miss you so much and my friends I will miss you so much.

Oh, what a bad attitude I have.


My attitude. My problem. I shouldn't compare England to the U.S. What am I supposed to compare it to, Uganda?

I am abroad. A stranger in a strange land. But I'm supposed to be completely at ease in this land which is not strange. It's England. Bullshit.

This trip has really changed me.

I miss my room, my sanctuary, my serenity, my sanity. How will I remember this trip years from now, how do I think of it now?

I think I needed it. A major change of scenery. But what about the scenery? Personally, I love London but I hate Tolworth. I think, though, that after two weeks even London gets dull. It'd be a nice place to go for a weekend every few months, just like Royal Oak and Ann Arbor [!] but being here in England has made me love America. It sounds sad but it's true.

So tell me about these friends of yours.

Jimmy: Surfer dude but not Bill or Ted, ya know? He's very smart and extremely funny. Reminds me a bit of Steve.

Kevin: All American lad but still very cool. Mr. Republican but still very funny.

Michelle: Beautiful and hilarious. Reminds me a lot of Aimee but still unique in her won ways.

All three are great to be around, as a unit or as individuals.

Shanghai Diary: Pedantic Rambling

I'm surprised that people are actually reading these entries. I'm writing them more for me and posterity but also to avoid answering the few questions that I've gotten repeatedly (thus the FAQs in the first post).

Here are a few questions I've gotten from people who have bothered to read these posts:

How's the diet going? Last week was very tough. I didn't have a lot of structure from day to day. I've managed to start getting back into a routine though it'll be easier once I start back to working in the office. I have brought quite a few food packets and some bars but the thing I need are those items I didn't manage to bring like my protein chips, other bars, and fresh veggies. I've started finding grocery stores and even found some cauliflower (one of my favorite vegetables to eat on this program). I have yet to find a scale so I can keep up on my progress. I'm hoping that some of the good habits I've adopted will keep me going here. So, no bread and starchy vegetables.

What's a "Set Lunch"? If you're familiar with the idea of a Bento boxes, or a prix fixe menu, that's the idea of "set lunch". At the Bollywood restaurant they offer a meat version or vegetable version of their "set lunch" which has several small portions of items all the way from a salad to almost an appetizer to the main course, some naan, a little dessert, and a soft drink. All of that for one price (no substitutions, please). It's either that or you can choose from the a la carte menu.

I spent the morning answering some emails, doing some AEM work, and fighting with Outlook 365.

The day ended up being pretty nice (so far) so I hopped on my scooter and just drove north on my block, looking for the closest Metro station. I found it, but first I found a little coffee shop where I got a cup. Here I am in the land of tea and I keep ordering coffee. And, I don't know the proper way to order it yet. I need to learn how to ask for hot or cold drinks and how to order a proper cup of tea. I found some helpful videos at

The above video finally explained to me -- or I finally grasped -- the four tones. It's a lot easier to see and hear these things together.

Here's a picture from the coffee shop where I was given a purple bear to put on my table so the waiter could see what table the "lofan" with the coffee was at:

I came back and did some writing and got my work laptop onto a VPN. The VPN at the hotel just isn't as good as it should be. It's interesting to see what's blocked and what's not by the Chinese government. You can't get to Google but you can get to Gmail. Bing and Yahoo are okay. You can't get to Twitter or Facebook of course. And YouTube (a Google property) is blocked, too. And, of course, almost all VPN software / sites are blocked.

I haven't been watching too much TV on the television set while I'm here. There are a few channels in English but they're mostly news. I get HBO, Cinemax, and two other movie channels but it's always stuff I don't want to see. I ran across a movie with Chow Yun-Fat the other night which was spoken in Cantonese and subtitled in Traditional Chinese. Today I ran across an old Jackie Chan movie (Armour of God II: Operation Condor) being run off an old print as it was subtitled in both English and Chinese. This is exactly what I was hoping for from Chinese TV.

For people who aren't as film nerdly as I am, let me say that one of the reasons we know of Jackie Chan, John Woo, Jet Li, Danny Yen, etc is because of a rule from years ago. The people of HK tend to speak Cantonese while the majority of the mainland speaks incarnations of Mandarin. From what I understand, they're written the same but they're pronounced so vastly differently that they're considered different languages. It made economic sense to subtitle the films in Chinese (the written language) and when Hong Kong was under British control there was a rule put in place that movies had to have English subtitles as well. That's why you see the two sets of subtitles on older films. That English also held spread the popularity of HK films because lofan like me could go to little Chinese grocery stores and rent HK films and see them with subtitles -- albeit often poorly translated and sometimes being cut off on the left, right, and/or bottom of the screen.

These subtitles were struck from a script version of the movie meaning that action on screen would often not match things in the subtitles as movies change from screenplay to finished product. But, a rule is a rule. That's why you may see Closed Captions on US TV not match up to the actions on screen (watch "The X-Files" with the captions on and see how often David Duchovny said different lines. It's remarkable.)

HK was one of the biggest movie-making markets in the world for a while (up there with Hollywood and Bollywood. Thank goodness no one called it "HongKongyWood"). The sheer number of films coupled with English subtitles (not to mention some amazing films) helped break through into some ardent film geek circles. Another thing that helped that people don't talk about too often is that the films bore English titles. Meaning that I can say that Who's the Crook is playing on TV right now and people will know that movie by that title. It's not like a European film where a title might be translated differently in different countries (see Closely Watched Trains vs. Closely Observed Trains).

However, I always enjoyed the original translations of film titles like the original title for John Woo's Hard Boiled, 辣手神探, which translates roughly to "Hot-Handed Supercop."

As Sean Connery would say, "Here endeth the lesson."

I brought some movies with me on DVD and Blu-Ray. My room has a DVD player but it doesn't handle Blu-Rays. And, oddly, I can't seem to find a blu-ray player at the local places like the electronics store or the Carrefour which seems to have nearly everything a body could want.

I've only found a few bootleg DVD sellers so far. There's a van that hangs out just across the street that has bootleg DVDs in the back and there was a guy on the corner with a table selling some. However, these were nearly all American titles and stuff that I knew was playing on Netflix or easily accessible via other means.

The DVDs that I brought with me, however, are almost all subtitled films. This is a problem when I want to throw on something and not pay strict attention to it. It's not like I can just kick back while The Color of Pomegranates or The Fifth Horseman is Fear play out in the background.

My DVD player has a slot for a USB drive meaning that I could throw some movies on a thumb drive and watch them from there. However, I didn't bring a thumb drive. I'm hoping I can get one at my office next week.

The breaks on this channel showing these old HK movies are crazy. They're little infomercials for things like a product to reduce belly flab or little cutlets to stuff a woman's bra and they're just the same 30-60 second spots strung together and repeated for 15+ minute blocks. The same spot over and over for 15 minutes. They play like the TV is broken. At least the cutlet commercial is entertaining in a lascivious way, especially the computer simulation of a woman's breast being "activated" via some kind of medical wonder. The simulation has the nipple blurred out! It's like the belly flab one where we see a "naked" model with one of these miraculous patches on and the model is a neutered computer simulation of a body. It's like seeing a patch placed on a Ken doll.

With my limited understanding of Mandarin, I keep hearing "Bù hǎo!" "Bù hǎo!" Which means "Not good!" Probably either slagging body fat or other, more ineffective, products.

Does your building have a 13th floor? I don't got into too many tall buildings back home. I think the tallest building I've ever worked in has 10 floors and the tallest place I've ever lived had two floors (and I was on the ground floor). That said, I know it was typical for buildings in America to not have a 13th floor because it's unlucky. Here in China the number 4 is unlucky. The place where I'm living has no 4th floor. The place where I work doesn't have a 4th, 13th, 14th, or 24th. Somebody's hedging their bets.

The lift goes up to where we belong...

Currently Reading: Angelo Badalamenti's Soundtrack from Twin Peaks (33 1/3 Book) by Clare Nina Norelli

What I've Been Watching: I'm all caught up on "Project Runway", "The Orville", "Star Trek: Discovery (STD)", "Black Mirror", and about to catch up on "Great British Bake-Off".

I think back to what it was like when I was in the UK when I was 17 and though US culture is pervasive how removed I felt from it. It was a big deal when I caught "Dallas" on TV or saw an American advertisement. Now almost 30 years later the world is a much smaller place. I can click a few buttons and catch last night's "Jeopardy" with local commercials from WDIV. Or I can listen to the hourly news report from NPR or keep up on all the bullshit news (not fake news, but just bullshit) coming out of Trump's twisted brain, tragedy in Las Vegas, and the death / not death / death of Tom Petty.

Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky" was one of the first music videos I ever saw. But I can never think of him without thinking of Brooke Smith singing "American Girl" right before Buffalo Bill captured her.