Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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.

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