Karen and I have been busy lately with some guests, some weekend trips, and lots of business travel for me. I've been running from China to the US to India to the Middle East and back again. Consequently, I've been lax on posting. Before starting, I’d like to say that the recent earthquake did not impact us. I was in India and Karen was here in Shanghai, but she didn’t feel it. Apparently my office building in downtown Shanghai was swaying and everyone evacuated the building, but there was no major damage in the city. However, the situation is still very bad in western China nearer the epicenter. The Chinese seem very good about organizing and giving aid to their countrymates in the west.
The week before Easter we were supposed to have a mini international Kellogg reunion as our good friends Aaron and Ulrika (living in New Zealand) and Jaap and Jantine (from the Netherlands) were supposed to rendezvous at our place in Shanghai. Unfortunately, the plan unraveled a bit. After the Dutch flew from Amsterdam to Munich, to connect for Shanghai, they were denied entry to the plane because they never got Chinese visas. Of course this was an unpleasant and expensive lesson for them, but they did get to see our friends in Munich, and we had a nice week with Aaron and Ulrika. We showed them around, hung out in the evenings and they took a day trip to Hangzhou. Essentially, they got a good taste of the city and our lives in it. Here a shot of us at dinner at Tang Dynasty, which is an inexpensive, but fairly upscale restaurant that serves very authentic (and strange) Chinese food. It would have been a nicer picture with six of us...maybe in India! The best part about Tang Dynasty is that the menu has pictures and is in English and Chinese. We opted to skip the snake soup and chicken cartilage, but went for Karen's favorite dumplings with peanut sauce. On Wednesday night that week, we took them to the Coconut, which is a little place we go sometimes on Wednesday because we know the people and ladies drink free. They have a good band and its five minutes from home. Here are Karen, Ulrika, and Mary Catherine (Canadian teacher at Karen's school) posing, Asian-style.
Another good thing that their visit did was motivate me to get our BBQ working again (not-so-cheap, cheap Chinese BBQ!), get our roof deck in order, and find some fire wood for our fire pit. You might think, as I did the day I bought a fire pit here, that finding fire wood in China would be easy, but this is not correct. You can get Delloggs at the grocery store for about $7 each. Much to Karen's dismay, the opportunity to get some wood arose when she was with me near a local mall. Some old guy rode his bicycle by with a bunch of wood on the back of it. I chased him down and asked if he wanted to sell his wood. He said yes for about $4. I said sure. Then I asked/gestured for a saw (these were more like logs). He said he had one at his house which was ten minutes away. I said great and we started walking and talking - him pushing his bike, me walking next to him, and Karen, disatisfied with the direction the situation had gone, about 100 feet back. Ten minutes turned into fifteen, then thirty, and then a series of "two more minutes". We ended up following him back to his house, which was really in the depths of a very local slum. It worked out fine, but I think I paid more than I would at Home Depot. Here was this old guy, along with his family, at their home which looked about the size of our bedroom, with a concrete floor, a table for two that doubled as the kitchen, newspaper cushions on the seats, and a pile of wood outside the door. I'm trying to negotiate and Karen is yelling at me for paying too little. In the end it was fine, the people were happy with the price, and I have an eager source for wood. Aaron and I made another wood run, partially to get more and partially for the experience. Here is a picture of the guy, his friend, his daughter (?), and I cutting the wood with their handmade saw. In case you are wondering, Aaron and I had a nice fire on the roof deck, just out of principle.
A couple weeks later, we were also visited by a troupe of my University of Washington Construction Management friends from America. Brian, Kaj, and Ken and his wife came to Shanghai for about a week. Ken and Susan (his wife) are Taiwanese-Americans, so they got around fine (they speak Mandarin in Taiwan, same as most of China) and even had some friends and family in town. We had a glimpse of the way young Taiwanese people spend their evenings in the big city - eating big meals while smoking and drinking Baijiu (white alcohol), followed by countless hours at fancy and expensive lounges, maybe with some KTV (Karaoke) thrown in. We skipped the late night, but that is what happened to Brian here. When it was our turn to host, we showed them all our normal spots - the pearl market, the fakes market, etc. They were doubtful of the appeal of the fakes market at first, but I think the cheap prices and negotiating game grew on them. Here is Kaj with the controller to our 'unlocked' Nintendo Wii, for which we can buy (copied) games for about $1 - of course, at the fakes market. We also made sure to take them to the Coconut (same local bar), where Kaj made efforts to recruit Sunny, a carry-on sized potential wife to take back to the States with him. That didn't work out, but he did go home with some fake dress shirts and some copied artwork. The appeal of a good deal in China can defeat most everyone's appreciation for legitimacy and respect for intellectual property rights.
On my way back from a recent trip to India, for which I typically have to connect in Hong Kong, we worked in a quick weekend trip. Hong Kong is considered a special adminstrative region within China. It has a semi-independent government, its own currency, and has acheived a much higher level of average development and wealth. It is pretty organized and clean, although it does still feel like China when you wander around. Local people speak Cantonese (and most speak at least some Mandarin), and English is more common than in mainland China. I arrived in Hong Kong on a Saturday morning after a night flight (on a plane full of mosquitoes from sitting with the plane door open on the Bombay tarmac) and met Karen directly at Hong Kong Disney. Hong Kong Disneyland was nice - everything was a little smaller than the 'real' one in Orlando, but it is cheaper and there were very few people there. We did Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, found Mickey at the Character Corner, and reminisced about the old days, almost nine years ago, in the Happiest Place on Earth. Our final reaction was that Hong Kong Disney was kind of lame...more catered to small children than in California and Florida, where they have better rides. Here we are in front of the severely scaled-down princess' castle. After lunch, Karen decided to try a sweet red been and rice porridge 'desert', which more or less looked just like this when we left the restaurant (she didn't like it). They also sold dried squid at the snack carts there; I don't recall peddling those during my days on Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom.
Other than that, we wandered around the city, which is very modern, has a nice waterfront, an impressive skyline, and is easy to get around in taxis, the subway, or the double-decker buses. We had some good conveyor belt sushi, did a little of the night life, and jumped on the 2.5 hour flight back to Shanghai.
For those who have not heard, Karen and I will soon be leaving China, headed for another great overseas adventure. In early July, we will be packing up and heading to Bombay, for a stint in yet another booming developing country. Of course, India is very different from China; some things will be better and some things will be worse. As of last week, after our house-hunting trip to Bombay (Mumbai), we have both been there and are looking forward to the change. We are looking forward to the food, but dreading the heat and monsoon season. The people are more relaxed and social, but the poverty is striking. At least we'll have some local friends - Radha and Anant (of course from Kellogg). I don't know if we'll change the blog address, but there will certainly be many new things for me to write about. So anyone who was contemplating a visit to China to see / stay with us, you will soon have to consider visiting us in an entirely different place. Lastly, thanks to our visitors from this spring; we'll see you again soon - either in India or elsewhere! Hope all is well with everyone.