nothing ventured, nothing gained

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A time for change

September 5th, 2010 · 1 Comment

It was 800 days ago I landed in China.  The decision to come here wasn’t planned.  I didn’t study Chinese language, culture, or history at university, and I certainly wasn’t, as they say here, a zhongguo tong (“China expert”) pursuing a passion or a dream.  I’d been backpacking once through Southwest China once.  It was enjoyable, save a few missing luxuries like Western toilets and availability of napkins or tissues (or TP, as the case may be).  And getting off the plane, ready to call Shanghai home, I was prepared to rough it for a year, maybe two, as I embarked on a journey of sorts, certainly in search of something, but at the time not knowing exactly what.

What I found was a home, in a beautiful country full of people I can only describe as more welcoming, friendly, and warmhearted than I ever could’ve imagined, and always expressive of their pride and happiness in having me as a guest in their land.  As for roughing it, I came to find Shanghai as one of the world’s most lively, cosmopolitan cities, an exciting and comfortable place to call home, and perfectly located to feed my wanderlust for travel.  I’ve seen more places, experienced more cultures, and made more meaningful friendships than I could’ve dreamt of, and for that I am thankful.

But now, for a number of reasons mostly personal in nature, my time in China is coming to an end.  To leave China was a much more difficult decision to make than to come.  To be sure, the “expat” life is a real trip, but as time goes on friendships and relationships come and go, the weight of the distance from friends and family back home grows heavy, and there’s a realization that despite what you might feel from time to time, you are still a guest, and a laowai (“foreigner”), in someone else’s home.

As my last train in China cruises along the Tibetan plateau 16,000 feet above sea level and the last few minutes of power are sucked out of my dying laptop battery, I’ve got the urge to jot down what might be the last China experience for awhile.

Earlier this week, I was traveling with my friends Mike and Ryan through Jiuzhaigou, a beautiful valley nestled deep inside of China’s central Sichuan province.  After an intense day of hiking, we stumbled around a bit searching for a local Tibetan restaurant we’d read about online, and when we arrived, there were a few dozen adorable children that had just finished eating a meal and were beginning to run around cheerfully outside.  We stepped into the restaurant, and a friendly woman introduced herself as Zhuo Ma.  She explained to us that the children were local Tibetan minority orphans who she helped to take care of.

We had clearly stumbled upon something special, and after introductions, Zhuo Ma offered to put together some of her best dishes, and to share with us some of a last batch of her mother’s homemade wine.  We invited her to sit and sip wine with us, learning our first Tibetan wine toast in which we as guests would flick three drops of wine in the air, to heaven, the earth, and the ancestors.  As we did this, a funny thing happened… a Hummer pulled up outside the restaurant.  I won’t lie, a few preconceptions of Hummer owners came to mind, and so I asked Zhuo Ma if she knew who it belonged to.  Indeed she did, it belonged to a very close Tibetan friend of hers, who she calls a sister, and who had just arrived from Lhasa.  And then, before we knew it, a whole bunch of orphans climbed into the Hummer, smiling and waving at us, and quite quickly challenging my preconceptions.

We spent the next half hour sitting, eating, and talking with Zhuo Ma.  Her story was absolutely amazing and against all odds.  Born in a small village and arranged to be married at an early age, she ran away to Beijing to learn about the world outside her village.  She returned a few years later, and with minimal investment consisting of her family selling off a few yaks, opened her small restaurant.  The restaurant did quite well, and she was able to support her family, and others in need in her community.  The road to success wasn’t easy, including run-ins with local officials and the destruction of her first restaurant, but Zhuo Ma kept persisting, teaching herself English by conversing with foreign travelers, and building lasting friendships both locally and abroad.

After dinner, we paid what was a modest bill for the amount of food and wine, and Zhuo Ma invited us to join her in about 30 minutes to head out to a local Tibetan song and dance performance that was being put on for the orphans.  We jumped at the opportunity, and in the time we had to kill, I started talking with Zhuo Ma’s brother, the chef who’d spent 7 years training in Lhasa, and who was now sitting frustrated in front of an ancient PC attempting to fix its Internet connection by deleting icons off the desktop.  I felt the least I could do was to take a crack at it with him, and after some futzing around together with the Chinese router and Chinese Windows, the Internet was good to go and we were off to enjoy the show (pictures), as guests of the orphans.  It was fantastic – not just the show, but the whole hospitable situation that we, as three foreign travelers, found ourselves in while passing through a tiny spec on the map in Northern Sichuan province.

If you’re ever traveling through China and itching to get out of the megatropolis and hit the outback, I’d highly recommend paying Jiuzhaigou a visit and stopping by Zhuo Ma’s.  Here’s the TripAdvisor listing with her most recent address and phone number, and another short writeup by a Lonely Planet blogger.

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A Foreign Moment

July 17th, 2010 · 1 Comment

After living in China for almost two and a half years, the number of truly “foreign” moments approaches zero.  Tonight was an exception.

Qingdao map I’m in Qingdao (Tsing Tao for all you beer fans) this weekend, relaxing, enjoying the beach, parks, and generally pleasant city.

Tonight I stepped into a Korean BBQ restaurant for dinner – pretty local, no English on the menu.

About halfway through my meal, a cute, slightly pudgy little kid comes up to my table, explodes with “Welcome to Qingdao!”, and proceeds to introduce himself as a 6-year old who can speak English.  In fact, his English, while accented, is incredible, and he proceeds to ask me if I have a Chinese girlfriend and then recite for me his rendition of Peter Pan!

At this point, the entire restaurant is laughing and staring at me, and I, being the cultural ambassador, play the game.  I tell the kid in Chinese, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Your English is amazing!  Where did you learn it?  It’s the best I’ve heard in all of China!”  But he doesn’t seem to want to have a conversation – he just keeps going with Peter Pan, and by this point his recital has turned into an all-out performance with jumping, sword swinging – the works.

By now I’ve given him the nickname “Little Friend” and the waitresses have joined the ranks of the rest of the restaurant patrons half giggling half shooting me awkward “you must be so embarrassed” glances (and I was, by this time my face is bright red…).  A gentleman who seems to be the kids father is sitting on a bench by the restaurant’s entrance, all smiles, and as the kid’s fantastic English performance goes on, I wonder however briefly how this kid speaks near perfect English and his father, at least from 10ft away seems pretty darn local.

Well, Little Friend’s rendition of Peter Pan finally comes to an end, at which point he runs off outside of the restaurant just as another man, who also appears to be his father, approaches and apologizes in very broken English.  I quickly jump into fast Chinese, “No, no!  Your son’s English is amazing!  It’s great!  Too cute!  Where did he learn it?”  Awkward silence.

Brain churning.

What is going on here?

This gentleman is dressed differently.  Something’s different about his demeanor…

“Oh my, he’s not Chinese!”

I immediately switch into a slow English, and compliment the kid’s performance and language mastery again.  He apologizes again, and thanks me for entertaining him, and explains to me, probably a bit confused by my earlier Chinese… “I’m Korean”, to which I respond “Ah, sorry  I wasn’t able to tell!”  He proceeds to tell me he lives in Qingdao.  I ask him if he likes it, and he responds with a classic Korean lip-biting hesitation as if to convey “Not so much, but I’m far too polite to overtly say so here.”

We chat a bit more, awkwardly, then I finish my meal and pay the bill — $7.76 in total (not bad for a plate of beef, rice, and a great selection of vegetables and kimchi!).  The waitress returns with my change, and with a slight grin and in broken English mumbles, “3 yuan [$0.44] discount!”.  Was it because they felt bad about the embarrassing situation?  How nice, but odd!  In two and a half years in China I’ve never seen a restaurant give a courtesy discount.

As I walked out the door, I passed the kid’s father.  He shook my hand and said thank you again.

He was the restaurant owner.

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Monkey Business

April 11th, 2010 · No Comments

A handful of videos I shot of wild monkeys in Bali, Indonesia.  I’d never been so close to, or seen anything like these amazing little creatures before!  Most of these were taken at the Ubud Monkey Forest, and the rest at Pura Luhur at Uluwatu.

Monkeying Around

Chowing Down on Food Offerings Left on a Grave by a Local Family

Grooming in the Sun

Baby Love

Swim Time

The Reason There Are So Many Monkeys?

Havin’ a Drink

Trading a Pair of Stolen Glasses for a Fruit Bounty

A Failed Second Attempt

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Best of Shanghai Restaurants, Bars, Coffee Shops (2010 Edition)

March 6th, 2010 · 1 Comment

After lots of positive feedback on last year’s list, I figured it’d be fun to share a few more favorites from the past 12 months.

Lunch & Dinner

Chiangmai Thai – Rumor has it one of the key chefs bailed on the owners of Coconut Paradise and Lost Heaven (reviewed last year) to start up this cozier version of the former spot.  Surprisingly, the food quality is better than the original, and the low-key ambience makes it a favorite among locals and not-so-fresh-off-the-boat expats.

Legend – Same story as above, specializing in Southwest China’s Yunnan cuisine.

Bistro Burger – As far as burger spots go in China, this might just be the best you’ll find.  USDA beef, great fries, and a great selection of shakes.  Could do without the tacky Chinese TaiKang Road photography on the wall, but alas I digress…

Pier 39 – San Francisco cuisine right here in Shanghai.  Fantastic clam chowder, bread, and other café fare.  Often packed and tight on space, but nonetheless great lunchtime spot.  The owner’s super friendly and often around, and spent the better part of his life in SF – this is the real deal.

Tentekomai – One of my favorite, well-hidden Japanese spots in the city serving up a wide variety of non-sushi Japanese plates hailing from Fukuoka prefecture.  Recently made the “top 5” list of a local expat rag, and crowds have picked up a bit but reservations are available.  Word of warning: chain-smoking businessmen love this place, leave the kids at home.

Anadolu – Best and most popular Turkish joint in Shanghai, now with multiple locations!  I eat/order dinner here twice-weekly.

Masala Art – Best Indian food I’ve found in the city.  Recently burned to the ground when a fire erupted in the kitchen, but now it’s back and tasty as ever.  Portions are a bit on the small side.

Cantina Agave – Super popular Mexican joint on one of the best-located street corners in the former French Concession.  Coming from California, the food is very mediocre.  But Mexican’s hard to find in this city, and the place has a hoppin’ scene.


Citizen Café – A semi-French, baroque café with international fare.  Great brunch, lunch, and dinner spot (how rare!) on the super-trendyt JinXian Road.

Westin – The most ridiculous, outlandish brunch event in China featuring opera singers, orchestras, dancers, child acrobatics, artists, and chefs and cuisines from the far reaches of the world.  Pricy at about 500RMB ($75US) + 10% service charge, but includes free-flowing Veuve Clicquot.  Always packed, reserve a table in advance.

Sasha’s – Long-time favorite expat Sunday brunch spot, about a fifth the price of the Westin with a small but decent buffet, and a beautiful former French Concession patio courtyard.  Your best bet on a sunny blue-sky Sunday morning.

Abbey Road – A Beatles-themed expat pub turned weekend brunch favorite.  Huge menu with a home-cooked feel to it.


Cotton’s – Not sure how I missed it last time around, but one Shanghai’s best lounge bars.  Two locations, both with outdoor courtyards, opened by Cotton, a bit of a local pub celebrity.  Not to be confused with the “Cotton Club” (a different Shanghai spot with decent live jazz, but doesn’t make the list)

Manifesto – Great lounge, with great music.  Friday night has a fun 80s night (good 80s, not bad 80s), and is a fun place to start the night.  Highly recommend the zombie drink – limited at 2 per customer per night.

Anar – Pretty new spot near the popular LOgO bar.  Also very loungy, with some of the best house, techno club music in the city.

Constellation – I’m a bit conflicted over this tight spot on Xinle Road in the former French Concession.  Used to be one of my favorite watering holes – the best cocktails in Shanghai.  But the last couple of times it was completely overrun with roaches crawling on the walls, lampshades… I just couldn’t stomach it any longer.  But hey, if you do decide to brave it (and most do, it’s always jam-packed), try the Moscow Mule.

Coffee Shops

None!  There’s a serious shortage of good coffee shops in this city.  Recommendations from last year still stand.  If you’ve found a hidden gem, please please please leave a comment!

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Reflections on the Ox, Eye on the Tiger

February 14th, 2010 · No Comments

Fourth of July’s got nothing on this place.  For the past 5 hours, Shanghai’s 20 million residents have taken to the streets, firecrackers and fireworks in hand, before dinner, after dinner, before midnight, and soon to be after midnight, to ring in the lunar new year with a thundering vengeance!  On a rare clear night, with crisp cool clean air, it’s been quite the scene.

This new year coincides with my 2 year China anniversary.  Two years feels funny in a number of ways.  Perhaps most startlingly, it’s become quite clear that this isn’t a rotation, a temporary assignment, or other break from life or home.  It’s the real deal.  It’s my life.  And perhaps along those lines, it seems I’ve gradually shied away from spending time or building friendships with visitors who aren’t in the same boat.  Case in point dinner tonight, where half the table of Germans, French, Singaporeans, and Malaysians have been living in China for ten years or longer, and nobody for less than two!

And at the same time, I’ve also started to feel more cognizant of the fact that, in China, I will always be a laowai, a foreigner.  It didn’t use to bother me really – being stereotyped, and generally looked well upon – the local stereotypes for white, Jewish, American are disgustingly flattering.  But the ignorance, the constant stares, the assumptions and even choice of language based on the color of my skin rather than the words coming out of my mouth, and the realization that it isn’t going to change anytime soon, no matter how long I live here and no matter how perfect my Chinese becomes, are all becoming more… significant… than before.

I’ve gotta say the new year comes at a time when I’m quite thankful, both on a personal and a professional level.  I still love what I’m working on out here, and love the team of people I do it with.  On the travel front, Hainan, Xi’an, Thailand, and return visits to Suzhou and Lijiang recently in-the-hole.  Japan (Tokyo, Nagano, and Kyoto) and an April first trip to Bali on-deck.  Both Tibet and Jiuzhaigou have for some reason been on my mind a lot lately.

Anyhow, 12:30am, and firecrackers are – like a bag of popcorn in a microwave – slowly coming to a stop.  With a 5:30am wakeup call to pack and head to the airport, I’d better get to sleep.  It’s officially the Year of the Tiger.  Happy New Year – Xin Nian Kuai Le – Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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Just another day in the life of a laowai (“good old foreigner”)

December 4th, 2009 · No Comments

card About a week ago I started having problems with my jiaotong ka, the RFID powered “ka” (card) used to navigate the Shanghai metro system.

As Murphy’s law would have it, I entered the metro without problem at the Hengshan Road station downstairs and around the corner from my home, but upon arriving at my destination Xujiahui station, the exit readers simply refused to acknowledge my card’s presence.

At the first ticket window facing the inside of the station’s exit turnstiles, the attendant kindly let me exit, but couldn’t help me exchange the card because she didn’t have any new ones, and pointed me to another window about 25 yards away toward one end of the station.

Upon arriving at the second window, a couple of friendly young attendants seemed eager to help the silly Chinese-speaking foreigner out, but were sadly also “out of cards” and just kept saying “exit 2” over and over in Chinese.  After backtracking the 25 yards and following signs to exit 2 at the other end of the insanely long Xujiahui station, I realized it was still at least another football field away in distance, and I was running short on time before a meeting, so I resigned in failure for the time being.

As the week progressed, I kept trying to use the card… and my success rate kept falling.  Taxi drivers started to get upset as I sat for minutes banging the card against their readers (the cards also work in taxis, buses, trolleys, ferries, toll booths, parking lots, gas stations, the airport Maglev, and more), probably suspecting me of some sort of new scam (scams, like quickly swapping low-balance cards or counterfeit cash are common).

And finally, this morning, my card gave out completely.  After no metro readers would take it, I walked up to the counter at the local Hengshan Road station again and asked for a new card.  And of course, got back a foreigners favorite answer to any question in China… meiyou (“don’t have”).  And where was I told I could get a new card?  Why of course, none other than back at Xujiahui station.

Off to the coin ticket machine I went to buy a 45 cent one way ticket back to Xujiahui.  Upon arrival, I headed downstairs and through a cavernous set of tunnels, toward the evasive exit 2.  After walking and walking… past fewer and fewer people… the tunnel dead ended into a cordoned off area with signs prominently displaying “staffs only” (ok ok, translation is mine).  Exit 2 was closed, and there was not a person in sight.

Back to the Xujiahui station ticket counter, pretty pissed off at this point, and just about ready to go all “crazy laowai” on some poor soul, I restrained myself while patiently explaining the entire situation to the rather uninterested ticket attendant, and the response was… wait for it… meiyou.  “But how can you not have any cards?  I see you holding a stack of cards right there!” I exclaimed in Chinese.  “Oh, these cards are used.  You don’t want a used card, do you?”  Surprising the attendant and the crowd that had by this time gathered, I exclaimed that yes, I would take a used card if it worked, and proceeded to put a refundable $3 deposit on the card and ask her to transfer the money from my broken card (which, with enough banging, could be made to register a balance on her reader).  “Sorry, the card history shows you entered at Hengshan Road 5 days ago, and never used it to exit.  You need to go back to Hengshan Road and have the agent there make it right.”

So on the story goes… after a day of work and another 45 cent one way ticket to Hengshan Road, I recapped the situation for the totally unconcerned, uninterested ticket agents at my home station.  After endless banging on each of their card readers, and a crowd of about 10 interested onlookers laughing at the crazy laowai while translating suggestions between Chinese and Chinese, my card balance simply wouldn’t register.  But I was 5 days and 7 metro agents into the situation, and not about to lose the remaining $14 on my old beat up ka.  I was told to come back in 10 days (!), at which point there’d be someone at the station who could fix it for me.

Not about to fall for the common “get off my back” trick and extend this into a 2 week ordeal, I kept banging, bending, and blowing on the card like an over-used 1980s Nintendo cartridge, and sure enough… a few minutes later (with the crowd still gathered and growing)… one of the readers started beeping wildly in a mix of registration and error.  Everyone – the agents, the onlookers, could see my card was real!  And it had $14 on it!  Of course, the agent’s reader it happened to be sitting on couldn’t be used to make a balance transfer, but after ensuring I had 15+ witnesses to my card’s value, I made an attempt to move it to another reader… and it worked!

Smooth sailing from here, right?  “Your card shows you entered the metro 5 days ago and haven’t paid to exit!  We can’t transfer the balance to your new (used) card!”, as my card is thrown back at me.  Are you kidding me?  Do you think I’ve lived in your metro for the past 5 days?  “Sorry, get out of here!  mei banfa (no way to make it happen)!”  At this point, I declare that I’m not leaving the metro station.  I’m going to camp out.  It’s ridiculous that while a maximum metro fare is 90 cents, they refuse to return my $14 (and $3 deposit on the broken card), and I’m not gonna stand for it!  The crowd begins to laugh at the crazy laowai, and a few start to get involve, negotiating on my behalf.

Finally, a short, slightly older woman with a fierce look on her face negotiates on my behalf to deduct the 90 cents from my balance, transfer the remaining $13.10, and give me back my $3 for the broken card.  There was joy in the air, lots of xie xie xie xie xie (thanks thanks thanks thanks thanks!) to go around, and I went on my merry way, with my $16.10 in-hand (still 45 cents short really, having been charged 90 cent maximum on a 45 cent ride <grin>), and well, another day in China under my belt.

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“Hej” from another continent!

October 7th, 2009 · No Comments

3623829475_b22f65a1ce Another 5 months in the hole.  Swine flu came and went, and I went traveling – Fukuoka, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Sheshan, DC, Antwerp, and Copenhagen, where I’m parked at a quaint Danish café with a live DJ turning vinyl.  A few more visits to familiar places – Beijing, LA, Seattle, Hong Kong, Amsterdam.  A few journeys left on the horizon – Stockholm, Taipei (hopefully with a weekend jaunt to Taroko Gorge), and Beijing.

Fukuoka was by far the most random of the bunch, emerging out of a Thursday night “man, I need to get away” moment at the local Wagas with my partner in crime, Eugene, followed by a quick call to Northwest inquiring where one could fly nonstop from Shanghai for free the following night.  20,000 miles later, we arrived in this fun little city I’d never heard of by the sea in the southwest tip of Japan, and spent the weekend eating street ramen, Finnish pastries, and local sushi of every variety, throwing back Guinness in a hole-in-the-wall Jamaican bar, and drinking $12 Asahi while belting out the lyrics to a $19 round of Jessie’s Girl at a karaoke joint (yeah yeah, go ahead and take advantage of the visiting gaijin while they’re vulnerable!).  I vaguely remember muttering Ohio Gozimas as the locals fell off their food stall bar stools with the sun rising in the background.  One last breath of fresh air the following day, then back to Shanghai to kick off another work week.

Maldives_Approach_Finals_-_Rwy_36_Short_Finals_1Places I want to go before I leave China: Tibet, Sichuan, Hainan, Xi’an, Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan beyond Tokyo, Korea on skis, and my ultimate though unlikely-to-happen-anytime-soon fantasy trip to the W Maldives (Malé airport pictured).

Life right now is very much rooted in work, bringing up my level of fluency in Chinese, reading more than ever, physical health and exercise, and travel to new places.  With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Dopplr, and Delicious, blogging’s fallen off the back.  But I plan to be back with a post on ‘China Fever’ and my favorite China-related reads soon, a refreshed local ‘Shanghai Favorites’ post for 2010, and something work-related when my current projects are closer to release.

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Ten Random Habits I’ve Picked Up In China

June 15th, 2009 · 3 Comments

For better or for worse…

I never drink cold water.  Chinese believe it’s better for your stomach, and the belief has somehow rubbed off.

I pick my fruit and fruit juice based on whether or not it will lower or raise my body temperature.  Cucumber and watermelon juice have been favorites this summer.  I also know which fruits are in season because they’re noticeably more plentiful and fresh at the local fruit stands where I buy them.

I ask “Can you give me a discount?” everywhere from art galleries to high end department stores, and usually get 20-50% off.

When complimenting someone’s outfit, “Where’d you find it?” and “How much?” have been replaced by “ZhenDe HaiShi JiaDe?” (Real or knock-off?)

If I can see it being cooked over a fire, it’s sufficiently safe to eat.  I get sick a lot, but like to believe it’s hardening my system for the long term.

If my meal has soup, or noodles in soup, I don’t order a drink.  I often eat Chinese food without rice, as it’s just a cheap filler like table bread back home.

I used to feel lack of megastores like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Staples was inconvenient, and then I learned how to buy all the same things within a few block radius for less money and with free delivery.

Sometimes, I find myself thinking about simple things in Chinese.  And when translating between Chinese and English, or when speaking Hebrew or Spanish, Chinese often comes out by mistake.

Once I discovered the concept of “Chinese food” is as diverse as “European food”, I’ve had no problem eating it 2-3 times a day.

Upon returning to the US I make an effort to remember to buckle my seatbelt, leave tips, say excuse me, and make personal space.  Upon returning to China I make an effort to remember to look both ways crossing the street or otherwise risk sudden death.

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Spring is in the air!

May 11th, 2009 · No Comments

A view of the Pudong skyline from Mr & Mrs Bund on a recent Spring evening:

Pudong skyline

I’ve been in a really good mood lately.. that sort of life is awesome waiting for the other shoe to drop while hoping desperately it doesn’t sort of mood.

During the last six months on the travel front I’ve seen Taipei, Beijing, Maui, Seoul, Manila, Boracay, Hong Kong, Seattle, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Guilin and Yangshuo in China’s Guangxi Province, and Ürümqi and Turpan in China’s Xinjiang province.

Each trip was so unique and meaningful, with family and friends I wouldn’t trade for the world. And as far as China travel goes, Guangxi and Xinjiang have been highlights in escaping city life in the megatropolis that is Shanghai. Guangxi, along with its neighbor Yunnan, is one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I’ve been, ever. And Xinjiang is well, like nothing I’ve ever seen before in China. I barely scratched the surface of the Uyghur culture, but the markets, food, music, and general cultural and historical richness was unexpectedly overwhelming.

Something I’ve yet to share here but get asked all too often is what the heck I’m doing in China. Life has certainly taken some unexpected turns, and I suppose this part of my journey begins in January 2008 when I found myself bumming around coffee shops by the beach in Los Angeles with my laptop. Not quite ready to return to more of the same, I called up a friend and former colleague who was always poking me about joining his team in Shanghai, and asked if it was still on the table. It was, and shortly thereafter, never having been to Shanghai and speaking not a word of Chinese, I was on a plane.

For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been working at Microsoft China on what’s quickly become one of my favorite little products, Windows Home Server. And recently, I’ve also been more and more involved in its sister products, Small Business Server and Essential Business Server. I’m incredibly lucky to work with one of the most passionate, bright, skilled, and energetic groups of people in the world here. Every day I learn something new whether about technology, business, language, or culture, and between that and the opportunity to travel on national holidays and weekend trips, there’s not much more I could ask for.

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25 Random Things About Me

February 6th, 2009 · 3 Comments

1. I haven’t lived in one city for longer than 3 years since I was 16 years old.

2. I don’t have a 5-year plan, just a simple new years resolution to be able to do business in Chinese by April 2010.  我没有五年的打算,只有一个简单的新年的打算在四月2010以前能用中文做商务。

3. Over the last year I flew on 10 new airlines, saw 4-5 new countries (depending how you count), and ate a few more new animals than I care to count or admit.

4. I don’t spend money or miles on business class for fear I’ll become accustomed to it.

5. I have called Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Seattle, and Shanghai home, in that order.

6. I speak English, Hebrew, Spanish, and Chinese.

7. Airports can be my most or least favorite places in the world, depending on the circumstances.

8. Last year I spent New Years Eve watching a rat scurry by while waiting for the painfully slow G line in Brooklyn.  This year, I found myself in Otaewon and Hongdae, Seoul, land of heated subway seats, where the people shout “Kimchi!” instead of “Cheese!”.

9. I don’t like putting punctuation inside the quote or using one space between my sentences, even though I think they’re the right thing to do.  I find intricacies of the apostrophe intriguing, most notably in differentiating between singular and plural possessive of Jill and James’s (is it both of theirs, or only James’s?), odd-looking forums of the plural possessive like my friends’ house (where my two friends are roommates), and newer contractions such as sync’d or sync’ed or synced.  I hate when my iPhone auto-corrects its to it’s.

10. I am clearly moderately OCD.  I try not to let the compulsions get to me, but have been known to enjoy reorganizing spaces from time to time.

11. I’m confident, but walk a fine line between extroversion & introversion.  The latter is non-obvious and a personal challenge.

12. My most valuable possessions are my friendships.

13. The people I work closest with recently anonymously described me as passionate, driven, smart, creative, positive, friendly, direct, adamant, emotional, and persistent.  The last 4 can be double-edge swords and I’m working on them.

14. Professionally, I’m motivated by a combination of happiness for myself and those around me, and the ability to have a large, game-changing impact.  When I can’t overcome conditions that prevent either one, I move on quickly.

15. I get bored quickly, but value commitment and loyalty.

16. I believe in the American Dream.  I’m overwhelmingly impressed by China’s ability to execute.  I believe that individual freedom, national unity, happiness, peace, and stability aren’t mutually exclusive, and over time we can learn from each other.

17. I’m a bleeding heart liberal, but I like to shoot guns, and I support our troops.  Living in China has recently changed my views on 1) minimum wage and 2) the value of strategic diplomacy in foreign policy.

18. My favorite music is from The Postal Service’s only album, Give Up.  It makes me feel oddly inspired, creative, and emotional.  It’s playing right now through my Windows Home Server+iTunes+AirTunes-powered home audio setup.

19. I taught myself to code in C and Pascal when I was 12 so I could mod my BBS, a moment of 1337ness only to be surpassed by my the modding of my IRC server years later.

20. My palms sweat.  Almost always.  It’s a condition experienced by 2.8% of the population for which I’ve tried sleeping in drug-coated surgical gloves, electric-shock therapy, and ~30 Botox injections, multiple times.  Short of trying a lung-deflating, nerve-snipping surgery, I have given up.

21. My favorite food is Cheesecake.  I am certain this is because when my Mom was pregnant, she ate cheesecake with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  When I was little, we would bake Oreo-crusted cheesecake together and I would take them to school for my friends.

22. I had dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, turtles, iguanas, snakes, and fish growing up.  The 55 gallon fish tank in my bedroom, my pride and joy of the day, was destroyed in 1994 Northridge earthquake.

23. I am a morning person.  I prefer waking up at 5am to pulling an all-nighter.  I find watching a sunrise to be a special experience.  I wake my friends up at 9am on Sunday to get brunch.  If you’re a good friend, I’ll wake you up at 8.

24. I find comfort in the presence of others.

25. My Mom, Dad, two sisters, and the rest of my family are the most important thing to me in the world.

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