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Hello from 上海. (Shanghai)

April 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Figaro Coffee CompanyHi!  Welcome to my new blog and web site!  I’m writing from a table at one of my new favorite local coffee shops, Figaro Coffee Company near Xintiandi.  It came highly recommended by a colleague, and features a pretty decent American breakfast menu, great coffee, a reliable wireless Internet connection, and a comfortable environment for working, reading, or geeking out with your Lenovo Thinkpad.

There will be plenty of time to write about myself, my thoughts on technology, politics, religion, economics, and… exactly what brought be to China.  But for now, let’s kick things off with a list of some of my most fun experiences from the past 30 days!  Without further adieu…

Top 10 “Oh Fuck, I’m Actually Living in China!” moments (so far)

10.  Walking into Pizza Hut at Xujiahui, only to discover that in China Pizza Hut is a 5 star restaurant with mahogany wood and gold decor.  Instant flashbacks to Demolition Man: “All restaurants are Taco Bell!”.  Fun fact: There seem to be more Pizza Huts, KFCs, and Haagen Dazs in Shanghai than I’ve ever encountered before.

Starbucks9.  Realizing rather quickly that one’s much better suited to sit inside, rather than outside, for a fresh of breath air at the local Starbucks.

8.  Taking fighting over the bill to the next level.  In China, splitting is faux paux, and everyone is eager to pay.  Best ChinesePod lesson ever.

7.  First, growing incredibly frustrated when a plethora of web sites fail to load.  Next, beginning to slowly adjust to a censored Internet.  Finally, sadly realizing that 9 times out of 10 I’m not willing to exert the effort to circumvent it, and that this is precisely why it’s so effective.

6.  First, growing incredibly angry at the culture of rushing into subways and elevators before letting people exit (despite clearly drawn yellow/red signs).  Next, starting to do the same in order to survive.  Finally, finding myself shoving into a subway car so packed that even local Chinese wait for the next train, then riding like a sardine swaying back and forth with nothing to grab onto feeling every curve of the the body next to me pushing up against mine.

5.  Opening accounts at a bank, and at China Mobile, on my second day in the country, without a word of Chinese, as every employee and intern gathered ’round to help by contributing their couple words of English and gawk over my recently unlocked “iPhone-eh!”  Giggling slightly as the intern with long fingernails kept pressing the wrong numbers on the screen and handing it back to me to start over.

4.  Making the mistake of ordering a large number of servers from a US retailer on my own, only to receive an email from UPS entirely in Chinese upon arrival at customs 3 days later.  Watching in amazement for 3 weeks at the process involving a dozen people, fifty or so emails and phone calls, in-person visits to banks to transfer funds, arcane paper processes involving multiple “company chops”, and 20-30% customs duties plus daily holding fees to bail them out.  Again, watching my mindset slowly transition from one of defiance to resigning to compliance.

3.  Coming to terms with the strange fact that the largest denomination of currency in China is equivalent to $14 US, checks do not exist, and credit cards are still uncommon.  To put things in concrete terms, to buy a Macbook Air at the local electronics market, you might carry over $3500 US, or 25,000 RMB, or 250 paper bills.

2.  Getting my first ultrasound.  Yes, you heard right.  To work here, foreigners must undergo a full health inspection — a very strange process involving changing into a somewhat revealing robe and walking room-to-room in public with various doctors and technicians poking, prodding, taking blood, and yes, performing an ultrasound on both men and women.  Just smile and nod!

1.  My absolute favorite Oh Fuck, I’m Actually Living in China moment so far… just has to be sitting smack down on top of an old woman on the subway.  While I’d heard how precious a commodity subway seats were, I never could’ve imagined that in the milliseconds between turning 180 degrees and sitting down, a little old woman could dart halfway across a subway car and place herself underneath me!  I quickly turned to apologize, and there she was, sitting with a big grin on her face.  People around me giggled at the slow, silly 老外 (lao-wai).


Finally, before leaving Figaro in search of a haircut, I’d like to leave you with my favorite piece of Chingrish so far, courtesy of the elevator in my temporary apartment:

Dining Room Introduction

Until next time… be well!

Tags: Miscellaneous

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Alex Porter // Apr 14, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Love the first post on the new blog…keep ’em coming! Glad to hear you’re adjusting to your new home. Take care, Alex

  • 2 Berno // Apr 24, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Are you starting a new job in China or setting up a dev team in PVG?

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