Expat Life in China

Jie and I were recently interviewed on The Common People Podcast. The podcast is run by high school classmate and friend Jason Halpern, who asked us about our time living in Shanghai and traveling through Asia.

I have not had the chance to listen to the full episode yet but as a big podcast listener, it was a lot of fun appearing in one for the first time.

Feel free to listen to the episode here:
http://www.commonpeoplepodcast.com/?powerpress_embed=284-podcast&powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio

Taiwan

I have been remiss in writing about my recent trip to Taiwan with Jie and her sister Kari but hopefully better late than never. This small island off the coast of China boasts some interesting recent history as its where the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek fled after their defeat at the hands of the Communists in the Chinese Civil War. While China still lays claim to Taiwan, it is ruled as an independent country. Culturally however, it shares many similarities with China (language, food) although with a heavy brush of Japanese influence  as the island was ruled by Japan from 1895 to 1945.

Our first stop was the capital, Taipei, which I found to be much more laid back than other large Asian cities. It’s metro system makes it very easy to navigate and from the start we found the Taiwanese people to be extremely helpful. I also found their English to be better than other countries in East Asia I have visited (China, Japan and South Korea).

After an initial evening settling into our hotel and getting acquainted with the city, we began our sightseeing with the National Palace Museum. The museum houses hundreds of thousands of pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts and artwork. More astounding to me is that a large percentage of these priceless works were evacuated from mainland China at the end of the Chinese Civil War. I had heard this while in China (the Chinese don’t like the fact that these artifacts were taken) and also heard that the museum contained the most beautiful treasures imaginable. The museum was certainly immense and filled with great artifacts but nothing wowed me. Then again, seeing a one thousand year old scroll or piece of calligraphy is never going to set my heart racing no matter how wonderful it is so that’s on me I guess.  My favorite area is where they house the jade treasures. Why? I just really like jade and love to look at jade carvings.

That same evening we decided to try something different for dinner so we headed to Modern Toilet, a bathroom-themed restaurant in the city. I read about this before we left and for some reason it spoke to me. How could I not try eating out of a toilet bowl? Everything about the restaurant’s decor and food is in homage to toilets and bathrooms. You sit in toilet bowls. There is toilet paraphernalia all over the place. And most exciting, the food comes served in mini-toilet bowls. If you’re willing to pay extra you can even bring home some toilet souvenirs. The food was pretty good despite the kitschy ambiance and it wasn’t terribly expensive. If you ever go to Taipei I would recommend going if only to get a few funny pictures.

 

eating out of my toilet bowl at Modern Toilet

 

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Macau

During a recent stop in Hong Kong, I decided to take a day trip to Macau, China’s other SAR (Special Administrative Region).

A former Portuguese colony and China’s gambling mecca, it is a one hour boat ride from Hong Kong (boats leave every 15 minutes 24/7 to shuttle the gamblers back and forth) making the trip extremely convenient.

Making it even more so is that all of the local casinos offer free shuttle buses from the ferry terminal to their respective locations, meaning all I needed to do was pick a starting point and go from there. On a previous visit in 2009, I visited the Macau Peninsula and its historic center (the most populous part of Macau and connected to mainland China) so I opted to start this trip by heading to Cotai, a strip of reclaimed land between the islands of Coloane and Taipa (hence the name Cotai, which is a mixture of the two) that is the Las Vegas Strip of Asia. Or at least it tries to be from a gambling and shopping perspective although I’m not sure about the hedonism part.

Cotai is dominated by mega casinos linked together by shopping malls and covered walkways. The biggest presence on the strip is the Venetian Macau, modeled after the casino of the same name in Las Vegas. It was a name I knew (and the bus was leaving as I walked up) so I decided to make it my first stop.

Imagine riding on a gondola down a canal…in Macau

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A Contrast of Tourist Attractions

Last week, I was back in Xi’An with Jie and her sister Kari. On one of our final days, wee decided to take a trip outside the city to visit Famen Temple and the Qianling Mausoleum, two cultural sites that could not be more different in atmosphere and feel.

Famen Temple complex

The original Famen Temple, a famed Buddhist site known for housing a multitude of treasures from the Tang Dynasty, was originally built as early as the 2nd Century.

Jie and her sister Kari

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Running the Xi’An City Wall

After visiting the city wall that encircles the old town of Xi’An back in April, I resolved to run it the next time I visited. Last week I finally got the chance.

The city’s first wall was constructed in the 2nd Century BC and the current version has been standing since the 14th Century. At 13.7km (about 8.5 miles), the wall is enormous and is a major city landmark along with its 98 ramparts.

After Jie and I biked the wall one night (on a tandem bike no less), I was ready to attack the wall on foot.

Given Xi’An’s sweltering heat, I opted to start the run as early as possible, which was close to the wall’s 8am opening time. Luckily, I ran it on a cloudy day with the temperatures in the mid 70s so, if anything, I found it to be an optimal climate.

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Watching the NBA Finals on CCTV

An issue with my VPN has delayed this by a few days but I still wanted to share my experience watching the NBA Finals in China.

One of the most difficult aspects for me in adjusting to life here has been the challenge in watching US sporting events, specifically US football and baseball. These sports are not popular in China so its not surprising you wouldn't find them on TV.

Basketball however, is very popular. China Basketball Association (CBA) games are frequently shown on TV and I will never forget the wall length Adidas advertisement in my gym of Dwight Howard working out.

I was still surprised though that when the NBA playoffs rolled around that I could find most of the games on China Central Television's (CCTV) Sports Channel. With most games taking place during my morning Chinese classes, watching the early rounds was tough but once the finals rolled around I made it a priority to watch as much as possible.

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So Much For That Long Weekend

This Wednesday is the Dragon Boat Festival, which means most Chinese companies are off Monday through Wednesday. A five day weekend. Sounds great right?

Except here in China, whenever there is a holiday, most companies require you to work the weekend before or after to make up for the time off from the holiday. So in the days leading up to the Dragon Boat Festival, employees work seven days in a row until their time off. This happens even for more prominent holidays like New Year’s and Chinese New Year’s.

What are the reasons for this arrangement? People I have spoken with suggest that it’s a way of giving people holidays in larger blocks while also minimizing time off. The theory is this will promote travel and spending.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer a long weekend (Saturday-Monday off) than a marathon week followed by a chunk of time off. Maybe they can just give the date of the holiday off while keeping weekends work free? Sure you don’t get a chunk of days off but you also don’t have employees straining to get through seven straight days of work either.

What do you think?

A Trip to Pizza Hut

There is a Pizza Hut outside of our shopping complex. It’s a small location, used predominantly for delivery, unlike the fancier sit down Pizza Huts you usually find in Chinese malls.

A few days ago, Jie and I decided to give it a try, eager to put the quality of a Chinese Pizza Hut to the test.

 

the sign says “Pizza Hut express delivery”

 

Approaching the Pizza Hut, you can’t help but notice the row of motorbikes adorned with the Pizza Hut logo. Deliverymen, wearing orange wind breakers, move in and out, either heading out with pizza boxes stacked high or coming back for a new order. Delivery is very common in Shanghai where even McDonald’s delivers. Read more of this post

Fashion Trends in Chinese Gyms

Yesterday, at the gym, I couldn’t help notice the outfits that some of my fellow gym goers were wearing. So I thought I would snap a few discreet photos and share them. While the resolution on my iPhone camera isn’t great, I still think you can get the idea.

don’t you live the color combo – and his headphones are actually pink

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Yuanshen Stadium

Jie and I live right across the street from the  Yuanshen Stadium sports complex, a square block filled with a 20,000 seat soccer stadium, a basketball arena home to the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks, a swimming arena, tennis courts, a gymnastics center, a skateboard park, not too mention countless outdoor courts and fields for recreational use.

a view of the complex from my building

Two things have stood out to me about this complex: 1) the main stadium (shown in the picture) has features that you would never see in a large US sports stadium and 2) it is so user-friendly that the track surrounding its pitch is often available for public use. Read more of this post

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