Saturday, February 06, 2010

decent day but weird, weird night

I was originally intending on a different, more curse-filled title for this post, to reflect the shock in my state of mind. However, after sleeping on it I ultimately decided otherwise.

Nonetheless, if you venture through the entirety of this post you may agree.

Day - This was saturday morning, and it was a decent but lazy one. My friend, who had been hosting me for this trip, had finally come back from a 2 week stint of business travel. There was much to catch up about.

I went to gym, he went to boxing training.

Afterward, he wanted to go to the gym for an additional cardio/regular workout; I wanted to go explore the city some more. Unfortunately, it was thus it seemed like it would be a good day to go to the art galleries (mostly indoors & all).

I had heard things about the area on the Sinosplice ( blog.

Got disoriented on leaving the subway station, followed my inner sense of direction and ended up going on a big loop; passing through the throngs of people already in line or attempting travel for Chinese New Year. For whatever reason, I ended up taking a street that hadn't been finished under regular construction and was as such basically a muddy puddle.

I endded up going back to where I started - studied the map further and had a further go of it...finally made it to the art area (moganshan lu).

Enjoyed it immensely - there were lots of post-modern exhibits, featuring mostly mainland China artists. I also visited a special display that prominently showed some art from Korean & Japanese artists, among others.

As I ventured further in, I found both larger display areas with sculptures in addition to paintings.

What was especially cool was that in many of the galleries, the artists themselves were there - I have not often had the opportunity to converse directly with artists (especially painters & sculptors) about the work that they have done while I am in the middle of viewing it. It is very interesting to hear their stories & interpretations toward what they have painted & how the artwork even came to exist.

Anyway, the art generally featured interpretations of modern Chinese society today, juxtaposing new and old, the traditional and imported in a variety of styles and settings.

One that really struck me was a ginormous but very crude (in quality) sculpture of Mao...everything was rough, and the proportions made him look more as a bloated, overweight giant rather than the super-heroic larger than life traditional statues so often out there.

Ended up picking up a few framed photographs and some postcards; maybe made some new friends too.

Was a little embarrassed overhearing some other visitors trying to haggle way too hard over the price of some artwork.

My opinion on this considers that:

1. The gallery itself must charge a sizable rent (considering Artists' budgets)
2.  The artist needs to eat
3.  The artist needs to sleep
4. The artists are mostly not rich to start with
5. These are originals, not mass-produced crap that should be aggressively haggled over.

Anyway...after that, my plan had been to have some dinner and then make my way to any bar that had live music.

Ultimately, that never happened.

(I was on my own this evening as my friend had to take a client out and said he likely was going to have to go to the "dark side"...I did not want to join - I had been there and done that enough during my previous China work engagements...)

So I found a pretty modest-looking Sichuan-style restaurant. Went in. It was so busy that I shared a table with another person who had arrived there already. She left pretty quickly.

Soon after, a pair of younger Chinese guys came in, and the only space was a the table where I briefly had been the sole occupant.

So they joined me. We didn't really acknowledge each other, as is often the custom when sharing space in tight quarters.

But then they ordered a bottle of Baijiu, and I could not help but grinning - it was clear that a night of drinking was in store.

I guess my grin broke the ice and we started chatting. I stuck to my beer and they stuck to their baijiu, but we were soon cheering every 2 minutes or so (you can't just drink/sip on your own, you need to clink glasses & include the others).

Turns out that they both worked in the same advertising company, making logos (among other things) for a host of local businesses. They had been at work due to the ramp-up to the chinese holiday (everyone works through the weekend before and some how the "extra" days saved apply towards the future holiday...) We ended up talking about work, government (Yet another time this trip that I heard "I love China but not the government"), business, education, culture, tradition, holidays...a fine cultural exchange, all in all, backed up with the fool-proof drunken logic that since we happened to sit at the same table that we were fated to have this discussion and as such are all brothers (Cheers!).

So how did things fall off the tracks?

Well, another person approached and asked to have a drink with us - I didn't want to be a jerk, so I said "sure". But then this dude just kind of kept staying at our table...and staying...and then randomly bursting into screaming at the top of his lungs "FUCK you CHEATING SHIT BITCH!", while looking back at the table he came from.

So things got a little weird after that. This guy was from Japan, and didn't speak much Chinese. So the conversation got split up. Then one of the other people at our table didn't really want to talk to the Japanese guy at all (taking some bullshit nationalistic stance that he'd never talk to anyone from "little Japan")..

('Little Japan' is a derogatory term towards Japan, though I still don't get exactly what it is supposed to mean)

Then Japanese guy tells me about the time he spent in the states. Then he gets all worked up that his grandfather who fought in WWII is still alive. And that the USA bombed Nagasaki & Hiroshima.

And then we all drink.

And then the bai jiu's effects start to hit second Chinese guy at the table, and he almost falls over. But he's still gamely trying to engage the Japanese guy in conversation, but due to limited English skills and severe intoxication, is having difficulty being understood by anyone.

Then the "I'm not talking to Japanese" guy strikes up conversation with the group of notherners at the next table (3 girls, one dude, good odds, right?) and so they are now best friends and sharing food and clinking glasses. Then some how the circle expands to include everyone.

All the other restaurant patrons are not there, except for one single guy who's just kind of watching it all.

And then the Japanese guy screams and curses to his girlfriend to join us. I ask nicely as this could (maybe) shut the Japanese guy up. So the girl comes over. She's Russian.

We have a toast to the new "mini-UN" drinking party that has formed.

Eventually the Chinese people in the group start leaving one by one; I trade contact info with the Chinese advertising guys but it is unlikely we'll ever see each other again.

I know that I should leave but listening to the Russian lady's story is the aural equivalent of watching a train wreck...I'm hypnotized.

Apparently she's been in China for 15 years, recently was living with a Nigerian guy, who suddenly disappeared around Christmas time. No one knows where or why. (Possibly deported...and no one has any idea what this dude had been doing for a job). Before he left, he had introduced this Japanese guy, his friend from some way. So after Nigerian guy is gone, sometime during January, the Japanese guy and the Russian girl started hooking up. And now they're kind of a thing. Aside for the dysfunctional-ness of it all. Oh yeah, did I mention that Russian girl had been carrying Nigerian dude's baby but then lost it at some point after he left?

Japanese guy had been in town studying for a while, but then just stayed & stayed - his visa is well expired. Apparently there's some Korean girl that he's affiliated with; not sure if they got married and she used him for his visa, or what.

Anyway, continued to hear their stories, then talked about China & Shanghai for a bit, and then it was super-clearly time for me to go.

So I did.

Just way too much information to take in on one night. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that people will open up such intimate details of their lives to a stranger like has happened before and probably will happen again. I guess I should know better and get out before it gets too weird.

Monday, February 01, 2010


I wish it was the kind cured by more cowbell. Or even Disco Fever. But
it's the straight-up shivers...

Another 'fuck you' from me to Delta airlines

Wife had to go to Korea - we found two options:

1. Delta - $798 for the ticket, which was a code share with Korean Airlines, so effectively the food, service, everything would be Korean Airlines
2. Korean Airlines - $998 for the same ticket.

We went with the $798 option.

When wife got to the airport, she visited Delta first and waited in line, only for them to tell her that she needed to check in at the Korean Airlines counter.

We planned an open-ish itinerary as we didn't know how long she'd need to stay. As it turns out, she can go home sooner than later. So she tries to change her ticket. First she calls Korean air. They redirect her to Delta. Delta tells her that she can switch for a $250 fee.

Compare this with my Korean Airlines experience.

I book the equivalent Korean Airlines ticket directly with Korean Airlines. My itinerary changes. I need to push out my departure date. Korean Airlines does this for free (though they mention if I need to change it again, it will be $100).

In comparing my wife's experience with my own, I note that:

1. Delta airlines has created no value
2. They simply collect a fee to do something that Korean Airlines did for free.

I see no point in giving Delta another penny.

In the grand scheme of things, the difference is only ~$52. But the experience with Delta was painful every step of the way and has left a horrible taste in my mouth. There's a lot of better options out there, so why the hell should I continue to suffer out of some previously mis-guided sense of allegiance to this greedy-ass crusty corporate rapist behemoth?

(BTW, again, I am not sure how they sold the NWA Delta merger to government regulators as a beneficial entity; they certainly have done nothing to benefit me, my friends or family)

Additionally, I'm sure that this code-sharing thing is a scam. On my last flight, which was with Korean airlines, that is apparently a member of the "Skyteam Alliance", it turns out that Delta chose not to recognize my miles, although they were with a partner flight, since apparently they were "discounted".

Never mind that what I paid was over $900 - which, if you were paying attention, is more an the equivalent code-sharing flight through Delta (code-sharing/piggybacking on Korean Airlines).

Fucking douchebags.

weekend notes

Friday - 

Met up with a long-time friend of mine, Aubin Wang. She's currently living in Shanghai with her husband and recently (50-some days ago) they just had their second child. 

She cooked dumplings, which were fantastic, and we talked a lot. In short, life is going well for her & family. We traded pros & cons of staying in China vs moving back to USA...lots to consider in either case, especially with children. We agreed that if one was not in a position to pay for foreign-standard elementary school (and up), then we would not want to subject our children to the public education system here if at all possible. On the other hand, growing up with native Chinese language ability seems like an excellent idea.

I am convinced that living in a country where you can hire a live in (24/7) maid/nanny for $400 / month is totally the way to go if one has very small children.

Saturday - 

Slept in, then had breakfast at the cafe across the street (nothing fancy, just bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee). Went to gym; on the way I ran into a Russian + French couple I knew from 10 years ago who studied at the same international program I did...they're married now & had two girls who were in tow and evidently were living in Shanghai. 

Not one minute later, I ran into another couple (Americans) that I knew from my time in Shenzhen. They had recently moved in pretty much across the street from where I'm staying now. Arrangements were made to hang out.

Afternoon was simple. Gym, then exploring.

Gym - 
Overheard in the locker room: "Here's how I almost died this driver fell asleep and I wasn't paying attention, we almost hit a stopped car in front of us"
"Oh yeah? Well, they've almost finished rennovating my building and the workers were throwing chunks of scaffolding down while I was walking out and a few chunks just grazed my head"

I get the feeling that one could have updated "near death experience" stories on a weekly basis, though at some point you must grow numb to it and stop keeping track.

Exploring - 

Found that it took only ~45 minutes or so to get to central downtown (I followed a very meandering route to get there; I was in now rush).

Succeeded in my mission of finding coffee filters (though in hindsight, there were places much closer that also had them) - found a high-end import supermarket where one could get just about anything that you wanted from back stateside (for a healthy markup, of course).

Continued walking everywhere, had a few snacks, realized that many of the places I've been on this trip are all within 10 minutes' walk from one another.

Went home, watched a fresh yet grainy copy of "Inglorious Basterds", ate lamb on a stick, then met up with people at the "Glamor Bar" for drinks.

The bar (well, probably more of a lounge) was full of foreigners and occasionally their Chinese girlfriends or friends. One lady had shown up in a leather leotard. Yes, she stuck out. No, I was not complaining.

Conversation was good, though you had to yell above the DJ. Interesting people & stories.

Went back to friend's place; more scotch was had.


Slept in, then made it out to the gym.

Explored more - on studying google maps I found that I'm living really close by to the Shanghai Music conservatory (上海音乐学院). I stayed at a hostel there back in 2000 when I first visited I really wanted to see it again and see what had changed. Turns out - a lot...did not recognize neighborhood and I walked right past where I needed to go. School got majorly rennovated...not sure if they still rent out bargain-priced rooms to backpackers or not.

It was still pleasant to walk around the neighborhood - the thing with the French Concession part of Shanghai is that the streets are small-ish and it feels like a neighborhood; much of the architecture from the early to mid 20th century is intact, which also makes it unique for China. Even newer parts of Shanghai subscribe to the modern China city planning aesthetic of mega blocks separated by 4 to 8 lane roads. Will post some pictures shortly.

Picked up a bottle of Mountain Dew which was on clearance at a convenience store. I haven't had that soda in a long time; this was more disgusting than I remember. My nose started running immediately after finishing it. Coincidence? (My snot was bright orange. It caused some concern).

Hopped on subway, went back to electronics market in town...picked up a few more iphone cases. Newsflash to people in the US - you are getting incredibly hosed on the cost of iphone accessories...a simple case here cost me ~$2.50, and I bet I could have had it for less if I bothered bargaining more. The same case retails for $20 and up on the US (either in stores or via online retail).

Went to BreadTalk, which is a Singaporean bakery chain that is fantastic, picked up a stash of breakfast food for the rest of the week.

Checked out a Best Buy - weird...kind of like the a US store, especially the annoying pitches for warranties that no one needs/wants plastered ALL OVER THE PLACE.

Differences? Not much media on sale (aside from official copies of Windows, maybe some NDS and PSP games), the store was spread over 4 floors, there was a guitar section, mobile phone section was huge, much more room for water heaters and range tops...and that's about it. Not sure how successful they will ultimately be in China (the prices ranged from fair to exorbitant, certainly not amazing), though the look & feel of the store is a step up from what I remember of some of the local competition (Gome 国美 and Suning, among others). 

Finished up day with a beer & watched "Fantastic Mr. Fox"...which I thought was pretty good, and that the forced time limitations of stop-motion probably helped Wes Anderson keep the script and pacing pretty tight.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thoughts on music

Just occuring to me as I walk around:

Interpol - good music, mostly, that is great when I'm in the mood for
it. Not sure how much I would really want to see them live. Of course,
if money was no object, I'd be there. I do not think it would be.
"fun" show, however. Can't imagine them doing anything to engage the

Vampire Weekend - Why is this band supposed to be a big deal? Their
music is pussified shit.

fun music download here

Interesting mash-up with various rap/hip-hop artists over music from Final Fantasy 7. Pretty decent so far.