Sunday, November 30, 2008


I spent an evening last week attempting to become a bit more tech savvy. I thought I had succeeded. I was super excited, as computer nerd I am not. I researched ways to tell how often people visit this blog. The basic blogger setup does not provide a visit counter. It only tells me how many times my profile has been viewed (and a good chunk of that number is from yours truly). So I found a website that offers a visit counter, signed up, got some fancy HTML code stuff and put it in the appropriate places and TA DA! I had a little box with 8 zeros in it on my main page. It was like a magical Christmas present from the Internet!

Well, it was until I had David give it a test run. I wanted to have at least 1 visitor showing up on the counter after all. But his visit didn't register. Not only that, he couldn't see the counter at all! Gah! Foiled! I fiddled around with it, but I had no idea what to do when systems are not go. So, I did the next best thing: I forgot about it.

Until tonight.

I now have 7 visits!! I must have done it right! Now we're talking!

In a nut shell, the counter is more a tool for myself. Honestly, I need some sort of cheering on to make my posts more frequent, as I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, they have not been thus far. But seeing that 7 people have stopped by (thank you, anonymous 7!) and have seen nothing recently posted definitely gives me some incentive. If just one person is reading it, it makes it worth it. So, even though I need to get to bed and fight off what I fear to be a looming cold, I am committed to publishing another post tomorrow, as there ARE stories to tell. (Close calls! Embarrassing defeats! Insect dramas! All this and more!) See you all on the flip side! Wait...I'm already ON the flip side...hmm...

p.s. It is officially December over here in Asia. I cannot believe how time has flown by!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Up Down Up Down...

The past two weeks: classic China experience, in the sense that it was filled with random experiences spanning the entire range of human emotions. Just another mini Shanghai thrill ride. This one starts with Halloween.

Up to mischief (or the day David let me give him temporary tattoos)

I had decided that I wanted to celebrate Halloween this year. I love Halloween, and I didn’t do much for it last year. So, with the promise of plenty of places to get our spook on, I brought the idea up to friends and David and everyone seemed game. So Kellie and I set out to find a rare costume shop to get a few costume pieces. She needed a costume, David needed one, Sanami just wanted some animal ears, and I was undecided as to whether to be a pirate, as I already had a striped shirt and boots.

First, let it be stated that Kellie and I had the “This Is Harder Than It Should Be” blues, as getting to said costume/decoration shop took nothing short of a miracle. ("Miracle" here means running into an acquaintance, chatting about the abandoned blow-up doll spread over the bushes in front of us near the subway, and getting some much better directions in the process.) Anyway, we made it, we found stuff for everyone even though the store was pretty cheesy and we made it back home in one piece.

"A pirate, a lady bug, a tiger and a biker walk into a bar…"

The night went well. We met another friend of mine and his crew at a British pub. They left a little past midnight, (on to “greener”, um, graveyards?) but we stayed there the rest of the night, throwing back some pretty generous portions of wine and Duvel (which means devil in…oh heck, I don’t remember what language). We stayed until closing time. I saw parts of Rocky Horror Picture Show that I hadn’t seen since I was 16 hanging out with the theater kids. The bar tender gave us a free round. We had a great time. However, I think in the future, I will abstain from drinking with the Devil. I’ll leave it at that.

Rock Bottom

After a care free night like that, the next morning was in stark contrast. One text message changed everything. I will not get into too many details, as it is long, involved and not my business to spread around, but a situation at David’s work came to a head Saturday morning and it was not the hoped for outcome. It was a situation David felt partly responsible for and there was a great sense of wrongdoings on the company's part going on. So, we felt pretty crappy the rest of the weekend, mulling it over. Feeling like something needs to be done to fix a situation, but not feeling like you have any power to change it is a hard thing to go through. David is a man of morals, and it just felt very wrong to him, like the type of situation where someone needs to stand up for what is right. To cut to the resolution, things were more complicated than we realized at first and the “victim” turned out to be dealing quite well with it. Just another example of how it’s virtually impossible to truly understand what is going on here. All we can do is trust our gut, and things still feel sour in regards to the powers that be, but the storming of the Death Star has at least been put on hold, with no immediate need to stand up against the empire for the sake of the people. (Yes, I AM making that a bit more dramatic than it needs to be. I just liked the image.) In conclusion, things are fine, for now. For all my worrywarts out there, don’t. Apologies for the vagueness, but we’re fine.

Up, up and away!

So, with that mostly behind us, we were able to concentrate on plans to take a real-live vacation. Sweet! So for the past week and a half I’ve been planning our trip to some islands in Thailand! The key words when deciding where to go were “nature,” “clean,” and “quiet.” Sounds like some islands in beautiful, blue water to me. Ah! But there's a catch! However relaxing this place will be once we’re there, it’s been less than simple trying to make the plans.

In a snapshot:

“How much did you say?!”
“No, no the red eye is NOT what we want.”
“We can’t pay with a credit card? You need CASH?”
“Password tries allotment exceeded” (This is the ATM talking, and it can be translated as "Stick that card in one more time and I'll shred the sucker!")
“Your requested transaction was rejected. We’re very sorry for the inconvenience. Again."

The booking gods hate me...

Hopefully, the results of my Thailand story will turn out way better than the beginning. At least we have all our plane tickets now, so we’re getting there at least! We leave this Saturday and we’ll be there for a week!

Down a peg

To give I. M. Nervous and Nelly another dose of adrenaline on another dip in this roller coaster ride, I hereby admit a blunder. I almost got robbed last Friday. Yeah, I know. It was partly my fault. Funny things happen to one’s well-honed paranoia when you actually live in a foreign country, in a city known to be quite safe. Luckily for me, a very nice Chinese girl told the dudes getting into my backpack that it was not a good thing to do because I was a foreigner. I wondered afterward if she would have stopped them if I had been Chinese… But regardless, after checking and seeing that the two small pockets on the bag were wide open with my money still inside, I thanked her profusely, swallowed my pride as she told me to be careful, and scampered off to the grocery store, hoping the would-be pick-pockets were not watching me. It was a very creepy feeling. Consider my paranoia back in fighting form.

Upside down

Amongst all this, we have had some nice dinners with friends, meeting friends of friends, checking out cozy little bars and maybe sneaking in a guilty-pleasure stop at McDonald’s. I discovered just how valuable public restrooms are after a long, painful, somewhat panicked walk back to the apartment a few days ago. I also soaked in some more local culture, wandering around Chinese neighborhoods with Sanami after a good Chinese meal in a hole in the wall shop one night last week. I was reacquainted with the wild and crazy world that exists outside the normal expat circuit: fruit and nut stands, food streets with piles of oyster shells and fake shoes and neon lights, a man selling rods of sugar cane on the corner…the usual.

This place is a lot of things, but "boring" is definitely not one of them!

Friday, November 7, 2008

One World, One Dream

On August 8, I went with a friend to an Irish bar to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I always find the Olympics an impressive event, but it is very common for me to miss most of it. I realize they are going on about the time they are wrapping up. But this time, I found myself in the host country where the excitement had been building for over eight years. No one could escape the Olympics (or that ridiculously long them song, Beijing Huan Ying Ni or in other words, Beijing Welcomes You, or in other words, Sarah's Mind is About to Explode). Billboards, commercials, and public advisories suggesting people stay on the curb, help wheelchair-bound folks across streets, and refrain from littering, were everywhere.

There were plenty of people who were over "Olympic fever." These were the same people who had no intention of going to see the games live and in person. We contemplated it briefly, but it just seemed insane to join millions of other people flooding into Beijing. Plus we've never been there, so we didn't know the best way to go about it, even in normal circumstances. David and I were satisfied with seeing a semi-final men's soccer match in Shanghai, the only event taking place in our city.

We were new enough here that the hype surrounding the games had not gotten to us, so I was looking forward to watching the opening ceremonies in China. The last time I saw the start of the Olympics, I think Muhammad Ali carried the torch. So I showed up, a little after the ceremonies kicked off and found myself walking into a courtyard full of people, many of which who were Chinese, just as the Chinese National Anthem was starting. This may not sound like a big deal, but I have never been in a foreign country when its citizens were singing their own anthem. I was struck most by the swelling sense of pride in the air. These people were singing their hearts out. China had been looking forward to hosting the Games for a long time, even before they won the honor back in 2001. I was witnesses a people in one of their most anticipated moments of national pride. It was amazing.

It's a big year for America, too. Being on the other side of the world during a historical event like our elections this year is almost as strange as being in China for the 2008 Olympics. Although I could never claim to miss the presence of constant political ads and news coverage (especially when you live in swing state), it still felt weird not to be stateside during the actual election. So last Tuesday, I did the next best thing and went to a bar at 8 o'clock in the morning. It was strange to be in a place with so many Americans in one spot, as most times when out with other expats, there are plenty of other nationalities in the mix. But here we were, all gathered to watch the historic election results come in. We ate a very American breakfast and kept an eye on the TVs. By the time noon rolled around, I had once again experienced a moment of national pride. This time it was Americans abroad in China, hugging each other and cheering for an amazing moment in our nation's time line.

These two moments, involving two very different countries and two very different sources for celebration, were so strikingly similar to me. I couldn't stop comparing them. Essentially, they felt the same. The excitement, the pride, the purity of all felt so amazingly wonderful and positive. People at their best in a somewhat rare moment that brings them together.

The more I learn and witness, the more I'm convinced of our overwhelming similarities, rather than our differences. It's a small world after all.