Friday, November 30, 2007


And now for a word on the Shanghai Public Transit system (born in 1995). “Impressive” comes to mind. All train cars are connected with open corridors instead of closed-off doors like the subway cars in Philly or the El cars in Chicago. I think this allows more space for more people, which is imperative here.

In Prague, a clock immediately begins counting as soon as a train leaves the station, so you can see how long it’s been since a train left. Here, they take it a step further. There are televisions on the platform that show the time until the next train AND the trains following that. The first clock usually shows a waiting time of less than three minutes and the next clock is about eight minutes. And sure enough, when the clock gets to 0:00, a train has either pulled into the station or is on its way in. I liken the clocks to some pro athletes and South Philly girls – they are bold and cocky, and I like it.

The transit systems back home don’t bother putting up clocks telling you when the last train left or when the next train is coming. “The less you know, the better” seems to be the mentality. It lends itself well to plausible deniability - when something goes wrong, none of the transit employees know anything. I dig it. “Oh, you want to know when the next train is coming? Beats me, buddy. But let me know if you find out.” It doesn’t seem like many take pride in their work or maybe it’s just me. In any case….

Prague doesn’t settle for that. It tells you when the last train left so you know: if it’s only been a couple minutes, prepare to wait; if it gets to ten minutes, expect something soon. And then there is Shanghai. The clocks are programmed to show when the next train is coming. It’s up-to-the-minute based on sensors in the tunnels. It’s just this simple: trains running on schedules. How about that?

The drawback is your purse might get stuck in the doors as they close. You give it a tug and it comes loose, but then you look-up and see the good-looking guy you’re traveling with still standing on the platform because the doors were that militant about closing. This happened to Greta one day as we were getting on the train. But we handled it well. She got off at the next stop and we met up again.

And on that note, I’m off to catch a Line #2 train to Jing’an Temple; dinner with Greta and Sally awaits. Keep it real.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Look both ways, once more, then again, now repeat (and check behind you)

You must look all ways before crossing a street here. Large or small, two lanes or three, day or night -- it doesn’t matter. The good old “look left, then right, then left once more” that I was taught in the 80s does not work. It will get you through the first few steps, but if you think the coast is clear from there, see ya sucka! Instead, you have to look in all directions before, during, and immediately after (just to be sure your not laying in the street, ala Patrick Swayze in “Ghost”) you cross.

I will take a short video and post it soon. The cars, motorcycles, and bikes come at you from all angles and all directions, all the time. And that's why the possessed chick from “The Exorcist” would do well for herself here. Sure, you’re looking at a little lit-up green guy through the traffic signal, telling you it’s ok to cross. But that’s irrelevant. Really, he’s just daring you to make it without looking. I’m sitting in a café as I write this and I’m still looking around for an automobile of some sort to swerve within inches of me. My roommate, Greta, has been brushed twice by passing motorcyclists. Not too bad, but enough to give her a jolt and a pain in the shoulder.

I don’t think they exist, but the professional street crossing championships should be held here. It’s like a super-advanced, human game of Frogger. You remember the Atari game, right? The one where the frog has to jump from log to log or lane to lane, meanwhile dodging oncoming water or traffic – I thought you did. Well, a new version could go something like this:
Level one: Chicago River (narrow, peaceful)
Level two: Schuylkill River (wider, more currents, brown)…
Level 100: Nanjing Road, Puxi neighborhood of Shanghai

When I return, you will be amazed at how quickly I can get across Oregon or Michigan Avenue. The lights will not faze me and neither will the “traffic.” You will turn your head, look across the street, and that’s where I’ll be, waiting for you and reflecting on how calm things are.


Take a look at this picture. What’s the first thing you notice?
Maybe it’s just me. I mean when you go to a new place, you pay more attention to your body. For example, “A sore toe” becomes “an ingrown toenail!” – and – “A pain in the wrist” becomes “Carpel Tunnel Syndrome!” These are the types of things I noticed about myself when I moved to Chicago six years ago. And, now I’m having a similar type experience and reflecting on something my brother said a few years ago.

I’m beginning to see he is wise beyond his years. On one of my trips back to Philly, he looked at me, looked at my forehead, and said, “Yep, you’ve got it too.”

“What are you talking about, Bren?”

“The receding hair line, we both have it. We’re gonna be bald when we get older.” Apparently, the gene for baldness comes from your mother’s father, or in our case, Pop-pop Tom. While I have vague memories of him, pictures tell the story. In the late 70s and possibly earlier, Pop had thinning upstairs. I always hoped it was due to raising three girls, but this was in vain. As it turns out, he could have blamed his mother’s father.

And when I see this picture, my eyes are distracted from the disgraceful white shirt and burnt-out radio (we didn’t use a converter), and instead focus on the 30% of my head that’s held shelter for over 20 years, but now is barren.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really bother me to lose hair. I mean, it’s only hair, it’s dead anyway. When I really start to lose it, I’ll just shave it or rock a combover -- whichever bothers my sister more. But for me, this picture represents the most significant recession since the Carter Economic Policy was in effect.

So, here’s to my brother, here’s to Pop, and here’s to you. Happy Holidays!

p.s. – All units stand down. We had a successful pick-up from the dry cleaners today.


Elaine’s friend took us to the Green Willow Village Restaurant, a neighborhood joint that’s been service the finest Chinese food for the last forty years. Joy is from Shanghai and this is one of her favorite restaurants. I figured we would eat well – different kinds of food and a lot of it – and I was not disappointed. It started with eggplant and just kept coming: eel, noodles, chicken, rice, spiced pork with some type of couscous, tofu, and some sort of fig-type snack. All of it was good, but my favorite had to be the eel. It was a bit spicy, but my tolerance for spicy food has increased from needing to tone down rye bread to being able to eat something on a menu with one of those red peppers next to it (three peppers is still off-limits; in fact my brain detects this symbol and makes my eyes subconsciously ignore it).

The table conversation jumped around a bit. Joy is a kindergarten teacher and is obviously fluent in Shanghainese and Mandarin Chinese. She tried to teach us a little Shanghainese and some of it stuck. For instance, instead of saying Nihao; in Shanghainese, it is pronounced “Nung-haw.” She lives in Shanghai, but on the outskirts. Her commute to work takes two hours everyday, when she listens to music. For her to get home from dinner that night, it was going to take her well over an hour. I admired this and felt thankful to know someone that was more than willing to make that trek just to take us to dinner, and blessed that I can walk to work.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

The hunt for dry november

Day ten has brought closure, or at least some serious progress, to my quest for dry cleaning. The last week and a half saw simple everyday tasks (like going to the store or eating) trigger a serious adrenaline rush in my brain upon their completion. The only feeling I can compare to purchasing a pillow cover or public transit card here is when the Eagles beat the Falcons for the NFC title a few years ago. Pure joy.
And one of these simple tasks I've charged myself with is finding a dry cleaner. Our fellow expat American neighbors on the 28th floor, Laura and Liz, have been claiming that dry cleaning exists in our complex. Others have said it does not. I started believing it was a myth, this dry cleaner. So, I asked my Chinese friend here, Sally, to write in Chinese characters - "Where is the dry cleaner?" - and also how to pronounce it. This piece of paper now likens itself to the map to the holy grail.
I began showing it to the security officers, our chinese neighbors, the housekeeping staff, anyone who would respond to my opening line - "Qing wen" (excuse me). They all nodded approvingly at the piece of paper, Sally must have good penmanship I'm thinking, and began to rattle off chinese -- and point. Most of them pointed in the direction of builiding 27, the building next to ours (22). And today, I hit the jackpot.
After showing a security guard the piece of paper, he nodded approvingly at the penmanship, but did not point. Instead, he walked me into building 27, down some shady stairs, and into the basement. I was half-expecting to see Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken on the other side of the door (those who have not seen the Deer Hunter, please ignore this). But, instead, I was greeted by the dry cleaners. More chinese exchanges take place between the woman behind the counter and I. However, anything that is not a number that can be written on paper is out of my league and I reply with "wo bu dong" (I don't understand). But she was very pleasant and seemed trustworthy. And she better be because she has my striped canali shirt and navy blue pants. I believe I have to go back in three days to pick it up with my pink slip and 20 kuai (about $3). Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


What's up everyone and greetings from Shanghai! I just wanted to explain the blog name. It represents where I live. I wasn't sure what I'd name the blog until I got here and then the name became obvious. The best way I can describe China after my very short time here is the wild wild east. People, lights, noise, buildings, traffic, shops, construction, oh, and did I mention the people? They're everywhere.

601 is our apartment number. We live in a 34-story building on Fengyang Lu, just west of the North-South Expressway. Please swing by if you're in the neighborhood.