Thursday, February 28, 2008


I thought about calling or e-mailing to say I wouldn’t be there. I mean, I’d given my word, but forgotten about the commitment overnight, literally. But rather than cancel, I decide to show up late. The ad says 10am – 12pm. It doesn’t say you must show up at 10am. In fact, the way I’m conveniently reading it now, it says you have to get there before noon.

So, I show up at the café at 10:30 and am greeted by an audience that could easily be confused with that of Oprah Winfrey’s. Aside from our 40-year-old New Zealand host, who’s standing up and ranting, I am the only man in the room. Oh, wait, actually, there is one more man in the room, but he’s a little man, maybe two years old. And I quickly find that he’s very cute when he’s not crying, which is to say he’s rarely cute. Such is the scene at John McKenna’s “Travel the Real China” lecture at Figaro Coffee in South Shanghai.

There must be 30 women in attendance, mostly ranging in age from 35 to 60 and I chat it up with two of them after John’s lecture, which was loaded with good stuff about the nuances of seeing cool China. These women have traveled the country extensively over the last 20 years and can speak the language to some degree. I’m immediately jealous of them. The main thrust of their advice is that the Great Wall is over-rated and checking out the mid-country caves is well worth the time.

Extensive travel looms on the horizon with friends visiting soon, and so I prepare them, and myself, for the Real China.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chinese New Year Fireworks

I can't underestimate the amount of fireworks that were going off at all times over the past couple weeks. Wake up to fireworks, go to bed to fireworks, or set some off in the middle of the day! This is a brief sample from February 8.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Should we talk about the weather?

One of the things I was looking forward to the most on this trip was that this would be the most mild winter I've experienced. And I'm sure in some technical sense, it will be turn out to be true. After all, Shanghai is about as far south as Dallas. But it doesn't feel like it.

While the temps haven't dipped below 20 yet, they stayed below freezing for most of January and early February and we were hit with two winter storms - rain and snow, mixed in with ice. Both storms were small but significant by Chicago/Philly standards and not overwhelming. They were enough to coat the sidewalks with a couple inches of frozen slush. But it seems that most of the residents here don't have the tools to take care of the sidewalks. And that's the key difference between this and my past winters.

Shovels are rarely seen, but instead are replaced by bamboo brooms. Snowmen are in random places, where ever large amounts of snow gather. My boss at Kai En, who's lived in Shanghai his whole life, said he's never seen anything like this before.

I realize Chicago and Philly have had it much worse; but, for what it's worth, we are here for a legendary Shanghai winter (even if it doesn't feel like it).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Today is the ten-day anniversary of the type of meal you had to wait 24 hours to tell whether you really liked it or not. It was an off-kilter supper on an off-kilter night….

We’re supposed to meet our buddy Dr. Fones for dinner, but it doesn’t happen due to crossed signals and a fruitless search for him. So, Greta and I explore a new restaurant. This is par for our course, checking out new places we know little about. Tonight’s experiment is an overly bright feeding hole on the 8th floor of a mall near People’s Square. We find ourselves seated next to the window on a dreary night and place our order with the waitress. However, the food comes out in haphazard fashion. The first dish to find its way to our table is Greta’s garden salad. Ok, simple enough. I’m getting hungrier watching her eat it.

Luckily, the second food installment to join our company is my “pasta dashed with spinach chicken.” Upon first glance of the meal, visions of Luigi and Wang fist-fighting appear in my head. I’ve met several French and German people since moving here, even a Spaniard or two. But I haven’t met any Italians and I think I know why now. There would be serious diplomatic disputes between the two countries if the Italians saw my plate. The spinach is nowhere to be found while the pasta is mixed with ground chicken and tossed in a funky cream sauce.

It’s a shade below edible but I devour the platter in about eight minutes. Thirdly, we get overly green but delectable garlic bread, which turns out to be the best dish on the table. Coming in fourth is our drinks. This is not a typo nor is it unusual in the restaurants here. The arrival of beverages at odd times, anywhere from opening the menu to dessert, is typical.

Fifth is Greta’s backed pasta and seafood. Yes -- Backed. Don’t ask me. It’s probably supposed to say “baked” on the menu. Probably.

Last but not least is the item we intended as an appetizer. And as a result, I can no longer say I’ve never had onion rings for dessert!