Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Timing the Traffic Light

It's a little bit of a slow day here in the Wild East so I'll write about something fast. The traffic lights are timed here. Have I mentioned this before?

Not only are they timed going from green to red, which is reasonable, but you can also see how much time you have going from red to green. Can you imagine that on Broad Street around midnight?

This adds a whole new element to traffic navigation. When I'm riding my bike, it allows me to slow down enough so that when I get to the corner, I can achieve maximum speed as soon as the light turns green. Other people like it for the opposite reason, they can speed up just in time to make the yellow light. I witnessed what happens when the two occur simultaneously.

I was riding my bike home (from a night of poker) around 9:00 pm. The streets were less crowded, as they usually are around that time of night. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see a taxi gunning through the intersection while a construction truck passes through at the same time. They simultaneously hit their brakes as the taxi swerves around the truck, hitting a concrete support beam head-on instead. Luckily, the taxi's speed was such that the driver and girls in the taxi were able to walk away. None of them got in the ambulance I phoned for. The truck driver was also unharmed, as was his truck.

So, that's it. On the whole, it was not a terribly awful or exciting event, but one to take a lesson from nonetheless.

Rachel's Trip, Take 2

What laziness giveth...

laziness taketh away...

And on that note, the beard has been shaved. I was digging it, but it was getting a bit too long, causing me to eat mustache hairs from time to time. So, I was left with a decision:

-shave for the first time in six weeks
-or, trim the beard every few days

So, the beard is gone, but I welcome it back with open arms in about 3 weeks.

Go Phillies!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chinese Wedding

No Dancing, Cigarettes Yes

My friend Joy got married last week. It was my first Chinese wedding and aside from the smell of flowers and optimism in the air, it was very unlike the American weddings I've been to....

There was no church or temple for the ceremony. The bride and groom were at the entrance of the restaurant to greet everyone, in their wedding attire. The wedding started at 6:30 and, at that time, the MC welcomed the bride and groom into the reception. After entering, the two exchanged vows in front of everyone. This was followed by speeches from their fathers, the groom and two people I took to be the maid of honor and best man. My Chinese is ok, but these people were talking real fast, I was catching every fifth word or

Dinner was a buffet, and it was not exclusively ours. It was part of a larger restaurant. And this was by far the largest buffet I've seen - over 50 dishes, most of which I could identify (or at least categorize as meat or vegetable).

There was light music but no dancing and no dance floor. Instead, every table was given a box of chocolates and two packs of cigarettes. SMOKE 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM.

The bride and groom, after eating, make their rounds just as they do at American weddings. And by that, I mean they literally make the rounds. They have to do have a drink (or shot) with each table. And if they are getting too drunk too fast, it is the duty of the maid of honor and best man to drink the shots for them if they cannot.

Now, I thought Joy and her husband were pretty hammered by the time they go to me and Greta's table, but I asked Joy later and she said they were ok.

About 9:30, people started shuffling out. All in all, it was a nice time - not as lively and bustling as an American wedding, but just as festive and focused on what was most important - two people publicly declaring they're love for each other.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My good friend Jin

One of the best ways to learn a language is by doing language exchanges. Basically, the way a language exchange works is: you speak English for an hour, and then you speak Mandarin for an hour.

Jin, a Shanghai native, is a former student, but now she is a friend and we usually meet up about once per week, drink coffee, and talk. I usually show up with a bunch of Chinese words I want to practice and we sneak in some English (or Shanghainese) here and there. Our exchanges are definitely lopsided towards Mandarin, but she doesn't seem to mind. As a result, she is one of the main reasons my spoken Chinese is progressing well.

This picture was taken the other's been almost a month but it never gets old...GO PHILLIES!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Year

So, Monday was the one year anniversary since I arrived in China. In the morning, I woke up to the Eagles-Giants game and the first two plays pretty much summed up the entire game.

On the first play, the Giants ran for 8 yards. On the second play, we picked it off and soon capitalized. That seemed to be the story of the night - the Giants doing pretty much whatever they wanted while the turnovers kept us in it. They outplayed us so bad, it's impressive that we only lost by 5.

Obviously I was disappointed, but I quickly reminded myself that the Phillies won it all and my mood was right again. How long does it take for a championship to expire? After the game, my buddy Scott (another Philly guy) and I grabbed pizza and beers.

The night saw my first time playing poker in China. The game was at a local bar, right out in the open and advertised --- man I love Shanghai. It was a 300 rmb ($20) buy-in and, at one point, I was up about 1500 rmb. But I quickly gave most of it back and ended-up winning about 200 rmb.

That was it === nothing too extravagant.


Reaction to the Election

We here at the Wild East try to keep politics off the blog, but I think a presidential election merits a post. And while I don't have the biggest sample size, I thought I'd let you know the reaction to Obama (chinese: 奥巴马) being elected has been mostly indifferent here, at least from my experience.

I've spoken with my Chinese friends and students about it. In general, they like Bush and think that while he's a bit of a cowboy, he's a good president. They don't understand why we went to war in Iraq. Some think he's got a fake smile, but he's a good guy who has a generally favorable attitude towards China. They appreciate the fact that he attended the Olympics.

As for Obama, they seem to like him too. They realize he's a microcosm (my word, not theirs) of America in that he has mixed blood, but don't seem to know much else about him. I can't blame them. I didn't know the name of China's president when I came here a year ago. But, obviously our election gets more coverage here than their politicians get in America.

One of my students said, "If McCain won, I have work tomorrow, but Obama won and, so, I still have work tomorrow." That's my favorite quote and the best way to sum up the Chinese reaction - aware, but not overly excited or nervous about it.

Happy Holidays

You know how sometimes you want to say something to someone, but you constantly forget?

Yeah, well that's been happening to me but now I am finally remember to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I meant to tell you this in early September when I was in a coffee shop and heard "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and, then again, a couple weeks later when I was reminded at the gym and "Happy Holidays" came on.

So, if you're the type of person who loves Christmas music so much that you wish it was played throughout the year, at random times and places, go to and take a look at flights. The land of year-round Holiday music is only a 14 hour plane ride away.

Merry Christmas!
Happy New Year!
And Go Phillies!

October Trip

Rachel and I took a trip last month to the Jiangxi province, which is a good window to the simple life of how the rural Chinese live. Our first stop was Nanchang, a city of about 3 million people along the Gan River. I got the impression that not many foreigners make it to Nanchang and that makes sense. There really isn't much to see there, except an ancient temple.

But that's why this trip was different from the others I've taken. We were not setting out in search of the Great Wall or some other tourist site. Instead, we were seeing the countryside landscape and visiting some places a little less polished.

So, in Nanchang, the locals turned their head more than once to look at us and wonder what we were doing there. It happened a lot throughout the trip, much moreso than anytime in Shanghai. From Nanchang, we took a train to Lu Shan, a mountain range about two hours away.....

Saturday, November 01, 2008


The back of the Shanghai Daily has a picture of Brad Lidge celebrating and Jamie Moyer digging up the pitcher's mound and I still can't believe I'm looking at it. A Philadelphia Sports Championship - I thought this was an urban legend - something that we would talk about for years but never experience. And then Wednesday happened. (Or Thursday rather...)

The game started at 8:30 a.m. and I was awake at 6:00. My mind was racing and I couldn't sleep. The Phils are at home and have twelve outs left, compared to the Rays' nine, so I like our chances. I head to the convenience store to pick up some brew. The pre-game show consists of random Chinese soap operas, children's cartoons, and South American Soccer Matches. My buddy Trev makes his was over minutes before game time and we quickly discover that the pecking order on the Chinese sports channel is:

1. Houston Rockets Games
2. World Series

In other words, for the first time since the Series started, the game is not on TV here. So, we jump on our bikes and head to the Big Bamboo. It's mostly empty, but there are a couple of Philly fans in there - one lives at 18th and Spring Garden and the other's from West Chester. There's another guy from Toronto rooting for the Rays "because" they're in the same division. Funny, I thought it went the other way around. Go Mets?!? Go Braves?!?

The Phils have already knocked in a run and are winning 3-2. I think I've missed the most critical part of the game but I don't care - we're winning. Then, Rocco Baldelli reminds me that this is Philly so it's not going to come easy. I swill my beer as Chase Utley turns the play of the Series, a fake to first followed by a bullet to Ruiz for the out at home.

Pat the Bat breaks out of his slump at the perfect time and minutes later, we're ahead again. Now, I'm alternating between literally sitting on the edge of my seat and pacing the bar, watching each batter at a different TV. As packed as the bars were in Philly - that's how empty this one was.

Crawford hits a single so I vow not to watch the rest of the game from the TV at the end of the bar. The announcer (who speaks English - the feed is coming from ESPN International) comments that this is great for the Rays because with Crawford on 1st and Upton batting, a double play will be very difficult. Couldn't agree more!

Then comes the fateful 9th and we're World Champs! I scream and hug the other two Phillies fans like I've never hugged strangers before. The Rays "fan" bolts. I call Mom. Another Philly fan from Bucks County rolls in. We buy each other beers and proceed to spend the rest of the day drinking beer, eating pizza and telling Philly stories.

I realize the mayhem and revelry on Broad Street was out of control. I missed out big-time but let me have this: I had to be one of the last to go to bed. That's the beauty of the game getting over at 9:58 am. Given the range of emotions I've felt over the past two weeks, I'm missing Philly more than ever. So, do me a favor and leave a comment now.

Sometimes, people tell me they live vicariously through me and now it is my turn to do the same through you. Tell me about your night, where you watched the game and the madness that ensued. What was going through your mind? Tell me about the parade and festivities. I want to hear it all. I need to hear it all because who knows when this will happen again.

Enjoy the moment and never forget.........2008 World Champs!