Friday, October 31, 2008

Confucian Temple? Try maps and earphones. (5:21pm illustrated)


I went on my first lone trek around Shanghai today.

It's an intimidating city. No surprises there.

I wanted to go to a Confucian temple. I knew it was nearby, because I saw it on a map. But, that was out of date (a lot has changed since 2006), and we needed a new one, so my first mission was to find a tourist map. I've found several – all in Chinese. Not exactly much help when part of the reason you need a tourist map is because you don't speak Chinese.

Silver lining, though – I think I learnt the Chinese word for map. Or, at least, the word that all the vendors seem to understand – ma̅-pù (apologies if that doesn't turn out right – accent marks are an important part of transcribing Chinese into Pinyin).
(turns out, not the Chinese word for map. Maybe next time.)

Also had another adventure, of sorts. I went into a computer market. Pushiest. Salespeople. Ever.
I remembered that I was really looking for some noise-cancelling earphones. So, I decided to purpose myself – and came across some earphones. Figuring that there had to be noise-cancellers around somewhere, I came across some in a short order.

They had no idea what I wanted. Turns out, talking slower and clearer in a language that they only functionally understand doesn't help much. Shock.
Until, that is, I pulled some earphones out of my pocket. Then they stopped thinking that I needed another laptop (or something) and we got to talking. They pulled out a pair of Sony earphones and told me that it would be 380 yuan.
For the Australians out there, that's about A$90. Unsurprisingly, I looked at them like they'd just kicked the cat.

It was an instinctive reaction. See, I hadn't realised, but I was actually in a bargaining-accepted place. I had been told previously, however, that in a bargaining situation, the first price is just an opening offer. Once I said 'no, no way' and they said 'well, how much do you want it for then?', I realised my position and changed my tack. Slightly.
I offered 200 yuan (A$50). They mocked it and talked about 330 yuan. I stuck to my guns, and said 'that's okay, I'll just go somewhere else'.

There are a number of countries that do bargaining. I've been in Mexico and seen it done by my father (who took to it like a proverbial duck to water), and now I'm in China. Turns out, neither country wants you to take your business elsewhere, and both are quite happy to provide substantial discounts when your counter-offer is 'no deal'.

His last price was 300. He became my friend all of a sudden, and offered $280. I took two steps away. Suddenly, my new best friend offered $230. No dice. 200 it was.

Last price my butt.

Then I walked back down the street to the cool cafe I went to on my first night here. Nice place, called Unicolor (full endorsements). I ordered an ice chocolate (which, btw, is awesome, as per usual) and settled down to blog my day and read my textbook.

Confucian temples will have to wait.

(As I left, I saw the best No Smoking sign ever. Ever.)

Another day in the PRC

The Toastmasters meeting was cool - a company based club. I evaluated a speech. Very impressed with the memorised speech - particularly considering that it was her first one in Toastmasters.

After that, went and visited my brother at work, which was cool, and ate at - I kid you not - Cold Stone Icecreamery. Far cooler, though - they'd, like, throw the ball of icecream in the air and catch it with the cup, that kinda thing. So much better than what I'm used to :D

Got set up with someone on a language exchange (someone my brother works with) - basically, I teach someone English, and in return, they teach me Mandarin. Or, more correctly at the moment, I teach them all the rules and pronounciations of English, they teach me how to read Pinyin (looks like English, but a few important differences, like 'zh' becomes 'j'). Working out really well, I think :D

On the way to the language exchange that evening, I passed a sign which I found amusing - in the centre of the image above, it has "THUMB Keeping In Good Health Health Care Spa". I can see how easy the mistake was, but it's still a little jarring :)
That said, I'd rather almost-English than no English at all, like Australia has for all its tourists...

Today, I'm planning on seeing a Confucian temple that's nearby, and maybe pick up a tourist map (the one from 2006 is, sadly, quite out of date...)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Photos!

For those of you that don't otherwise know - I've updated my last three posts with 2-3 photos (each) - check 'em out!

Breakfast, subway, interviews, traditional-modern contrast

Yesterday, had breakfast with brother, brother's girl and friend of brother's. To get there, we went by subway. Good experience. Subways here are very different to trains in Australia that I've experienced: they're stable and, often, they're crowded. The former has been attributed to less turns (they're basically straight lines), while the latter, well hey, it's a densely populated city and driving isn't a standard means of commuting.

Having WiFi basically freely available in cafe's is trippy, too. Awesome, but trippy.

After that, a trip around that area - on the other side of the city centre (People's Square) - where we went through an old neighbourhood. Got some good photos of the contrast between the old neighbourhood and the new skyscrapers, too. Still surreal to be the focus of everyone's faded-out sentences :)

Had an interview that afternoon. Didn't work out because they were looking for someone who would stay a minimum of a year, which I obviously wasn't planning on doing. But that's okay, I've already another interview lined up. May need moving to another city - Suzhou - which is about 45mins west (60kms - awesome that the trains actually work well!), but that's cool - it's a very different city to Shanghai, and I think it'll be an awesome experience to be around that kind of ancient, traditional culture (which, sadly, has probably been largely knocked down to make way for modernity) - even if I have to fit it around work (which will probably work out for the best anyway). The plan is, I should be able to get back in time for church on Sunday morning at the Russian embassy - here's hoping, anyway!

For today, another Toastmasters meeting. Looking forward to it already :D

(and yes, photos are coming - I want to upload it from a decent-sized computer...)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happening Place is Shanghai

So, things just keep happening :D

Yesterday felt soo full...I was sent off from home with little more than a page of scribbled instructions on where I lived (in Chinese), the promise of a rendesvous in 3-4 hours and directions on how to get to the waterfront and a 10storey set of shops. And I thought the Myer Centre was big.

Well, I did want to go shopping.

So I ambled down the street. Took a metric truckload of pics, including a few things that I thought that people just wouldn't fully comprehend (or even believe) if I just told them. Things like the movement of traffic rules to traffic guidelines - such as, beeping just means 'please don't dawdle', intersections are massive and can be a separate bit of road and is less governed by 'my car should go here' and more governed by 'my car should not occupy the same space as another car'.
Eventually, I got to the end of the main street. Construction got in my way, so I made a panic phone call and found out that I was lost exactly where I had to be. So I went to the waterfront, and spent a leisurely hour or so walking up and down what was essentially the equivalent to the walkway at Southbank. Y'know, with a greyer skyline and river.
I remembered what it was like to be a minor, short-term celebrity...there were what seemed to be several classes of primary school (or creche) students, and a whole slew of them were gawking at the tall foreigner who strode past...kinda funny to get no reaction from a wave :)

Then I returned to the shopping centre nearby. That 10 storey shopping centre. And I thought the four-storey Myer was big. I strolled through, checking out the clothes stores, and tried a particularly nice pair of trousers on.
I was underwhelmed when I didn't fit the XXL size.
Who the superlative has to get tailor-made casual trousers?!

Had a wonderful hot chocolate...as it turns out, I happened to stumble across a high-quality coffee place. And, wonderfully for me (disappointingly for Australia's standards as a technological nation), every coffee place has WiFi capabilities. Fan-tastic.

Went home, chilled for a little while, then went for a walk and saw some more of the sights. My back seriously hurts from wearing Trenchie. Had some beautiful Mandarin Fish, learnt that Chinese restaurants have table-wide meals, then went to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre. Incredible views that put the 'zing' in amazing.

It's kinda weird to be in a situation where I understand absolutely nothing of what's being said in the world around me. I've experienced that - and, bluntly, the whole 'foreigner' experience - before when I started going to the Greek services at church, but I've actually understood a bit of it in the past year or so, enough to at least track the conversation and laugh at the same time (although, I'm sure, due to very different things - I was probably laughing at my machine-like translation!), which makes going back to that kinda...weird. At least here, it makes sense.

Went home and went to sleep very quickly.

Today was a bit of an easier day - stayed home, did some research work, got an interview (ESL teacher - *fingers crossed for tomorrow*), experienced more cuisine...it's a sweet life, if I may borrow the phrase myself :)

The computer I'm currently using, while having a full-size keyboard, has some deficiencies, like reading SD cards...so I'm going to have to upload some photos separately. They are coming, though. They're coming.

Monday, October 27, 2008

First Day in Shanghai


Wow, I'm in China now. Even the concept is kinda cool :)

I'm in Shanghai, and the city is very cool, I've gotta say. I'm staying with my brother, who is living on the 24th floor of one of the buildings. The view is so good it's surreal - there are construction sites that take up what we Australians would consider entire blocks...and these are just small parts of the block.

Traffic is crazy. What we in Australia would consider laws and, therefore, unbreakable and unquestionable tenets of driving and staying alive are more, well, advisory. Road rage is non-existant, even beeping horns aren't terribly common (although, as I write this, the outside decides to prove me wrong...), which is extraordinary considering how everyone drives. Lanes are the closest thing to a rule, and indicators seem to be used more for decoration. Oh, and seatbelts are an optional extra.
Yet, as crazy as all that sounds (and multiplied by the fact that Shanghai has just short of the population of Australia into, like, half the size of the Sydney), there's not that many accidents. Drivers from China seem to have a built-in sense of caution where the possibilities of danger are anticipated and avoided...hence, no accidents. It's as if the driving school instructors all said 'look, you want to get from a to b. Here's a system, work around it to get from a to b without stopping to exchange insurance details'.

Haven't seen too much of the city as yet, looking forward to seeing some - and to shopping, since I packed lightly with that in mind.

Was able to get to a cafe last night - like the Central Perk in Friends, except far less, well, yuppie-y. And the food! The food is so cheap - and good! I spent 28 yuan (about A$7) and got this great meal of Singaporean noodles - so cool!

The only downside so far is that I can't charge my new Eee PC yet - in a brilliant stroke of foreplanning, I forgot an adapter. Most things can plug in to plugs here - for some reason, Australian plugs are okay - but only if they have the third prong (the earth one)...so, I'm classing that under 'oops'.

Totally looking forward to the rest of my time here :D and yes, photos will be coming soon!

Friday, October 10, 2008

A month of bloglessness

Well, it's been a month. A lot of things have changed...

I didn't end up getting work in an office. Rather, I'm a lowly-paid research assistant, studying the formation of children into geniuses and experts, as well as how experts do their job, well, expertly. It's really cool - cool enough that I don't mind the rather lowly pay.

I'm still going overseas in ~25 days, which is still awesome - I'll be able to continue my work over there, and be able to stay with my brother. The plan is to stay for a month, but I may take the opportunity to stay for six weeks or so and come back in time for Christmas.

I've also been spending a fair bit of time updating my other blog, so I haven't had a complete hiatus.

I've been very relaxed generally, actually. Not much to do...it's a good break. I've been taking the chance to get into quantum physics a little, actually - plenty of respect for the theoretical physicists out there!