Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rockin in the Free World

Back in Shanghai I had threatened that the first of our post in Taiwan was going to be titled "Rockin in the Free World," as I would finally be outside the "Great Firewall."

I had no idea that I had become clairvoyant in my old age. Here in Taipei, we are visiting with one of John's friends from Intel, watching Sheryl Crow and Chris Botti DVDs and John giving guitar lessons to our hosts. We are literally rocking. The internet is fast and steady and we can get EVERYWHERE. Life is good. Desperate people are easily contented.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Shanghai the Big City

While our provincial life in Raleigh NC has its merits, big cities do hold certain attractions for us. The past week we have been reacquainting ourselves with our favorite Art Deco buildings and art venues, and discovering new ones. We were very glad to find that M50, our old favorite art district, is more vibrant than ever. We went to Red Town which came into existence after we left. While it is more mainstream, less avant-garde and experimental than M50, it is still funky. In a sea of commercialism, oasis is a rarity. Also enjoyed meeting "old friends" at the Rockbund Art Museum ad seeing some "old friends" on the streets.

The Saloon Car at Shanghai Sculpture Space in Red Town.
The Saloon Car - Shanghai Sculpture Space - Shanghai, China

Good to see the Graffiti Wall at M50 is still going strong.
Graffiti - M50 - Shanghai, China

Zhang Huan's Q Confucius at the Rockbund Art Museum.
Zhang Huan: Q Confucius  - Rockbund Art Museum - Shanghai, China

And finally couple of old friends, the Royal Asiatic Society building with a renovated facade...
Royal Asiatic Society - Huqui Road - Shanghai, China

... and the Land Bank of China still impressively perched at the corner of Beijing Road and Jiangxi Road.
Land Bank of China -  East Beijing Road - Shanghai, China

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chinese Weddings

The premise of this trip to China was to attend a cousin's wedding, the first since when we lived in China.  In the two years we lived in Shanghai, we attended a total of four weddings.  

Chinese weddings have always been about the wedding banquet. John had always joked about weddings being a bad deal for us vegetarians, since it is customary to shell out enough cash as wedding presents to cover the cost of the meal.  This means for $100+ we get some beer or wine that's barely drinkable, scraps of vegetable cooked along with meat or seafood, some noodles or rice if we are lucky so we do not go home hungry, all in a loud and smoke-filled room.

To be serious, these were all young people (relatives and colleagues) we cared about and wished well for.  Why would we gripe about the food and expense?  What really disturbs me is the lack of meaning and tradition for wedding rituals.  Weddings are run by an MC who may be a friend or hired.  The MC directs the couple through a series of acts lifted from the west, such as lighting of candles, cutting of the cake, punctuated by speeches by a witness, a parent.... It is a poorly produced pageant show.

Four years of absence later, Chinese weddings have gone from pageant shows to game shows.  The pageant part has been significantly shortened.  Instead, there was much audience participation in Name That Tune, Price Is Right, and Lottery.  Between the heavy cigarette smoke and the love-to-hear-myself-holler MC, John was compelled to take a brief retreat outside, leaving me to contemplate the decline of Chinese civilization, wondering why China is supposed to take over the world?!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An Unplanned Visit to the Dentist

Just back from an unplanned visit to the dentist. Last week a piece of a molar that surrounded a filling came off while I was eating a bing (chinese pancake). Luckily, there was no pain or discomfort so the visit can be categorized unplanned instead of emergency.

Short version: I now have my first ever temporary crown and we are off to Taiwan as planned the day after tomorrow.

Longer version: I've been to the dentist in China several times as noted here (http://meckleychina.blogspot.com/2007/11/going-to-dentist.html), but only for cleanings. In fact it's been over 30 years since I've tasted the Novocaine and smelled the drill. So I was a bit apprehensive when I walked into Dr Shen's office even though he had cleaned my teeth twice before, speaks English well, and is my mother-in-law's regular dentist.

I arrived at 3PM. An exam, an x-ray, a shot of Novacaine, an impression of the lower molars, lots of drilling, more impressions, a bit of waiting with Dr Shen's finger in my mouth, the fitting of the temporary crown ,the  touch-up of  the bite, a down payment on the actual crown, an appointment made for Jan 27, and we are out the door a 4:10. Whew!
On the way home we bought for a bottle of Oro Del Mundo Cabernet Sauvignon at Carrefour and all is well.
Random thoughts: I think Dr. Shen gave me a tremendous shot of Novacaine - not complaining - as I couldn't feel anything on that side for 4 hours....The "flavors" of the impression materials and bite paper were very Chinese.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Welcome to China Part 3

Our China Departure Card - the paper, attached to the Arrival Card, on which is printed: "Retain this card in your possession, failure to do so may delay your departure from China" -  clearly states that "Aliens who do not lodge at hotels, guesthouses or inns, shall within 24 hours of entry, go through accommodation registration at local police station.  I merely took it a suggestion, but between two prodigious rule followers in the family, my mom and John, it was decided that we would pay a visit to the local precinct, to be on the safe side.

Upon presenting our passports, we were informed that we needed to show our host's property deed.  How else could she believe our address?!  I was dumbstruck.  Who is their right mind would bother to make a pointless registration with a fake address?  Property deed?!  One has to surrender their property deed to all their houseguests?!  

Not knowing where to begin, I stammered something about distant relative, just renting, privacy, etc.  The young policewoman relented slightly - try to get the property deed, otherwise, an affidavit from the neighborhood association would do - by the way, there is plenty of time, we have 72 hours, not 24.  On the way out of the precinct, I started to explain the whole exchange to John, almost got my head chewed off by John for lying to the police about staying with distant relatives....  

When we got home, I was all ready to work on getting the affidavit from the neighborhood association, but my mom and John decided to go the property deed route.  Another trip to the precinct, hardly having to utter any words, we came away with slips of paper of registration that may save us some bigger hassle later???

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tomb Sweeping

In China, the period around the winter solstice is a traditional time for interment and tomb sweeping, so last week we hopped in a rented bus with 10 other relatives and headed off in the Shanghai AM rush hour towards Suzhou to visit the graves of Sun-Ling's grandfather and her grandmother's nephew. The nephew was buried during last year's solstice period and his grave was easy to find and well maintained. Offerings were made, respects were paid by bowing three times, paper money was burned by Sun-Ling's nephews, and then we were off to Grandfather's grave.

We first visited Grandfather's grave 20 years ago in a hired car. The cemetery was located "off the map" on a dirt road and we had to stop several times and ask directions. Today the cemetery is in a busy suburb with an expressway cutting it in half. Our bus driver had to stop and ask directions once, and on arriving, the new parking lot was disorienting and we had to look up the plot number and location at the cemetery office. Located on the other side of the new expressway, and up the hill, Grandfather's grave needed some small trees removed and the inscription needed fresh paint. That done, we made offerings of flowers and fruit, bowed three times, Sun-Ling's nephews burned paper money, and we headed back down the hill, over the expressway, back to the bus and on to a late lunch.

After lunch we visited an uncle and aunt in Suzhou then returned to Shanghai during the PM rush hour - a long but rewarding day.

On the expressway to Suzhou.

Grandmother's nephew's tomb.

Grandfather's grave all cleaned up.

Sun-Ling's parents bowing.

Ian and Ethan burn paper money to be used by their great-grandfather in the afterlife.

Back in Shanghai.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Week in Pudong

We are back in Minhang after spending a week in Pudong (the east bank of the Huangpu River) with friends and relatives. Pudong, formerly an agricultural backwater, has been transformed into the financial center of Shanghai with magnificent bridges and glittering towers; however, our stay was a purely pleasure visit with friends and family.

We borrowed bikes from Sun-Ling's sister and rode along the canals where we encountered both old ways and construction of new office buildings.

Another day we walked down to the Huangpu River and enjoyed the view of the Yangpu Bridge and the waterfront.

But the highlight was spending time with Sun-Ling's nephews.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Welcome to China Part 2


We still have some RMB leftover at ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) that needs to be used up; that is, withdrawn at an ATM and spent.  But first we had to move the money from the fixed term to the regular account.  Unfortunately I cannot remember our password to do so online.  Armed with our passports, we made a visit the local branch.  We were immediately told that the ID on file is under John's old passport number and since the old and new passports have different numbers, they cannot be sure that they are dealing with the same person.  No, a photocopy of the old passport is not acceptable.

Upon learning we are not in the habit of cruising around the world with our stack of old passports, the young bank clerk suggested that we visit the branch where we originally opened the account where they may be able to recall the old records from the archive; by the way, the branch now has a new location.  

Fortified by lunch and armed with the addition of a photocopy of the old passport, we found the second branch.  The nice branch manager conceded that the photocopy and new passport are the same person.  However, when all the scanned papers showed up at a remote authority, the remote authority discerned that the account name JOHNMECKLEY is different from the passports, though all parties understood that when the account was opened in 2005, the bank software only allowed 11 characters for names.  So the recall from archive was necessary after all.  Our contact info was noted.  When the recall is completed in about three business days, we will be notified, upon when we can make yet another visit.

Luckily we were allowed to move the funds from fixed to regular, so at least we came away with some spending money.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Welcome to China Part 1

It has been four years since we lived in Shanghai and two and half years since our last visit. While our escape from the Pudong Airport was ultra smooth (efficient immigration lines and no waiting for a taxi), we have since had a thorough review of the '1984 + Catch 22'-esque China.  

The Great Firewall of China

Wikipedia and Flickr are unblocked compared to when we last lived here. Yeah!  Blogspot.com, home of this blog, continues to be blocked. Before, we could easily enter our blog entries at blogger.com, publish, and then use a backdoor in "settings" to view the blog post.  Now, blogger.com is completely blocked.  We have exhausted our geeky gymnastics just to publish this entry.  I must have tried 30 or 40 proxy servers before John figured out how to use blogger's publish-by-email feature.

Our custom maps (My Places) on Google Maps and our spreadsheets and documents on Google Docs are also inaccessible.  There goes all our trip research.  No google+.  No youtube, not to mention Facebook.  John cannot read many of the blogs he regularly follows, including our good friend Kathy's blog on workpress.  No twitter either.  But imdb?!  Just about all my regular visited sites are blocked.

So, unable to make progress on blogging and trip research, we headed out to do some errands. We had no idea that the time we saved by not surfing would be so valuable later. Stay tuned...

Friday, December 09, 2011

China 2011-2012 Trip Begins

We started our trip with a quick home-stay with my brother in Saratoga CA. Hiking around the Santa Cruz Mountains made California seem like a continuation of our South America trip.  Intro to Asia came in the form of delicious Thai restaurants and visiting with my brother and family.  The highlights were an ice cream cake creation for niece Nicole's birthday and niece Cameron's school musical.

John headed uphill in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Nicole puts the finishing touches on her ice cream cake.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

From Aguascalientes, there is a very convenient direct flight to Cancun.  Since the wedding is at a private beach south of Playa del Carmen,...