Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I had my first chance this past weekend to see the "Paris of the Orient," with none other than five days at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Shanghai. I owe it to Alex, who was sent there by his internship and graciously offered to share! I will probably never see Shanghai in such luxury again.

The Ritz was located in a posh area with Starbucks, Gucci, LV, etc. One of my favorite things I got to see there was the first five minutes after I arrived. Take a look at this picture...and notice the Buddhist monks sipping their 30RMB coffee! Doesn't this explain the contradictions of a developing country better than anything else?

I spent the days getting up late, eating a fabulous breakfast, and then walking for hours around various districts including the Pudong area, the French concession, and People's square. The modern, clustered skyscrapers are really something to admire as well as the pedestrian walkways on the Bund, next to the Huangpu river. These are a few of the sites...including the famous Oriental Pearl TV tower, some buildings on the Pudong side of the river, and the dumpling basket-shaped Shanghai museum.

In that second shot I was on the 88th floor of the Hyatt, which used to be the tallest building in Shanghai until they started construction on a much higher one next-door in order to outdo the new building in Dubai.

Night was a good time to get together with people we knew in Shanghai, and do stuff like massages and cocktails! I got together twice with an old classmate from Clemson, who also majored in Chinese and International Trade and now works in Shanghai. This is us the first night out at dinner.

This is Alex getting walked on during one of the massages:

And this is me with an espresso martini in Cloud 9, the highest bar in the world!

Finally, this is a tiny video of the scenery as I am walking along the Bund at night:

All-in-all, the shopping is better in Shanghai, although a little more expensive than Beijing. Other than that, for people coming to China for the first time, there is much more to see in Beijing. Shanghai seems less Chinese, very business oriented, and the language is hard to understand for those of us learning standard Mandarin. Compared with Beijing, there were very few bicycles, traffic moved a little faster, and the subway system was very developed. I have been asked repeatedly which city is better, and there is clearly no answer to that. Depends on your goals in China. Want to learn Chinese and experience more of the Chinese culture? You better head to Beijing. Want a more comfortable, more expensive expat life with more foreign goods and culture available to you? Head to Shanghai. For the time, I'm in the right place. We shall see where the internship takes me.

Laying Fiber-Optic Cable

Sarah and I had the best time on the way home one day speaking with a bunch of people from the Beijing electric company. They were laying cable for a future skyscraper next door, and most everyone was from Inner Mongolia. At first I was embarrassed to take their picture while they were working so hard, but it turned out that they soaked up the attention more than anyone else. They stopped spinning the giant wheel and told everyone to smile!

My favorite part was peering down into this man-hole and hearing everyone saying "Yi, Er, Zou!" meaning "One, two, walk!" Between heaves they all looked up and talked to us, welcoming us to come to Inner Mongolia. What nice people. Just when you think that you shouldn't stop and disturb, you meet some to the nicest, most open people.

The end of the semester and Courtney's BBQ

So I am behind in blogs. I'm sorry! A lot has happened..so I will try to catch up chronologically. The end of the semester was bittersweet because exams were over but we had to say goodbye to those friends that would not do the next semester here in Beijing.

This was our last class get-together. These are my teachers and classmates plus a few guests!

We said goodbye to Courtney with a cook-out at his Uncle's house in a swanky expat section of Beijing. We had a real grill, a real oven, and real cupcakes. Unimaginable! Here are some of us enjoying the spread. His Korean classmates also made some treats, the French provided beverages, the Germans provided pastries, and the Americans provided the meat. :-)

The cupcakes were made by yours truly, and they were so good that Prunelle got a little rowdy and had to smear some icing.

We will miss you Courtney! I hope to see you in England!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Spoiled in a whole new way.

When trying to discuss the differences between our U.S. and China lifestyles, I like the way Sarah said it- "We are spoiled in a whole new way in China." When asked to decide which life I like better, it is impossible to say. Each one has its own comforts and high points. We are spoiled in the U.S. with comfort, English, air conditioning, personal cars, rules and laws that are respected, cleaner air, less governmental corruption, etc. However, as expatriates in China, we are able to live lives above the level we could experience in the U.S. on the same budget. "Student" budgets are tight in the States, with the ever-so-familiar cheap apartment, cheap food, limited travel abilities, etc.

Here in China I do things that I could not dream of in the States, like going to acupuncture 3 times a week, having clothes made at the tailor, getting pedicures and manicures at the same time, eating out once or twice a day in restaurants, having a maid come to the apartment once a week, etc. My acupuncture sessions cost about $7.60 per hour, and the biggest Chinese meals are never over $2.50, and a housekeeper is $1.25/hour. All of that together doesn't even come to the cost of one dinner in the States. Of course, we trade this nicer personal lifestyle for the larger external environment that comes with a developing economy. It is less stable, more complicated, but intensely stimulating. There's the answer: who knows. I've been asked repeatedly what I think is better, and of course that answer depends on your personality and preference, but I think it is safe to say that I am comfortable in both for the time being. We are already discussing the reverse culture shock that will occur next year when we have to move back to a student lifestyle in South Carolina!

The 4th at Hardrock!

I decided that we needed to get a group together and be very American on Wednesday night to celebrate the 4th of July. Fortunately, there were about 8 others that agreed to go to Beijing's Hardrock Cafe with me. This was most of the group:

There was live music from an English-speaking Filipino band that was actually very good. When you get down to it, the food isn't so great for the relative price. We spent about $25 a piece on appetizer, drinks, food, dessert. In Chinese terms, that's unheard of for most people. It was my first burger in about 6 months, and definitely the best dessert in that time! This is Malte and I addressing the hot fudge brownie sundae. (Something I never thought could be eaten in China..but we found it.) It is dangerous...something that should remain a treat for once every 6 months!

Happy 4th everyone! Leave me a comment and tell me what you did to celebrate! There were no fireworks here because of rain, but we still had a blast celebrating.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The first celebration for the 4th of July

The American Chamber of Commerce put on an event here in Beijing for a few hundred people last Saturday. The whole thing was interesting. It would have been wonderful without the constant, heavy rain. It was in a resort outside of the city with live music, fireworks, and entertainment, almost all of which was cancelled because of the rain. The funny things was that they called it "Red, White, and BBQ" and got our hopes up for a real American cookout...but this is what they served:

That's right! You are looking at McDonalds and Budweiser. Unfortunately, the only cuisine connected with the U.S. in China is McDonalds...and that even goes for the American Chamber of Commerce! At least we got a chance to dress up in tacky red white and blue outfits and wave some flags around! These kids were particularly patriotic and cute:

No need to worry, we have something of our own planned for Wednesday the 4th...we need to do this thing right!