Tuesday, May 17, 2011


At least once a week, I put on my disguise (usually all black clothing with my Sketchers that look like those black cloth shoes the old ladies wear here), and blend in with the natives. Unfortunately, the disguise works so well, that I have people asking me questions all the time, I assume, for directions.

This will be the place to comment on the quirks of living in Shanghai.

Fortunately we have the option to have English when getting money from the ATM. Once you receive the cash, they ask if you want Advice. Well, the first time we said, "No." And our transaction was done. The next time we said, "yes." And received a receipt.
The ATMs attached to a bank are in separate booths, sort of like old telephone booths, where you can lock the door.
Next to and looking like ATMs, are CDMs (Cash Deposit Machines) and CRMs (Cash Recycling Machines).

When someone has a baby, you might get a favor (with candy) such as this one:
More traditionally, the parents give red (marinated) eggs to family and friends. The baby may not be named until he/she is one-month old, and at 100 days of age, there is another celebration (http://www.babyzone.com/babynames/china.asp).

Chinese translating into English:
See the blog titled "Chinglish."
Although I have been using Pinyin (the official system to transcribe Chinese characters into Latin script) to spell Chinese words, I have not clarified pronunciation. Pinyin is a bit difficult, because the pronunciation is not what you would think when looking at the letters; it is not in English phonetics. If I were to write Xuhui phonetically, it would look like "shoo-hway." The "sh" is a wet sound behind the front teeth, and the "h" sound has a lot of air behind it. This is another learning curve in studying the Mandarin language in that you have to master the Pinyin.

Deliveries are not made with trucks. They are done on foot, sometimes via the Metro (we have seen end tables and chairs being taken on the subway) and with a little dolly that is no bigger than a square yard/meter. Or by bicycle (such as the mail). Generally by motor scooter, and sometimes by small vans (deliveries to restaurants).

We have seen zigzag bridges to teahouses, where evil spirits who cannot turn corners are stymied from entering. When entering through two sets of doors into a mall, they open the doors to the far right in the first set, then the doors to the far left in the second set. That way, you have to zigzag to enter the mall:
Kent still likes to try to go straight through, and is triumphant when he finds an unlocked door!
Doors in public places in the United States, by law and the fire marshall, must always push open from the inside. That way, if there is an emergency and people panic to get out, they will naturally push at the doors.
In our experience, since we are so used to pulling doors to enter places, when doors in other countries do the opposite, we look foolish pulling on a door that pushes open. So now we are used to pushing doors to go in and pulling them to go out. However, some doors do go both ways like in the Grand Gateway Plaza. Or, if the store is an American one, like Starbucks, McDonald's, or KFC, the doors pull to enter and push to exit, but say so in bold letters.

You have heard how wild the traffic can be in Shanghai. It seems that many companies have a policy of not allowing their employees to drive in Shanghai. Those in upper management thus are given a driver. Here cars-for-hire line up outside Grand Gateway Garden to take the bosses to work:
In Beijing, the traffic is so bad, that they are trying to limit the number of cars in the city by requiring any citizen (including the Chinese) to have been a resident for five years before purchasing a car.
Auto Licenses/Tags:
In Shanghai, apparently they will issue only 8,000 auto tags per month. They do this in what they call a lottery, but it is really an auction. You bid on the license, and the top bidders will earn a tag that month. The cost of a tag has gone up to 54,000 RMB (that's like $8,500!). But that is a one time fee, and you can sell your tag later.
Also, you should buy your auto tag before you purchase the actual car.
Driving tricks:
Use the bicycle/motor scooter lane.
Use the parking lane if no cars are there.
On the highway, use the emergency lane/shoulder.
Use the sidewalk if it is wide enough.
Change lanes often. If possible, make three lanes out of two.
You can always turn right: on green, with a red light, with people in the crosswalk... don't bother to stop at all. Or if the cars in front of you are stopped, pass them by pulling into the opposite lane on the left, then make your right turn in front of the stopped cars.
If the car in front of you is stopped waiting to make a left turn, go around and pull up next to him. You can have 3-4 cars next to each other waiting to turn left together.
Go through a red light by starting to make a turn right, then veer back and cross the intersection.
If there are people crossing in front of you, keep moving because they will get out of your way.
Use horn liberally.
At night, do not use your headlights.

You think you have figured out which is the up and the down escalators, and then find yourself trying to get on one going the wrong way (and you are not the only one!). Because they change the direction of the escalators if there is a pair or pairs together with one up and one down; the direction could change daily. If there is only one escalator alone, it usually does the same thing every day!
Today the inner two go up.
Another day they go down:
At the supermarket:

I am not going to have photos here!
Blowing your nose:
Blow directly into trash can if available, otherwise just hold one nostril and blow onto the ground.
Clearing your throat:
After all, the air is bad here in Shanghai, so you have to loudly clear your throat of phlegm. See Spitting.
Picking your nose:
Pick away! Dig deep if necessary, it has to be done. Better yet, grow your thumbnail and/or pinkie fingernail really long to aid the picking. Some people find it convenient to have both the thumbnail and pinkie nails of both hands grown extra long. If you are of Islamic faith, remember which is your left hand, though.
Just cough, no need to cover your mouth or turn your head.
Just let it rip, don't hold back and don't cover your nose. Also, there is no phrase like "Bless you" to follow someone's sneeze.
Apparently in the year before the 2010 International Expo in Shanghai, there was a major campaign to teach the people of Shanghai some Westernized manners, such as no spitting and no urinating in public. So expats will tell you it used to be much worse. Not everyone got the message though, so after loudly clearing the throat, some may just spit wherever they are, but not so much indoors. The rest of the folks interpreted the new etiquette to mean it is okay to spit, but do so into trash cans or drains.
Personal space:
There is none.
It's okay to stare. Better yet, pick your nose while you stare at someone sitting next to you!
Despite the pre-2010 International Expo exhortations to not pee in public, it is still done. Men will simply turn away from the crowds, no need to go into the trees or behind something. Kids do it anywhere, especially little boys who are pulling it out in the middle of crowds and need to be guided to a place where they won't splash someone.
Vomit into a trash can if available. There appear to be many young women in their first trimester of pregnancy, hanging over trash cans in the Metro.

Leggings and Stockings:
We may have missed this fashion trend in Florida - leggings, usually black, but in a myriad of styles and patterns with short-shorts or skirts and dresses, or just long tops/tunics, usually with high-heeled boots. Any age except the very elderly.
In the summer, the legs are bare or in lighter color leggings or hose.
The hosiery as well comes in all sorts of patterns, and they seem to like to show the "tops" of the stockings:
They will wear ankle or knee-high stocking with short dresses:
You can also see the mixing of patterns in an outfit.
Dressing alike:
Couples dressed as twins:
This couple above also shows the male carrying the female's purse, and the bright shoes.
The couple below also shows the male carrying the purse:
Families dressed alike:
Face Masks:
Many people wear hygienic face masks over their noses and mouths, to either prevent the spread of germs or the catching of germs, or to ward off air pollution. Usually a basic white or surgical blue with elastic that wraps around the ears. But they also have them in a variety of fabrics. Saw a man come into the bank with a dark blue face mask; looked like a robber to me! Some of them have cartoon mouths printed on them.
Kent has noticed that the Chinese population in general is not follicly-challenged.
They may not be as gray, either, but we don't know how much hair coloring is done. However, there are only a few orangish-reddish-haired Chinese, but no way near the numbers in Japan, where especially the dark red hair dyes were extremely popular. Here it is the more orange-ish red. Which ironically is the color the hair turns when one is malnourished!
We have since noticed that black hair dye is liberally used. However, they don't mind if some grey shows at the roots. Some! Many women look bald because of the white skull in the center of their head!
All kinds of hairstyles, from the buzz cut of Buddhist nuns to fuzzy perms. But most women wear their hair in long ponytails.
Holding Hands:
Of course, couples hold hands. Lots of mothers and daughters hold hands, and I mean adult daughters. Many friends, mostly female-female, but some male-male, hold hands, which does not mean anything beyond a platonic relationship. Holding hands, or arm-in-arm, or an arm across a shoulder.
Kids' Pants with a Split:
Finally caught a picture of one:
It saves on diapers and prevents diaper rash, but they don't always use the restrooms. We've seen kids held over trash cans and street drains to pee.
Do you have nightmares of having gone to work or school, and found you are still in your pajamas?! Not to worry in China! I claim it is the fault of the British, who disparagingly called the loose-fitting and matching shirt and pants the Chinese wore "pajamas." So now the Chinese buy Western pajamas, and wear them outdoors! I have walked past a hospital where it appears the patients go out in their pajamas to buy a newspaper or cigarettes.
Don't you just love those fancy turquoise shoes with all the bling? Nothing to wear with them? Don't worry about it - just wear them with your green shirt and brown pants.
They are wearing the brightest-colored shoes and sneakers here.
Neon sneakers may actually be acceptable. I'll have to catch someone wearing bling shoes with mismatched clothes.
I can only guess why women would add sleeves to their outfits:
Actually it is to keep the sun off the arms, lighter skin is a sign of beauty.

Chicken foot:
Goose foot:

Fruit Juices:
Here when you order a fruit juice, you get the whole fruit blended, so it is more of a smoothie.
Lots of local foods in Shanghai are very sweet. In fact, so many things seem sweeter, including green grapes, which tasted like they were injected with sugar. I bought soy sauce and it was sweet. Seaweed? Sweetened. Milk? Sweetened. Some potato chips? Sweet. Bread, usually on the sweet side, unless it is marketed as French or Italian.
Grocery Stores:
There are black chickens:
Silkies are a breed of chicken with fluffy white feathers, but with black skin and meat.
You think we have a lot of flavors of, say, potato chips:
How about flavors like seaweed, rice, spicy, tomato, cucumber, shrimp, crab, pork, chicken, barbecued chicken, dongpu pork, black pepper roasted beef, lemon tea...?
In the grocery store, you often have buy one, get one free items. However, do not take two items to the cashier. Only take the one you are buying. After you pay for your purchases, take your receipt to customer service and ask for the free item, and they have them available at the front desk. Even frozen items!
Sometimes they tape two items together with only one barcode showing, so that you get one free.
Many foods come packaged with a fork, spoon, or chopsticks. If needed, they are in smaller parts that snap together. Here is a yogurt with a snap-together spoon:
Anytime you buy a bottle of wine, they give you a special wine bottle bag:
even if it is a tiny bottle from a restaurant that you take as a doggie bag!

It can be confusing. Let's say we have Labour Day on May 1st on a Tuesday. BASF gives its employees the Tuesday off. But many Chinese can end up getting seven days in a row off. It is called Golden Week, and they can do this for three major holidays: Chinese New Year, Labour Day and the National Holiday). What they do is to work the Saturday and Sunday before the intended holiday. Then they can take off the next seven days in a row. Schools tend to take off for these days as well, and you see kids going to school on the Sunday before.
But for other holidays like Qingming, which was only one day, a Wednesday, it seemed that people worked on Saturday and Sunday, so that they could take off on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday!

Waiting for a table:
The Chinese seem to be high-tech for most things, but at restaurants you still take a number to wait until a table is free:
It's a good thing we have learned the numbers in Mandarin Chinese!
The restaurant usually leaves only one menu and one beverage menu per table. Most menus in Shanghai have both pictures and English. As for the pictures, do not expect the dish to come out looking like the picture.
Don't expect the wait staff to wait on you. You have to call them over when you are ready to order, or ready to pay. Just raising your hand in the air will bring a waiter, or you can call "fuwuyuan."
You don't have a dedicated waitstaff person; you can hail any one of the staff.
When you order, you order the main dishes first, then the extras, and lastly the drinks.
Not all restaurants provide napkins, and some will sell you a small packet of tissues for 1-2 RMB (about $.65-1.30). Sometimes you are charged for set-ups.
Leftover food:
When you have leftovers, instead of "doggie bags", you say "take-away" and they put your food in re-usable plastic container with fitted lids, and often put it in a bag. This restaurant had an especially nice bag!
Sometimes you have to pay 1 RMB for a leftover container.
There is no tipping. (Some high-end restaurants may add a 10-15% service charge.)
Smoking is still allowed in most restaurants.
Background music is sometimes one song played over and over again, like an Avril Lavigne song. Or it is an eclectic mix of western music, and sometimes includes Christmas music. The "Nutcracker" is popular.
Fast Food Restaurants:
McDonald's and KFC have some familiar items on the menu, but also many other dishes that cater to the locals. These two restaurants in particular are much more crowded than any we have been to in the U.S. And these two also do home delivery. Other American "fast food" restaurants are Burger King, Mister Donut, Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, and Papa John's Pizza.
Convenience stores:
Not only can you buy microwaveable meals, you can microwave them and eat them at a small counter:

You know those paper tags on your items from the dry cleaners?
Here they handprint your number and staple it on.
I am back to ironing and starching Kent's button-down shirts again!
We have a combination washer-dryer, and I mean in one machine. Drying takes a long time and I imagine it uses a lot of electricity. It's easier just to partially dry the items, then hang them on the provided drying rack:
Drying clothes: You can tell the apartment complexes where the expats live, because there are no clothes hanging out to dry. The Chinese line-dry their clothes not only because they do not have dryers, but because they feel the clothes should be touched by sunlight... Clothes and bedding are hung out of upper-story windows, above and along sidewalks, and even in public parks.

The term Metro is universal to describe a subway system. Yet, the locals in China have not heard the term, so don't bother trying to ask for the nearest Metro station. Even the announcements in English make the word "Metro" sound like "magic," so perhaps the locals would respond if we asked for the nearest magic station.
In Shanghai, there is a security check before you enter the paid area of the station. You pass a guard and are expected to put large items on the conveyor belt through x-ray. So many people just ignore the guards and pass by without putting their items through x-ray.
One of their concerns seems to be explosive liquids. I have seen them ask a woman to open her bottle and drink from it, I suppose to prove it was potable. Otherwise they have a machine in which they put bottles to test them. I have taken beer bottles through, and they check that the tops have not been tampered with. Now I hide bottles below other groceries, and open the bag to show the guard that I have food items, and they let me pass without using the x-ray machine.

MIRRORS: Mirrors or reflective surfaces are everywhere, an integral part of any interior design. Mirror walls in rooms, chrome surfaces in elevators, etc. Not only mirrors, but reflective surfaces such as subway car windows. The Chinese are always checking themselves in mirrors or reflections. We shouldn't assume any vanity, but perhaps a desire to put on a good face. Everything seems to be about looking good. This extends to building facades and walls, where, even if it's fake, as long as it looks good we must be doing well.

There appear to be several occupations where it is not necessary if the employee shows up or not. If he does, fine, if not, the world carries on. One is the Traffic Assistant:
There could be one on every corner of Shanghai where there is a traffic light. But on some days one or two people are missing. Even the ones who are present - some are gung-ho, and others stare off into space.
They even have volunteer traffic assistants to help them out!
Another is the flag waver in the Metro subway.

There could be one on each side of the platform in every Metro station. But often there are not. And of those present, some wave their flags energetically to signal that it is okay for the train to leave. Others keep their flags furled and wander around.
Sorry, you can't see the flag very well.

You have seem many photos of the Chinese posing. They will pose anywhere and usually flash a "peace" sign with their fingers.
They also still find westerners odd enough that they want pictures posing with them:

It seems the poor and the elderly are earning a few extra RMB by going through trash cans to pull out recyclable bottles and cans. If you time it right, you can give your empty drink bottle directly to the collector. These people are very brave reaching into trash cans, as they are also used as spitoons and vomitoriums.
Other folks ride around town on their ancient three-wheeled bicycles with a platform on the back and collect other recyclables. They have a bell or a clicker to let you know they are coming. By the end of the day, their cart is piled high with whatever they may specialize in: cardboard, paper, styrofoam, plastic bags, plastic bottles including the large water cooler size, pieces of wood, pieces of aluminum, etc.

It is apparent that by hook or by crook, if something breaks, they will fix it, and thus we see 19th century bicycle rickshaws still on the road.
Under this heading I am putting this sign. They have decided to change the name of Grand Gateway to Grand Gateway 66, and so they just moved the G-A-R-D-E-N and put in the 6s without centering the whole name.
The cable wire on the bedroom TV had pulled out of the screw-in plug attachment, so we let them know at the front desk that the TV did not work. Later, it worked, so I thought to take the "new" cable and use it in the living room to get a better picture, when I noticed loose wires hanging from the wire where it inserted in the plug. They just pushed the same cable back into the same plug?
This stair surface has a patch in a different color:
Have an announcement you need repeated over and over?

In fake markets and with vendors on the street, bargaining is allowed. You should expect to pay no more than 50% of what is originally asked. You can go for less. Apparently you do not bargain for food sold by street vendors.
Malls are generally set up with like shops on the same floor. All the men's wear on one floor, all children's on another, etc. Thus, it is set up like a department store. But each brand then has several shops; Burberry will have a perfume stand on the first floor, an apparel shop on the women's and men's floor, a kid's shop on the kid's floor, etc. Some brands also have a shoe shop or an accessories shop on the appropriate floor.
Department stores:
Okay, so the department stores are set up like the malls, except that you don't have shops for each brand, but you do have each brand separated and manned by differently uniformed staff, almost like in stalls.
In department stores,there is no bargaining. If you find something you want to buy, the clerk gives you an invoice. You take that to the nearest cashier and pay. Then bring the receipt back to the clerk to pick up your item.

Public toilets: First, bring your own toilet paper! Toilet paper is not always available, and if it is, you have to remember to get it at the door as you enter. If there is an attendant, she may sell you some tissue.
This could get graphic! I have been to three public toilets in three months in Shanghai. Actually, I have been to many, but I have only used three. When we arrived in March, I used the Pudong Airport restroom and had a choice of a squatter, regular toilet, or Japanese toilet. I lucked out with the Japanese toilet which has a heated seat and various sprays, music, etc. on a nice sit-down toilet.
The second time was in a Chinese unisex water closet, with a squatting hole and a urinal. After knee surgery, I can no longer squat to the floor, so I squatted over the urinal. The third time was at Bubba's Texas Bar-B-Q, and he had regular toilets!
The squat toilet:
Note that it is quite modern with flush plumbing and even an automatic sensor!
In our apartments, we have had Japanese brand toilets, although not the one with all the bells and whistles. Most have the choice of flushes - small, medium and large.
Toilets here are also water-saving, using so little water, it seems they mean for you to examine your results before flushing them down the drain. Part of the reason for using water, is that when exposed to air, the chemical process causes the smell. If you can get it under water, there is less smell. With less water, there is more smell...
Then there are the odd-shaped toilets:

Umbrellas are used just as much to keep off the sun as to keep off the rain.
If it is raining, they are particular about you bringing wet umbrellas indoors. They either have someone there to hand out plastic bags or a set-up where you drop your wet umbrella in a hole and pull it out in a plastic bag.
Or there is a rack where you can slip your umbrella into a notch and turn a key to lock it. Take the key and retrieve your umbrella when you leave.

Wedding photography seems to be a big business, and many landmarks in Shanghai are busy with bridal couples posing for photographs, with a photographer and his assistants who carry the gear, hold the light reflector, spread out the train of the gown, and tilt heads.
It is interesting that they have embraced the westernized white wedding gown, as white traditionally symbolizes death in Asia. The traditional color for a bride's dress in China is red.
These photos are taken several months in advance of the wedding.
The wedding procession as seen by the public is a line of cars with the first fully decorated with flowers and bows, and the following cars with matching bows on the door handles.
The matching cars are unique.

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