Thursday, January 31, 2013

Florida here we come!

We had a busy week getting ready for our tip to Florida, so excited to see my family!  Ayi, Charlie and I did make a quick trip to the flower and pet market to get fish food for Lily's fish and a new light bulb for the hood.  While I made my purchases, Charlie had fun checking out the fish.  It was nice not having to keep and eye on him while shopping.
Part of the Chinese New Year craziness is "gift bags" of snacks.  Although she makes little money, Ayi has bought gifts for the kids birthdays.  Since it is traditional to give kids gifts for CNY she bought the kids a snack bag which came with a puzzle.  Charlie was thrilled, I could not open it fast enough for him!  I'm not so sure of the snacks though, which included some seaweed flavored snacks...
Even though CNY is still over a week away, the celebrations have already started.  It is not unusual to hear firecrackers going off at night, the preferred way to celebrate a holiday in China.  We are looking forward to trading the pollution, cold and wet weather here for the warmth and sun of Florida.  We are all packed after a slightly crazy week.  I'm making one last stop at the market to pick up a few last minute things and then hopefully we'll have a quiet lunch and maybe a short nap before heading to the airport.  Fingers crossed that the kids are on their best behavior.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Chinese New Year

Last week for my Chinese lesson, Eric took me on a field trip to a fabric market in Puxi.  I've been to the AP Market in Pudong many times, which does have a large tailor market but it can not compete with this.  Three stories of stall after stall filled with fabrics and tailors.  You can get custom made bedding, leather jackets, jeans, suits, pretty much anything that is made of fabric.  If you see it in a catalog or online all you have to do is bring in a copy, have your measurements taken and within 3-5 days you will have a perfect copy, most likely at a fraction of the cost.  There were also a few vendors selling all kinds of silk goods, including pashminas for $5.
With the approach of the Chinese New Year decorations have been going up everywhere.  CNY is the Chinese equivalent of Christmas in just about every way.  Across the street from us, the large Christmas presents and decorations have been replaced with this years representative, the snake that changes color.  Inside the Green Sports and Leisure Center is another large snake made of Chinese coins which are supposed to good luck.  My local Carrefour had red signs everywhere advertising CNY specials and an entire isle with decorations. Red signs, fish, peppers, and lanterns are the most common.  Cardboard signs and stuffed versions of the snake are prominent too, and getting into the spirit of things we bought stuffed snakes for the kids, cardboard cutouts for their doors and miniature lanterns.

Having experienced a few Chinese holidays already we've learned it is best to either stay home and avoid any tourist attractions or travel outside of the country.  Many of our expat friends are traveling within Asia, and while seeing as much of Asia as possible is a goal for us we are super excited about heading stateside and spending time with family and enjoying all the comforts of the USA!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Men in trees? Viagra?

If you regularly read my blog you've caught on to the fact that there are some subtle differences between China and America. Ok, maybe more than some, and not so subtle.  The most recent of these to catch my attention would be the men you can see seasonally trimming the trees around the city.  There is usually a group of 8-10, some trimming the branches of the tree others collecting the branches that fall and putting them in piles bound for who knows where.  Of course trimming tree branches is not so strange, but doing it with a ladder made of bamboo and no safety ropes is.  I find I'm still shocked by how little concern the Chinese have in general for personal safety.  This is not even close to the first example that I've seen here.  Crossing the street here is an exercise in caution and awareness.  Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way, and even if traffic is stopped you need to be constantly aware of the thousands of mopeds and scooters that buzz around the city on the sidewalks and the wrong side of the street.  If there are traffic laws that pertain to scooters I have seen no evidence of them!

The other more subtle difference to catch my attention this week makes me smile.  On my morning walk to the gym I walk past a local pharmacy.  I don't usually pay it any attention but I did happen to glance over one morning and caught one word in particular.  I had to take a closer look, convinced that I'd misread the sign, but no, I had not.  Yes, my local pharmacy is advertising Viagra and Cialis!  I guess it isn't so different from America, I mean we've all seen the cheesy commercials, but I've never seen it so blatantly advertised.

I've also been enjoying traditional Chinese flute music on my morning walk to the gym.  To get to my gym I have to walk through a long corridor with great acoustics, which is probably why they practice there.  I have also come across folks playing other instruments or even practicing some form of Chinese exercise. I think it is these small things that I will miss when we move back home.

We had a pretty quiet weekend.  We took the kids to dinner at Peter's Tex Mex, which opened last week across the street from our apartment.  The kids enjoyed American style hotdogs and smiley face french fries.  After dinner we stopped to let the kids pick out a DVD, for less than two dollars we decided we could be generous and let each pick their own movie.  Charlie was happy to carry home his new movie.  On the way home we came across a Porsche, this is hardly new, you see them often in Shanghai, but this one was pink!  Some people have too much money and too little taste!

Sunday Lily had a birthday party to go to in the Shanghai World Financial Center, aka, the bottle opener.  Lucas and Charlie got haircuts and we ended the day with a quick trip though the AP market.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cheer Come

Trips to Carrefour can still make me smile.  With Chinese New Year coming up the store is decorated with the same enthusiasm you would find in during Christmas in the US.  With the decorations come special sales and big displays, this is where I found Cheer Come.  It's a pepper sauce which is common here, but the name made me smile, so I guess it did bring me cheer.  It was later in the week at Ole, a Western grocery store where I came across Oxtail soup and gift boxes of meat.  Don't know what to get that impossible guy, how about a box of meat?  Another treat of the pleasant kind was Cracker Jack, which I came across the Pines grocery store, yeah, that's three stores I went to last week in my quest for groceries.  I miss my Shop Rite!

We had a busy weekend, dinner out with friends on Friday at a favorite of ours Lost Heaven.  Saturday we meet up with friends and fellow expats for lunch a new restaurant, Peter's Tex-mex, to say an informal goodbye to Christine who moves back stateside at the end of the month.  The food was great, but the small side of queso she got was comically small!  No need to worry about oversized portions here in China!  I spent the rest of Saturday afternoon making dinner for Eric and his wife, Faye.  Lasagna, sauce, meatballs, garlic bread and salad.  Dinner turned out great and Eric was so happy with the dinner he had four helpings!

Sunday was cold and rainy so we took the kids to the Science and Technology Museum.  They had a blast running around checking out the animals on display before moving on to the spider exhibit, which thankfully did not have any live spiders.  There was a special marine life exhibit that had dissected animals, which was a bit morbid, but the kids didn't seem to be bothered by it.  We passed by Charlie's favorite, a group of three dinosaurs before calling it quits.  We had a quick lunch at Johnny Moo's, and 50's themed dinner, both kids had a cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake, the perfect American meal!

Sunday night we had Christine over for dinner and so she and Lucas could watch some football.  Unfortunately, the internet wasn't coroporating and we ended up watching Skyfall instead.  It's strange watching a movie that in the US would be considered illegal to own, whereas in China it is the norm.  I will point out that I would never buy illegal DVDs in the US and only do here because I honestly don't even know where to buy the legal ones!

Saturday, January 5, 2013


In the hopes of actually keeping my resolutions this year I've kept it to two, blog once a week and cooking more.  I'm not as worried about keeping my resolution to blog weekly.  It is the cooking that will be harder, if only because finding ingredients can be a bit like a Where's Waldo puzzle, Shanghai style!  But, I am determined to do my best.  So, on to resolution number one...  Last week I took the kids to the Oriental Pearl Tower, a symbol of Shanghai that has amazing views of the river and the SWFC and Jin Mao, the cities two other gravity defying buildings.  The kids loved walking around the observation deck and spotting things far below.  Once we were done with our birds eye view of Shanghai we headed down to the base to see the Shanghai History Museum.  The museum, which is covered by the entrance fee to the tower, is mostly life size replicas of moments in Shanghai's history.  From the tea and spice shops to battles fought.  The kids loved the museum and I look forward to going back with Lucas, who could not join us because of his sprained ankle.

It was with resolution number two in mind that Lily and I headed to City Shop, a chain of grocery stores that carry one of the best selection of Western goods in Shanghai.  Lily was thrilled to shop along side me with a cart her size and loved putting things in "her" cart as we went up and down the isles.  Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Dr. Pepper were a few of the treasures we picked up.  Even more exciting than cereal and soda though, I FINALLY found ricotta cheese!  I've been looking for it for 10 months and have found it only once before.  I am looking forward to making lasagna next weekend for Eric and his family when we reciprocate the invite to his home for dinner before Christmas.  Eric and his family have welcomed us into their family with open arms and in the interest of doing our little bit in improving relations with our countries, we've invited them over for an Italian dinner.  Something that is hard to come by here and one of Eric's favorites.  I'm curious to see if his in-laws will enjoy the Western meal though.

With both kids home this week I decided it was best to get them out of the house for a few hours before somebody, most likely me, started climbing the walls.  We crossed river to Puxi and went to the Yu Garden and Market, although I haven't actually been to the garden yet, just the market.  It seems every time I go it's mobbed.  The kids and I did have fun walking around the market checking out all kinds of things for sale including a key chain with mini xiao long bao steamed dumplings (thought of ya Dad).  Since the kids were being so good for me I treated them to lunch at McDonald's, a rare treat for them.  Both gobbled up their cheeseburgers and fries like I hadn't fed them in a week!  Our last stop before heading home was at an artists stand where I had both kid's caricature drawn.  They watched while he painted the picture he's drawn of them and seemed to be enthralled with the whole thing.  A quick stop at the candy counter for gummy sharks and we on our way home for my favorite part of the day, nap time!

This weekend unfortunately called for rain and freezing temperatures, and with Lucas's ankle still healing we decided to stay close to home and work on some post holiday cleaning and organizing.  I spent a good part of Saturday going through our big hall closet and managed to get rid of some things and organize the rest.  While I actually have the motivation to clean and organize I thought a trip to our local Ikea might not be a bad idea.  Giving both kids a kid cart however, was a lesson in patience, and I'm happy to announce that Lily banged into my heals only once!  Our big finds of the day, an area rung for the living room and new pillows for the sofas.  Of course both kids could not live without a stuffed animal, a dog for Lily, and a bear for Charlie.   We also grabbed brunch before we left and I was surprised that they offered a very tasty fried hash brown and small sausages wrapped in bacon.  Their cinnamon bun left much to be desired though.

With a little bit of daylight left Lucas is took the kids outside to burn off some of their never ending energy.  Last night we bought Charlie a three wheeled scooter, which he has taken to like a bird to flight.  He's coveted Lily's scooter for some time, and was beyond thrilled to get his own scooter.

Next week it is back to our daily routine with Lily back in school and Lucas at work.  It has been fun having both home for the holidays but exhausting!

25 days till Florida!