Thursday, 20 December 2012

It's Christmas!

Despite it not being a national holiday in China, we thought we should still do the obligatory Christmas post. This year, is certainly going to be a different experience…

We did consider going back home to England to celebrate, like every other year, with our family and friends, but having only been here for two and a half months thought it might be a bit too soon. There’s already a trip back planned in 2013, and having so recently moved to this new place that we now call ‘home’, we thought it might stir up some serious homesick feelings, which so far we’ve managed to keep (nearly) at bay!

It’s definitely a decision that we’ve questioned over the last few weeks… From the 1st December, when our entire Facebook feeds were filled with pictures of friends' completed Christmas trees, through to the last week of customary post Christmas party hangover statuses, we’ve felt like we’ve been missing out. There’s been the odd heavily branded Christmas tree go up outside some of the most luxurious plazas here (complete with ‘Mini’ decorations (see pic) and Moet branding) but even these are few and far between – and feel more like a token acknowledgement/brand advertisement rather than anything more festive. It’s only really started to feel a small bit Christmass-y over the last week, when we’ve seen Christmas trees go up in the western restaurants, our apartment building and in the office. Oh, and the small flurry of ‘snow’ (read: melted ice) on Wednesday helped too.

Happy Mini Christmas

Some festive cheer...
There’s still a distinct lack of Christmas drinks, songs and chocolate (a box of Lindt balls was on sale in the supermarket for £10!), so rather than feeling the cold of Christmas without any of the additional benefits, we’ve decided to book a beach hut on an island off Malaysia. It will be the first time that either of us has spent Christmas away, but at least we will be amongst other people who will also be celebrating!

Plus, we have a complete Christmas in a box that my sister Nicola sent us this week. Inside, there was a santa hat, tinsel, hanging decorations, fake snow, handmade paper snowflakes, a Miracle on 34th St DVD (the best Christmas film, ever!), a Christmas CD, chocolate coins and… some Lindt balls! It caused a great deal of excitement and will be packed into our suitcases so we can decorate our room while we’re away.

Holding as many of the Christmas treats as possible...

We’re back in Shanghai to see in the New Year, having originally been told that there were no public holidays over the whole festive period. However, in true Chinese style, the Government released three days of official holidays last week. Since then, there’s been an endless amount of confusion, speculation and deciphering to work out what they were saying – eventually found to be that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd are holidays, on the proviso that you work the 5th/6th weekend. It was quite a funny few days while everyone tried to work this out, and the upshot is that everyone is ignoring the Government anyway, because they don’t want to work the weekend!

We’ll write our next post from the beach, but in the meantime – Happy Christmas!!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Sport in China - Part I

Now, as many of you know, I like to both play and watch sport at home.  In fact, I would say my ‘like’ for it was bordering on an obsession. For the last 21 years, give or take, my weekends have been organised around sport. In the summer it’s cricket and in the winter it’s football. So, leaving for China I was anxious to find out my options…

When I first started work, I thought what better way to get to know people than ask if they were in to sport? First stop was my predecessor – a Greek American who told me, “I do like to watch soccer on the big screen occasionally.” Two things wrong with that… ‘soccer’ and ‘occasionally’. I moved on to other topics of interest.

Second stop was my boss. Being Australian, he had to be a shoo-in. I had noticed him wearing an Australian Rugby jacket, so with the recent autumn internationals taking place, I asked if he fancied watching the upcoming England Vs. Australia match. He replied, “I hate rugby mate, I moved back to China to get away from it”.

Two expats down, I reckoned I would ask a couple of my local team members what they liked doing on the weekend. The first, one of the more jovial members, actually got out of his chair to demonstrate his response. After a few added sound effects, I worked out it was boxing. Not a great spectator sport and not something at the age of 27, a beer belly and glasses, I wanted to participate in.

The second, a ‘cool’ looking member of the team, looked promising. Indeed he was – a huge basketball fan (like most of China) and also into football. Jackpot. After a few exchanges on basketball (apparently Scottie Pippen retired years ago), we got onto football. Excited to find someone to chat to about sport, I asked him with huge anticipation who he supports. “I support David Beckham” was his response. Such promise. He did invite me to play with his friends though, to which I accepted out of hand, until I found out he lives two hours outside central Shanghai.

Finally, I found success! Having met a few Europeans at a Halloween party a few months back (Clark Kent, a Vicar and a Gorilla to be exact), I arranged to meet them to watch a game one weekend. Now, there’s a regular group of us who watch sport most Saturdays. Unable to find anything to participate in yet (apart from beating Michelle at table tennis), I have been spectating a lot. The Shanghainese have certainly nailed the concept of a sports bar – dedicated table service, every premier league match on a different TV, great food, happy hour (for three hours)… even the back of the urinal is a huge widescreen TV!

Next step is to find some way of participating, update to follow soon…

Saturday, 1 December 2012

LJ's Guest Post

Here's a new take on Shanghai from our first visitor. Over to you, LJ...

This is a tale of two firsts, my first time in China and my first time writing a blog entry. When Michelle told me that she and Sam were off to Shanghai, I'm pretty sure my response was something along the lines of 'OMG, I am like so totally coming to see you, xoxo'. Having lived away from home in London for almost 8 years, I'm used to hearing friends say such a thing, but it's not always carried through. But with a two week break from work fast approaching and nothing planned, it didn't take me long to book my flights to Shanghai Pudong International airport. I'm back in London now and have spent the last couple of days thinking about how I should document my trip, sum up the city that Michelle and Sam now call home and give future visitors a taste of what to expect. Based on the vast amounts that I saw, experienced and learned, I thought the simplest way to do this would be to share 10 things that will forever remind me of my trip to Shanghai. 

Look forward to hearing what you think when you make it there.. LJx

  1. A Whole New World: Upon arrival, I discovered that my BlackBerry had completely  drained (worryingly, I may have left it on through the flight… oopsie!!) but thanks to Michelle's amazing step by step directions, I sailed through the airport and straight into a taxi. After showing the driver where I needed to go (Chinese address, of course), I sat back and relaxed to the sweets sounds of Chinese radio. The driver however, being so very polite, changed to a slightly more Western station for me and 'A Whole New World' kicked in. Quite fitting really. I was a long way from home and in a very new world.
  2. Hospitality: On my first evening I experienced this in its extreme! Michelle and Sam brought me to a traditional Chinese fondue style restaurant. I'm calling it fondue as it involved dipping raw foods into boiling different flavoured soups (actually called a Hot Pot in China)… Anyway, here hospitality was KING. Upon arrival we were given drinks and nibbles, whilst we waited for a table to become free (Wagamamas take note). There was also the opportunity for ladies to have a manicure and gents to have their shoes shined whilst waiting, plus a few more hospitality highlights to keep us entertained throughout the meal, like silk pillow case like covers being placed over our jackets hanging on the back of our chairs. Nice touch!
  3. Back To The Future: I've been to some pretty impressive cities in my past, but the Pudong district in Shanghai was the first place where I felt like I'd stepped onto a sci-fi movie set or another planet. The buildings were super tall, super slick and super futuristic. We chose to hit the 91st floor of the Grand Hyatt for Apple and Lychee Martinis around 4.30pm, the perfect time to watch the sun set and wait for the lights to come on around Pudong and across the river… Breathtaking!
  4. Train Ride With A Twist: There's a number of ways to get to Pudong, by car, by boat OR by fantasy train!! I highly recommend the latter of the three. It's one of those things that you just have to see to believe. The under river tunnel takes you on a journey through time with projections, light displays and some random puppets. The best bit has to be the English voice over that at one point tells passengers that they are about to enter 'Paradise… and HELL' accompanied by some devilish cackling. It's simply a Shanghai must.
  5. Better Out Than In: Despite a travel guide telling me not to believe what I'd heard about spitting and burping in Shanghai, this went out the window on my first day! Burping, hacking, spitting, coughing, sneezing etc are all very common and loud. My top tip is to keep an eye on the pavement for anything slimey and slippy.
  6. Cheap As Chips: It's clear that there are plenty of places to delight us Westerners when it comes to eating out. One can pretty much dine and feel like they're home from home. Being a veggie, Chinese traditional eating was always going to be challenging, so when I saw signs for Baker and Spice, Wagas and Element Fresh I was pretty smug. But it would have been easy to have gotten bored with their offerings, even in my one week there. Michelle and Sam have definitely adopted the right approach when it comes to eating out. A little bit of Western with a little bit of Chinese mixed in. What I couldn't believe was how cheap food in Chinese restaurants was. We'd been out in Xintiandi one night and spent what you'd expect to on an average dinner and drinks in London. The next night we headed for dumplings. We feasted like kings, leaving at least enough food for a fourth person (Alan, you so should have come!) and the total bill came to the equivalent of £6.20. Unbelievable! Taxis and the underground are equally as cheap and cheerful. When it came to riding the tube, I was shocked but how easy it was. Everything was written in Chinese and English, so you can't go wrong really… Chinese visiting London definitely get a rough deal when it comes to signposting and the price of a single fare!
  7. Mind If I Hang This Up: On pretty much every street I walked down, busy or quiet, main or side, I couldn't help but notice people's washing hanging out to dry from pretty much anything and everything. Washing lines ran between trees, hangers hung from balconies… What made me giggle was the fact that there's also road sweepers everywhere and on more than one occasion I saw a couple of unfortunate socks being swept along!
  8. If You Were A Boy: I learnt that 'winging it' is a good approach to a lot of things in Shanghai. As I was staying with 'friends' and not in a hotel, I needed to register within 24 hours at the local police station. Being Michelle and Sam's first visitor, I went along relatively unprepared as they weren't really sure what registration would require. After the police lady looking through every possible document I happened to have in my travel folder, she sighed and said 'If you were a boy, I wouldn't be doing this'. Slightly sexist, but hey presto I got the stamp I needed and headed off! Future visitors take note that you need proof of Michelle and Sam's address and your passport/visa. 
  9. So Similar But So Different: The contrast between West and East is right there for you to see in Shanghai, every day and every where you look. While there are massive shopping malls, departments stores, designers houses, McDonald's, M&S, GAP, Zara, Uniqlo etc everywhere, what I found most interesting was the juxtaposition of the most traditional Chinese things and ways of life, existing and taking place right alongside these pockets of the West. It's easily what gives the city its uniqueness. On a slightly side note, it's fair to say that bikes are king in Shanghai. On the pavement, on the road, they're everywhere and even though they mightn't legally have the right to, they rule the roads. 
  10. Speed City: When my week of Shanghai highs came to an end, I chose the fastest way to get out of the city, literally speaking! The Maglev train takes you from Longyang Road station to Pudong airport, in about 5 minutes, reaching 425k at it's top speed. You're hardly on it and your off, but it's worth it to see the outskirts of Pudong whizz by (plus it helps speed things up when you you've lost the Chinese translation for Longyang Road, have been abandoned by Michelle and are running very late for your flight).