April 30th: When T-shirts go wrong…

There’s a scene in Die Hard 3 where Bruce Willis is forced to wander the streets of Harlem wearing a sandwich board featuring a very offensive slogan, particularly so for the local residents.  Five minutes after leaving the house today I realised the print on my t-shirt included a number of Chinese characters.  I’ve had the t-shirt for a couple of years but have never known what the characters translated as (or previously worried about it).  I don’t think I’ll be wearing it again out here – fortunately no angry looks but some comical and quizzical ones.  It may simply state “I love China!”, or perhaps “Made in China!”.  Bronwen, on the other hand, is convinced it declares “Gay and proud”.

Very tired now after walking nearly 10 miles to the Suzhou Creek Art District and back.  Some weird and wonderful artwork (and some fantastic nearby graffiti) – may well head back at some point to make a couple of purchases.

The “Curry House” (that’s its full name) restaurant on Friday night resulted in probably the cheapest restaurant meal I’ve ever had:  our meal for two came to the equivalent of £5.80.  No English available, so all complete guesswork (“that kind of looks a bit like chicken”) and pointing.

Following our working day on Saturday, we had a bit of a late night after staying up to watch the Norwich (0) v Liverpool (3) game with a 12.30am local-time kick-off, back again at the Big Bamboo in Jing’An with John Burgess.  That following the discovery of what is definitely my favourite bar (so far) in Shanghai.  The Kaiba Beer Bar (great name) sells imported beers, including London Pride and London Porter.  Expensive, but worth it.

Off out again shortly for a meal in a local restaurant and back to the Bulldog for the last quiz night of the season.   We’re hoping most people will have left Shanghai for the long weekend so we’ll win by default.  Somehow I doubt it.

Strange artwork on display at Suzhou Creek  More strange artwork at Suzhou Creek

April 26th: Nearly normal

Air shipment has arrived at last.  A bit like Christmas, if you’d asked Father Christmas for a random selection of clothes, mugs, wires and other items you forgot to include in your sea shipment.  Still, delighted to have it arrive – feels a little bit more like home now.

It’s funny how quickly the everyday sights that initially felt odd start to fit into one’s view of normality (although here in Shanghai, I’m not sure what is and isn’t normal).

Recycling Man

The Recycling Man was oblivious to being photographed. The lady nearby less so.

There are all manner of recycling-collecting men/women on tricycles whilst ringing  bells in the old British rag & bone man tradition, street sellers popping up seemingly at random with barrows full of miscellaneous merchandise and professional road crossers.  The latter standing at pedestrian crossings on main roads to help victims pedestrians across, lest the car/van drivers feel they have unrestricted freedom to ignore red lights.

A 6-day working week this one.  The British move the dates of bank holidays until it lands on the right day (May day landing on May 7th in the UK).  The Chinese work until the correct date of the bank holiday arrives.  So we work Saturday to get both Monday and Tuesday off (Tuesday being May 1st).  Makes sense I suppose, but it probably won’t feel that way on Saturday.

April 24th: Frogs and Transformers

21 degrees at 8am sounds like an ideal way to start the working day.  Add in 85% humidity though and you have a somewhat sticky journey to work.  And it’s only April; July and August are going to be entertaining months…

Tesco in China

So a weekend of exploring in the mid-spring heat took us to a few highs (afternoon tea overlooking the French Concession) and a few lows (my first trip to Tesco in about 5 years).  We knew Tesco would be a different experience to that in the UK, but we didn’t appreciate by quite how much.

Tesco Frogs

Frogs and Turtles for tea then.

It makes perfect sense to pick your own live frog or live turtle, or use your own fishing net (analogous to a shopping basket I suppose, but for swimming things) to select your preferred fresh fish. This is not a criticism by the way – it’s just a little alien to us.

A market seemingly run entirely by ex-pats provided a satisfying barbecued sausage lunch on Saturday (funny how we baulk at selecting a live frog but quite happily eat minced miscellaneous meat in casing).  We also bought a shedload of vegetables from one of the nearby street traders – a challenge not just because we don’t speak the same language, but also because the Chinese have their own unique hand gestures to indicate any number above 5.

An hour with the downstairs neighbours (if that’s the correct phrase) over a bottle of wine provided a relaxing way to start Saturday evening,  although watching the second half of the Arsenal v Chelsea match (0-0) in the Jing’An Big Bamboo wasn’t a particularly exciting end to the evening.

Transformers, robots in Jing'AnSunday saw us pick up the “Shanghai Walking Tours” book and head out.  The Transformers guarding the Jing’An Temple (an epitomic, but somewhat incongruous visual juxtaposition in modern Shanghai) weren’t in the guide book, nor were the drumming ladies, but both sights entertaining nonetheless.  The guide book took us down a few nooks and crannies we’d never have otherwise considered exploring, so was well worth the effort.  Finally managed a Skype call back home too, so an excellent weekend in all.

And I’ve never seen somebody so comfortable strolling the streets of Shanghai carrying a plunger as was Bronwen.  These 1930 houses certainly have character… and a lot to answer for.

Bron masterfully opens the gate

April 18th: How to fix a leaky roof

Four people enter the house – 2 men with large gas canisters, 1 man with assorted tools and 1 lady with a mop.    They disappear upstairs to where we’d highlighted a damp wall to the landlord following a bout of prolonged rain.  I settle back downstairs and wait to hear all has been resolved.

After a few minutes, I can hear (but not smell) gas, and then a directed flame.  Presumably some sort of welding or other.  Shortly followed by the lady running downstairs gesticulating wildly; sadly my impression of a puzzled Frenchmen does little to aid our mutual lack of understanding.  She spies an empty cardboard box, looks delighted, and runs upstairs with it.  Half an hour later, the four people exit the house, and the cardboard box is returned, still intact.  I presume/hope the leak has been fixed.

I never did find out what the mop was for either.

Monday evening gave us an opportunity to try out the quiz night at the Bulldog Pub in the heart of the French Concession.  The Bulldog is a good attempt at an old-fashioned English pub, with dark wood everywhere and several English beers available.   The dark wood makes it a little dingy, but the on-draught Pedigree more than makes up for it.  We joined a quiz team online (thanks “meetup.com”) and discovered they were two weeks away from winning the quiz league.  The prize: a 2 hour open-bar session.  A really good night with a bunch of friendly people ended up with us coming 3rd on the night and winning a round of shots.  Our contribution to the answers (nonexistent) hopefully wasn’t noticed and so I’d like to think we’ve done enough to sneak into the open-bar session.  Definitely will be going back next week.

And tonight (Wednesday) – we tried out a French restaurant about 5 minutes from where we live.  Bistro Le Saleya was a little expensive for a Wednesday night quick night out, but we’d probably go back for another try.  Fortunately Bronwen pointed out during my 2nd drink that the beer I’d selected was 8%.   I borrowed the photo below from their site – it wasn’t really sunny when we went (bit dark).

Must.  Stop.  Going.  Out.  To.  Eat.  Too bloomin’ expensive.

April 15th: A weekend of sport. And Guinness.

So I was right – it turns out the small creatures are American cockroaches, not Chinese.  The pest control officers visited on Friday and Saturday in an attempt to eliminate the little blighters.  Apparently it could take up to a week…

In other domestic news we now have an air purifier for the bedroom and some huge water bottles (18.9 litres) in an attempt to avoid carrying 5 litre bottles home from the shops.  We were supposed to also get a dispenser for the huge water bottles.  It kind of helps.  Maybe next Saturday.

As for the weekend itself – Friday night was a bit of a late one, and an expensive one (£6.50 for a pint of Guinness):  a visit to an Irish Bar called “Blarney Stone” with Bronwen and John Burgess.  And several drunk but very friendly Irish people.  “Do you mind if I have a smoke with you?”, was Noreen’s introduction, perhaps a little odd since only John smokes.  Anyway, a very affable Noreen then introduced us to various members of her family, group of friends and not sure who else.  Nice to see Paul, the landlord, enjoying the benefits of owning a bar, by staggering slowly through the pub and ending up slumped onstage behind the resident band.  A top night though – will have to go back at some point.

Big Bamboo on “Foreign Street” was the venue for Saturday night, picked primarily as we knew it would be showing the Liverpool v Everton FA Cup Semi-Final (complete with commentary after a little badgering of the staff).  Always good to be in the company of fellow Liverpool supporters – Tim and Haydn – although I don’t think Ryan, John or Elouise would have been too upset if we’d have lost.  But we didn’t!  A last minute header means another trip to a “sports bar” on May 5th.

And today… As delighted as we were to attend, and as appreciative of the opportunity as we were, can I just say Formula 1 probably makes more sense on the TV and leave it at that?

Paul & Bron at Grand Prix Shanghai 2012

April 12th: Slow walkers, speedy crawlers

Shanghai probably doesn’t get compared to Birmingham, Alabama very often.  But it’s the only other place in which I’ve lived (albeit briefly in the case of that fine Southern US state) where the locals’ walking top speed – from a scale of “stopped” to “running” – barely registers “saunter”.  Shanghai is an incredibly hectic city in many ways, but rushing on foot from place to place just isn’t done here.  And sudden stops (to check phone, look at a shop, ponder why the British couple behind them are in so much of a hurry, etc.) are perfectly normal.  It’s refreshing and frustrating in equal measures.

Back in the house, small crawling creatures aren’t necessarily a problem.  It’s not knowing what they are that causes concern.  That and their predilection for the dishwasher.  They’re a bit quick on the move too, so definitely can’t be of Chinese origin.