Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cirque de Shanghai

There is a workman standing on our balcony in blue overalls and shiny fake crocodile-skin dress shoes. To be more accurate he is standing on the 3 inch-wide ledge OUTSIDE the windows of the enclosed balcony, and is hanging on to the thin strip of protruding metal at the top of the window sill to keep his balance.
Did I mention we live on the 13th floor?
Obviously Western occupational health and safety standards have not yet reached China.
The workman is here to replace the putty in the windows, as it has completely dried up and started falling out in giant chunks. Without the putty there is nothing holding the window panes in, preventing them from falling 13 floors into the school playground below us. And I'm not even going to start talking about the freezing winds that blow into the apartment through the gaps.
Here I am, I sitting on the couch, trying not to look at him precariously balanced on the window sill. It is like driving past an accident… you know you shouldn’t watch, but, by god, you just can’t look away.
As his toes are scrabbling at the edge of the ledge, trying in vain to get a better grip, the tune of Beethoven's Fur Elise fills the room. His mobile phone is ringing in his pocket. Our eyes lock as he silently panics at the obvious dilemma.
Oh, dude, don’t answer it. Seriously!
But in the history of mobile telephone technology in China, I think there has never been a ringing phone that has gone un-answered. Phones are answered in public toilets, in classrooms, in doctors’ offices, during candle-lit romantic meals, and while riding motorbikes.
So I watch in horror as the workman releases his grip on the window, leans in and tries to grab it with his chin, and answers his phone.
Let me recap: He is balancing in dress shoes on a three inch ledge, 13 floors above the concrete below, phone in one hand, putty and chisel in the other, gripping onto the window with just his chin.
The last time I checked, our chins did not have opposable thumbs.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Very Aussie Christmas

[I have included some Aussie Slang definitions at the end of this post for those less-informed about the aussie lingo]

Jingle Bells, Aussie style (Traditional/Colin Buchanan © 1992 Rondor Music)

Dashing through the bush,
in a rusty Holden Ute,
Kicking up the dust,
esky in the boot,
Kelpie by my side,
singing Christmas songs,
It's Summer time and I am in
my singlet, shorts and thongs

Oh! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
Christmas in Australia on a scorching summers day, Hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, Christmas time is beaut !,
Oh what fun it is to ride in a rusty Holden Ute.

Engine's getting hot;
we dodge the kangaroos,
The swaggie climbs aboard,
he is welcome too.
All the family's there,
sitting by the pool,
Christmas Day the Aussie way,
by the barbecue.

Oh! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
Christmas in Australia on a scorching summers day, Hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, Christmas time is beaut!,
Oh what fun it is to ride in a rusty Holden Ute.

Come the afternoon,
Grandpa has a doze,
The kids and Uncle Bruce,
are swimming in their clothes.


Slang Definitions:
Lingo: language
ute: a
pick-up truck
esky: ice box perfect for picnics and footy matches. Click here for the perfect aussie esky
singlet: tank-top
thongs: flip-flops
swaggie: old-school back-packer
beaut: shortened form of beautiful

Isn't it Ironic

The definition of Irony: mispronouncing the word 'pronounce' as "pronunciate".

Teaching in the 21st Century

My classroom is completely invaded by technology. The students must complete a certain number of hours looking at the English softwear in the computer lab before they can even book a class, and once they finally get to class, the sound of the electronic dictionaries bleeping away constantly almost drowns out the sound of the ringing mobile phones, and the MP3 players still dangling around their necks. Students will actually answer their phones and talk loudly in the middle of class. I have lost count of the number of times students have whipped out their mobile phone and taken a photo on it of me in mid-sentence. Teachers used to have to worry about paper aeroplanes being thrown at them, but now days the students will probably just email the aeroplanes from their internet-capable mobile phones without even leaving their seats.

Friday, December 09, 2005

And counting...

I just realised I have taught over 300 English classes in the last three months.
That's just plain scary.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"I had a dream..."

Martin Luther King dreamed of equality, justice, liberty and respect.
I on the other hand had a dream last night that I went to an AA meeting for the free coffee, however the cups were so impossibly tiny that I had to get up several times during the meeting for re-fills.
Oh, how awkward.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Whaddya mean BELOW ZERO??!!"

Today the temperature was a high of 3C and a low of -2C (see MSN Weather). Currently, at 6pm it is 1C, which, according to the weather forecast, with the winds it actually feels like -3C.
This Aussie is freezing her [insert suitable body part/s] off. For the first time in my life I have had to buy a REAL winter coat: an off-white, knee-length, quilted down coat, commonly referred to by Phil as my 'Michelin Man' coat.
Three months ago I had the air conditioner going at full-blast, and I was sitting under it in my underwear.
All I can say is that this city sure doesn't do things by half measures.

The Parent Trap

Phil and I have only been living together for four months, and I never imagined we would become parents this quickly.
Mum, sit back down, and take your hand off the phone while you wipe up the tea you have just spayed all over the computer monitor.
I'm sorry I should have phrased that better. But it occured to me last night when Phil and I were crouched concernedly over Pablo's cage that we had unwittingly become parents.
Allow me to present the evidence, Your Honour:

  • We call each other just to talk about Pablo.
  • We pepper every other sentence when we are away on holiday with "I miss Pablo".
  • We talk about Pablo at parties until our fellow guests' eyes glaze over.
  • I go shopping just to buy supplies for Pablo, and forget to buy food for the adults.
  • We have spent a ridiculous amount of money on Pablo, without even a second thought to the expence.
  • We (only jokingly... so far..) manipulate Pablo when talking to each other: "Pablo, I know YOU wanted to cook dinner while I was out slaving over the grocery shopping, but unfortunately PAPA was too busy playing PS2 games..."
  • We spend far too much time worrying over Pablo, and devising ridiculous plans for him: "Perhaps we should put in a doggy door to the balcony so he can come and go as he pleases"; "Perhaps we should give him a doona to cope with the cold this winter"; "Perhaps we should start a college fund and enroll him now in all the best Prep-schools, it's very competitive these days"...
  • When Pablo has been cute, I call him 'our' rabbit. When he has left several hundred "messages" on the couch and chewed all the books within rabbit reach, I tell Phil he is 'your' rabbit.
  • We have had to baby-proofed the entire apartment, wrapping all exposed electrical cords in plastic covering and moving all chewable items above jumping height.
  • I get all warm and fuzzy when I walk in on Phil cuddling Pablo and whispering sweet nothings (or plots to take over the world, what do I know) into his lop-sided ears.
The Prosecution rests, Your Honour.

I know he is only a rabbit, but our behaviour says Parents.

" Rabbit's clever,"said Pooh thoughtfully.

" Yes,"said Piglet, " Rabbit's clever."

" And he has a Brain."

" Yes,"said Piglet, " Rabbit has a brain."

There was a long silence.

" I suppose,"said Pooh, " that that's why he never understands anything."

--A. A. Milne

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What goes up...

I know I know, what goes up must come down. I just didn't realise that applied to my self esteem as well.

Three weeks ago I straightened my normally insanely curly hair with hot straightening tongs. As long as I keep it dry, it will stay straight for about 4 or 5 days. I do this every few months as a change, and a way to appreciate (or at least learn to live with) my unruly curls.
The Chinese, with predominantly straight hair, are mad on getting their hair permed. They always assume that my hair is also permed, no matter how many times I tell them otherwise.
The day I showed up to work with staight hair, I had to endure an onslaught of comments such as:

"Wow! So beautiful!"
"Oh your straight hair looks more beautiful!"
"Beautiful straight hair is better than your curls!"
and even...
"Now you don't look like a sheep!"


This was a great ego boost (aside from the sheep comment), and I proudly flicked my straightened locks out behind me as I swaggered around the halls of my school.
But then of course after five days of not washing my hair I realised that I could rival the middle east in oil production, and so I had to wash it back into it's usual mass of curls.
The first look of dismay when I walked through the door at work was priceless. The second was humourous. The third, fourth and fifth were annoying, and everything in the two weeks since then has been downright depressing.
My students still feel the need to tell me that they think my straight hair is more beautiful, regardless of the number of times I tell them that the curls are natural and I cannot keep it straight all the time.

Yes what goes up must come down, and right now my self esteem is sinking faster than a lead balloon.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Phil Quote of the Day

As I muttered maniacally into my poorly cooked meal, Phil looked at me with fearful wonder: "Seriously Lou, sometimes you are like Goldilocks on acid!"

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Whining and Dining

All the ingredients were there for a romantic dinner: We were away from Shanghai, finally relaxing after a hellish work week, there was a good bottle of wine, great food, an almost in-key jazz vocalist, and of course a candle.
Oh, and a guy sitting behind Phil's shoulder hoiking up phlegm chunks the size of small meteors, complete with extended palatal vocalisation, and spitting them from a height into the ashtray on his table.
Nothing says romance more than the public sharing of respiratory fluids.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Lost in (Cyber) Space

I pity the poor american fools who have lately been stumbling on to my blog from an MSN search for "Aussie Babes". The site meter I have on this site allows me to see how people have found the blog, and I find it highly amusing to see this one come up time and time again. What did the poor blokes think when my site opened?! More amusing is that my blog is listed at 35th of 128,310 results! Those are some good odds!
Other lost cyber travelers have found me my searching: "anonymous proxy servers to get past college firewalls", "japanese porn", "big breasts", and disconcertingly "what to do with my babys placenta".
What the...???

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Of course I am biased, but check out Phil's great post about riding a bicycle in China.
Very well done.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Happy Birthday Me!!

My Birthday arrived yesterday, and for the first time in many years I felt like an excited child. I don't know if it was because it was the first birthday Phil and I have managed to share in the same country, or if it was because it was my first birthday in Shanghai. Whatever the reason, I felt happiness rather than my usual complete ambivalence.
Phil surprised me with a gorgeous jacket... something I was desperately lacking in the onset of the Shanghai cold winter. It looks to me like an Aussie standard winter coat, but he assures me it is only an autumn jacket, and that I'll have to get a warmer one by January. God help me come winter.
The birthday happiness was increased to ecstatic joy upon the arrival of a new member of the family:

My great friends John and Miriam delivered this little bundle of joy. Pablo is named after Pablo Picasso of course, though the only masterpieces he has created so far have been several "nuggets of goodness" on the floor. I am going to attempt to toilet train him... don't laugh yet, it is possible... but so far he is more interested in eating the magazines under the coffee table than pooping in his litter tray. Understandable. I am considering pasting some articles to wall beside his tray to amuse him when he's there.
Big thanks to Miriam and John for giving Pablo to me, and even bigger thanks to Papa Phil for letting him stay!
Off now to Bunny-proof the apartment!

Monday, October 31, 2005

When the Ayi Strikes Back

Before I arrived in Shanghai Phil had a great cleaning lady. The day I arrived her body was taken over by sulking, clumsy aliens.
Or so it seems.
The cleaner, or 'Ayi', resented me being here for any one of the following reasons:

  • She did not like the social status of being a cleaner, and so before I arrived she could pretend that she was more of a mother figure to Phil, looking after him. After I arrived it was obvious that he didn't need her like that, and that, yes, she was just a cleaner.
  • She was madly in love with Phil, though she is married with a child, and was hoping for the Cinderella happy ending that lies in the hearts of almost every Shanghai girl: marrying a foreigner and being richer than they could imagine. (Of course being a foreigner equates with being rich, regardless of the reality).
  • By me being here she thought that her workload had doubled, in spite of the fact that I did a lot of the cleaning myself. It may just be me, but I think if you are paying someone to come twice a week to clean your one bedroom apartment, you shouldn’t find yourself standing in the shower scrubbing black mould off the tiles with a toothbrush.
Whatever the reason, upon my arrival she started sulking like a child. When that had no affect she began breaking things. First she broke the doorbell. Then she cracked the wardrobe mirror clean in half, and dented the plaster in the wall in the process. Next she snapped the flush handle from the toilet right off. Finally she chipped the glass shelf above the bathroom sink. Previous to all of this she had been extremely diligent with the clothes washing, separating colours and hand-washing anything suspect. But in the campaign of destruction she began throwing dark sweaters in the wash with white woolen socks, shrinking the sweaters and covering them with fluff in the process. She also coloured many a white shirt blue.
When we tried to change the time she came from Wednesday and Saturday mornings to Tuesday and Fridays, she point blank refused. Then turned up at 5.30am Friday morning. Noisily.
I came to Shanghai excited about the prospect of having a cleaner for the first time in my life. I was expecting something like this:

I was not expecting this:

A friend who has been in China for a while pointed out that she was probably trying to get fired. She would lose less face if she could blame the whole thing on us (and by "us" I mean me).
In any case, the woman was a liability, and so we fired her (and by "we" I mean Phil).
And although we'll probably not get back the bond/deposit on this apartment because of everything she has broken, she had the nerve to ask for 3 months severance pay.
Oh, how we laughed.
So if you know a good Ayi, we are in the market.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I Surrender!

Living in Asia is one giant process of surrender. I have come to realise that we need to surrender as soon as possible in order to move on past the agony of futile resistance.

We surrender our anonymity.
We surrender our privacy.
We surrender our ideas of socially acceptable behaviour regarding spit, snot, and phlegm.
We surrender our personal space.
We surrender our sleep, when the cleaning lady arrives at 5.30am and starts banging about in the kitchen.
We surrender our concepts of safe driving, and our traffic rules.
We surrender our notions of what is an edible part of an animal.
We surrender the belief that you don't eat a pet for dinner.
We surrender our health.
We surrender certain manners about not pushing into lines.
We surrender the idea that lamb's placenta shouldn't come in a tablet form.
We surrender the hope that there will be at least one meal on the menu not containing meat.
We surrender our budgets when we want to buy some western food.
We surrender the ability to move our limbs on the subway in peak hour.
We surrender the expectation that a cheap meal should not end in hours spent on the toilet.
We surrender the skill to converse intelligently, or even at all.
We surrender the dream of a Sunday morning sleep-in.

We surrender. Full stop.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Just what this Vegetarian needed!

Whilst browsing in the Chinese traditional medicine shop in search of some good old multi-vitamins, I was amused when the sales woman looked me up and down and then decided what I needed:
Lamb's Placenta, in a convenient capsule form.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sailing the Censor Ship

In general censorship in China has been well documented, but few people outside of China are as aware of the degree of internet censorship. Known as the Great Firewall of China, internet censorship here is far-reaching, but at times rather ad-hoc. For example the BBC news sites are banned, yet other news sites are freely viewed. Not only are the BBC news sites banned, but other less ‘radical’ BBC sites, such as the ‘What Not To Wear’ BBC tv program web-site. Curiously some sites seem to be blocked for no reason at all. For example, why would the Australian Idol official website be blocked? It consists of a bunch of superstar wanna-bes, strutting around a stage performing covers of other superstars’ material, all competing to be the one least-hated by the audience. Yes, blocking it shows a rare display of good taste on behalf of the government, but it was hardly a national security threat to begin with.

Look here for ‘China Censoship For Dummies’ for a brief overview.

According to Human Rights Watch

China’s latest clampdown came on September 25, when the Ministry of Information Industry and the State Council, China’s cabinet, introduced “Rules on the Administration of Internet News Information Services to ensure that news reports are “serving socialism,” “upholding the interests of the state,” and “correctly guiding public opinion.” As Xinhua, China’s official news agency, stated, only “healthy and civilized news and information that is beneficial to the improvement of the quality of the nation, beneficial to economic development and conducive to social progress” will be allowed.

Official Chinese sources explain away the new regulations by invoking “national security,” the “public interest,” “state secrets,” and “social order,” ever-shifting terms left purposefully undefined in the interests of putting an end to words or activities that might challenge one-Party control.

The new regulations, an update of those in effect since 2000, hit at both websites and e-mail. They aim to prevent distribution of any uncensored version of a news event or commentary. Restrictions include all news related to “politics, economics, military affairs, foreign affairs, and social and public affairs, as well as…fast-breaking social events,” such as a coal mine disaster, an official demotion, a strike, or an organized protest against environmental degradation.

“The new regulations make the government and the Chinese Communist Party the only arbiter of what is ‘healthy and civilized,’” said Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese authorities apparently think that keeping more than 100 million Internet users in the dark is better than allowing the peaceful exchange of opinions or expressions of grievances. This is Big Brother at its worst, and out of step with the direction of the rest of the world in the 21st century.”

As it stands, this blog, and all others hosted by blogspot, are blocked in China. I can only see my own blog by surfing through an anonymous proxy server (such as Anonymouse). So, considering I am not a threat to the innocent Chinese web surfer, studiously downloading Japanese porn in his spare time, I could probably write whatever I wanted here.

Assuming of course that I don’t mind being deported in the middle of the night at gun-point.

More than 60 Chinese are serving time in prison for the peaceful expression of their views over the Internet. Zheng Yichun, a freelance writer and poet, was sentenced on September 22, three days before the new regulations were issued, to serve seven years for essays on the Internet advocating political reform; on July 28, a Bengbu (Anhui province) court sentenced Zhang Lin to a five-year term for posting Internet articles and essays that were “contrary to the bases of the constitution” and “endangered national security”; and, on April 27, in a case in which Yahoo! provided his name to the authorities, Shi Tao received a ten-year term for sending information through a Yahoo! email account about a Communist Party decision to a New York-based website.

-Click here for full Human Rights Watch article

Ok, I take it all back. China is wonderful, not like Big Brother at all!

Down to Earth

My classrooms have been buzzing with this story all week. China has sent two astronauts into orbit for five days (click here for full story from Sydney Morning Herald).
According to China's 2IC, Wu Bangguo, the mission was a success. "This will further improve the country's international status and national strength, and will help to mobilise its people to rally around the Communist Party and work harder for the future of the country," Wu said.

And here I was thinking the purpose of the mission was to see if you really could see the Great Wall from space.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The real Chinese epidemic?

An older cartoon, but following on from the bird flu theme:

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The word on the streets...


While the rest of the world is freaking out about the possible threat of an Avian/Bird-Flu pandemic, the word on the streets here in China is eerily quiet. You would think that after enduring the SARS epidemic in 2003, the average Chinese citizen would be more aware of the killer-potential of the H5N1 bird-flu virus.

According to the October issue of National Geographic magazine, the 1918 Spanish Flu is also believed to have originated from birds. During the course of that pandemic 50-100 million people died, as almost “everyone on Earth was exposed to the disease, and half got sick”. Should the current bird-flu virus mutate and gain the ability to spread among humans, the magazine estimates that up to 360 million people could die.

However, when I question most people here about it, there attitude is completely blasé. Here is a sample of answers taken from my students (25-40 year old Chinese citizens):

“Well we survived SARS fine, we don’t feel we need to worry about this new bird-flu.”

“We all got worried about SARS, but then the scientist found out that it was just another flu.”

“The whole world was worried about SARS, but we were ok.”

Bird flu comic

“The newspapers say that the bird-flu is just in backward places like Vietnam and Cambodia, it is not China’s problem.”

It is hard to believe these answers when the world leaders are stockpiling drugs and holding international symposiums to prepare for a possible world-wide pandemic.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Fraggle Wisdom

As a true child of the '80s I maintain the conviction that there is a Fraggle Rock quote for every situation.
Here is a quote from Gobo Fraggle:

"I have a place,"
But it isn't one of those."
"I go there when I want to think
What makes a radish grow.
Or when I want to count how many
Things there are to know.
Or when the world's too fast for me
And I want someplace slow.
But this exact location
Will have to stay unknown.
Like everyone I need a place
Where I can be alone."
Obviously he has never been to China... he might as well be looking for the Holy Grail.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The mother lode

I have finally hit the ‘bad Chinglish’ mother lode.

While shopping for bathroom tile cleaner today I couldn’t resist buying this fine product:

‘Evergreen Porcelain Cleaner’ boasts it is “non-stimulating to skin… used for removing the scale on the hard, water-proof surfaces of water pool, basin, bathtub, cock, shower spout, ceramic tile, smooth floor and plastic wares.”

Yeah, I had to read it twice too.


Last Sunday I fulfilled every slapstick comedian’s life long dream:

While walking down the footpath of a very public street, I actually slipped on a real live banana peel!

Ok, so there were no slapstick comedians around to witness it, but it has kept me laughing to the point of wetting myself for the last three days.

Laurel and Hardy eat your heart out!

Some like it HOT

The weather has suddenly turned, and Autumn is finally here. The days are cooler, and in my nostalgia for all things chilly, I believe I have somewhat jumped the gun by parading around in a sweat-shirt when it is still not yet cold enough to turn the air conditioning off.

But then I was confronted with some real heat: a vicious appliance known as the bathroom heater. This seemingly innocent device blows with the force of a turbine engine, and with a heat second only to a locomotive furnace.

The other day I ran into the bathroom- a side affect of my resolving for the 45 zillionth time to drink 8 glasses of water a day- and on my way accidentally flicked on the heater switch before rushing straight to the toilet.

The heat of a thousand suns errupted in my bathroom.

There I found myself, trapped on the toilet, unable to get up for obvious reasons, and an instantaneous deluge of sweat springing from my pores.

Phil finally came running to my rescue when he heard me screaming maniacally “I’m MELLLTINNNNNNGG!!!” (a la Wicked Witch of the West, after Dorothy throws water on her), and lunged for the off switch as I took what I assumed to be my last conscious breath.

Ok, I’m a drama queen, but that heater really is bloody HOT!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Happy National Day

Today is Chinese National Day- a public holiday and one of the most important holidays of the year.
Though it is not the tradition to give presents on National Day, the entire city of Shanghai gave us the best present in the world this morning: Silence
Golden, Glorious SILENCE!
The traffic noise is at a minimum, but most importantly, for the first time ever, there is no construction noise. None at all. The construction noise is normally 24/7, and after two months of it it is downright eerie not to hear it.
I know that all this silence will be made up for in a few hours time when every resident of the city begins setting off fire crackers indiscriminatly in the streets. But for now I am happy, and incredibly grateful.
Thank you China, Happy National Day!

Out of the mouths of babes... well almost

The other day in class I was trying to elicit words to describe personal characteristics. We had already thought of 'well-informed', and I asked the students to give me the opposite of this.
All the faces looking at me were scrunched up in confusion and straining deep in thought.
Then suddenly one girl offered her answer:

(Of course I spent the next ten minutes discussing the definition of 'stereotype'...)

Great Chinglish Names, Volume 2

Some additions to the great English names my Chinese students have chosen for themselves:

  • Sissi
  • Sunny Sun
  • Apper (the old asian mistake of confusing 'l' and 'r')
  • Rejoice (nobody but me thought it was funny that he was sitting next to Joyce in class)
  • Sun-ray
  • Bean
  • Eeley
  • Airy
  • Forsking (say that three times fast...)

Friday, September 30, 2005

7 degrees of Scent-oration

I have noticed a familiar pattern of aromas walking the 7 minutes from my appartment to work. A blindfolded experiment would go something like this:

Scent #1: The cold musty smell of my building hallway, spiked with lingering odors of last nights dinner stagnating outside the apartments. I am reminded of T. S. Eliot’s Preludes, “The winter evening settles down, with smell of steaks in passageways”.

Scent #2: The sickly sweet decay of rotting fruit walking past the fruit stand in the entrance to the building complex driveway.

Scent #3: Turning the corner the sweet decay is quickly replaced by the smell of raw sewerage, I have not yet deduced the source, but it is in this location regularly enough to assume that there is a broken septic tank somewhere nearby.

Scent #4: Sweeping past the motorcycle repair shop, the smell of petrol, oil, and rubber pervades the senses with relief.

Scent #5: This is too quickly replaced by the odor of the barbeque meat stand. This of course smells like a barbeque, but the scent is less like cooking a steak and more like barbequing a slab of a smelly man’s putrid armpit on a hot summer’s day.

Scent #6: The public toilet beside the footpath. Acrid urine. No further description necessary.

Scent #7: Cigarette smoke in the lobby of my college building. Being a no-smoking environment (a rare thing in china), people only go as far as the lift or stairwell of each floor for their smoke break. This of course has the effect of allowing the cigarette smell to conveniently permeate to every floor of the building.

7 scents in 7 minutes. It’s no wonder I breath through my mouth.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A couple of weekends ago, Phil and I escaped the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and headed for the sleepy little lakeside holiday city of Hong Zhou, population: 3 MILLION PEOPLE! Well, it was still quieter than Shanghai.
It was a nice break, only two hours from Shanghai.
Here is the mandatory photo of me standing in front of the gates to an old Tomb.

On the downside, on arriving back in Shanghai and walking into the driveway for our building we witnessed a man literally throw his wife on to the bonnet of a car and start strangling her. She of course was screaming hysterically (when she was not being choked to the point of suffocation), and a crowd formed to watch the scene. Coming from a society where if anyone tried this in public, every man, and half of the women, in the vicinity would have jumped on him, it was very disturbing to see no-one do anything about this attack. And as outsiders and foreigners, the entire crowd would have turned on us if we had stepped in. Seeing one guy in the crowd on the phone to the police, I decided we needed to walk straight past before I lost my cool completely. Shaking and disgusted, I could only calm down after a long shower. It is terrible to feel so utterly helpless, and ended up being a sad end to a nice weekend.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lou Quote of the Day #2

"The number of staff standing around doing nothing at any one time in Shanghai would out-number the entire population of Sydney"

Monday, September 12, 2005

Worth the Weight?

I must admit that I have never owned a set of scales. I usually know roughly what I weigh, and am relatively happy with that figure, but I don't like to be faced with it every time I walk into the bathroom.

That being said, when I moved into this apartment I couldn't resist jumping on to the old scales the landlord left in the bathroom.

A love affair with the scales quickly ensued. It wasn't that my new lover, Mr. Scales, was particularly handsome. Quite the opposite in fact, as he is 1970s orange, festooned with a green cartoon dog and the text "To your HEALTH". It was just that he always said what I wanted to hear.

A brief but intense relationship followed, with secret a rendezvous snatched every few days.
As in many relationships, I was blinded by the compliments, and, again like in many relationships, it took my nearest and dearest to snap me out of my blind adoration.

Me: "I think I have lost weight!"
Phil: "Oh no... You are not using the scales in the bathroom are you?"
Me (defensively): "Yeah, what about it?"
Phil: "Oh baby, they don't work, they never have... I just use them to hold the bath mat in place..."

Love affair over, it is back to the guy who unconditionally gives me compliments regardless of what I weigh.

Weather or Not

Before leaving Sydney I had a conversation with mum about how when you are living in another country, the people back home will often hear the latest news of your own new country’s political or natural disasters long before you do. Without understanding the local news, some things slip by you.

I was thinking about this last night, as I was listening to the wind literally howling outside the apartment, and I wondered if there was something in this weird weather that we didn’t know about. Then I suddenly came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald online:

Typhoon hits China, heads for Shanghai

September 11, 2005 - 7:28PM

A typhoon slammed into eastern China today, where nearly a million people had been evacuated, and was headed in the direction of Shanghai, state media said.

Typhoon Khanun, which spared the island of Taiwan on Saturday after forecasts predicted a near direct hit, made landfall in China's mountainous Zhejiang province, where storms regularly trigger fatal floods and landslides.

The city of Taizhou took the full brunt of the storm.

"The province has so far evacuated 814,267 people to safer places," Xinhua news agency said, quoting sources with the provincial flood control and drought relief headquarters. It did not say to where.

About 35,400 ships and other vessels had returned to port, it added.

The port of Ningbo was directly in the path of the storm which was unleashing maximum sustained winds of up to 177 kph, according to Tropical Storm Risk Web
typhoon tracker.

The storm was now a category two, after the eye crossed the coast, down from a category four, with five being the strongest.

Authorities in Shanghai, China's financial centre north of Zhejiang, had issued the yellow warning signal, demanding that more than 100,000 people working outdoors or living in sheds and other temporary housing evacuate to safety.

Well, that explains the weather…


PS. Before you ask, we are fine. The winds were wicked but we battened down the hatches, so to speak, and were completely untouched.

Monday, September 05, 2005


It was about time I did this. I have been amusing myself at the Chinese English, more commonly known as 'Chinglish' for the last few weeks.

The eggs I have are labeled in big letters as Green Eggs… enough to make Dr Seuss proud (but I’ll skip the ham: aside from being a vegetarian, I would rather not eat unrecognizably processed meat in a country that serves dog).

My toilet paper is wrapped in a plastic pack declaring “Mind Act Upon Mind, Toilet Tissue”… now I have heard of a dirty mind, but nothing that bad!

A packet of nut biscuits/cookies I bought the other day published this lengthy tome:

We like the new taste. We need the quality and we need the best food. Here you will find what you want. Cool face need cool taste. You are the NEW MAN. How delicious can not forget, special taste, return the true flavour.”

I am the new man? That’s a lot of pressure from a 100g pack of sweet crackers!

The sign draped over the back of a passenger seat in a cab (talk about a captive hostage!) had an advertisement for a cosmetic surgery company here in Shanghai. The ad was for breast enlargements, with a (highly re-touched) picture of a large breasted woman, and the slogan: “Ache and Be Happy”. I guess it is a new elaboration of the “no pain no gain” idea, but I for one think they shouldn’t be promoting the ‘ache’ part in their marketing campaign.

But the best I have seen so far was in a café today, named “100% Expectation Café”. The menu had many fun translations, and for the sake of time and space I have selected but a few. The food was listed in the food menu under the title:

Daintiness Nosh

  • Hodgepodge Fungus Cook Chicken
  • Make and Appointment Sandwich
  • Green stuff Salad
  • Yippee Dried Fruit
  • Fry Chook Plumage
  • Pig Nuts
  • Duck Chin

(and my own personal favourite…)

  • Gold A Threadlike Thing Sleeve-Fish

Normally I can guess what they meant to say, but most of these are beyond me.

I’m sure there will be more to come.

Monday, August 29, 2005

And some more...

Another pic from the Bund the other day, this one shows exactly how many people were swamping the place

Also a photo from the same day (I do have more clothes than this one green top!) at dinner with my friends Clem and Jenny, who happen to be visiting Shanghai.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lou Quote(s) of the Day

1. "I wonder if there is viagra for my flaccid celery?"
2. "Does everyone in China have a middle ear infection that prevents them from walking in a straight line?"

The Only Good Pedestrian is a Suicidal One

Do you remember the old road safety song? (Sing it with me, children of the 80s):

"Stop at the curb [chirpy echo: stop at the curb],
Look to the left [look to the left]
Look to the right [look to the right]
Look to the left again!
When the road is CLEAR of traffic,
Walk straight across the road,
Walk straight across the road"

What a load of bulls***. Clearly the songwriter had never been to Asia. If I were to wait at the curb until there was NO traffic, I'd be there all bloody day!

Instead I have decided that crossing the road here is like playing a game of virtual reality Frogger. If you are a child of the 80's you'll remember this game with no need for reminders. If however you need a refresher, it was the computer game where you had to move a little frog (Frogger) across several lanes of a freeway without ending up with frog pancake (and believe me, you'd never see a frog bleed so much... we used to suicide just to see the badly pixelated gore).

For those of you playing along at home have a game and think of me. In the meantime I'll amuse myself by writing a new community service announcement for the children in my vicinity:

"Stop at the curb [stop at the curb]
Wait for a gap, [wait for a gap]
Dash into the gap, [dash into the gap]
pause in front of oncoming traffic
Take four steps and stop,
Ignore the angry taxi,
now dodge past the bicycles on to the footpath beyond."

I know it doesn't quite fit the original, but nothing here in China ever really does.

Decisions, decisions...

I'm not working today and so I was looking forward to a little sleep-in (i.e. I was not planning to witness any part of the morning, and, with any luck, be comatose for half the afternoon too).

Oh, how I did try.

At 7am I was woken by the air conditioner dripping a river of water onto the floor-boards below. I re-positioned a towel under it, which was soaked in no time, and did nothing to muffle the incessant drumming of the deluge. Note to self: call the landlord to fix the bloody thing.

By 7.30am I had managed to snooze just long enough to allow several mosquitos to binge on my exposed knees at the edge of the bed sheet.

By 7.45am I had become insanely focused on the constant drilling, sawing and welding emitted from the construction site next door... a sound that continues all night and day, and that I only manage semi-successfully to ignore at the best of times.

At 8am the Dear Boy gets up for a shower, running late for work.

Suffering an audio onslaught and itchy as hell from the mosquito banquet I realise I have two options:
1. Rupture my own eardrums with a handy chopstick and gnaw off my own legs above the knee,
2. Get up and start the day.

Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Idiom Idiocy

Actual dialogue from my English class yesterday, while trying to elicit the word ‘pregnant’:

Me: “What is the English word for when a woman is going to have a baby?”

[students all deep in thought, followed by a light-bulb moment for one student]

Student: “She’s got a bun in the oven!”

Me: "er... um... yeah..."

A Rose By Any Other Name

I have been amusing myself in class by looking at the English names Chinese students have chosen for themselves. There are a lot of fairly normal names (Mary, Grace, Sam), but a lot of others which are more, um, shall we say creative. Here is the top five list:
5. Evangel
4. Snow
3. Cat
2. Queen
... and my personal fave so far...
1. Shiny

Obligatory Sight-seeing Photo

I'd been here for a couple of weeks already when I realised that in all the rush to get a job and get settled in, I'd really not seen much of the city at all. So last Sunday we trotted off to the Bund, where this photo was taken.

The brown river appears nice enough, so long as you don't actually look into it... though I did amuse myself for a good five minutes analysing the flotsam and jetsam floating past.

Phil took this photo on an angle both for artistic merit and more importantly to try to isolate me among the throngs of Chinese tourists visiting from other provinces. You can see by the look on my face that I was already sick of the crowds, and we'd only just arrived there.

Not long after, as we walked away from the river edge I managed to tread in a fresh, warm puddle of urine which splashed right up my leg. With nothing to do about it, I stoically pretended it was just a spilled drink of lemonade. Yeah, right.

From there we walked to the monument in honor of the people who died defending the country in World War II... though Phil quite rightly pointed out that a monument for the millions of lives lost during the Cultural Revolution is noticeably absent.

As George Orwell said: "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

Friday, August 19, 2005

It was the breast of times, it was the worst of times

I tried to buy a new bra this morning, but was told my breasts were too big for any of the bras in the shop.

No really.

Stop laughing.

Those of you in cyberspace who are unaware of my bra size should be tipped off by the raucous uncontrollable laughing you can hear echoing around the world at this very moment. Obviously this is a very new phenomenon for me.

As it happens I am too 'fat' to fit into most of the pants off the rack here. I have a 30 inch waist: yeah I'm a regular whale.

I guess the only consolation to being a human whale, is that in comparison to the girls around me I have Pammy Anderson's breasts.

Shut-up, I said in comparison!

Hot town, summer in the city...

It turns out I have come to Shanghai during the hottest month of the year. 38 degrees Celcius and 90% humidity means that most of the time I feel like I have been hit by a truck. It is so difficult to look calm and composed when you are literally slimey all over with sweat. And I mean all over.
But, I think to myself, there are 20 million people in this city, who's going to notice that I look like a creature from the deep?
Wrong! One white girl walking down the street tends to attract more than a few stares. One slimey white girl walking down the street is her own one woman show.
As if my moist state of being wasn't enough to demonstrate the heat, last night I witnessed the final straw. I went out and splurged on a block of cheese to serve grated with the pasta I was making for dinner (yes, I can get cheese, you just don't wanna know how much it cost). I grated the golden goodness on to a plate, and served it from there on to the pasta. After dinner I went back into the kitchen and noticed that the remains of the grated cheese had MELTED onto the plate, simply from the heat in the room.
Like I said, it's freaking hot.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Break out the champagne

So I got that job I interviewed for last Friday. The college seems to be a pretty cool school. I taught a few classes this week as part of my trial/interview process. The curriculum is good, the salary and hours are acceptable, and, most importantly, students are all very motivated. To use one of the idioms from a class I taught yesterday:
I have landed on my feet.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Requiem to Innocence

Can you remember when:

  • You thought you would be ripped to shreds if you didn’t step off the escalator in time?
  • A solo trip to the letterbox was a feat of great responsibility?
  • Watching the washing spinning in the machine offered hours of unending entertainment?
  • You didn’t have a clue where the toilet flushed to?
  • You realized with awe that you could open your eyes under water?
  • You thought Big Bird was actually trapped INSIDE your television set?
  • You dreamed of the day you were grown up just so you could eat ice cream for dinner?
  • Girls and Boys could only be differentiated by their clothes?
  • You believed babies were placed in the womb by magic?
  • You were convinced that clouds would feel like cotton wool if you could only reach them?
  • Your worst fear was losing your mum in the supermarket?
  • 10 cents would buy a whole bag of mixed lollies at the corner store?
  • No-one noticed if you weren’t wearing any clothes?
  • You still believed you could be sucked down the plug hole if you didn’t get out of the bath before emptying it?
  • You didn’t know the meat you ate was a dead animal?
  • When the only job you had was to clean your room?
  • When your mum knew the exact location of any itemed you owned and could tell you where it was without even pausing to think about it?
  • You had never heard of a ‘computer’?
  • Losing your favourite doll/teddy was a travesty worth crying over for a week?
  • You thought The Beatles were a band of insects playing “Letter B” on Sesame Street?
  • You actually thought Wile E. Coyote had a chance of catching the Road Runner?
  • Bread crusts had the power to curl hair and stepping on the crack in the pavement would really break your mother’s back?
  • You could ride on your dog like a horse?
Ahhh the good old days.... just thinking about how things seem simpler in youth, yet looking back they were really just as complicated in different ways. We can only ever understand our worlds with the mental and emotional tools we have available to us at that precise moment in time.

Just a thought....

Monday, August 15, 2005


I had a job interview for an English Teaching position last Friday morning. I find job interviews uncomfortable at the best of times (don’t we all?), but when the interview is in another country it seems harder. Not knowing the ‘interview standards’ in this culture adds an extra element of nervousness.

My first thoughts upon waking up that morning was exactly what any girl in my position would think: “Oh my god, what will I wear?”

Allowing myself a morning cup (East Timorese ground coffee from Oxfam… yum), I finally settled on a fairly dressy outfit, knowing that English Colleges in Shanghai tend to view their foreign teachers as poster girls or guys for publicity purposes. Knowing that my skin colour is a consideration in the interview process is a very disconcerting thought, but today is not the day to protest: I need a job.

As it happens the college is just around the corner from our flat, and I can see it from the balcony while I dry my hair in the sun. Walking there I am conscious of the pit of nervousness settled in my stomach. “Take a deep breath Lou” I tell myself.

Oh, ew! I am overpowered by the stench of urine I have just inhaled deeply. Then I realize am walking past the public toilet. “Ok, take a deep breath through your MOUTH!”

In the five minutes it takes me to walk to the building I am drenched in sweat. What a great way to make a good first impression! After searching for a further five minutes for the lift I finally make it to the 6th floor.

True to form, the first thing my interviewer comments on is not my resume but my pretty pink top.


Addendum: The college caters for mostly young adults wanting to improve their English for business, study or travel opportunities, or just because it is the ‘in thing’ to do. I taught a trial class this morning and will have to teach two trial classes this Wednesday before officially being offered the job, but it looks promising. Finger’s crossed!

Friday, August 12, 2005


Hehehe... thanks to Phil for finding this one:

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Culture Clash

I came to Shanghai to experience the Chinese culture. Yet here I am, on only my sixth day in the city, wandering around a Swedish Wonderland.

Yes, I am in Ikea.

The fact that an Ikea exists in Shanghai at all is scary. Yet even scarier is the fact that it looks EXACTLY like any other Ikea, in any location in the world. Identical, from the blue and yellow paintwork, and the cute Swedish names for all the items (‘brannas’, ‘expedit’, ‘funka’ and ‘samtid’) to the meandering path designed to force shoppers past every possible piece of merchandise there is. As I stand here it is blindingly obvious that somewhere there exists a publication of “Ikea Set-up For Dummies”, and it has been followed to the letter.

I must be crazy. I am already suffering from culture shock and having difficulty at times coping with the pushing masses of people in any location in the city. So I go to Ikea?? If you have ever been to Ikea on a Saturday morning you will understand exactly what I am talking about. I vow, as it is packed enough of a Wednesday NEVER to venture in these claustrophobic, primary-coloured halls of a weekend.

Two hours later I eventually emerge back out into the oppressive heat of the Shanghai street. I feel like banging my fists to my chest and hollering: “With Sven as my witness, I have conquered Ikea!” Instead I toddle back to the subway, arms laden with just enough miscellaneous home wares to make my trip back home that touch more arduous. It is Ikea’s parting kick in the backside to all departing shoppers, that their products are designed and packaged in the least manageable way possible.

“Thank you, come again!” The sadistic truth is that we do.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Home or Away?

So I finally made it to Shanghai last week at 12.30AM Friday morning. Only 6.5 hours late.

Now I am trying to get re-adjusted to being in Asia again. Although some things are taking a while, it is actually easier than I thought it would be. On experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of Shanghai on Friday morning it strangely felt like home. Or home away from home, as of course I will always call Australia home. But I have come to realise in just a few days that at times this chaos feels more natural to me than the order of Sydney ever did in the last two years.

I have slipped surprisingly quickly into accepting the reality of 80% humidity, constant stares at my white skin, not being able to read any of the labels in the supermarket, a typhoon circling about the area bringing rain and gale force winds, and of course, the neighbours ringing the doorbell at 7AM.

Compared to my life in Nepal some things here are a breeze: flush toilets, double-glazing and air-conditioning. Just around the corner are three HUGE shopping complexes, KFC, Pizza Hut, MacDonalds and Starbucks. Of course, right now I can't afford to go there, and to be honest I don't really want to. Phil has set up this apartment already with TV, DVD and internet access, and we even have a washing machine (though I can't read any of the dials or settings on it).

On the other hand, the constant hustle and bustle of the city is a new shock. Never-ending horns blasting, construction work 24/7, and people EVERYWHERE. Goodbye personal space. I certainly never had anything like that in my little village in Nepal, where come night time I would sit on my roof to cool down, the only sounds were the cicadas in the corn fields and only the lightning streaking somewhere over India would illuminate the sky. As a girl from the regional Blue Mountains (the City within a National Park!), even though I have lived in Sydney on and off for years, nothing has ever prepared me for life on the 13th floor.

Yet once again, I am struck by how it is not the big things that really put you off, but that culture shock strikes in the smallest of details. I am slowly getting used to checking over my LEFT shoulder for on-coming traffic when crossing the road, though I tend to cling on to Phil when he is there like a three year old clinging on to their mother for dear life. However, the fact that they drive on the right side of the road here means that the escalators are reversed. I keep walking on auto-pilot towards the escalator on the left side of the pair, which of course has the stairs coming TOWARDS me and thus trip me over instead of carrying me away.

This week will be filled with searching for a job (teaching English) and acclimatising, to both the weather and the culture.

And of course this blog entry only barely scratches the surface, there will be more plenty more to come.

The Best Laid Plans

I get up BEFORE the crack of dawn, drive with the family for over an hour to get to Sydney airport by 7am for my 10 am flight. After a slight hiccup at the check in desk where I repack my bags frantically to reduce my excess luggage, I go through customs to my gate. Gate 115.

There is NO gate 115. Eventually I see the right flight listed for gate 24 so I proceed there. As I sit down the woman next to me asks what time I was told the flight would be.
“It is supposed to leave at 10am, but I was told it was delayed until 11.50am” I reply knowingly.
She smiles sadly and says another passenger was told it wouldn’t arrive until 1.30PM. We shudder and hope against hope that he is wrong, as we make mindless small-talk.

Soon enough we hear an announcement:
“Passengers on Qantas flight 129 to Shanghai…. We regret to tell you…..”
“…that your flight has been delayed until 4PM as it has been re-routed through Adelaide.”
So I got up at 4AM for nothing then?
“Don’t you realise that I am NOT A BLOODY MORNING PERSON!!!” I scream inwardly. Only my eyes reveal my true inner anguish as they search hysterically for a magic button somewhere with a neon sign and arrow flashing “Push here to make that announcement merely a cruel joke and be on your way at your scheduled time”

Of course, this being Sydney airport and not Chitty-chitty Bang-bang, no such button exits. So here I am, still sitting in the airport five hours after I arrived here, waiting for the AWOL plane.
I was scheduled to arrive in Shanghai at the nice civilized time of 6.30PM, with enough time for a nice dinner with Phil. Instead, I’ll be lucky to get there before midnight.

A new acronym for Qantas: Quietly Absent, Never Timetabling Arrivals Successfully.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Wedding Bells (NOT MINE!!)

I know I am a bit late on this one, but better late than never. On the 17th July my little baby sister married James Yarker in a beautiful garden ceremony at Mum and Dad's place in the Blue Mountains. The weather was perfect, the ceremony was beautiful, and I owe them many, many thanks for moving the wedding forward from December simply so that I could be there.
Congratulations and best wishes to the both of you!

(Tommy hiding under the bridal party table at the reception)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Last Thursday night, while driving home from work across the Harbour Bridge, a BLOODY GREAT BIG RAT scurried across the road in front of me. It's little beady eyes lit up in the glare of my headlights as it navigated 6 lanes of traffic. I had just been thinking about the number of cockroaches I would soon be disturbing in the deepest recesses of my kitchen cupboards when I pack up the kitchen this weekend. Then suddenly I am faced with vermin.

I have seen plenty of rats in Sydney. I suppose they are attracted by the nice weather and beautiful beaches. And when you're a rat, rent is not the issue it is for the rest of us Sydney-siders. But up until now I have never seen one so bold as to cross the Bridge.

On the bright side, compared with that, how bad could my kitchen cupboards be...

Well, mum and Liz came over today to help me pack the flat up. We started in the kitchen and I soon realised a few of the food packages had little holes in them. And then noticed that a pack of biscuits had a golfball-sized crater carved out of it.

Mum and I looked at each other knowingly.
"That's not from moths..." I said backing away from the head-height cupboard. Mum, on the other hand leans in closer, pointing out a mouse dropping before squealing in horror at something I knew instinctively to be a mouse.

In what can only be described as a "Save Yourself" manoeuver, I threw Liz bodily out of my path, and screamed like a girl as I ran out of the kitchen to the furthest corner of the house.

At some point in the past couple of weeks, I must have opened the cupboard mid-mouse banquet, and while reaching for dinner had unwittingly squashed the mouse between two tins of food (or something... I refused to look closer), and mum couldn't even shake its decomposing body off the tin. I don't know why she was even trying, especially with me screaming maniacally from the other room: "Throw it in the bin! Just throw the whole lot in the bin!!" before heaving into the toilet.

Cockroaches I can do. Spiders and snakes, done. But mice and rats: not my gig.

So China, bring on your best. After all, I've lived in Sydney, how bad can it be?

PS. Many thanks to Mum and Liz for dealing with the vermin invasion.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Turkish Bazaar

In addition to working, packing, moving, and generally going certifiably insane, I completed a photo shoot for a Middle Eastern furniture and design gallery in Sydney last week.

Here is a selection of shots from the day:

Image Hosted by

Image Hosted by

Image Hosted by

Image Hosted by

If you like what you see drop into Turkish Bazaar in Leyton St Camperdown, and pick up something gorgeous.

Monday, July 25, 2005

(not) Packing

Sitting on my living room floor, surrounded by half-packed boxes I am pondering how it is possible for one person to accumulate this much "stuff". In just 10 days I shall be boarding a plane to Shanghai, and in the meantime I have to pack my entire Sydney life into numerous cardboard boxes. I am planning on being away for a few years at least, so I wonder if I will I even want this stuff when I return?

Mum and my sister Liz have their own opinions on the subject:
"Oh, you won't need that jumper in Shanghai, I'll look after it for you..."
"Hmmmm... that painting would go nicely in the front bedroom..."
"I'll put those palms on the verandah..."

Like vultures devouring the carcass of my 'old' life, they have swooped on my possessions faster than you can say "scavenger".

I am moving out of my flat in Sydney this Friday, and before that I am working a 45 hour week. Where does that leave time for packing? I am so behind in getting my place sorted out, that I haven't even begun to think about actually packing my bags for China.

I suspect that come next Thursday, Shanghai will be receiving a broken shadow of my former self.

Note to Self: Learn "I'll have a gin and tonic please" in Mandarin.

"She's Leaving On A Jet Plane..."

Yes, Once again the travel bug has bitten and I am off to China. From the 4th August I will be joining the hustle and bustle of the 20 million other people in Shanghai.
Check here for news of my adventures and misadventures in The People's Republic.