Sunday, September 18, 2011

Shanghai - Week 1

My first full week in Shanghai was quite busy! Partly because I'm still working out my meeting schedule... there were a fair number of night meetings for me. And partly because I had the good fortune to meet with many folks in the office to get caught up, see what's going on for them, and find out what, if anything, I can do to help. Working with colleagues here is definitely one of the best parts of this assignment for me.

And in addition to office time this week, there were lots of lunches, some fun dinners, and a week-ending karaoke session!

Sadly, once I got into my Saturday, intending to rest up a bit and get ready for Sunday touristing, I started to feel like I was getting a head cold. Sure enough I woke up this morning and felt less-than-grand. So.... no tales from this weekend. Except that my hotel's room service is insanely fast. And sweet and sour chicken/pork/etc here is 10000000 times better than at a typical American Chinese restaurant.

Anyway, I wanted to do a quick recap so that when I get to a few weeks from now I'll still remember what I did...

In the early part of the week I was still finishing getting over jet lag and getting settled into a bit of a routine. The holiday on Monday helped a bit with the jet lag part. My routine is a little later in timing than at home, but it involves getting up, heading down to the ridiculous buffet breakfast the hotel has, saying hello to all of the super-friendly staff, and deciding which of many types of food I feel like eating. After eating and getting ready, I'll head into the office on the Metro. The stop near my hotel is just across the street, and the stop by the office is at the foot of the driveway. It's only two stops so it's quite convenient! In between various meetings and work, often a group will go out to lunch. And typically people stay a little later than in the US, or, in the case of night meetings, grab dinner and head back to the office.

I felt pretty good by the time I got to Wednesday in terms of sleeping on schedule. That worked out well because I had made plans with a couple of other US-based folks: Bill, who is about halfway through his extended visit here, and Jim, who was here for the week. We went out to Xintiandi, a popular tourist area with a ton of restaurants. We grabbed some tasty tapas before going out to a bar where a pretty good cover band was playing. There was lots of great conversation and comparing of Shanghai notes, as Jim visits relatively frequently, and Bill's been here a while on this trip.

I didn't do many photos, but here we are (though Bill's a little fuzzy)
From Shanghai, Xintiandi, Sept 14, 2011

From Shanghai, Xintiandi, Sept 14, 2011

I think the other big excitement from that night was, after taking the taxi back, Bill and I realized that we got completely swindled on our taxi over to our meeting place from the hotel. It was 4x the cost, and when I had the hotel call to complain (as we picked up the taxi at the hotel), they said they weren't even aware of that taxi in their system. D'oh! Thankfully it wasn't a fortune in US dollars, but still... stick to the light green and yellow taxis, folks!

Thursday was a long one in the office, but Friday was modestly mellow. We did do a lunch out for Cantonese food where I finally took some food shots. I know these are some of the most popular photos that I take!

From Shanghai - Week 1

From Shanghai - Week 1

From Shanghai - Week 1

There's a number of other shots in my Week 1 photo album on Google+, which has a much nicer overview layout than where the pics actually are on Picasa.

Anyway, Friday after work, I went out for Japanese buffet with several colleagues and we had some great food. Buffet here is just a flat fee where they keep bringing out things, rather than you going up to get food. There were a few dishes unusual for the US Japanese restaurants, but most of it was familiar. There were also yummy crabs, and the strangest thing I ate was probably beef tongue, sliced very thin.

Here's a couple shots of the group:
From Shanghai - Week 1

From Shanghai - Week 1

From there we were pondering other things to do and ended up talking about karaoke. Despite the fact that my whole family sings at the drop of hat, I had never gone before so it was an adventure! Beebee made a reservation and when we got there it was a strange setting (in my mind). We entered a lobby that looked like something in a fancy hotel. Then we were led down a looooooooong bright hallway that had a ton of small rooms off of it. Each room had its own tv, microphone, and lounge couches set up. Once we got to our room, the group set about picking songs. Not only did I get to hear some popular Chinese songs, there was also a decent selection of English songs, too. I'm sticking to still photos and there's more in the album, but here are a few.

The group gets oriented
From Shanghai - Week 1

Vivienne and I tackle Gaga
From Shanghai - Week 1

Sam got in on the act, despite a cold
From Shanghai - Week 1

Beebee is a natural crooner
From Shanghai - Week 1

We had a grand time and I look forward to going again!

That about wraps up the tale of the week, but I thought you all should witness the selection of soy sauces in a typical grocery store:
From Shanghai - Week 1

Tomorrow week 2 will kick off and I'll start all over! But hopefully I won't get sick next weekend as I'm supposed to join some folks in going to Hangzhou.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Adventures in grocery and food shopping

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! It's a long weekend here and I've been getting settled in. I finished my unpacking, which was the easy part. Then there's the matter of making sure I have supplies like laundry detergent (I have a little washer) and dish detergent. And of course, making sure I can eat. This includes basic groceries and also scoping out some places to grab food when I'm not cooking.

I had been told of the Walmart nearby, which is a full grocery store in addition to having other things as we Americans know Walmart. And when going out to dinner on Thursday, my colleagues had mentioned that the first floor of the department store we were in had a food space.

So yesterday I went on an adventure. It took a lot of oomph to have the energy to go, because knowing that behaviors and customs are different, and particularly when you don't know if you'll be able to read any signs and you're unlikely to be able to speak with anyone... well, it's a bit mentally taxing to accomplish tasks.

But I went out, hitting the department store first. I took a tour of the first floor and found some "luxury snack" stands (mochi mochi!), and several food-court style places. I made note of the pan-fried dumplings, noodle shop, and the japanese restaurant for later, and then took a tour of the drug store there. All good stuff to know.

Then it was off to find the Walmart. I had not brought the map, but I have a pretty good memory, so after going slightly off on half-a-block, I course corrected and found my way to the main street to the Walmart.

I was thinking it was a bit far when I saw it, but there it was! Groceries! Since I would be carrying everything by hand, I knew I had to keep the list relatively short.

First task at hand, however, was to figure out how checkout worked. Do people unload baskets like I'm used to? Do they have bags? How do people get their stuff out the door? Once I observed that part of it, I did a full tour of the place to see where everything was and what was available. I started picking up a few things along the way before grabbing a basket. The place was crowded but I made it through all the places I meant to.

I wanted to get stuff to do some simple cooking, at least one meal, so I wanted some soy sauce. I realized in looking at 12 shelves of soy sauce, very few of them having anything other than Chinese characters on them, that shopping might be a bit of a challenge. Still, I did find the soy sauce, Tide detergent looks the same even in another language, and so does dish detergent. The only other challenging part was vegetables and fruits. Once again I followed others and observed behaviors until I finally figured out that there's a weighing station in the middle of the store, and that's where you get bags and get things weighed before checking out.

I saw lots of wacky snacks, though I don't know what most of them are. I found the animal innards portion of the meat area, saw some yummy steamed dumplings, observed some cool vegetables, and also found the best "fast food" for cooking: pre-chopped meat and veggies packed together. Easy stir fry! I picked up one of those, some oil, spices, and soy sauce. Got some detergents, some milk for coffee, and some yogurt for snacking, and then made my way to check out. It went quite smoothly and I also learned that they do have bags to use, they just charge for them so most people bring their own. Good to know!

So I made my way home, and cooked up my first meal here. Some kind of meat (I'm guessing pork), tofu, and green peppers stir fry over some what noodles. It was pretty tasty, if I do say so myself, and I even had leftovers. Next time I go out I should probably get some food storage containers, though.

Today for a late lunch I ventured back over to the pan-fried dumplings place. Holy moly are they good. I may eat about a million of those things before I head back to the states. And you get four big, juicy dumplings for 6 Yuan, or slightly less than $1. Some things like nuts and milk are expensive here but it's a decent trade off, I think.

Given the amount of focus I needed to get through my "how do I do this?" tasks, I wasn't taking photos, but I will definitely get some shots of the meats and veggie choices at the grocery store next time. Now off to relax for a bit before my night meetings. Shanghai may have the day off, but the US does not!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Blog: resurrected. And hey, I'm in China!

I'm back! From outer space! Oh wait, that's the wrong song...

Life has been quite eventful in my hiatus from blogging, and perhaps the biggest event is my arrival two days ago in Shanghai, China, to support one of our local teams. I'll be here for over three months and am very excited about the opportunities, both in working with amazing coworkers and experiencing this incredible place for a longer visit.

I wrote about my previous visit to Shanghai (and the one before that) in my travel blog. But rather than continuing separate blogs, I will be posting here.

In getting here my flights were uneventful, which was fine by me. I got very little sleep in my 19-hour process of getting here, so seeing my colleague Vivienne's welcoming face when I got out of the customs area on Thursday afternoon was a welcome relief. She and our driver helped me get to the hotel and get up to the room. I have a small furnished suite/room in a hotel two stops from our office. And the best part is that it has a kitchen!

I got a bit of a rest, a much needed shower, and then I met up with Bruce, Itamar, Vivienne, Beebee, Tony, and Richard for dinner across the street. Lots of great food right away. Yum!

I actually slept during night hours that first day, which was pretty good considering the 12-hour time difference. On Friday I went into the office, got a refresher tour, got set up in my temporary office near our UX team, got caught up on email, and then went for a lovely lunch with the full team. More yummy food! But I haven't yet been taking pictures of it, sorry!

After a few more meetings, I got to witness the flash mob of the mid-autumn festival celebration at the office. Lots of food and riddles to solve! The mid-autumn festival is on Monday and there's been lots of discussions of mooncakes around here, as the traditional food to eat.

Anyway, once my work day was finished I came back to the hotel and fought to stay awake until 9. Probably should have worked harder as I woke up at 4:30. Ahhh, jet lag!

But this morning it was alright to get up early as I was meeting Bruce, his wife Mindy, and Rick and Jenny (whom I had not met before) to go witness the Qiongtang tidal bore coming in. It was a long drive, but lots of great conversation. Mindy and Bruce both lived in the US for 20 years, and Rick and Jenny both lived in Canada for many years before coming here to work at our company, so lots of interested tales and perspectives to hear about.

We got a bit lost along the way, but ended up going some 1/3 to 1/2 of the way across one of the longest bridges in the world, the Hangzhou Bay Bridge. It took us about 10 minutes to get to that point, but it was so foggy I have no idea where the end actually was. Thankfully they have a mid-bay platform that people can turn around on, otherwise our detour would have ended up even longer!

Anyway, it was a mad dash to just see the wave of the tide go by, but we did it!
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

The crowd watching was pretty big, but the tide was only a meter high on this day. I guess on some days it comes in as a wave of 10 meters!
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

Rick took a picture of the rest of us, after our mad dash. Here's Jenny, me, Mindy, and Bruce.
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

As we walked down the shoreline path, toward the pagoda and into the park, I saw this amazing 300+ year old tree. So beautiful, and the hole in the middle goes straight through!
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

We continued wandering around, and I must say... I was quite the stand-out in terms of being the only foreigner around. The little kids do not restrain themselves from pointing and coming up and saying "Hello!" and laughing. I was completely fascinating to them!

After we wandered around the park a bit (there's some nifty photos in the album), we got back into the car to head to downtown Haining. The first thing I noticed when we got out was the insane number of scooters.
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

While we looked for a restaurant (I was interested in something other than an American chain, so my hosts dilligently looked for a place serving traditional Chinese food...), there was a lot of neat sights in wandering around. I caught this gentleman cleaning the street. I just liked his face and the broom. Not so well composed, but a decent shot.
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

A little sadly for me we ended up here:
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

That's Pizza Hut. However, it's not like any American pizza hut, so that was nifty... Plus, you could order things like escargot as an appetizer here!
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

After much-needed food, we were off to see the former home of a great poet of the modern era, Xu Zhimo. Mindy loves this poet, so she led the way, and it was a neat space. Here's a couple of shots, Bruce and Mindy, Rick, and some nearby roofs from the top of the poet's home.
From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

From Shanghai - Sept10, 2011. Haining

Once we were finished there, the jet lag was really catching up with me. That pretty much meant the rest of the day was a combination of nap and sort-of-awake time. Sunday will be getting the house in order, finishing unpacking, grocery shopping, gym, and perhaps some other neighborhood exploring!

This is a bit of a rushed post, sorry about that. But I just wanted to record things before they faded from memory! More updates to come, I'm sure.