Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Picture of the Day - January 30, 2011

The wishing well at the Jing'an Temple (Temple of Peace and Tranquility) on West Nanjing Road.
Throw coins in each one of the slots for good luck!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Picture of the Day - January 29, 2011

This dragon was carved in stone over 400 years ago at the Tianyi Ge Library in Ningbo, China.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Week 14

@Allison from Georgia -- Thank you SO much for contacting us!!! Congratulations on your daughter's modeling contract, you all must be excited to come to Shanghai/HK for work!! That's very exciting, and we would be happy to help in any way we can. I'm sure you have a lot of questions, so please feel free to email me at: mike.finstad@shanghaishangrila.com. I will say one thing without knowing too much about your story : moving here may seem daunting, but it's not that hard. After all, it is a free country, right? : ) I wish you and your family all the best, look forward to hearing from you.

To the rest of you turkeys reading this blog, thanks for coming back, hope you like our new look. Tiffany and I designed and created the logo at the top of the page ourselves. Be sure to check out the poll we have on the right side of the screen, we're soliciting votes on where you would like to see us at our next mandatory visa leave (I voted for Tibet). We just bought our tickets to Japan, and our trip there next month will include stops in Nagoya, Kyoto and Tokyo. It should be a really awesome trip with lots of cool pictures and videos.

The last week has been a busy one for both of us. Tiffany has a couple of projects that are demanding a lot of her time, and the rest of the firm is really busy too. Yesterday Louis Vuitton came into their office in Shanghai because they were looking at Mada as a potential architecture firm for their business. Tiffany said everyone was on edge, but she didn't get to actually see Louis Vuitton so she was bummed (I didn't mention to her that Louis Vuitton died over 100 years ago. She dressed up for him, haha).

I was busy this past week, too. A friend of mine runs a web development company and had one of his project managers take a leave of absence for a couple weeks. So he asked me to fill in while she is out. Apparently there isn't much of a temp market here in Shanghai, and he would have had a problem finding someone on such short notice. As luck would have it, I am currently, um, between jobs at the moment, so I was happy to help out. It's a pretty cool job, but it's a field (Web Development) that I have relatively no experience in outside of some college courses. However, stepping into a project manager role sort of softened the learning curve, since the role has a lot of responsibilities I am familiar with (coordinating schedules, assigning tasks to the right people, emailing and correspondence, etc.). So far, it's been a really good experience. I have begun learning about a new field and it's jargon, which is always fun for me. My coworkers are all very nice, there are about 15 or so. I have an assistant who serves mainly as a translator, and she is vital to me being able to do my job. There are still a few things I'm getting used to in terms of dealing with people and the language barrier (see Maybe It's Just Me), but overall it's been really fun. I'll be there for about two weeks, so hopefully I'll get on a "normal" sleeping schedule too, haha.

Last weekend was cold but beautiful outside. We stayed in and took care of things at home on Saturday (bills, laundry, groceries, work, etc.), but Sunday we explored the city. We started off by going to Egghead Bagels on Shaanxi Road. Phenomenal food for expats not wanting noodles and soup for breakfast (not that there's anything wrong with that). Afterward we went to see a landmark in Shanghai: The residence of the former Chairman of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, on Maoming Road. When we saw this place we had to go because it's a great mix of our interests: architecture and politics. Mao came in and out of Shanghai several times, but he stayed at this location with his wife and kids longer than any other place. Another family, who worked closely with Mao, also stayed at the home in the upstairs bedroom. I would describe the whole place as small and simple, but it clearly shows the intense adoration that the Chinese have for Mao Zedong. There is a downstairs sitting room, a bedroom for his family, a room for his mother-in-law, and an upstairs that was for the other family. It is a classic piece of Chinese architecture from the 1920's, and it was a very interesting experience.
Part 1
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Part 2
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We were practically the only people who went that day, the only other people there were the students who you saw in the last video. We found out they were studying for a test to become volunteer tour guides, and they sure took their studying seriously. As we were walking around looking at stuff, many of them were trying hard to memorize all of the individual exhibits, while practicing with imaginary tourists. They were super happy when Tiffany started asking them questions, so I decided to lighten the mood and have a little fun with them...


video


We've been getting bills for a few months now for our regular utilities, gas, water, etc. But Tiffany wanted to tell you about our most recent bill.

When we arrived in Shanghai and first rented our apartment, we asked the landlord how much we could expect our bills to be for electricity, water, etc. She said maybe they'd be between 50-100RMB (approx. $8-15) a month. Which has turned out to be very true on a month to month basis. Water is always around 75RMB and electricity is typically around 100RMB.  It took us a while to figure out how to actually recognize and "pay" the bills, as they are all in Chinese.  However, once we finally got over this hump, we thought we were doing pretty darn spiffy (pay bills at the local post office).  However, we just received our electricity bill for December and the first thing Mike, very seriously, stated was "I'm not paying these things anymore!" after seeing the bill total at just over 600rmb!!!  So after getting over the shock (and laughing at Mike for a bit), we realized Wow! We have been running the heater 24/7 for the past month, maybe that's why?  We're still not sure, but a friend told Mike that it's possible someone is actually stealing our electricity! I hope not but I guess we'll just have to see!  Anyways, thanks everyone for tuning in this week and we hope you're all doing well and enjoying the New Year. Until Next Week!


Things To Do in Shanghai

9. Dress Up Your Dog For Winter

People here in Shanghai LOVE their dogs.  They dote on them and treat them just like children.  I know that dressing up dogs is fairly common in many parts of the world including the US. But I've never seen it quite so much! It's rare to see a dog without a full outfit (sweater, pants, and shoes!) walking down the street here in Shanghai. So go ahead, give it a try, make sure your dog is suited up in the best of the best this season. (Outfits available at any fake market or at any fake stand along any street, Seriously)

Maybe It's Just Me

Since taking over the responsibility of coordinating certain tasks in the office, I have found that there are certain oddities related to the language barrier and expectations of coworkers. Part of my job requires assigning tasks to the appropriate individuals, since web-development jobs can be tediously specialized. One task I assigned last week was rather straightforward, or at least I thought it was.

I went to Xiao Jie and asked her if she could make a small change to a website, and she informed me that she would need Wang Peng's help (because he specializes in something she needed). So I went to Weng Peng and asked, through my assistant/translator, if he could help Xiao Jie with the project. Wang Peng needed to ask his supervisor to come over and approve. Most of this didn't get back to me right away, since my assistant was doing most of the talking. As I was standing there, I thought it was a little strange that five people needed to leave their work to join a seemingly simple conversation. Wang Peng's supervisor wasn't sure he could approve two hours (not sure how they determined the need for two hours) time to set aside to help Xiao Jie. After this was relayed back to me, all five of us stood there looking at each other. So I asked if it would be possible for Xiao Jie, while she was working on the project, to simply ask Wang Peng a question whenever she had one (i.e., rather than pull him aside to sit with her for a block of two hours). There was a moment of awkward silence, followed by everyone in the circle nodding their heads and smiling in agreement. Maybe it's just me, but did this solution really need to involve 5 people?!?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Picture of the Day - January 24, 2011

It's kind of funny, people shopping for meat in their pajamas and slippers?
(See previous "Things To Do in Shanghai" entry, haha)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Picture of the Day - January 23, 2011

A view from underneath Yan'an Elevated Road. Many of the major elevated roads have this blue lighting below. Pretty cool.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Picture of the Day - January 22, 2011

A local street sweeper. Check out his broom...

Picture of the Day - January 21, 2011

Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Goddess of Mercy. The Guanyin Buddha is usually portrayed as a female, the depiction of which is rare in Buddhism.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Picture of the Day - January 20, 2011

The Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe was an amazing show, I shot a quick photo of us during one of the acts...

Week 13

How's it going people?! I just want to start off by thanking everyone, once again, for taking an interest in our blog and reading about our story. We've been getting a lot of hits from people around the world and that is really exciting for us! To those of you from countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Netherlands, Spain, Bahrain, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and Nepal: we are really happy you are checking out our blog, please keep checking back and let us know if there is anything you'd like to know more about! Some of our friends are already leaving comments. @Travis: We miss you too bud -- when are you going to bring your guitar and come visit?!? @Minanos: Thank you so much for all the love and support. Tiffany says: Thanks also keeping up with us through the blog. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as we've enjoyed writing it! We hope to see you all very soon (maybe over Skype!)

Over the last couple of weeks we have been using our kitchen a lot more. Since we've been here, I'd say we've either gone out to eat or ordered from Sherpa's (a frequently-used-by-expats restaurant delivery service) about 90% of the time. This is because our kitchen "stove" consists of two burners (and no oven!), one of which is mainly for keeping stuff warm and doesn't work well for cooking. So the meals we can cook at home must be small (one or two dishes) or else some of the food gets cold before we get done cooking. But I am happy to report that we've found one meal we can cook in our apartment without many stove-related problems -- Tacos!! We have not found many places that have great Southern California tacos that we can get for a decent price, so we have been cooking them for ourselves over the last couple of weeks. Let me just tell you...they're amazing. One of our favorite things to do is cook for our friends (right, Nadia and Justin?!? haha), so we're planning on having a couple of friends over for a taco party in the next couple of weeks.

One of the reasons we've been able to make tacos, however, is because we've found a great place to buy corn tortillas and avocados. Tiffany loves avocados more than me, and they have been a staple of her diet since I've known her. So naturally one of the first items on our shopping list when we arrived was avocados. Unfortunately, the avocados sold in the stores we've found are mostly unripe or rotten, and they're also ridiculously overpriced: like $7-8 for two! Not sure what all of you are used to paying for these things, but I can't justify paying that much for an avocado. Well, a couple of friends told us about a small market tucked away on Wulumuqi Road, which is actually close to our apartment.

They call her "The Avocado Lady" (haha), and she has quite a reputation, apparently, among the expat community. As legend has it, one expat long ago made a deal with her that he would buy a ton of avocados from her (and other imported food) if she would sell them for 2-3RMB (approx. $0.50) over the import price. She took him up on the offer, and now she has a thriving shop that sells avocados, corn tortillas, gourmet cheese, caviar, and other hard-to-find groceries. We've gone back at least three times in the last two weeks, and we're super happy to have avocados with our tacos and sandwiches. It's the little things, people, that make us happy here in China.

Tiffany: I've been working at MADA s.p.a.m. for three months now and that means that my end of contract evaluation is coming up.  Hopefully all will go well and I will sign another contract, this time for a longer time-period. The last three months have been challenging, to say the least, but extremely exciting.  Recently I've been spending most of my time at work master-planning the landscape design for the Roman World Theme Park in Ningbo! Since it is a theme park complex, the crazier and more insane the design, the better. We're using tons of fun paving patterns and including water jets and LED pavers all over the site.  It's been so much fun to be so involved in the design process.  I can't wait to see it when it's complete!

She has been working very hard and deserves a promotion. Last Saturday was her only day off last week, so we decided to go out and see a show. We heard so many cool things about the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe and have been meaning to go see them, so we went last weekend. It was incredible. If any of you has seen a Cirque du Soleil show, the Shanghai Acrobats are very similar. The Chinese take a lot of pride in their gymnastics, in case any of you don't remember the 2008 Olympic Games where the Chinese took home medals in a plethora of gymnastic categories. These Acrobats are from the same gymnast breed, and the strength and flexibility they have to exert in some of the acts on the next two videos makes me sick. Nonetheless, it was a really awesome experience.

Part 1
video
Part 2
video

Apparently this company travels the world and tries to put on a different show each night. If these guys are in a town near you, I definitely recommend checking them out. We will likely be going back to another show, so look forward to more videos on the blog. Hope everyone is doing well. Until next week, take care.

Things To Do in Shanghai

8. Have a Stare Down

Unlike the United States, it is not considered rude to stare at people here in China. It's actually quite normal. From what I've noticed, no one is embarrassed to be staring or does the thing where they stare until the person looks at them and then quickly looks away as if to pretend they were never staring in the first place. No, here in China it is not only quite common but extremely well enjoyed.  I'm not sure if it's because I'm a foreigner or if it's just normal, but I seem to get stared at quite a bit.  So recently, I've decided to start staring people down. When I spot someone staring at me, I gaze deeply into their eyes and try not to be the first one to look away or even blink.  Quite often, I win, however, it can be quite dangerous to do while walking. I suggest to all you expats and visitors here in Shanghai, give it a try- Stare Someone Down!

Maybe It's Just Me

There is no tipping in China. In fact, I've heard it is against the law to tip for services because there is supposed to be a service charge embedded in the price. But I think the service charge is paltry compared to the standard 15% in the U.S. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I broke the law when we ordered delivery from Sherpa's (a food delivery service we frequently use because it has a lot of English menus to choose from). Our main reason for ordering in that night was because it was raining/snowing outside, and we could not bring ourselves to get on the scooter and drive to dinner. When the Sherpa's guy arrived, he was soaked and visibly cold as he handed us our warm food. Even though I was excited to eat, I felt really bad for giving him exact change, so I gave him an extra 5RMB (less than $1). Even though he was a little confused at first, he was really excited, and thanked us several times before I shut the door on him because it was getting cold. Maybe it's just me, but after working in the restaurant business for many years, I don't feel so bad about breaking that law.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Week 12

Hello everyone! We moved to Shanghai exactly three months ago, and it seems like it's been forever since we were last in Los Angeles. A friend asked me a few weeks ago if I felt like time was flying by, and I told her no. The reason is because we are still finding new places to get necessities, eat dinner, and otherwise function, which makes for long days. Have you ever been on a long car ride to a place you're excited to go, and afterward feel as if the ride there took longer than it seemed to get home? Well, that's sort of how it feels. The uncertainty of finding a place to buy fresh Basil, the nearest post office, or the right subway route, can take a long while if you don't know what you're doing or how to go about doing it.

With that being said, our trip is still making us very happy, and we are thankful that we made the choice to come. We are learning the quirks of social interaction, getting very familiar with the city, and meeting lots of interesting new people. On New Year's Day, we got some good luck and met three new friends - two from the U.S. (Minnesota) and one from Finland. Hopefully that is a sign of good things to come in the new year. It's so awesome to go places and meet people from around the world. Simply being here is enough to strike up great conversation with someone, and getting their take on things (assuming they speak English, haha) can be valuable in so many ways. We talk about things like where we're from and why we're here. But we also help each other out by passing along information on where to buy stuff, how to do things, and what to watch out for. I hope that doesn't sound too naive; we are definitely not running around wide-eyed and taking candy from every stranger we come across. I mean, come on people, it's not like we think this place is, um, Shangri-La.

A lot of my conversations with expats has revolved around business, as that seems to be the common bond of a lot of expats. For example, all three people we met on New Year's Day are here on business. The guy from Minnesota runs a rubber business, probably most known for it's squeegees on the back of machines that clean floors -- most of those little squeegees are produced by this guy's company. The guy from Finland came here to open up a mobile app development company, he said the cheap and educated labor enticed him to come to Shanghai. The mobile app-website design-web development companies seem to be plentiful out here. With so many people here on business, it's hard not to let one's entrepreneurial imagination run wild.  

Tiffany also had something to say about talking to expats: No matter who we meet, it's always fun to hear their "story" of how, why, when they came to China. Just about everyone, no matter where they're from, tells a similar story. Everyone's been here either a few days or a few years, they almost always say they came for business opportunities, and they love it here as well. It's fun to meet people who have been in Shanghai 2-3 years and are still in love with the city. I always wonder if I'm going to hear complaining about the strange and sometimes annoying customs and cultures of the Chinese people from the people who have been here a long time, but I never do.

Mada s.p.a.m. had a New Year's party last Friday (yes, they were 7 days late; nothing like a belated New Year's celebration to kick off a year that's already started, right?). I got a couple great photos of the firm employees and I thought you all might like to see it.


Last week we also had a chance to visit the Jing'an Temple on West Nanjing Road. This temple is the oldest shrine in Shanghai, and it is a landmark that tourists from all over the world come to visit while here. The original temple was built in 247 A.D., during the Three Kingdoms period, but was later moved to Nanjing Road in 1216 A.D. during the Song Dynasty. One of the cool things about this place, and much of Shanghai in general, is the fact that rich history sits amongst skyscrapers and modern society. It's also kind of interesting to me that temples can be a major tourist draw, considering that they are places where people go to worship their deity. Can you imagine, for those of you who attend church or synagogue, having tourists stop by for a picture of you praying? Haha, anyways, it was only 30RMB (less than $5) for our entry fee into Jing'an Temple, so we definitely wanted to check it out.

Part 1
video

Part 2
video

It has been getting ridiculously cold here in the past few weeks. We've been in the 30-degree range for a while, but it actually feels a lot colder than that because of the humidity. The guy we met from Finland on New Year's Day said he originally moved here because he was tired of the sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures in Finland, but has decided it's just as cold here on some days as it is there. I cannot attest to that, but I will say that the weather is starting to affect our decision to go outside and wander the streets for stuff to put on our blog!

Our next mandatory visa leave is coming up in three weeks, and we are planning on visiting Japan. I don't think the weather is any hotter up there but we're pretty excited about going. Tiffany is especially excited to cross another Disneyland off of her list, when we get to Tokyo. I just hope she remembers this little escapade when we return to the U.S., and I tell her about my goal of going to every NFL stadium for a game...

Things To Do in Shanghai

7. Get a Massage!
Asia is known for its cheap and plentiful massage parlors. Like many other Asian cities, Shanghai has a massage parlors on just about every street. A good one that we have tried is the Dragonfly Therapeutic Retreat.  With many locations and late hours (until 2a.m. every night), this spa is very well-kept and has convenient locations around Shanghai. Traditional, non-oil, Chinese massages start at 150RMB, which is medium to high on the price scale. However, the atmosphere is beautiful and it’s extremely clean. Other local massage parlors start their one-hour massages at around 60RMB (less than $10), which is an unbelievably good deal compared to the United States!  A couple tips when looking for a good place to get a massage: 1) look for cleanliness, 2) check out your masseur’s number (they all wear a badge with a number so you can request them when you return next), 3) get a foot massage your first time in a new massage parlor (i.e., before stripping down for a massage in your birthday suit), and 4) ENJOY!

Maybe It's Just Me

Being an outsider in China can sometimes feel a little awkward, and locals have no problem staring at outsiders for several minutes at a time. I'm the type of guy who likes to sit in the back of a restaurant, and otherwise not cause a stir when I go places. But when I went to lunch in Ningbo about a month ago, I realized that my anonymity may be slipping away. I sat down to a quiet lunch at a dumpling restaurant next to a hair salon, and the owner was the only person in the restaurant. She looked so happy when I walked in, and quickly cleared off one of the dirty tables for me to sit down. It was very nice of her to do that, but for some reason she wouldn't stop smiling and staring at me. Waiting for my food felt like an eternity. As she was attempting to open up a conversation with some kind of English, her phone rang. She continued to stare as she was talking to the caller, while also nodding her head and giggling. I could have swore she said something about me, because a moment later another lady from the hair salon came over, stared at me from the restaurant doorway, and started giggling too. For a moment I thought they might catch on to how awkward the moment felt for all of us and go back to their work, before I realized that maybe it was just me.