Thursday, December 24, 2009

Going Native - guest blog by Nick

Since I'm stateside right now, Nick will be guest writing the next few posts. 

So the biggest thing that people ask me about China is the food situation. The emergence of the food network and shows like Fear Factor have made people think that the majority of Chinese people are feasting on pig intestines and eating scorpions for lunch. Generally, I have been ok with food. Shanghai is pretty westernized so you can always find western food if you want. KFC has been here for about 20 years and Lori and I even had Pappa John’s one night. (It wasn’t very good).

I am sure if I was living in a different city, then it would not be so easy, but generally when I am picking food, it is pretty safe. However, when I am on group dinners with my colleagues – it is a whole other story. This last weekend, we went on a team building exercise where we travelled about 1.5 hours out of Shanghai to go to some city on a big lake. The “team building” things that happened will be saved for another posting, but it was interesting how important food played in this weekend. I guess if you are a country with a history of famines and starvation that food can be very critical. In fact, the traditional greeting for Chinese people is actually directly translated as “Have you eaten today?” They also consider lunch the most important meal of the day. They don’t think it is healthy to have a big meal and then go to sleep. Actually makes sense.

I told myself before I came to China that I was going to try everything. It is ok to not like something, as long as you have tried it to gain the experience. So this weekend I was treated to river snails, hairy crab, fungus soup, rice wine (nasty with a ton of ginger – but I needed booze to get through the night) and not one but two kinds of stomach. Duck stomach and cow stomach.

It is funny because I tend to not eat much at these events with my colleagues and they are so concerned, but frankly, the food is so challenging, that I can’t eat much of it. I always will try everything, but you can’t really fill yourself up when you don’t like the food. I admit, I have snuck off later and gotten a hamburger or there is a Chinese version of LaBamba here called Taco Loco that I like.

They also tend to only drink hot drinks when they are at meals. The tea flows but I always have to ask a few times to not get a room temperature coke. Coffee is also somewhat of a recent trend here. Starbucks tends to dominate and so everyone thinks that Starbucks is how coffee is supposed to taste. Now DD and other locals have started to enter the market so we are broadening our coffee horizons – but it is still expensive. A large coffee at Starbucks costs me 34 RMB a day – which is about $5 US. Not cheap. But since I have been unable to find Coffee Mate creamer and the local cream here is kind of nasty – I have been a regular at Starbucks.

So just a few interesting facts that I wanted to share. Chinese phone numbers have 8 digits. You never see bumper stickers in China. And the final one that was related to me – If you are a man, never, ever wear a green hat. It means that your wife is sleeping with another guy! All those John Deere guys are spending too much time in the fields and not enough time home if you get my drift.

Zaijian and Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Update on Vietnam Adoption

Unfortunately, there is little to no news here.  I think I mentioned that we learned while I was in-country that a couple of kids (which ones we don't know) had paperwork that was moving.  That's now been 8 weeks and no progress.  Then, we had word that a different child's paperwork was moving, but that's been delayed because they now have to find his birthmother to do a DNA match (not part of the original "rules" so this is a new wrinkle for some families).

So, once again, I am desperately looking for help from Senators/Representatives/Secretary of State's office/Ambassadors/Embassy staffers/etc. and not finding anyone willing to help these twenty children so far.  I will follow any path that might help us out, so if you know any influential people, please let me know.  I am very disappointed in our Indiana Senators offices thus far.  This is about the lives of 20 children, and their fate is in the hands of influential government officials.  I haven't asked our elected officials for anything - I haven't complained about tax reform that negatively affects me, healthcare reform or anything else.  I just want one Senator to make two phone calls - one to our US Ambassador in Vietnam and one to the Vietnamese officials to get these kids home.  It's a 10-minute ask.

The only bright side for the next few weeks is that one of the moms who went to Vietnam in August and one of the moms that I went with in Oct (and her husband) are going to VN to care for the kids for a couple of weeks.  The one mom is there now and it's been wonderful to hear her updates and see new photos.  Nate and the other children are getting so big!  I was thrilled to see that some of the toys we brought them are still in use, and Nate was actually playing with a car that my mom sent with me.

Again, if you know a friend of a friend of a friend that knows someone in a Senator or Rep office, please let me know.  I am days away from going to the media, but we wanted to try one last shot at our elected officials  - our tax dollars pay for their salaries and staffers so let's make them work for it for a change!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Little Things

Sorry about the delay in writing.  Some major jet lag has been kicking in and I can barely stay awake (or at least lucid) past 9pm.

I'm now back in Indiana, and while I was gone for this seven-week stint, there were big things I miss from home like my family and friends, my pets, my house, etc.   We really do like living in Shanghai, but there are a few little things I miss while I'm there.

Being able to drink water out of a faucet.  Yep, even in "modern" Shanghai, we don't drink tap water.  Enough to brush your teeth is OK, but that's it.  Everything else comes from bottles.  Clean water isn't as easy to come by as you think; it is a luxury.
I p
refPublic restrooms with a toilet.   Even the worst gas station bathroom is a dream compared to having to go in a hole in the ground .  Also, I have to carry my own toilet paper with me because even at most of the public restrooms with toilets, they don't have toilet paper.  Um...can you spare a square?   

2.      I miss regular U.S. electrical outlets and not having to plug everything into an adapter, or having to unplug my computer so that I can use the hair dryer that I bought in China, which also needs an adapter for some reason.

aslRunning outside.  This may be the biggest one.  There are miles and miles of sidewalks where we live in Shanghai, but they are non runner-friendly.  So, I'm braving the cold in Indy right now, but am loving every frost-bitten moment of it, especially when I can run with Ellie on trails.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Manic about Chinese Massage

One of the wonderful things about China is that massages are cheap.  Not as cheap as my $4 Vietnamese massage with the little extra full frontal action, but there are legitimate spas where massages are inexpensive and there's no funny businesses or groping. 

Nick and I have been indulging ourselves about once a week in a traditional Chinese massage, which is much different than the type that you typically get in the States.  You are first escorted back to change into some pseudo-silk pajamas and then taken back into the room.  Some rooms have multiple tables in them, so you might be joined by a person or two.  They then put a sheet over you (over your pajamas) and rub you down - it's a cross between a massage, a chiropractic adjustment and craniosacral therapy (Craniosacral therapy involves working the spine and the skull and its cranial sutures. Restrictions of nerve passages are said to be eased, the movement of cerebrospinal fluid through the spinal cord is said to be optimized, and misaligned bones are said to be restored to their proper position).

Anyway, I think I know what John Mellencamp meant when he sang, "hurts so good." Parts of the massage are a little more painful than others, but I know it's getting all the kinks out of my knotty muscles, and I feel amazing afterward.

Something I've been eager to try, which is part of traditional Chinese medicine is called cupping.  Glass or plastic cups are used to create localized pressure by using suction to create the vacuum. The vacuum inside the cups causes the blood to form in the area and help the healing in that area.

Cupping is used for a variety of reasons, but mainly, it is said to draw toxins out of the body.  It triggers the lymphatic system, clears the blood vessels, and stretches and activates the skin.  It can help with intestinal issues, headaches, back pain, arthritis, fatigue, skin problems, and other conditions.  It's supposed to be great for stress and a lot of athletes use it.

The suction is so strong that your skin is sucked up into the cup and forms a "dome," and it makes an odd sucking sound of your skin being pulled up into the cup.  It looks a little scary and it pinches quite a bit. Luckily, I think ours were only left on for about 10 minutes. We each had about ten up and down our backs and on our shoulders.  Not for the weak-stomached.  Nick said he felt a stegasaurous.  He looked like one, too.

Not a photo of Nick.

From what I've read, the more purple your marks, the more toxins you have to get out.  I have a bunch of very red and purple, so I'm not sure what I've got in my system, but at least it's getting out of me.  Nick's back was better than mine. 

We both look like we've been seriously abused.  Here's Nick's result.
So, just a trial in Chinese medicine - I'll definitely write if I feel any better as a result of this wacky, but widely used and ancient practice.  I mean really, can 2,500 years of Chinese be wrong?
Flying back to Indy tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A little lesson on dating in China

Living in such a modern city (OK, I do have to couch this a bit - most of the time it feels very modern) as Shanghai, it is sometimes hard to remember that I am actually in China, and that 99 percent of the country is a third-world nation.  In many respects, there are parts of Shanghai that are like living in New York, Tokyo, or London  -- skyscrapers pepper the hazy landscape, Gucci, Prada and Ferragamo stores line many streets, taxis are abundant, people hurriedly walk along the sidewalks with briefcases and cell phones attached to their ears.

However, I learned a little about dating/finding a mate today that made me consider their culture a little more  - we're not in Kansas anymore, and I think they forgot to have the 1960's women's equality revolution.  This was info after an enlightening conversation with our twenty-something Mandarin tutor.
  • If a single woman turns 30, she is all dried up and should just marry the next guy that walks past her door.
  • The most important attribute a man can have is owning a house - apparently, it's the biggest chic magnet there is. 
  • While there are more and more women entering the professional workforce, more than anything, they want to find a man who can provide for them and who has a good job.
  • On the first date, one of the first questions a woman asks a man is: how much money he makes - and apparently this is expected.
  • The Chinese have one of the lowest divorce rates in the world.  It's less than 10 percent, but is growing quickly to catch up with their Western counterparts.
  • Because of the growing number of women and men working long hours (at least in Shanghai), it is harder for them to meet potential mates, thus increasing the # of 30 year old women who have to marry the first single guy they see.
  • Many women, particularly those who are not well-educated, will try to find a rich, older foreigner to marry (we've see this in person and read the personal ads in magazines to prove it)  It's often beautiful women in their 20s with creepy guys old enough to be their fathers (or older - ick!).  Of course, if you are a creepy old guy, you've hit the jackpot.
Just wanted to let you know in case you plan on dating in Shanghai.