Friday, April 28, 2006

Today I accepted the position of Food and Drink editor at That's Shanghai magazine.*

I told you all I had some marketable skills. (And so many unmarketable ones: acquiring whimsical finger puppets, reading Old English, applying dramatic eyeliner...)

*"But Summer, I've seen you have three lime Jello shots and a handful of gummy bears for dinner! No, seriously, I was there."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Wonderful new site design!

My lovely new site just went up this evening. I'm totally in love - it's a world away from the very plain, utilitarian one I had before.

Naturally, I didn't create such a spiffy thing on my own. I engaged Sarah Sculley of Sculley Design, another Shanghai expat. I highly recommend her to anyone who needs graphic design work done (sites, business cards, etc.) She's friendly, creative, reliable, and very obliging - and though located out here in China, it would be easy enough to work with her online from a different location.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Andrew Gottlieb

A new review up on the Verse site.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Captive Dogs

Apparently, it is illegal to walk dogs on the street or in any public place in Shanghai. This includes licensed dogs, and dogs that are on a leash and muzzled.

At first, it seemed hard to believe, but I have now confirmed the information with several news sources and websites, as well as several expat dog owners.

The dog owners I spoke to confirmed that this is rarely enforced, especially with foreigners, and I know I've seen dogs on public streets. However, at least for now, we are confining our dogs to the grounds of our apartment complex, which are luckily rather nice and spacious.

Apparently, lawsuits are possible here not only for dog bites or attacks, but for the harm dogs cause by frightening passersby - in some cases, a dog simply barking at someone is grounds for a lawsuit and destruction of the animal.

Worse yet, the penalties for unregistered dogs are very serious. Teams of dogcatchers will catch and destory unregistered dogs, in some cases including dogs that are in veterinary offices undergoing treatment. One vet was quoted in a newspaper discussing a "dog-catching team" that broke into his hospital and took away thirteen dogs, in some cases pulling out their transfusion and IV tubes and loading them into a wagon to be destroyed.

Of course, the registration process is extremely arduous and expensive, at several hundred dollars per dog. The forms must be filled out at your local police station in Chinese, by a local Chinese citizen (a residency permit is not sufficient for foreigners). The dog must undergo a government veterinary exam, and the owner must obtain a letters of approval from neighbors, building management, the police, and the public safety administration. You must also submit three photos of each dog along with copies of your passport and your lease.

All this is even more strange because at the same time, there are 100,000 registered dogs in Shanghai, and trendy pet boutiques, kennels, and groomers opening up in several places in the city. Owning a (very tiny) dog is something of a status symbol among wealthy Shanghaiese, and of course many expats also have dogs. I'm still trying to reconcile the boutique stores that sell dog food at $20 a bag with dogs being rounded up out of veterinary clinics and incinerated at local stations. There's obviously some disconnect here.

I would have guessed the laws would loosen as dog ownership here becomes increasingly popular, but further research suggested that many of these laws only came into existence in the last few years, to combat that very trend.

I post this mainly as helpful information for any dog owners who are considering relocating to Shanghai. I'm pretty annoyed that no one told us this before - not the real estate company that works with Intel, the customs agents, the pet relocation company to whom we paid about $600, the kennel where the dogs were quarantined, or anyone else.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Million Workers Learning Etiquette

The city of Shanghai will offer free internet access for the 3.76 million migrant workers currently residing in the city in order to teach manners as part of the Million Workers Learning Etiquette program to prepare the city for the 2010 World Expo. The etiquette training will include lessons on customer service and prohibitions against spitting; littering; and staring, pointing, or shouting at foreigners.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Shopping in Shanghai

The shipment of clothing and shoes we sent from the States has yet to arrive. It rains every day, and the one pair of tennis shoes I brought in my luggage is entirely soaked through, so I ventured out to find a pair of sturdy, rain-proof shoes.

I spent the afternoon wandering through the various market stalls on the streets and in the subway stations in search of shoes and whatever else I could find. The subway station nearest my house alone has dozens of such stalls, filled to brimming with an amazing assortment of clothing, shoes, household goods, jewelry, and electronics. It would be cynical to suggest these goods are obtained illicitly; the great majority are doubtless acquired by legitimate, if irregular, means. Nonetheless, there is usually exactly one of each garment, and that one is for someone twenty pounds lighter and four inches shorter than I. I had no more luck at the upmarket boutiques in the French Concession, where a frowning seamstress measured me, then the waistline of a gorgeous embroidered skirt, then me again, then shook her head with obvious disappointment.

For someone of my height, it was fortunate enough that I finally found a pair of shoes. A trim pair of black leisure shoes, with "PROGRESSIVE: Me suggfst the premium sporting goods sxclusively" printed neatly across both insteps in neon green.

I also dallied through a few bookstores in search of a better street map, and in the process came across one with a small and utterly random collection of English language books: the Odyssey, John Grisham and Steven King, several tour guides to China, a few Shakespeare plays, a collection of Grimm's tales, and a copy of People magazine.


Monday, April 10, 2006


Welcome to the new ChinaBlog!

After some consideration, I've decided to roll my new Chinese musings into the same blog I've been using so far for writing-related posts. Entries about Shanghai and abroad will be marked with ChinaBlog titles.

Publications (when I actually get back to work and start having new publications) will still go up here under the usual headings.

I also have a photo dump up on Flickr.

I am also planning a sleeker redesign of my homepage soon -


Welcome to the (terrifying) World of Tomorrow

We have now spent two (non-consecutive) weeks in Shanghai and its environs, and I feel ready to offer a few tentative insights into the city. I’m playing it more cautious this time, remembering in my Paris journals the many immediate assertions I later had cause to recant heartily. Not the thing about the mayonnaise, though, I was dead right about that.

Shanghai is all the more puzzling because the city itself is in constant flux, torn apart by construction crews working round the clock, throwing up shopping malls and highways today where teahouses or Party meeting houses may have stood just yesterday. Thousands of people arrive in Shanghai every year from all over China, and there is also a growing community of expatriates (though the city is still over 98% Chinese, and figures for English language penetration top at about 20%, which in my experience seems a too-generous figure).

As I already said to Lilli in an earlier message, Shanghai seems to stride the line between "sleek efficient future of flying cars, robot maids, and delicious pellet snacks" and "bleak dystopian future of mind control, shuffling crowds, and rootless malaise." And I’m pretty sure I won’t be proven wrong on this one.

Now that I’m settled in – with dogs, no less – I’m eagerly backfilling the highlights of our first weeks here. In the future, I’ll have much shorter entries, and only as needed.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

A prequel

As promised, here are some of the notes I've taken over the last week in Shanghai. I point you all again to the accompanying Flickr pages.

Our first trip here, for apartment-hunting and the like, was largely uneventful. We filled out paperwork, got bank accounts and cell phones, and underwent a bewildering series of medical exams: blood samples, ultrasounds, X-rays, EKGs, ear-nose-throat and vision checks, blood pressure, and height and weight measurements. We toured about a dozen apartments before settling on the 29th floor of the Century Metropolis, a building as endearing for its ample green spaces and thrilling views as its comic book superhero name. I only regret we were forced to pass up my first choice apartment, furnished from floor to ceiling in IKEA products, all of which still bore their original price tags and labels, creating the effect of simply moving into an IKEA showroom.

April 2, 2006

Flying with the dogs proved to be an absolute fiasco, of course. I was lured into overconfidence because I’ve flown with the cats before and everything went very smoothly. The dog transport started out just as smooth – both dogs were calm and quiet in their carriers, ready to go, with all their identifying information clearly labeled on each case, etc. The United desk clerk had to cause trouble, though. She insisted that Cromwell’s case was not large enough for him to travel humanely. Gesturing at the totally adequate kennel, she claimed that the dog “barely fit” and was unable to stand up or turn around, the figure of merit for kennel size. This is patently false. Dev gamely instructed Cromwell to stand, turn, walk from end to end of the kennel, etc. She wouldn’t budge. She called over her superior, who said the kennel was perfectly fine, but then called over several peers who agreed that it was inadequate. They offered to sell us another kennel at an outrageous price -- a kennel, mind you, of exactly the same size as the one we were currently using.

It got worse. Then they decided the dogs needed shredded newspaper in their kennels. I tried to explain that shredded paper would only make a huge soggy mess, but they insisted, so I went and bought a USA Today to line their cages (joke = obvious). Not good enough – now Shackleton’s carrier wouldn’t pass muster because it had too few airholes (no need to mention it was thoroughly well-ventilated). They brought out two men with a drill to bore additional holes in the cage. Dev had to show the men how to work the drill. Then Cromwell’s case needed two additional metal screws . . . by this time, the dogs were terrified by all the people milling around, pulling them in and out of their cages, drilling holes, etc. and were sending great ringing barks all around the echoing terminal.

An hour later, we were racing to catch our flight while our miserable dogs sat shivering in their sopping filthy newspaper amid piles of plastic shavings left over from the kennel remodel.

Happily, the flight was very smooth. The dogs were met by a man from the quarantine office and a woman from the pet relocation agency. We filled out a bunch of forms, etc. and they took a picture of me and Cromwell together, and then Dev and Shackleton (for paperwork purposes, though it felt very “Sears portrait”). Unlike the people at United in SF, the Shanghai customs officials seemed both calm and competent, though Shackleton did attract a crowd of fifteen or twenty well-meaning gawkers.

We took a taxi to our apartment, where we were met by the real estate agent, the landlord, and the relocation agent, to sign papers and engage in another round of payments and paperwork (not our last). And, finally, Dev discovered “street meat”-- a street stand that sells spicy lamb skewers for 25 cents each.

April 3, 2006

After another round of paperwork and banking (confusion compounded by Dev having misplaced his checkbook), we made our foray to Chinese IKEA for dishes, bedding, and other essentials (we slept last night on purloined airline blankets). Somewhat disappointingly, Chinese IKEA is much the same as American IKEA and the few differences are fairly non-hilarious. On the plus side, we now have towels, just like city folk.

April 5, 2006

Yesterday we ran more errands, and today we did yet more paperwork - Dev went to the bank to deal with money transferring, and then we had to go register at the U.S. consulate and get a certain notarized document. We arrived at a large walled-off compound, ringed on all sides by Chinese soldiers, and heavily cordoned off. We walked up, showed our passports, etc. but the guards wouldn’t let us through. While we were standing there, two Americans – of a type best described as “back-slapping politicians” – came up behind us and asked what we were doing there. We explained we need to register and have a form notarized, etc. and they explained that there was another consulate office for that, across town. Perhaps I’m being too dramatic, but somehow the whole thing seemed a bit strange. Anyway, we took yet another taxi across town and arrived at the other U.S. consulate, this one conveniently located in a shopping mall.

April 6, 2006

Now that the bulk of our errands and paperwork is behind us, we devoted today to tourism and exploration. Specifically, we walked around the Old Town part of Shanghai and into the Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse. The teahouse is, like most of what’s left of “Old Shanghai,” mainly reconstructed for tourism. But it is still lovely and the meal very relaxing, even if it costs many times what you would expect to pay at a less venerable site. We arrived in the afternoon, when many of the vendors were beginning to pack up for the night, but we will return one morning soon to see the Bird, Fish, and Insect Market, hints of which we glimpsed in tubs of live fish set out on the sidewalk and the caged birds suspended from balconies.

April 7, 2006

Today we took our first day trip out of the city, to Suzhou, an hour’s train ride west of Shanghai. Suzhou is the silk producing capital of China, and along with Hangzhou, considered to be China’s most lovely city. (My tour guide quotes the Chinese line, “In heaven there is paradise; on earth, Hangzhou and Suzhou.”) The train ride was one of the highlights of the trip, I’m sorry I don’t have any photos of the spreading rice paddies and fish ponds.

My guide book built up Suzhou (the “Venice of the East,” for its canals) so much that I was initially a little disappointed to find what is in many ways an ordinary small city. The canals were industrial-looking in many places, the city dull and muggy, and the train station swarming with aggressive peddlers looking to sell tourists fake Prada bags. (Suzhou is apparently the number one domestic tourist destination for mainland Chinese, another fact borrowed from my book.)

We joined legions of Chinese tourists – and a healthy contingent of Western ones – at the Garden of the Master of the Nets. The garden was indeed extremely lovely – and the interiors more so – but very “touristy,” and the Silk Museum was less informative than I might have hoped. We did some window-shopping for silk, but I was perhaps naively expecting better bargains than what was on offer – though the farther from the main roads, the cheaper and cheaper the silk became.

Any initial dejection I felt, however, was completely eradicated at the Buddhist North Temple. The temple was being renovated and so there were virtually no tourists there, only adherents come to pray and leave offerings. The air was redolent with incense and alive with what sounded like hundreds of tiny birds, tinkling generated by the bells attached to the points on the rooftops. I didn’t want to enter and disrupt worship, but I caught a glimpse of the shrines inside. The atmosphere was very calm and serious, and totally different than the furious materialism of Shanghai.

Further food-related disappointment – in a small Suzhou dumpling house, I happily ordered “mushroom” dumplings instead of the “pork” dumplings also on offer, only to have them arrive filled with grayish, grainy pork and a fragment of accompanying mushroom. I’m living mainly on noodles, Japanese curries, and my carefully hoarded supply of Carrefour cheese. It was also here that Dev first dared the Chinese hot dog. The very phrase sounds like a folk idiom for “disgusting.” I can imagine a country singer now, twanging “she’s nastier than a Chinese hot dog.”

In the evening, we lingered at a night market, a series of stalls and shops along one of the main canals. We intended to go to the night market for silk (I wanted to bring back some for my mom) but we accidentally went to the locals’ night market instead, which was a nice break from tourist activities, even if we didn’t really need the hardware, produce, and household goods on offer. Dev picked up some video games of dubious origin and bought me a very nice ring.

April 8, 2006

As a reward for my valiant attempts to enjoy the local cuisine, Dev took me out for a dinner that was not Chinese food. But instead, the wonderful food of France. I ate more tonight than I’ve eaten since arriving (and I’ve been dropping weight at a remarkable rate). We ordered wine, bread, pâté, escargot in garlic butter sauce, potato leek soup, entrecôte au Roquefort, rôti de porc à la bière, crème caramel, and sorbet. Of course, we could have easily purchased ten Chinese meals for the same price, but it is only the occasional extravagance, after all.

The restaurant’s owner is a French expat and the restaurant was full of French, as well as a smattering of Americans, Germans, and a man in a kilt. It was the most white people I’ve seen in any one place in all Shanghai – so that’s where they’re all hiding out.

April 9, 2006

Today I met my first American expat since arriving, Melissa Goldman’s college friend, Kristen Dennessen. She lives fairly close by and teaches English at the International School. We got coffee at the Starbucks that sits astride this ridiculous glass sphere and sat out on the balcony, overlooking the manic Sunday shopping crowds who gathered on every inch of sidewalk , undeterred by intermittent rain, to watch demonstrations of various up-and-coming digital products.

In the evening, Dev and I slogged through the now-decisive rain to make our way to a nearby Thai restaurant – which, to our utter surprise, featured a team of singing waiters. Usually I am beyond mortified at the very idea of going to a restaurant where waiters sing, but the team’s energy and enthusiasm was infectious. They worked their way through “Jingle Bells,” a romantic ballad, and a rollicking Bob Marley medley, smiling as though all the world was theirs.

Altogether a very nice day, though I was very sick later in the evening, I think the result of being less than diligent about my water usage. I’ve learned my lesson now and will keep an eye out for freshly-rinsed fruit, etc.

April 10, 2006

The dogs are home! After exchanging dozens of phone calls and emails with a multitude of puzzled intercessors (including two women named Amy Fang), our dogs were released from quarantine at noon today and delivered to our front door at exactly 2:51pm (that is, almost three hours late). There was additional confusion regarding, for instance, whether we were meeting upstairs or down, whether we were in building 11 or 12, and so on … but here we are. DOGS!

I’m thinking of starting up an informal club for expat dog owners here who want to take walks together, exchange information on where to find dog supplies, etc.

And soon Dev will be home from his first day at Intel. Hopefully, as the published shuttle schedule is in Chinese. All the more reason to start my lessons right away – I’m going to sign up tomorrow.

I have been keeping track of amusing signs, but in this I must use some restraint, as to write down every misuse of English would soon grow tiresome. Therefore, allow me to keep it to a few of the very best:

  • A sign for a sightseeing tour of the Huang Pu river: "Fish beauty" with an arrow pointing off into the distance, towards the river.

  • One of a series of public service announcements: “"Don't make new friends credulously."

  • And, from a taxi: "Psychos and drunkards are not permitted in taxi without a guardian."