Sunday, March 28, 2010

On Talk Shows and Tourism

This past month has been super super busy, as I've been hinting at in past posts. The new students all arrived on March 1st, and we spend the next week orientating - a mixture of boring policy meetings and SUPER AWESOME get to know you activities. It was easier this second time around, although every new bike purchase or excruciating Wenke walk reeked of dejavu. This week of course also included the overwhelming stressful motorcycle event at the acrobatic show. I promise it will terrify me once more when I go again in April.

Toward the end of the second week of the semester, Fudan asked IES to represent foreigners on a new TV talk show, "Culture Matters." Of course I went. ICS, the International Channel of Shanghai, is our English language channel. From my extensive viewing of this channel, I know that their actors etc are of the highest calibur of foreigners pulled of the street with no acting skills. This could be my big break into the Chinese silver screen!

The concept of the show was interesting (comparing and contrasting East and West, new topic each week), and had a good deal of potential, but the multitude of takes and the crazy guests made it a long experience. The topic of the episode I filmed was Chinese movies and marketing them to the West. Of the three guests, one was incredible and made really interesting remarks. He was a high ranking official in the Film Bureau (I forget his actual title). The second guest was a Chinese movie producer, who apparently did not realize that the show was to be conducted in English. The third guest was an American movie producer, who kept getting frustratingly and severely off topic. Anyway, it was a random experience. Look for me on ICS, I'm interviewed on classic Chinese cinema, and I almost get decapitated by the mike boom.

The following day we went to Wuzhen as a group. Wuzhen is not what I was expecting. Based on highly scientific wikipedia research, it seems like a city akin to Suzhou - a water town that's adorable etc, but still a functioning city with residents and the like. Turns out Wuzhen is a major tourist attraction. It is a town, and one that is still inhabited, but the whole thing is gated off and they charge an entrance fee. The whole experience was a lot like plymouth plantation - a living museum of sorts. It was also SWARMING with Chinese tourist groups with matching hats. I think we were the only foreigners. One of the group had reversible pink burberry bucket hats. Wuzhen was interesting; a good look into life on the delta a few hundred or so years ago, but not at all what I was anticipating.

Recently I had a couchsurfer come to stay for an extended weekend, Danielle from Portland. It was nice to have someone to show around and be excited about being touristy with. Since I was working, she was on her own for a good bit of the time, but we were able to meet up evenings and such. And, since she was from Portland, I took her to the Boxing Cat. (Fun fact: Shanghai has two microbreweries, the Boxing Cat and the Bund Brewery). Here we are at the Boxing Cat:

Two weeks ago, I started interning at the Pudong Institute of the U.S. Economy. (Good luck googling them, they don't have a website per se, not to mention one in English...something I may volunteer to help them set up). They're a think tank that contracts with the Chinese government to research a lot of interesting stuff, not just the U.S. Economy. I'm assigned to work on projects having to do with human rights and how China is viewed by the West in that regard, as well as religious practice in terms of the Expo. (If you have any leads on those topics, let me know!). I've also done a few things on climate change in China, but human rights and religion are going to be my main focus there. It also sounds like I'll get to be doing some expo-related events and such through them. So far it's been a really great experience. They keep sending me to meet with smart, important people and interview them or take notes on their lectures etc.

Last week it was Pam's birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY PAM), and on the way to her party, I got to ride the new Line 7!! Technically it opened like, 2 months ago, but it doesn't really go places I usually go. This was overwhelming amounts of giddiness and excitement. Check out all that fancy chrome and orange paint!:

Oh, check out this "American Product" (that's what it's labeled) that I found in the frozen foods aisle of NGS!

I think that's about all that's been going on aside from the mundane office stuff and the Chinese classes. The weather is FINALLY improving and I'm starting to get really excited about the impending return of Picnic Tuesday. My family is coming for Easter (they land in Beijing on Wednesday), so I'll be getting touristy through Beijing and Shanghai through the next week or so. I'm also planning to live in the lap of luxury while they're here - soft sleeper trains, western restaurant brunches, gifts of cheese and chocolate from Switz, etc. If you have any ideas for what I should do with them (especially my 14-year-old brother), let me know.


P.S. If you have any suggestions for the next video I put together, let me know!

P.P.S. I get homesick for you all all the time, so please keep me posted on your lives. I get ridiculously excited to talk to you!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hello, Goodbye Shanghai

Megan and Sean, this timely post is for you:

I've been saying for weeks that I'll talk about my random adventures in Hong Kong. It turns out that as a non-EU resident, I cannot apply for a Chinese visa while in the EU. Surprise! Luckily, I went to the states for two weeks prior to returning to China. So, I figured it would be no problem to swing by the Chinese embassy during my week in DC. You only need a minimum of 24 hours to apply for a visa.

Enter Snowmageddonpocolypse. The Chinese embassy was closed almost the entire week I was in DC. The one day it was open, public transportation and taxis were shut down. As I was lacking in Iditarod supplies, I couldn't make it across town. No problem, Lauren! You still have a week before your flight leaves! Problem. The following week was Chinese new year, during which all embassies and consulates were closed, due to open the day my flight left for China.

The logical solution was to switch my ticket to the next day, or even any day within the next week and then drive to New York for the day. Not so! I was informed that unless I wanted to spend $3000 plus on buying a new last-minute ticket on a different airline, the next available spot to switch my ticket to was at the end of March. Meaning I would STILL be in Boston. Good gracious. I tried calling China. I tried calling the state department. I tried calling three different airports and the airline that I was flying. No visa, no dice. The woman at Delta offered to pray for me. Grand.

After careful perusal of the Chinese embassy website, I came across a loophole saying you could apply for a special transit visa on arrival if you were transferring to Hong Kong or Japan and had bought the ticket 24 hours before your first departure from the States (or whatever your country of origin). Hong Kong doesn't require American citizens to obtain a visa, hallelujah! But, I discovered said loophole after the 24 hour mark.

I bought my ticket immediately and then proceeded to stress immensely. In Boston, the lady at the ticket counter had to call immigration, the state department and the Chinese government. Seems this is an underused loophole. Eventually she gave me a handwritten note - basically a second-grade hall pass - and warned me of the bajillion fines and deportation that awaited me. At the gateway in Detroit I was pulled out of line and my passport taken. Then we had to call immigration, the state department and the Chinese government. Eventually I was let on the plan with warnings of imminent deportation.

When I landed in Shanghai, the desk to apply for transit visas was unmanned, as it was past 5. So, a helpful janitor told me to just go through customs. Still not sure if this was correct, but that's what I did. At the customs desk there was massive confusion as to my lack of visa. I again showed my hall pass and the print out of the embassy website. Then I was escorted to a dimly lit, windowless room and my passport was taken away. About an hour wait later, it was returned, with a handwritten scribble on the visa page that apparently authorized me for a 24 hour stay in Shanghai. I had 12 hours until my Hong Kong flight, so I thought about swinging by my apartment with all my luggage, but was too afraid to leave the airport.

The next morning my flight to Hong Kong was delayed, but I made it! Upsetting though, since I was too late arriving to get to the Chinese consulate in time for visa application before the weekend. Had some difficulty finding my hostel, but eventually got there as well. I was a little too excited about riding on the top deck of the bus (Emma, you know how I feel about those), and stopped paying attention to the stop announcements. (Also a fun British holdover: all that free credit Tesco always puts on my British SIM finally got to be used before expiring!). Anyway, the hostel was great, and they upgraded me to a private room because they ran out of dorm space. I was originally sad about the lack of social life, but it ended up being amazing since I was beyond jetlagged.

[Hong Kong has a truly beautiful skyline]

The next morning Sean came back to Hong Kong and took me sightseeing. We went to the top of the peak via fununcular (as loyal readers know is one of my all time favorite modes of travel). Excellent planning as this turned out to be the only clear day of my visit. The view is spectacular. Then we took one of National Geographic's 50 places of a lifetime across to Kowloon. The waterfront in Kowloon was amazing for three reasons: 1. There was a Haibao. 2. There was a Chinese band playing a painful cover of Rihanna's Umbrella. 3. There is the Hong Kong Walk of Stars. This means I got to put my hands in the prints of Jackie Chan AND Bruce Lee. Enough said.

[One of the 50 places of a lifetime!!]

[Jackie Chan!!]

We also went to the Hong Kong museum and learned about a statue of people perched on really, really tall chairs through the magic of iphone and 3G (which absolutely without a doubt doesn't exist here).

The next day Sean had to work, and I had to get my visa. I'm glad I went to the consulate early. I was first in line and got some quality reading in. My application was done in 5 minutes once they opened, and when I left there was a line of at least 200 people that wrapped around the block. After this superfunness, I went to see the Giant Buddha on Lantau Island. Since I was really into alternative transport and circuitous routes on this trip, I took the ferry + scary mountain bus there. The buddha is 112 feet tall and is affiliated with the adjacent Po Lin Monastery. Don't be fooled, this is no ancient relic of Hong Kong - it was built in 1992. It's still pretty cool looking, especially since the weather was misty and the buddha was shrouded in mystery. Plus, there's a piece of the Gautama Buddha inside! I was thiiiisss close. I had a vegetarian lunch with my new pengyoumen from the bus ride and then headed back to the island by the incredibly more convenient MTR to meet up with Sean, tour guide extraordinaire, for dinner.

[Big Buddha]

Tuesday meant I got to go pick up my visa! I was pretty giddy. So much effort for that silly little pink paper. Then I had the whole morning before my late afternoon flight. The weather was nice, if a bit hazy, so I just sat outside and read and absorbed vitamin D, and got painfully sunburnt. Met Sean for lunch and said goodbye, then headed for the airport.
[View from my sunburn:]

Delay, delay, delay again, cancelled. Will I ever get to China!? Finally someone at the desk came up to me and the 3 other foreigners on my flight and told us that we would have to come back Wednesday morning. We whined and he offered us 100 yuan. Then he turned around and offered the far more irate Chinese passengers hotel rooms for the night. Then denied doing so when I called him on it. Just because I'm white doesn't mean I don't speak Mandarin. More arguing, and the foreigners got hotel rooms too! Only to arrive at the hotel and be told that we were expected to all room together, because as foreigners we must know each other, right? No thank you, I would prefer not to room with the three strange men who happened to be on my flight. More arguing and then I got the nicest hotel room I've had in a long long time. Glorious! And then I befriended my other weary foreign travelers (who were all there on visa issues - if you have a resident permit in China, you have to leave the country every three months to keep it valid).

Drinks at the hotel bar turned into clubbing in downtown Hong Kong, which turned into KTV, which turned into the most random night ever. Got back to my beautiful hotel room around 5, approximately 4 hours to takeoff. But, I made expo friends and had to speak in Spanish most of the night because it was the only shared language between myself, two French guys and a Spaniard. Who knew I remembered any Spanish? (Suck it, Senor Abadia).

Back to the airport where my flight was (obviously) delayed again. Finally made it back to Shanghai exactly one week and two hours from when I left Boston! Welcome to the 21st century! I had been sending hourly updates to my boss with what was going on. She only responded once, and briefly: "The world is flat but the roads are not yet paved."


Friday, March 19, 2010

An Homage to Sean: My Morning Commute

While you're all waiting for some backlogged posts on my past month, I've made a video homage to Sean. (Sean, I considered making the soundtrack Oh Canada, but it just didn't flow as well). Here's a look at my typical morning commute. Buckle your seatbelts, the roads are not kindly paved.

If it doesn't work for you, try this youtube clip: (no sound sad)

Upcoming: Spontaneous Hong Kong, Wuzhen, couchsurfing, being on Chinese TV, the return of Picnic Tuesday!


P.S. Check out Sean's morning commute here:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Land of the Free

It's time to catch up on my time in America, which was in February. I know, I'm behind. Orientation ends tomorrow, and a quasi-schedule will start by next week, and hopefully soon I'll be able to emerge from my piles of blankets - it's COLD here and my heat is WEAK.

So, after I left London, I headed for New York. New York was fantastic, and went much like my time in London: catching up with old friends by night and museuming while they were at work by day. I spent a good deal of time with Nancy, and had the opportunity to meet her friends from her new job (she's working at Rockefeller University because she's brilliant). Her friends are lovely, her job has a most excellent teachers' lounge, her apartment and roommates were wonderful and Nancy as always was awesome. I miss my friends - you should all move to China. I also saw the Vagina Monologues with Dan and went sightseeing with AJ. Turns out all three of these people live literally within a stone's throw of each other. And I thought New York was big. At the end of the week I got in touch with Kelsey and Emily, friends of mine from junior high who I had lost touch with. It was so surreal to visit them and meet their friends and hear about where their lives are now. By day I visited the Met, the Whitney, the MoMA, the Museum of Natural History, and about every deli that makes bagels in the city. So, here are some pictures. I wasn't that great about taking lots of them while in NY (or America or that matter). This will be a less-picture heavy post.

I love that the Met organizes it's furniture collections with period-themed rooms.

The classic MoMA city view:

Kelsey and Emily!:

From New York I took the bus to Boston for just a day because for various reasons it made more sense to fly to DC round-trip from there than to double-bus. On the way to the bus station, my subway train stopped for about a year at each stop, severely throwing my time-planning off. Someone on the train looked at me and my bags, saw my head frantically darting from my watch to the subway clock, and asked if I was going to Port Authority, and if so was I trying to catch the 1:00 bus? He wasn't even planning on getting off at the same stop, but told me that he was worried I would miss the bus if I was carrying both bags, so he got off the train with me, insisted on carrying my duffel bag, and ran down the street with me after my bus that was pulling away from the curb. I made it and that man, wherever he is, is amazing.

My plane landed in DC during the approximate 5 hour window between snow storms when planes were actually allowed to land. All public transportation had been suspended, which I attempted to tell all the wandering lost-looking tourists by the metro. I asked if anyone wanted to split a cab downtown and only one of the shellshocked people took me up on it. So I made friends with an AP reporter. We took a cab as close as we could get to Dupont, and then mountaineered our way over the snow to our final destinations. I went to Sara's first, where I was snowed in for the next two days with her and Kyla (since, the night of my arrival, the city got about 3 or 4 more feet!). I was laughing when I read about the snow before I got to the city, but after arriving I can now attest that snowpocalypse/snowmageddon/whatever they're calling it was for real. This also resulted in some major visa drama for me. I was supposed to get my visa for China while in DC (since I could just pop into the embassy, it only takes a day), but the embassy was snowed shut the entire week! More on how I had to sneak into China in my next post on impromptu Hong Kong.

So, in DC I stayed with Sara, Kyla (who flew in all the way from Seattle because she ROCKS), Lisa and Kelsey, as well as had a chance to catch up with countless people. Turns out I know a lot of people in DC, and a lot who moved there after I moved out. I also had a chance to go to a few Smithsonians, make snowangels on the mall, have a few snowball fights, and eat a ton of various African cuisines (DC food I miss you). I left on one of the first planes allowed out of DC, so my trip was pretty much characterized by snow. I've never seen the city so creepy and shut down. Here's some photos:

Snowy White House:

Freedom Square Snow Angels:


Just looked out the window, and coincidentally, it's snowing in Shanghai right now! Rare magic!

After DC I went to Boston where I stayed with Rachael and the Glorious 44 Litchfield. I also caught up with several friends who are still in Boston and got to hear about what they've been doing. Drove by my old house which was eerie. Took care of business and bought all sorts of contraband to bring back to China with me (vanilla extract! baking soda! moisturizer!). Had a fantastic valentines day. Ate all sorts of fantastic home cooking. Oh, and freaked out over and over for inordinate amounts of time about my visa situation. So, some photos:

Fanieul Hall from the North End:

Old State House:

The 'Bury from the Air:

Whenever I get my act together I'll catch up on the blog, promise! Posts to come: Hong Kong adventuring and talking my way into China, Orientation and new kiddos, ADPi reunions at Bar 88 and Wuzhen.