Apr
06
2011

Okay, No More Excuses, I Don’t Even Have a Job

bya Gabrielle at 12:26 PM

Blogging . . . it used to be a part of my daily routine and then I got lazy.  Well, now I don’t have any excuses.  I’m not bouncing around the globe, I’m not attending a funeral or mourning my loss anymore, I’m not standing at an alter saying, “I do”, and I am most certainly not working.  So, what else do I have time for?  Pretty much anything that I want. And for the most part that has included sleeping late, watching season and after season of whatever TV show I downloaded, and making sure that dinner is cooked for my hubby when he finally gets home after a long day behind the desk.  But those aren’t the only things going on in here in Shanghai.

Since I have moved to Shanghai, China, a lot has happened.

On my second day here, my flipping wallet was stolen.  All in all they didn’t get much, but they did get five crisp 100 yuan bills, my US and Chinese debit card, credit card, traveler check receipts, a whole section of business cards of people I don’t really know, the USC staff card I liked to use to get discounts at movie theaters and the like, my driver license(that had a good picture on it!) and random mementos that I’ve carried in my wallet for way too long.  Most of what was stolen can be replaced.  The major pain was having to call and get everything canceled and knowing that it was probably going to be a complete bitch getting access to 8000 yuan I still had left from Linyi.  Why, would that be difficult you ask?  Well, it’s simple really.  China wouldn’t be China if everything was easy.  As much as the lack of ease irks me here in China, I do suppose that it is part of the reason it keeps me here.  I know, I am completely retarded.

As soon as I realized that my wallet had been stolen, the first thought that popped into my head besides, “Oh, shit, oh, shit”, was the Ben Ross post I read several years ago.  His wallet wasn’t stolen, but it might have well have been.  He just forgot his pass code.  You can read all about it here, here, here, and here.  It’s a lot of reading, but worth it.  The memory of this post put the fear of God in me.  I was almost certain I was gonna be screwed eight ways to Sunday.

I did the proper thing after I realized my wallet was gone.  Teary-eyed(me, not Phil), Phil and I found a police officer and in broken Chinese told him what had happened.  He told us to follow him and so we did.  I don’t think he told us where he was taking us and if he did the Chinese was lost on us.   All I knew was that he was walking us away from the possible scene of the crime.  He guided us, silently, across several busy streets and eventually turned down a very dark and quite alley.  For one paranoid, horror-esque moment, I thought he was guiding us to our doom.  I’ve seen to many movies for my own good.  In my defense, I was tired, angry as a bee hive that has been poked with a stick, and worried sick about how I was going to survive in Shanghai until all this was resolved.  You need money to live after all.

The police officer finally parked his bicycle in front of building and pointed that we should go in.  Surprise, surprise, he had taken us to a police station.  He told us to wait while he went and talked to a few of the other officers.  In a small, windowless back room, I could see about 7 officers chain smoking.  A wall of smoke continuously wafted out.  When one officer put out his cigarette and left, another officer would replace him.  Not a single one of them stepped through the door frame holding a cigarette.  It was obviously the designated smoking area.  I didn’t know China had designated smoking areas.

Finally, a guy came over to me and asked in Chinese if I had a Chinese friend that he could call.  Apparently, of all the officers present, not a one of them spoke enough English for me to file a report.  If this had happened in Linyi or Fuyang, or any other small city I have lived in or visited, I would have expected as much.  I guess I thought Shanghai would have more officers that could communicate with foreigners on some level at least, and especially so soon after the Expo had finished.    I thought wrong.  I was very lucky that I did indeed have a local Chinese friend to call.  Amanda(Zhang Yun Jing) has been so very helpful to both me and Phil since we have arrived.  I hated to call her so late, but it was the only way the officers were going to be able to communicate with me.  I figured they would just use Amanda as a translator, so I waited patiently while they talked to one another.   When the guy hung up the phone without handing it back to me, I was confused.  I immediately called Amanda back and asked her what was going on.

“I am coming to you,” she said.

“But it is 11:00 p.m. and you live so far away.  You don’t need to come all the way here.  I just want them to know my wallet was stolen, so that if it is somehow found that they can give it back to me.”

“No, it is okay.  We are friends.”

At this point, I had only met with her three times.  We spent two days together looking for an apartment in December and then earlier that day, I had seen her at Phil’s work.  She was helping us get our paperwork in order.  I tried very hard to convince her that she really didn’t need to travel 30 minutes across town, but it was no use.  She was my friend, and friends help friends in times of need.

Phil and I sat and waited while our ice cream cones melted.  We had forgotten we had bought them with all the insanity.  I refused to let mine go to waste and slurped mine out of its wrapper.  It dripped all over me and I didn’t care.

When Amanda arrived about 45 minutes later, we found a police officer who sat down with us to write up a report.  He asked the normal questions – where did I think I was when my wallet was stolen, when did I realize it was missing, what was in my wallet, and how to contact me if my wallet was found or if they had any further questions.  This took about 30 minutes.  They told me if I was sure it was taken at Carrefour, a store a lot like Wal-Mart, they would review the tapes, but there was no way I could know for sure if it was or not.  It could have happened in several different places.  They took all of my information, typed it up and gave me a copy.  It was my first and hopefully, last Chinese police report.

As we walked back down the dark and now even quieter alley, I thanked Amanda repeatedly for all she had done.  I even got a little emotional when I told her how happy I was to have a friend like her because g0od friends, not just in China, are hard to come by.  She told me that I did not have to thank her because I was her friend and that she was very happy to be there for me.  I hugged her and off she went.

Phil and I went home and promptly crashed.  It had been a long day.  I probably should have looked for the number to my bank then, but I was just too tired to think about it.  It was the first thing I did when I woke up the next day, though.

After finding the English hot-line number to the China Construction Bank and telling them that my wallet was stolen(fairly easy), they froze my account so that the stupid pick pocket couldn’t attempt to withdraw my small chunk of change, after verifying who I was.  They wanted to know how much money I thought I had, when the last time I used it, and my name of course.  Since I did not know my card number, I had to provide my passport number.

I asked the guy on the phone how I would be able to get what money I had left out and he told me what I feared. He said that I would have to go back to the China Construction Bank branch where I opened my account to unfreeze my account and to have a new card issued.  I told him I didn’t care about the card, that I just wanted my money, but he said that was what I had to do.  This wouldn’t be much of a problem if I was still living in Linyi, but I wasn’t.  Linyi is about 10 hours away by bus and depending on when you buy a plane ticket, it can cost anywhere between 370 to 800 yuan to fly there – one way.  Of course, to fly I would need my passport, and Phil’s work was still in possession of it at the time, and without the ability to get to my money, it would be difficult to pay for the stupid ticket.  I could have used what money Phil had left on his Chinese debit card or had him take money out his US accounts, but I refused to go that route.

The next day, I decided to call the hot-line number again, to see if there was someone else I could talk to – maybe there was another way.  I talked to a woman and told her my situation.  She asked where I was living and gave me the address to a near by branch that should be able to able to help me.  This seemed promising and made me happy.

Almost a month later, I finally made my way to the branch the woman had told me to go to.  Why did it take me so long?  Well, Chinese New Year happened, it took almost three weeks to get my passport back, we were really busy getting settled, I kept forgetting about it, and perhaps it was that I didn’t want to have to deal with what was most likely to come.  But if I wanted my money, I would just have walk the walk and deal with it.

With my passport in hand, Phil and I jumped in a taxi and rode to the bank.   I think the taxi guy took us to the wrong branch because the numbers on the building didn’t match the ones I had written down.  We walked in anyway.  In a lot of banks here, they have a machine that gives you a number and you have to wait until your number is called.  There were 25 people in front of us.  Not too bad, really.

My main worry was that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone at the bank and that I would just be screwed.  I brought my police report hoping that would help.  I showed it to the guy who greeted me at the door and he gave me a paper to fill out.  Of course, it was all in Chinese, so I had a really difficult time filling in all the blanks.  Another guy tried to help a little, but most of the form was left blank.

We sat down and waited, watching the numbers tick away.  About 20 minutes later, a guard came over and tapped me on the shoulder.  He reached down and took the number I was holding in my hand.  I was confused why he was taking it because my number had not been called yet.  He pointed over to the side where some other consulting areas were located and I saw a woman getting her area ready.  I put two and two together and walked over and sat in the chair in front of the desk.

Since I hadn’t heard her talk yet, I wasn’t sure if I should speak  in English or my broken Chinese.  I went with the good ole’, “Ni hao”(hello in Chinese).

“Hello,” she said back to me in perfect English.  “How may I help you.”  This made me smile.  Maybe it wouldn’t be that hard after all.

I explained my situation to her and handed over my passport and my police report just in case.  It seemed that she had experience in this and started pulling out several forms that I would need to fill out.  I must have signed my name no less than ten times.  Just like on the phone, I had to answer questions about my account to prove that is was me.  She was just about down with all the paperwork when Phil suggested that I mentioned that the card I lost was issued to me in Linyi and ask if it was still possible.  So, I did.

As soon as I asked, her eyes seemed to get bigger or maybe it was just my imagination.

“Linyi?” She repeated.  “No, that is not possible.”

My heart sank.

“It has to be from Shanghai.”

“Well, it’s not,” I said.  “Can I at least get my money?”

She looked at me and you could tell she was thinking really hard by the way her eyes moved.  “I don’t know.  We have never done that before.  Please wait while I talk to my manager.”  I felt like I had been put on hold and that any minute a stupid ditty would start playing.

As she walked away, I crossed my fingers and prayed to every Chinese God there ever was, specifically, Guanyin, the goddess of mercy.

After she talked to her manager, they disappeared around a corner for a while.  The woman came back with what seemed to be more paperwork and handed it to another man sitting behind one of the main desks.  They talked for awhile and then he sat the paperwork aside.  He fiddled with something on his computer screen and then waved me over.  I looked over at all the other people waiting patiently and wondered if they were mad that I had skipped ahead a few places.  No one threw anything at me or yelled any insults my way, so I guess they didn’t mind all that much.

The man before me asked me a bunch of the same questions about my account, making sure once again that I was indeed who I said I was.  Hey, at least they are cautious.  His fingers danced across his key board for a long while before he spoke to me again.

“Okay,” he said.  “Forget about your account.  It does not exist anymore.”  My heart stopped.  “If you want you can open a new account later.”  Still no heart beat.  I was beginning to get  a little light headed.  “I can give you the money remaining in your account,” he said, and my heart fluttered back to life.  “But,” he continued, and my heart flat lined again, “I will need to charge you 25 yuan for losing your card.”

“Oh, that is fine!”  I probably sounded hysterical, but I was so happy.  My heart almost leapt out of my chest and hugged him.

He just looked at me and then said, “That will be 20 yuan, please.”

“Oh, yeah, sure.”  I opened up my purse to look for some money, but all I had was a few yuan and some lint.  I looked over my shoulder at Phil waiting patiently on a metal stool.  “Please tell me you have 20 yuan.”

Phil reached into his wallet and handed me the most beautiful 20 yuan note I have ever seen in my entire life.  I snatched hit out of his hand and quickly shoved it into the metal tray so the guy could get it.

“But just forget about your account,” he said, taking the 20 yuan bill into his possession.  “It doesn’t exist anymore.”

Ten minutes later, after counting and recounting, I had my money and I didn’t have to go all the way to Linyi to get it.  I danced out the bank’s doors.  Everyone thought I was nuts, but I really didn’t care.

Life may not always be easy in China, but man, when things go smoother than you expect, it makes you giggle like a school girl.  And now that I have written a short story and bored all of you to tears, I am going to jet.  And since the secret it is out and I don’t have any more excuses, I’ll be more of a regular here from now on.  Next time, I’ll try to post some pictures or something.

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May
03
2010

Qufu, China

bya Gabrielle at 12:32 AM

I always seem to start out my posts with, a few something or other ago, Phil and I did this or went here . . .  I suppose I just take too long to actually get whatever it is that we did posted. I’ll try to get better at it.  Now that Phil and I can use both of our computers at the same time, that may actually be possible.  Hooray, for wireless!!  Right now, I am enjoying  a wonderful three day vacation because Monday is Labor Day.  In years previous, it used to be a week long vacation, but this is the first year it has only been a day – at least I think that is right.  I really don’t know why they changed it, but I suppose they had a good reason.

Last weekend, Phil and I decided to change up our scenery a little by going to Qufu.  The city is famous because Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, was born there.  He also taught there and of course, that is where he was buried.  See the map below to get an idea of where it is located in China.  Qufu is only about two hours north-west of Linyi by train.  When we went to buy our tickets a few days in advance, I had no idea how much they were going to cost, but was pleasantly surprised to find a soft seat only cost 24 yuan.  I saw another lady with a ticket to Beijing and her ticket said 113 yuan, but I don’t know if that was for a soft seat, hard seat, or standing only.  Yes, they do sell standing only tickets.  Those were the only ones available to us coming back.  I get to that later.

Qufu Map

Getting to Qufu wasn’t a problem at all.  Phil and I had to battle the crowd on the train and peel back our sardine can to breath better, but that is a train in China for you.  I was just happy to have seats.  When we first got on, we did find that our seats were already occupied, but once they saw our tickets, they got up.  There was no real place to put our backpacks, so we had put them in our laps.  That was fun.  At least it was only a two hour ride.

Five or six stops later, one of the girls we were sitting by said, in English, that we had arrived.  The train only stops for a minute or so, so you have to book it to the platform . . . except in our case, there was no platform to walk out on to.  The car that we were in had stopped short of it and we had to jump down to the gravel.  It wasn’t that far, really, but with a big backpack on, it felt farther.  When I landed, the weight of my bag nearly made me fall flat on my face.  While we were walking to the platform, the train station employees kept telling us to step away from the train . . . but there wasn’t much space between the train and the wall, so they yelled at us until we got to a point along the path that they deemed safe.

It was about nine at night when we got to the Qufu train station.  When we walked out front, there were no taxis or anything.  For a moment, we wondered how we were going to make it to our hostel, but then a little old woman walked up to us and asked where we needed to go.  She pulled out her cell phone after we told her and we could hear her telling the person she was talking to that she had some foreigners that needed a ride.  A few moments later, a taxi showed up, and off we went.  The guy didn’t use his meter, and I really didn’t care.  He only got an extra five or so yuan.

The only thing bad about some hostels, is that they have a curfew.  After getting to the hostel, checking in and getting a bit settled, we only had an hour to find some place to eat.  When I asked the lady at the front desk if there were any places open, she smiled and said that maybe if we were lucky we would find something.  I guess we were lucky.  Just down the street, we found a fast food chicken restaurant called CNHLS.  I have no idea how you pronounce that, but I heard another foreigner calling it Knuckles.  It sorta looks like that . . . I guess.  The restaurant was a lot like KFC or the KFC look alike, Dico’s.  The food wasn’t bad and it was cheap.  After we got done eating, we ran back to the hostel, and luckily got back before they closed their doors.

Chinese Chicken Chain - CNHLS

We awoke the next morning to beautiful weather and birds chirping.  The sky was actually blue.  This made me very happy.  Below is the picture of the courtyard at the hostel where you can eat or chill.  It was very nice.

Qufu International Youth Hostel

The first thing  on our to do list was to visit the cemetery where Confucius was buried, along with the rest of his descendants.  Apparently, people are still being buried there today.  After seeing it myself, I told Phil that when I finally kick the bucket, he is to convince the people of Qufu that I am distant, distant relative of Confucius – it was just that pretty.   I’ll stop with the chatter for a bit, so that you can enjoy the pictures.

Horse drawn carriage.

One way to travel around Qufu.

Entrance to the Cemetery

The entrance to the cemetery.

Path with very old trees on either side.

Path leading into the cemetery.  Lots of old trees on either side.

Pretty blue bird with a long tail.

These birds were all over the cemetery.  So pretty.

Purple flowers every where.

We must have come at the perfect time.  These purple flowers were every where.

Up close with the purple flower.

Here is what one looks like up close.

Random tombstone.

Random tombstone.

Statue

I am not sure of the significance, but this one guy kept trying to throw some coins on top of the statue’s folded arms.

Confucius Tomb

Confucius’ Tomb.

Confucius' Tomb

Another view of the tomb.

Pretty Picture

I took a billion pictures while I was there, this is just one that I liked.

Twisted tree.

A pretty twisted tree.

More pretty pictures.

More pretty pictures.

No smoking.

The no smoking tomb.

Dry water bed.

Dry water bed.

After we finished walking around the cemetery, we decided to head back into town.  We went back to that “Knuckles” place and ate some more chicken.  After that, we waked around and did a whole lot of nothing the rest of the day.  And we did the same the next day, too.  There were more things we could have done, but I didn’t feel like shelling out money for some of the attractions, and plus, I was a bit tired.  I didn’t mind relaxing.

Phil and his Chicken.

Phil and his Chicken.  He loves meat more than me sometimes.

Qufu Park

A park we stumbled across in Qufu.

Yet another pretty picture.

This was at the top of a man-made mountain.

Crazy Wysteria

Some crazy Wisteria.

Chinese Mermaids

Chinese Mermaids.

Bee Beard

Found this on the back window of a car.  Weird.

Okay, last but not least, our trip home.  It happened like this.  We stood on the platform and waited for the train to roll up.  Of course, the place we were told to wait was not where the door stopped, so we had to run down to where it was.  The train was already stuffed full of people, so it was really, really hard to squeeze ourselves and our bags on.  A Chinese man kept yelling at everyone to squeeze harder.

Phil and I, before we left Linyi, had bought some folding chairs because we knew that we would be standing.  Our seats were almost useless because there was absolutely no room to put them.  After the train started moving and the people started spreading out into the aisles, we finally found a place in between where one car started and the other ended.  Let me tell you, it was one bumpy ride.  The cars constantly shook.  And every 5 minutes, someone needed to make their way through us, so we had to keep standing up and sitting down, much to the amusement of every person watching us.  We were the only foreigners in our section.

About an hour into our ride, a man in uniform came walking through our area with two Swedish people.  We asked them where they were going and they said that they thought he was going to give them seats.  I looked at the guy in uniform and asked if we were supposed to go with him, too. Our conversation was mostly in hand gestures because I had no idea how to say what I needed to in Chinese.  He told us yes, and off we went.  The four of us walked through 8 packed cars of young people, old people, and monks before we reached the seats they had provided us.  If it hadn’t been for my over sized back pack, it probably wouldn’t have been so bad.  When we finally plopped out butts down, I was so tired and sweaty, it was amazing.  I felt special, though, that they had made room for us.  I guess they thought that the foreigners should not be standing in the smoking section for the entirety of their journey.  I must say, it was a very nice gesture.

Standing room only on the train.

Fuzzy Phil.

Fuzzy Gabe

And Fuzzy, Gabe.  Not a flattering picture – AT ALL.

And that was our journey in a nut shell.  Can’t wait until we go to Qingdao or some other city near by.

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May
20
2008

Chinese Birthday Cake – Lotus Candle

bya Gabrielle at 4:26 PM

I’ve been meaning to put this up forever, but finally managed to allot myself some time last night in order to get it uploaded to youtube. It is not a fantastic video or anything, but I thought that the lotus candle was really cool. I wish we had candles like this here. (Perhaps we do, but I’ve never seen one.) They would make birthdays even more exciting.

First, the story. Then the video clip.

When I went to the cake store to buy Phil and Maya’s birthday cake, I ran into Mr. Zhou, the Foreign Affairs Director. He didn’t waste half a second to offer to purchase the cake for me when he found it why I was buying it. He pulled out several crumbled bills out of his pocket and handed it to the lady at the cash register. Talk about perfect timing. He saved me about 100 yuan. Actually, it was probably less than that, but I can’t remember exactly.

I thought that I would have to call to have the cake made in advance, like we do in here, but all I had to was point at a picture and wait 15 minutes. They already had the cake made, all they had to do was decorate it. I got to look through the window and watch as they made it, which was pretty cool. The woman who made the cake did it very quickly, like she had done a half a billion before this one. If I have to decorate a cake all fancy, it takes me hours, not minutes.

When she was all done, she handed me the cake in a box, a few plates, some folding forks, and a bag with a candle in it. And off to the party I went. It was probably one of the easiest most painless things I had ever done in China.

Of the 11 laowais living in Fuyang during my 5 months stint, we celebrated at least 9 birthdays. Toward late December, I didn’t want anymore cake. I think everyone was starting to get sick of cake. I still think it is amazing that we had a birthday to celebrate almost every two weeks.

I’ve got more stories to tell about the candle, but I will save that for a later post this week. Until then, enjoy my retarded little video. If you can see any of the room, it is our living room. Pretty big huh?

YouTube Preview Image
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Apr
14
2008

Missing China

bya Gabrielle at 12:36 PM

I knew it would happen one day, but really, I didn’t think these sort of feelings would surface for a good long while. If you ever read My Chinese Headache Part 1 and 2, and many of you must have in order to make them my top two posts of all time, then you know why I didn’t think I would miss China, for a while – anyway.

Let me explain.

I don’t miss the crap I went through to get back home. Not in the least. Yeah, it made me wiser and stronger , and all that jazz, but I never want to have to go through something like that ever again. Ever. Nor do I miss the way I was treated by some of the people in charge of me, mainly Richard Guo, AKA Yuli Guo. That man is the Anti-Christ. My blood boils when I think of him. And I don’t particularly miss my first batch of students – except one or two, and I’ve mention them before. I don’t miss the dirt or the pollution either, but who does? Oh, and the lies. All of the lies and deceit were enough to make me go mad.

What I do miss . . .

I miss the daily excitement. Everyday was a new one in China. I could never expect the same thing to happen twice once I walked out my door. There was always a new obstacle, a new challenge. Yeah, it wasn’t always easy, but they sure made life interesting. And if I ever just wanted to get my heart pumping, all I ever needed to do was hop in a taxi and ride across town. A taxi ride in China was like riding a roller coaster, except without all the steep inclines and loops.

I really miss the street food, even though I’m sure some of it made me ill – very ill. I can forgive the street vendors though because they made some very tasty, cheap snacks. I had some awesome fried banana in Beijing. God, that stuff was tastebudalicious. Yes, I just made a new word. Also, I really came to love corn on a stick. I can’t think of a better way to spend 5 yuan. Well, maybe 5 yuan on lamb sticks. I could spend 5 yuan all day on that. There are many more street snacks, but if I went into detail about all of them – you’d be here all day. :)

Cheap DVDs – even if some of them didn’t work quite right – were awesome. I will never forget the hours I spent watching season after season of Smallville, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and House – just to name a few. To watch those back home would have cost me a small fortune, unless of course I pirated them, but I would never do that. :)

I miss being the center of attention. Yes, I’m an attention whore – hate me. Even though, at times it could be a bit annoying(all the hellos and what not), it was kinda cool to feel famous. I think I had my picture taken a few million times and I now have a few more crease lines on my cheeks to prove it. Hehe. On one occasion, someone even asked for my autograph. I’ll never understand that one, but hey, it was cool. And I can’t count how many free dinners I had in China. When I was taken to a banquet or even a simple dinner at a restaurant, I felt like a Queen. I have never seen so much food.

I miss how complete strangers would welcome me into their home and offer me tea and sometimes fruit, just because they could. Half of the time we couldn’t understand each other, but we didn’t have to.

So, I imagine one day, Phil and I will have to go back. I don’t know when that will be, though. And hopefully, China won’t change so drastically that we won’t be able to recognize it when do.

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