Archive for July, 2011

Catching up on Zzzzzzzs

In addition to wearing pyjamas out of the house, the Shanghai folk seem to like to sleep. Which they can do anyone and at the drop of a hat. It’s pretty hot at the moment so at many times of the day you can see people crashed out all over the place. Sometimes it looks like there has been a catastrophic lethal gas leak or something, This is what it looks like.

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Pyjamas for all occasions

There are many people wandering round Shanghai dressed in pyjamas. Not just popping over to the corner shop to pick up a newspaper, or picking up the post from the postbox, but actually hanging out, going about day to day activities wearing full on stripy PJs.

Here’s one example, I found this chap yesterday afternoon, nonchalantly taking his bananas for a stroll:

There’s a lot of it about. Why are there so many? Care in the community open day? Sleepwalkers anonymous? No. It’s apparently a sign of status. Wandering around in your PJs all day means that a) you can afford pyjamas and b) that you are wealthy enough not to have to demean yourself by actually having a job.

I like the  idea of this. I might just try it myself. I wonder if it works with nighties.


First taste of Chinese medicine

This  morning I went, with considerable trepidation, to have my immigration medical. While far from pleasant in any way it proved to be an eyeopening experience – in all the chaos and craziness, this unfortunate hurdle on the path to residence here turns out to be an sbsolute model of efficiency.

We showed up at 9am for our appointment. The place was packed and my heart sank when I saw that it employs a bacon counter ticket system. Thinking of past bad experiences at passport offices and other places that use numbers I was kicking myself for not bringing some emergency rations, particularly as we’d been instructed not to eat beforehand. I didn’t think we’d get out before lunchtime.

The first task was a document to complete where you have to mark all the horrible illnesses and surgeries you had ever had. Much to my surprise, among the usual suspects was a box marked “Plague”! I wonder how many people can say they have had that.

Almost as soon as I had finished filling out the details my number came up. I did not expect that.  First comes the admin portion. A lady checks your ID against the document. Done within seconds it was then a matter of scooting over to the next chair to the next computer operator who notes any operations. As soon as you vacate a chair, then next pair of buttocks fill the same spot. That’s when I realised it was operated like a human sheep dip.

Before I knew it I was sent to the next room and being ordered to stand on scales, before being handed a dressing gown and those funny plastic overshoes.  This room is at the start of a short corridor with five rooms on each side. Each room is dedicated to a different test. (funnily enough there is actually a room 101  – although just an admin room rather than my worst Orwellian nightmare). From there you are ordered from one to the next where tests are undertaken with military precision.  I had a chest XRay, an ECG, an ultrasound and some blood samples taken. The eye test was hilarious as I didn’t quite understand the instructions:

Me: ” I don’t understand what you need me to say”

Doctor pointing randomly at a chart: “Can you see it?”

Me: “Yes”.

The Doctor then looks quickly up my nose and down throat (presumably the rigorous NT bit of the ENT exam) then stamps me ready to go to the next room.

Throughout the whole process, I’ve never felt more like a random piece of meat. The one thing that does make you feel a little better about it is the fact that the small corridor is filled with other itinerant souls dressed in the same weird gown and shoes, shuffling from one room to the next. I can imagine that Purgatory would be the same, endless shuffling from room to room for random procedures. That said, it was all over in a remarkable thirty minutes so I can’t complain too much. I’ll find out later this week if I’m healthy enough to be a resident. Very pleased that’s now over.

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First Impressions of Shanghai

I’ve made it to Shanghai. It feels like it has been forever since we first decided to take the opportunity to move here. That’s probably because we’ve crammed so much into the last few months. On the other hand the last few weeks have passed in a whirlwind. OK it probably isn’t the smartest idea to emigrate three days after returning from holiday…but we made it.  It’s only been a couple of days but so far so good.

It’s a really impressive city – it’s a really vibrant and cosmopolitan place. I know many places are described as cosmopolitan but few really are. Shanghai definitely is. There’s a strong energy here. While Europe and the US are feeling a bit flat right now, China feels like it is going places – it really does feel like you can achieve anything. Assuming you can embrace the chaos of course because there’s a lot of that. I’m not sure how things are going to work out but I think it’ll be just fine. I’m feeling pretty positive.

I was here for the first time a couple of months ago to find somewhere to live. It struck me as a city of great contrasts. There’s the very rich and the very poor living just a few blocks from one another. It’s just as quick moving from very Chinese areas to those that are very European. The food has been spectacularly good, there’s every possible nationality to choose from and so far I haven’t had a bad meal.

Here’s the video I made when I first visited. I thought it might be interesting to see how my perceptions change over time.

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Big Rock Bike Trip 2011

I just returned from this year’s motorbike adventure. This time nine of us rode in a wide loop that started and ended in Vegas (how many times have I been there this year? It’s just weird), taking us 2000 miles through Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. We started out riding East through Nevada in the scorching heat. It’s a source of huge irritation to the chap that my bike has a temperature gauge. I look at it a lot of the time (party so I can report temperatures just to remind him that I have the ability to 😉 Anyway, riding out of Vegas it was well over 100 degrees F, which is not the sort of temperature you want to be sitting on an engine…

Anyhoo – here’s an overview of the pics I took (they are just the pictures from my phone for now – I haven’t had time to process the others yet).

We saw some astonishing natural sights – it’s a constant source of amazement to me quite how spectacular the US scenery can be. The National Parks are all ruggedly beautiful. The first place of note we visited was Zion National Park. It was the first set of this week’s huge red rocks. Bryce Canyon was the next rock stop –  I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Its weird eroded rock formations make it look like something from a different planet. We stopped there for both sunset and sunrise so experienced impressive light shows over the red rocks. Staying nearby I was struck by the hummingbirds. I watched them feeding for some time.

Next we rode through northern Arizona’s Indian country, reaching Monument Valley in the afternoon. On my one previous visit I saw some of the stunning landscape from the car park and was very impressed at the time. This time we were lucky enough to be able to tour the site. We spent a couple of hours bouncing around the pot holed tracks and were rewarded with more astonishing views. I think we had exhausted our supply of superlatives in about 15 minutes.

After Monument Valley we headed out into Colorado, where we found the worst weather of the trip – torrential rain followed by some vicious hail. Looking at the clouds I thought we’d miss the worst of it so didn’t put my weatherproofs on – I paid for my stupidity with soggy trousers for the rest of the day. Not fun.  Leaving Colorado,  we found the sunshine again as we headed for Santa Fe via Taos. I’d love to be able to spend some more time in Santa Fe. We were only there for dinner but were able to enjoy a large free music concert in the main square.

After Santa Fe, our route took us into Arizona, with a stop at the Grand Canyon, which never disappoints. It was my father’s birthday so we sent him on a surprise helicopter trip to see the sheer enormity of this natural wonder. The day finished in beautiful Sedona, where we had the most delicious birthday dinner under the stars and next to a picturesque creek. It was a perfect night before the return to Vegas the following day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the week. It was both a great farewell to America and a reminder of quite what I’ll be missing.



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More genius from Skymall

There aren’t many things that I’ll miss about US domestic aritravel, but the one highlight of each journey is the Skymall catalogue. I’ve mentioned it a few times before – it’s a collection of some of the most bonkers ideas I have ever seen. I can’t imagine that anyone would actually buy most of this stuff (see references to ornamental zombies etc).

Anyway, this will be my last opportunity to share the latest craziness I found in the most recent edition.

I bring you: the inflatable tie…

In case you can’t quite read it, it says: “Boring meetings, hour-long conference calls – might as well make yourself comfy.” Genius.

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Pin up Shoot

I did something on a random whim recently – I signed up for a pin up photo shoot.

I wasn’t really planning to – I was introduced to a wonderful husband and wife photography  team by a mutual friend – I emailed them and they were so lovely that one thing led to another and before long I found myself heading over to Alexandria after work on the way to see them.

At that point I was seriously apprehensive. I wasn’t that sure what to expect and given that I dislike the vast majority of pictures of me, I wasn’t that positive about the likely results. On arrival they put me immediately at ease. Before long I was trying on a selection of weird and wonderful outfits and twirling around for feedback on which to choose. and Costumes chosen, I had my hair and make up done in the style of the 50s pin ups. Then the pictures started. I was pretty self conscious initially, but they gave me props and made me laugh so much that I was happy to take direction. It’s amazing how a giant leaf or parasol stop you from wondering what to do with your hands. It ended up being a surprisingly fun evening.

A couple of weeks later, the pictures came back. I was really impressed  – I reckon I wouldn’t look out of place on the side of a B52. Here’s a sample:


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Moving on

Very soon I’ll be moving to Shanghai. While I am really very excited at the opportunity to live in one of the most vibrant cities in Asia, I’m also sad about what I’m leaving behind. Since I arrived here a few years ago, I’ve established a great life here – with a beautiful home, great friends, fun activities and of course a wonderful husband.

I’ve been trying to rationalise some of my conflicted feelings. Here’s where I’ve got to so far on the list:

Things I’ll miss

  • Friends old and new – I didn’t know anyone when I got here and now am proud to call a great group of people here friends. I’m going to miss you guys!
  • Our house – It’s almost exactly how we want it. Typical that we just finish a renovation then leave
  • Being able to read roadsigns
  • Driving, particularly the Lotus ;-( but also the bikes. I am not looking forward to not being able to drive when and where I want
  • Being able to get clothes in approximately my size. There is no part of me that fits a Chinese XXS
  • The structure of a normal full time job
  • Being able to read cooking instructions on food
  • Having a garden
  • Aerials classes – hopefully I’ll be able to find somewhere in China – although I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone over the age of 6 is past it….
  • Skymall. It’s just awesome.

Things I will NOT miss

  • All those awful stone animals people have prowling around their Pennsylvania gardens – everything from geese to lions (yes lions)
  • The horrible bread. Come to think of it –I won’t miss the food generally which is mostly not great in PA outside Philly
  • The insane licensing laws in PA. State shops for booze? What century are you guys in?
  • Pennsylvania wine. Seriously – it’s grim. Somehow the folk just a couple of miles away in New Jersey manage to produce some quite nice stuff. What’s with the vineyards in PA?
  • The ridiculously complex health system.
  • The completely insane amounts of junk mail that we receive on a daily basis
  • The quite frankly appalling US TV spread across a bazillion channels
  • US politics – it’s completely ridiculous, and that’s before you start on the Wiener issues and pretty much anything that Sarah Palin does. They are all so far right it is scary.
  • The fact that everyone is so litigious and the fall out from that.
  • The horrible loos with the gap all round the door. URgh.

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The Wedding

A major part of the whirlwind of the last few months was the wedding. I didn’t think I’d ever get married and I suspect that many people I know didn’t expect it either. Some of it has been just that I was never that girl who planned it out from an early age. So with no one else to answer to, we arranged a wedding that we would want to go to – one that was  fun with great food but that was not particularly wedding-y in terms of tradition or ceremony.

I was all for running off and marrying on a beach but I was convinved otherwise. I am so pleased I was. It was a special couple of days that I am thrilled we shared with people we care about and who care about us. The small group of friends and family who came made it a really special day. Nobody knew each other at the beginning of the weekend, but I think people left as firm friends. One of my favourite memories from the day is everyone squeezed into the ridiculous stretch SUV I’d found, laughing, joking with one another and popping champagne corks. Priceless.

Another element I never expected was the location – we married in Vegas. I had been there for many gruelling trade shows. But the more we thought about it, the more it made sense. For a start, the town isn’t exactly a stranger to weddings! It’s easy to get to, has fab hotels, great restaurants and lots to do. I admit I did look into the chapels and even the drive through weddings but couldn’t quite face the tackiness (veils and bouquet for hire by the half hour!). The hotels didn’t seem quite right either so the wedding ceremony itself was held outside the city, in the beautifully rugged Red Rock Canyon. It was simple and moving. We all stood on a boardwalk in the afternoon sunshine as the Reverend presided over a really personal event. She had gone to the trouble of finding out about us by talking to us both individually and together and even showed up wearing leopard print shoes to match my sash! My father gave a reading of a poem he had written for us and made everyone cry, even the officiant! He then pulled a vial of whiskey out of his cane and we each had a swig. I can honestly say that it was the first time I have seen that happen!

I’m still smiling though – it really was perfect.

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Girl meets world

It really has been ages – I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. It’s been a couple of months of complete craziness.

It started off with a short weekend moving the bikes from Dallas to Vegas – this ended up being a bit of an adventure, with gale force winds, snow in Arizona and closed roads. Soon after that trip we were in Shanghai househunting (Yes, we’re moving to China), back in Vegas getting married (yes I know!), then the honeymoon of course. We’ve had a few weeks to recover, during which there’s been a bit more travelling. Now we’re back, the next week will involve packing up clothes and goods that will be heading to Shanghai with us in a few weeks.  I told you it’s all a bit crazy right now. Did I mention we’re doing our 2011 bike trip before we go. Insane.

In any case I’m changing the blog tagline to reflect the move – rather than Letters from America, I’m going to call it Girl Meets world. I’m going to start catching up on all that’s been going on.

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