Thursday, 10 November 2011


Hi guys, my laptop semi-died which means I can only access censored internet in China now, which means I can't blog anymore. Blogspot is censored here - at the moment anyway, these things tend to change occasionally though. Sorry - I had so many great stories and photos to blog, but for now that's on the backburner. I'm getting Ben to post this message from NZ, by the way. When he comes to China in two weeks he has promised to fix the computer, and I could possibly do a blogging blitz. But for now, I'll take the opportunity to experience life as the average Chinese internet user does - without Facebook, but with email and foreign news sites, thank god..

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Not the people's square

I often ask myself in China 'where is the Communism?'. Contrary to what I expected you can't much see or feel it on the ground, especially in a city full of money like Shanghai. Even at the newspaper I'm writing features, not news, so haven't encountered censorship first-hand (yet?). The paper itself has run a couple of blatant pieces of propaganda while I've been here but you don't feel like you're reading a government mouthpiece, as there are frequent articles exposing corruption and crime in China. I know there is a lot, a lot of news that doesn't make it into the paper, but you don't miss what's not there.

I guess the issue is to see the influence of Communism, I'd have to compare modern China with a parallel universe non-Communist China, rather than trying to compare it to the West. Sure, Chinese people are different to New Zealanders and the city is run differently, but who can say how much of that is Communism and how much is just Chinese culture? Is the Cultural Revolution to blame for almost nobody reading books on the subway, or are young Chinese people just really keen on playing video games on their iPads? Or is the lack of readers due to the Chinese schooling system, which long pre-dates Communism, as this very good essay suggests? Or does it signify nothing at all? There is growing political dissent on Weibo, China's Twitter. The colleagues I've talked to about politics are fairly critical of government policies like the one-child rule, but support China's annexation of Xinjiang and Tibet, so it's all quite confusing really.

I was mulling this over when I happened to stroll smack into People's Square for the first time, and here it was, Communism so thick you could slice it. People's Square is supposedly the heart and centre of Shanghai - it's certainly central but is so at odds with the rest of the city as to not relate at all:
In a word, hideous. In another, scary.
Most of the grass was covered in white plastic, which didn't improve the scene
"Welcome to Hell", possibly.
Urban planning centre - good work, guys.
The Shanghai Museum, which I hear is very good.
 It even has an exhibition from the Otago Museum.

However, the square was, as you can see, fairly deserted, so it's not like Chinese people were flocking. I'm really no closer to knowing the shape of Communism.

Just to compare, here's a regular inner-city park, Jing'an Park, on an average weekday morning:
Plenty of exercise classes, like this rubber band troupe
Tai chi
Tango and embroidery
Senior citizens getting buff.
And kite flying, board games, roller blading, all good clean fun. When space is tight, daily activities go public.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Old Shanghai New Shanghai

Sorry for lack of postings - things are busy here, both in good ways and bad. Anyway, in the course of my busy-ness last week I finally got to visit East Nanjing Road (main shopping street) at night - THIS is what I expected Asia to look like before I arrived. Perhaps because of vague childhood memories of a holiday in Hong Kong.
Pretty street signs
Finally spotted a branch of Clio Coddle, the most hilarious of Shanghai's Lacoste ripoffs - yes, it's "crocodile" as said in a Chinese accent.. awkward.
Baby sharks in a tank. On the side of the road. Just coz.

OK, as an added bonus, since I've been so slack lately, here's a glimpse of East Nanjing Road in the 1930s, when it was Bubbling Well Road, the main street in the British concession.
Pretty cool huh? This is a scale model in the impressive Shanghai History Museum.
Let's go even further back, to the late 1800s... maybe 1860s, can't remember exactly, sorry! Shanghai's history is fascinating, and I'm glad I read up on it before I came because there are still so many historical buildings standing, it's easy to wander about and imagine the city in times past.
The whole museum was set up like old Shanghai streets.

Creepy waxwork prostitute!
Creepy waxwork opium den! But: modern Shanghai was built on opium. The British wanted to trade with China in the mid-1800s but the Chinese weren't bothered, didn't need anything from outside their borders. So the lovely British sent in some gunships and killed some people (the Opium wars) and forced five ports to open to British trade (Treaty of Nanking), the most important being Shanghai. And what did they sell? Opium from British India and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese people were soon addicts. Ka-ching! Then other European countries went 'not fair! we want to trade with China too!' Hence Shanghai's French Concession, American Concession etc.

Understandably passive-aggressive explanatory signs, eg: "The past prosperity of Shanghai has both dazzling brilliance worth parading and bitterness difficult to tell. The reason for our looking for the past traces of Shanghai now is to know the yesterday, think today and supr [spur?] on ourselves tomorrow rather than to have a nostalgia for the past prosperity." Other signs talked a lot about foreign invasion and constant anguish and shame when European-style buildings went up - fair enough I suppose, but I'm glad they did - the European-style areas are some of Shanghai's prettiest.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Breakfast of champions

My favourite Shanghai breakfast, or lunch, or both - jian bing, nicknamed "foot-binding pancake". I'm going to miss this soooo much when I leave Shanghai.
Mung bean dough is spread like a crepe on a hot plate
An egg is cracked on top and spread out to form an omelette layer
Spring onions, coriander and little bits of pickle are sprinkled on top
Part of the pancake is flipped over and spread with some kind of delicious brown sauce and chilli sauce
Then a bit of fried dough is added, and sometimes lettuce
The whole thing is wrapped up like a burrito..
And popped in a plastic bag for you to take away. Yummo! And all for 50 New Zealand cents.

This lady was my favourite jian bing maker, just up the road from my office, but I've found a much nicer one near my metro station, Caoyang Road. Sorry lady! And especially sorry I made you heat up your grill so I could photograph you, when you had already pre-made a whole lot of jian bing and were taking a rest...

Finding and ordering every meal in Shanghai can be an exhausting and nerve-wracking process [eg see my Kapi-Mana News column here], so I'm loving the ease of buying street food like jian bing. Ooh and my other major food group is milk tea, but that's another post for another day...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Chickens, eggs and French toast

Had my first substantial story in the Shanghai Daily this Sunday - I chatted to a couple of Kiwi and a couple of French rugby fans about their passion for the oval ball. Most Chinese don't get rugby at all, had no idea a Rugby World Cup was happening, and don't understand why anyone, especially women, would like such a masculine, violent game. I have to say, I felt the same way my entire life, until six weeks ago, but got completely swept up in World Cup fever. My mum even asked me if I had a brain tumour when I voluntarily watched some pool matches. But this quote from a Kiwi expat I interviewed, Kylie, pretty much sums it up:
"There is no other sport that gets me as excited as rugby does. There is no other sport that has me jumping up and down and screaming, that can make me hoarse, lose my voice, like rugby does. You can watch it and you'll think, yeah, this is just a game, you know; they pick up the ball, they run, and they just hit a wall of guys and they stop. And then they try again and they hit a wall of guys and they stop. And you're like, what's the big deal? And then there's that moment. You know what I mean, that moment where the guy gets through, and he's running down the field, and all of a sudden, you just can't control yourself."
It's been a blessing being in Shanghai for the Cup - the Kiwi community are really social and we've gathered for all the games, so I've met lots of people I might not have otherwise.

Kiwis vs Frenchies at the RWC final on Sunday - don't bother trying to spot me, I've got a hand in front of my face luckily.

The final was mental. The Kiwis got to O'Malley's, Kiwi HQ, four hours early to stake our claim on the marquee's grandstand, but even two hours before kickoff the place was overcrowded, hot, claustrophobic. The French contingent were in our faces, bragging, playing trumpets, singing the Marseillaise. A Frenchman somehow got into the grandstand and we discovered he had two live chickens in plastic bags, one which looked very dead when he was thrown out of the pub by security guards. It was so hot, I'm not surprised it suffocated. The French also had eggs confiscated, which they planned to throw at us. 

The only time the French quieted down was when a Kiwi held up a sign saying "This is for the Rainbow Warrior". Ha.

The Kiwis were fairly subdued by comparison, especially in the last 20 minutes of the second half. God that was horrible. Luckily, when it was all over, the French turned quite friendly and congratulated us. The bar was so overcrowded and the atmosphere so hyped, there easily could have been some nasty business if the French decided on it.
Bloody French.

Chinese to take away

The secrets of Chinese food are mine - well some of them, anyway. I did a cookery class on Saturday with a couple of friends, we made such yummy stuff! The Chinese kitchen is really sparse compared to a New Zealand pantry and utensils drawer - most people make do with a wok, a steamer, a chopping board, a bowl, a spoon and a huge cleaver. That's it. For everything. The main condiments are soy sauce, vinegar, and cooking wine. We also used garlic, ginger, chilli, sesame oil and Sichuan pepper, a type of bitter peppercorn which makes your mouth numb.
I can make sweet and sour pork now! Forgot to take photo til halfway through eating it...
Chilli and sesame flavoured salad made of asparagus lettuce - a crisp cucumbery Chinese vegetable. For some infuriating reason this photo wants to load vertically, so tilt your head left.
Our glamorous teacher Yuan Yuan Lin, frying some pork. Photos aren't that great today, turns out I had my camera on some weird setting by mistake.
Ancient Chinese secret ingredient to sweet and sour pork...catsup.

Then went for a big wander through the French Concession. Here are some things I saw:
Abacuses (abaci?) are used by heaps of shopkeepers here. I don't actually understand how an abacus works, but here's another fun Chinese counting system: you can count to ten on one hand. 1,2,3,4,5 are how we'd do it, but they have totally different systems for 6-10.
I see people using these signs to play a dice game in bars all the time - the music is always way too loud to talk, so playing games makes sense. Another advantage - by making the "10" signal on one hand and, say, the "6" signal on the other, you make 60! Genius!
 Pretty vegetables
 Ha har! Finally photographed live pigeons and fish for sale.
Fruit truck
People dry their washing all kinds of crazy places here - often, on the busiest and most central streets, I see duvets strung on ropes tied to trees lining the road. I often see portable clothes racks hung with underwear and tshirts drying on busy footpaths.
Here's one way to attract tourists - blow up your Lonely Planet listing to several hundred times its original size!
Just when you'd almost forgotten you were in a Communist country, up pop Marx and Engels.

And then... I went to report on Shanghai Fashion Week. Ah, the charmed life of a Shanghai Daily intern.

Spelling Vivienne Westwood's name wrong in the official programme - you stay classy, Shanghai Fashion Week. [I didn't go to her show, calm yerself].