Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Crouching Hasher Drunken Dragon - Anji Bamboo Forest

This past weekend we visited the Anji Bamboo Forest, which is a few hours drive away, with the Shanghai Drunken Dragon Hash House Harriers.  We were regular hashers in Lesotho, a place where there wasn't much else to do.  We'd like to be regular hashers again in Shanghai, but many things -- work, the kids' activities, big-city living -- conspire to get in the way.  It was a great trip!  Good people, long hikes in a beautiful forest, and some fresh, clean air all combined to make for a good weekend getaway.

If the forest looks familiar, it is because you may have seen it before.  The Anji Bamboo Forest is one of the sites used to film the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, still one of the only sub-titled movies I have ever willingly sat through and enjoyed.

Josephine and her brother are pretty awesome hikers for their ages.  Josephine has been a hasher since she was only a year old, and she made it through most of this hike, up and down these bamboo filled mountains, despite feeling under the weather.

Ted is an old pro at this.  The hike was about 14km (or almost 9 miles for you non-metric system speakers) and he decided to finish off the last 2 km by running it in.
No hill is too steep for Teddy Danger.
Pretty steep climbs up and down

What would an overnight Hash weekend be without a little merriment.  After the hike, everyone had dinner and hung out by a campfire.  

Hilarity ensued.

There might have been a few drinks involved.
Aftermath of a Hash campfire.
Before we got on the bus back to Shanghai, we had a big meal at the hotel.  One dish looked like the chef had taken a cooked duck and threw it in the blender.  Somehow, the head remained intact, and Bethany (pictured below with Ted) deftly dissected it with chopsticks until she had pulled out the brain and the tongue.  Ted and Josie watched with equal parts horror, disgust, and amazement.  Ted, our brave eater, gave the duck brains a try.  At the time he said it was really gross, but if you ask him now he will tell you it was yummy.  

"I'll try it if you try it."
Duck brains.

Anji is a place I would highly recommend to Shanghai folks.  We stayed at an ok hotel, but there is apparently a tea plantation there that is a bit nicer.  The scenery is gorgeous, and it is far enough away to make it feel like a big trip, but not so far away that you spend all your time in the car or bus getting there.  It is also just enough off the beaten path that we didn't see any tourists there.

Does everyone miss their first post?

Our South African friends have just left. The food is mostly away. The dishwasher has been running for an hour. The kids are asleep. I am sitting here missing Lesotho.

I miss our former frequent dinner guests. I miss them a lot. Clearing away the bottles I wonder how there is a good sized pour left in the red and another in the Port. I move them to to coffee table determined not to let them go to waste. The scotch is a little lighter, so that is good.

For a night we could forget we were in China. I did have to apologize for mixing the Chinese roasted nuts into the salad, but we had beef and potatoes and nothing that resembled chinese food. The conversation, accents, and tableware were not made in China.

J introduces herself to new friends as "South Africa". T identifies with Lesotho. In this life it is hard to have a national identity. Instead I find that I am looking for commonality with anyone and everyone. I really miss the people I left at the last post. I kind of ignore the black hole that was DC language trying. I have contact with a few people, but it isn't the same.

We have tried to figure out why DC was horrible. Not really DC, but going home and home is DC. It is impossible to return the same person I was when I left. I felt like the adventure was over. Family obligations restarted. Normal life and American expectations resumed. There was more pressure to conform and to forget about giraffe, power outages, failing Internet, and poverty. Failing there is bigger than failing abroad. There is less of a community feel as not everyone was sharing the same adventure. I wanted to escape immediately.

A sympathetic Foriegn Service family noted that everyone misses their first post the more than the others. I am not sure. I miss the adventure, but I really miss the people that gravitated to that small country, a small air bubble in a sea of reality. The South African wine is finished and I have I emailed our old dinner guests, but I doubt they will respond. The adventure ended and new adventure has begun- for others normal life has become normal. Or so I like to believe. There is more like two glasses of port remaining. I will save those for an escape from reality on another day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Hongqiao Pearl Market

Location: Shanghai, Shanghai, China
There are shopping options everywhere. I suspect several China posts will concern shopping. This weekend I went to the Pearl Market. I was looking for shoes, but this place has it all, even pearls.

The first floor has a lot of toys and lower priced items. This is where to go for luggage, toys, electronics, a scope should you be in need of one, a USSR multi-tool which I have asked Santa for, cheap jewelry, and tailors. The kids made their Christmas requests while exploring.

The second floor is where to go for pearls in Shanghai.  You can also find jade jewelry. The pearl stores range in price and appearance. I am not sure what to look for in a good quality store. I stopped into one and chatted with the guy for a while. He was very nice and I walked out with a cheap pair of pearl studs. One large and impressive store had pictures with Jimmy Carter and a letter from GW Bush. I admired the pieces in the cases, but suspect their prices are too high.

The third floor has a mix of stuff from antiques to shoe stores. As I was on a quest for shoes, I hit all of them. The set up is different in each store, but basically, you look by color and style and then see which ones are in your size. The stock is on display. There is nothing in the back. My feet are huge by Chinese standards and there were very few 39s or 40s to be found. Add the bunions, thanks kids, and the perfect shoe becomes harder to find.

One store had the perfect shoe. Sure my foot fit like Cinderella’s stepsister the first time, but I had patience. Taking off my shoe and elevating my foot, the swelling went down just enough to squeeze in. Now, for negotiations.

So worth the effort.
Usually, the seller will throw out a number. The buyer then judges the actual cost of the item and throws out a counter offer for about a two thirds of that. Gradually, the two parties work towards the middle, the actual cost. Sometimes if you don't look interested, they will start bargaining themselves and the price will drop significantly. Other times, like with my shoes, the starting price was significantly less than market. Still we went round for round. They tried to switch the shoes for another pair. They offered discounts for multiple purchases. They offered gas receipts for tax purposes. Anything to sweeten the deal.

I hate bargaining. If shopping in China takes this much effort and time, I cannot imagine what goes into negotiating a treaty. I have new respect for the Pol and Econ officers posted here. My negotiating got me a wicked awesome pair of too narrow shoes with a market price of 200 GBP for 490 RMB (currency converter located on the sidebar). Don't tell Spencer.

I do suggest having an agenda walking in, as shop keepers will try to sell you anything as you walk by. Shouts of “watches,” “jackets,” “purses” followed me down the cramped halls. There were a lot of shouts for purses as they couldn’t believe that I really use my favorite, but grungy and torn touring bag. In order to keep track of stores I always ask for a business card. Then I write good directions, some physical identifier, and the items of interest. Currently, I have a stack that will be for Christmas shopping in a month. This is an excellent system, but I do not have a business card holder. Guess that goes on the agenda for next time.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Huangshan Mountain

The second best part of my job is the opportunity to travel.  If I had a regular job, say still working for Mayor-elect Bowser, a trip to China wouldn't be in the cards.  Too expensive.  Not enough vacation.  It'd be a once in a lifetime kind of trip, one I would have to save for over several years.  The trip would very likely include the highlights of China: Guilin, Xi'an, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City.

But living here means I get to learn about many famous places in China that are just as good, or in some cases, better than their more famous counterparts.  And every small trip is something new, and often, something awesome.  This month illustrates my point.  I just got back from a short trip to Huangshan Mountain (more on that in a moment).  Next weekend we are going for a hike through the Anji Forest (from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon fame), and over Thanksgiving we are heading up to Beijing for some of the previously mentioned big ones. Should be a good month.

Huangshan Mountain, China - The Chinese call this "the sea of clouds"
Huangshan Mountain, China