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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Press and Roll

Location: Shanghai, Shanghai, China
There are bicycles everywhere in China. In Hong Kong, there were more gas powered motorbikes. In Shanghai there are more electric scooters. The scooters are fast, energy efficient, and quiet. All two wheeled vehicles will henceforth in this post be referred to as bikes.

There are different kinds of scooters. They can be purchased from Carrefour, local shops, and the classifieds. The sizes range from large, heavy, fast bikes, to the small light-weight frames that can be pedaled or powered. In the States we call the pedal/engine combo ones whizzers, I am not sure what they are called here.

The first week we arrived I bought a used bike from a Foreign Service Officer departing Post. It is bigger than I want, with a more powerful engine. The thing is so heavy that I can’t lift it up onto the more supportive stand, so it always rests on the side kickstand. It plugs into any outlet and charges in about four hours. The charge lasts long enough for about four or five trips around town. The price and situation were right, so what could go wrong?

This bike maxes out at 50 km/hr. No gears, it is fairly mindless. The bike is sensitive to even the smallest shifts in balance and weight. When the kids get into a fight on the back we swerve all over the road and I start shouting at them to knock it off. Not that you can ever imagine me shouting at my darling children. It is big enough to carry the three of us, but small enough to maneuver to school and local errands.

I am still not used to traffic here, but I am starting to understand the patterns of behavior. There is a hierarchy: buses- taxis- cars- diesel/gas bikes- electric scooters- whizzers- bicycles- pedestrians- rickshaws. Like any

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hey! That's My Kid!

You know pictures of your kids are on the internet, but what you don’t know is that those photos are used world wide without your permission. I found a photo of my son being used in Shanghai. Read this post and then immediately change all of your Picasa, iCloud, Facebook, etc. settings to private, and then accept that you have done all you can do. Nothing is private.

The wee one loves face painting. She will stand in any length of line, patient and sweet. No tantrums, no fuss. This is her thing. It was no different at a recent Consulate event. She stood in line, watching the other children for quite a long time. An enclosed area, I was socializing and introducing myself to our new community. She patiently waited.

I walked over, patted her on the head, and told her how sweet and patient she was being, blah, blah, blah. Then I did what all parents do, shifted my attention to the poster of designs. Looked again. Familiar eyes were looking out of the bottom photo. No, I am seeing things. It can’t be. Could it? I looked again. Yes, it really was my little man. 2 years ago, 3 years ago, 4 years ago! Yes, 4 years ago almost exactly. Happy memory mixed with concern, fear, and confusion at seeing unexpected familiarity. I bombed the volleyball game to show Spencer. I pulled Ted out of the bounce house. I ran excitedly up to all my new colleagues. "Look at this!" I yelled with hysterical laughter. "It is Ted!" And I proceeded to tell the story from four years ago.

Early October of 2010 the family went to visit friends in Kansas City. On a day not unlike