Settling In

As part of Jeff’s employment offer, we have a one-bedroom apartment in a building the university owns across the street from campus. Although it’s not up to American standards, it’s much nicer than my old Beijing apartment, and is a good apartment by Chinese standards.

While several of the appliances have broken in the last week, the management is incredibly responsive and has fixed everything quickly. It doesn’t bother us much since we expect things to be unreliable here, but having good management can’t be over-valued.

We live on the third floor (no elevator) and there are several other foreign teachers at the university who live in the building. It’s great to get to know the neighbors, who have been really helpful with tips and advice about the university, the neighborhood, and the city.

Enjoy your tour!

Our combination living room/dining room/entryway. Came furnished, husband not included.

Fairly large kitchen, complete with microwave. It looks like a lot of storage space, but most of the apartment’s piping and wiring isn’t in the walls, it’s hidden inside these cabinets, so less than half of the cabinets can be used as such.

Bathroom/laundry room, with one of the only glassed-in showers I’ve seen in a Chinese apartment ever. Very plush!

Bedroom with enough clothing storage for both of us — thank goodness that bit of matrimonial peace will prevail.

Balcony view out across the way, where they are finishing a new building. It seems that very little progress is being made, since I’ve only seen a one or two workers laying down tile in one apartment for the last week.

Balcony view east toward the street.

Land of Luxury

We finally have internet in our apartment, so here’s a quick update of the last week.

Friday, August 24

We get up in Santa Barbara and head to LAX, unsure of whether we will be able to get on a stand-by flight. Since Aunt Carla (lovely flight attendant pictured above) had trouble listing us on a flight, we aren’t sure we will have seats until we actually sink into the plush, expansive luxury of our business-class recliners. We are served a crazy amount of food (ice cream too!). It is the shortest 12-hour flight I’ve ever taken.

Saturday, August 25

Shanghai is not what we expect. Upon arriving, our baggage arrives without delay. The taxi driver doesn’t try to cheat us. People wait nicely in lines. The city is full of greenery and is actually rather pretty. There are international brands and restaurants everywhere in the city, and lots of other foreigners. Can this be China?

Our contact from the school meets us at our apartment, and we discover that the air conditioning is not exactly working. It is 80+ degrees all night and as humid as the 24-hour sauna at the YMCA.

Sunday, August 26

Awake at ridiculous hour and find that people in our neighborhood like to do their errands at 6 a.m. Grab street food breakfast. Trek 1.5 hours to church via public transportation. Everyone is extremely nice and we go out to our first real meal in Shanghai. We have Italian and it tastes good. Yep, Shanghai is definitely different than Beijing.

Attempt to get cell phone number for Jeff, and fail due to lack of passport. Wander around our neighborhood somewhat aimlessly until we find another store, and succeed in getting cell phone. Take taxi home, and discover that the hour-long walk we took needn’t have been so long. I am a delicious delicacy for the native mosquitoes. I’m afraid I’ll get deported as I look like I have a weird skin disease.

Monday, August 27

Our contact from the school comes to the apartment to show us around campus and get Jeff set up with some paperwork. We enjoy a lovely lunch with two of the teachers, followed by a wonderful snooze. Locate bug spray at local store by pointing to itchy bites.

Air conditioning gets fixed. Life is bearable once again.

Tuesday, August 28 – Friday, August 31

Work on furnishing apartment and finding our way around the neighborhood. Discover that there are 13 brothels along the 15-minute walk from the subway to our apartment. Visit People’s Square and discover that many of Shanghai’s tourist destinations are just extravagant malls. Feverishly clean grime out of apartment tile, consider what kind of person lived here before that they didn’t clean it when they lived here.

Attempt to get the internet company to come install internet at our apartment. Am put off with promise that someone will call to set up an installation appointment within 2-7 days. Grumble.

Shower head breaks, door buzzer breaks, gas stove breaks, hot water heater breaks. All aforementioned appliances get fixed by jolly repairman promptly.

Saturday, September 1

Head out for our government health exams, which we need in order to obtain residency. It’s a two-hour journey across the city, and we aren’t allowed to eat beforehand. Receive phone call forty minutes into trip from internet installation man, demanding to know why I’m not at home during my “installation appointment.” Argue with said man until he believes that nobody ever made an appointment with us for that morning. Obtain begrudging appointment for sometime in the afternoon.

Arrive at hospital, sign lots of papers, obtain lots of red stamps, get blood drawn, eat snack, hop on train, get lunch, crash at home. Sleep like the dead until hot water heater repairman and internet installation man arrive simultaneously. Success on both fronts.

Dinner out with friends goes so well that we miss the last train back to our neighborhood. Good thing taxis aren’t too expensive.

Treasures

I’ve been geocaching lately, and to be honest, I’ve been a little disappointed in the items I’ve found. I had always imagined geocaching to be like this scene from Amelie when she discovers the treasures a little boy had hidden in her apartment 40 years previous, and decides to return them to him.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHpzIRKw5N4

In reality, most people leave things that I doubt ever had an real emotional significance, such as mardi gras beads and stickers.

To me, geocaching should be about making a connection to a stranger and sharing with them something that really could be treasured, something with meaning.

As I’ve been pondering this and creating my first item to be geocached, I was inspired to go through some inherited treasures of my own. Over the years, I’ve collected a small trove of clip-on earrings, bracelets, broaches and necklaces from relatives who have passed, and while many are beautiful and interesting, I don’t know what to do with them.

Here are some photos, suggestions most welcome!

This is a jewelery box from my great aunt. I love the hand-painted scene, and it’s filled with the same little keepsakes many of us have — coins, stamps, odd beads, safety pins and so on. It’s sort of profound to see an entire life of tiny treasures left in the world without explanation. After we’re gone the strangest things stay behind as our testimony.

Assorted clip-on earrings.

Unique broaches — there are a few you can’t see of other types of animals.

I love the little suitcase charm, I wonder why she had it.

Clip-on earrings shaped like clocks!

Anyway, I haven’t decided how to best use and honor these little keepsakes. I’m toying with the idea of using some of them to embellish picture frames, but I just can’t decide. If anyone has neat button and bead ideas, send them along!

My love affair with TED

Lately I’ve gotten back into watching TED videos and I had a few I wanted to share. Despite being a humanities major, I have an unquenchable love of science, and these two lectures do a great job at explaining cutting edge science, and how it informs our human experience.

The first video is a lecture a primatologist gave at Stanford University about what makes humans unique from other animals, and he is both inspiring and entertaining. (skip the intro and start about 5 minutes in).

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrCVu25wQ5s

The second video is from a neurobiologist, who talks about some of the most interesting breakthroughs in the understanding of the human brain, and how the study of the mind is teaching us more and more how connected people really are.

I love both these speakers so much, because they are both humble about how little humanity differs from other animals, but also reverent of the infinite potential we have in that small margin of difference. Their message is that we are all connected, and though we may feel we can’t individually make a difference in the world, we are morally convicted to try. Watch and be inspired!

Dreaming of boytoys and rappers

People who know me well know that I have bizarre and entertaining dreams almost every night, but this one was too funny not to share with the general public. It goes like this:

I was at some sort of large party that my family was throwing, and had a boy problem. I was with my current boyfriend in the dream, and an old flame of mine came to the party. Long story short, they argued over me quite viciously, and I eventually ran outside to cry rather than choose between them. While outside, rapper Lil Wayne and his whole crew came over to me. Lil Wayne gave me a hug, and told me to just cry it out. Then they stuck around while I attempted to do handstands backwards.

Um…. what does THAT mean? In my humble opinion, it just good for the lolz. That, or foul-mouthed, prison-sentenced Lil Wayne is my fairy godmother.

Catching up with iPhone pics

In September I attended my first wedding ever, and it was in Seaside, Oregon, where The Goonies was filmed. Sadly, I didn’t see any pirates, but as a consolation prize, I got to eat a restaurant called Pig N Pancake. It’s like they named it just for me!

We stayed right near the beach in a town of about 30, and we had a rollicking good time.

This is the beach from the last scene of The Goonies, but there wasn’t a ghost pirate ship in real life. There were some tide pools though.

My dad’s birthday was also in September, and unfortunately we had Walmart-quality candles, and some maimed ballerinas and camels for decoration. The candles were extinguished on the way from the kitchen to the dining room. It was pretty pathetic, but I don’t think anyone has laughed that hard through the Birthday Song in the history of birthdays.

Jeff and I have had many a Saturdate, though there aren’t any photos to prove it so you’ll have to trust me on this one. We got to see our all-time favorite singer, Ingrid Michaelson. It was amazing! She’s great in concert, and her music is beautiful to sing along to.

We also went to the Academy of Sciences, which has been on my list for a while. If you haven’t gone, GO! It was pricey, but we got to see a 3D movie about bugs, get whisked around the universe by Whoopi Goldberg’s voice in the planetarium, walk through a rain forest, get stung by electric eels, watch a shark feeding, stare at the depressed albino alligator and of course watch the pendulum knock over pins using the rotation of the earth. Ah, what a day.

We also got to see the King Tut exhibit at the De Young museum, but in all honesty it wasn’t that cool. They had a lot of jewelery and coffins and such, but we were both expecting and hoping to see some dead mummy. I mean, when you tour a tomb in China, you see a cadaver, so this was a bit underwhelming. Also, the costumes exhibit was closed… bah!

Let’s look at more random pictures!

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make it worth living, like when you get to pin down a dish for an extra good licking.

It was my brother Kieran’s 30th birthday in November, and we all wore party hats for our gourmet dinner — stuffed tomatoes with tofu or tuna, polenta, squash soup with garlic croutons, beet salad and cake. So delish!

My birthday also passed in November, making me a sage old 22. I got some great gifts, including two books on cupcakes. One for making cute decorative cupcakes, and a slightly stuffier Martha Stewart cupcake book. I have to admit that I don’t really enjoy sweets as much since living in China, so I mostly love making cupcakes for the artistry. It’s just as well, I’m already getting chunkier eating US food.

For my birthday, Jeff’s family took me to the CUTEST restaurant. It used to be a stage coach stop in the 1800s, so it looked like this tiny village of cabins in the mountains, and the interior had fireplaces and antiques. Plus the food was rib-sticking mountain food. I spent lots of time watching falling stars in the hot tub and sunsets on the beach, plus I got really good deals at the Nordstrom Rack. It was a great birthday weekend in Santa Barbara.

We had the opportunity to use the cupcake books at Thanksgiving. We actually invited ourselves to Devin and Kate’s house since our oven was full of turkey, and I didn’t want turkey cupcakes. It was lucky too, because we were ill-prepared to make things with marzipan and had to borrow lots of supplies from Kate.

But our little pumpkin-topped cupcakes came out alright in the end.

A few days later we made some chocolate cupcakes with little penguins. In truth, I think that marzipan is gross to eat, so I just threw out my little penguin. I suppose he thought he’d found a sweet little iceberg on top of my cupcake, but soon he discovered how harsh the realities of global warming were — global warming in my tummy!

This weekend Devin, Kate and I went to Malibu Grand Prix for mini golf. It was a significant day for me, because the last time I was there, it was Devin’s birthday, and I was not only an unwelcome guest at his party, but also too young and short to play on any rides. I’m pretty sure I cried.

This time was much happier. I played quite badly at golf — 66 (plus I cheated on one hole, so I actually deserved a 67). We also played arcade games and pooled our tickets for some sweet prizes.

Earlier in the day, I’d noticed that Devin had some rather Edward Cullen-inspired marks on his neck. [See exhibit A below]

So we used our tickets from skeeball to buy Kate some defense equipment:

But we didn’t even come close to this guy and his kid, who won 2500 tickets from a luck shot in a game.

The funny thing was that they didn’t seem too pleased about the big win, while everyone else around them was super excited. The poor kid just looked anxious and distracted while the arcade machine spewed tickets out for ten minutes straight. Perhaps he was thinking about the ruined lives of lottery winners, or the fact that his portion of tickets wouldn’t actually buy him anything worthy of such an unlikely win.

Adulthood?

Ok, I haven’t posted in a million years, and I’ll tell you why, in a roundabout way.

I once had a summer internship at a publishing house, and I learned a few very valuable lessons there. Specifically, my job was to read through the unsolicited manuscripts and determine if they would be rejected, and then call the authors with the news.

My first day on the job, I was somewhat awed at the awesome responsibility. I looked at the stack of a dozen or so manuscripts and imagined poring over them for days before making a decision.

But the reality was, it only took about ten minutes to reject a manuscript. The reason being, people are not snowflakes. The vast majority of us have nothing to say that hasn’t been said before, and nobody wants yesterday’s news. [Tell me you noticed the cliche trifecta there.]

So, since coming back from China, the truth is that my life hasn’t been too interesting. I’m eating and watching and doing the same things most of you are, but I suppose there have been a few interesting happenings of late. Read on, in my mundane, Americanized life!

My life is good

Lately there’s been an internet craze over the website fmylife.com, on which users post short stories about terrible things that have happened to them. The stories range from everyday bad to once-in-a-lifetime major suckage. Here’s a sample:

Today, for my birthday, my brother gave me some of those fake ‘Harry Potter’ edible cockroaches. I ate one. It wasn’t fake. FML

Today, my boyfriend told me he couldn’t hang out with me because he felt really sick. I went to his house anyway to surprise him with homemade soup. I walk in to his room only to find him hooking up with my sister. She can’t drive, our mom drove her there. FML

Today, my girlfriend dumped me proclaiming she wanted someone more like her “Edward”. I asked her who Edward was. She held up a copy her “Twilight” book. She was talking about a fictional vampire. FML

A few days ago, I learned of a similar site, mylifeisaverage.com. This website lets users post average things that happen to them every day:

Today, I went to see a movie and when it said to turn my phone off, I only silenced it. Nobody cared. MLIA

Today, I ripped the tag off of my bed’s mattress. I have not yet been arrested. MLIA.

Today, I opened the fridge. There was nothing I wanted to eat in there. After 15 minutes, I opened it again. There still wasn’t anything I wanted to eat in there. MLIA

Even though the stories on there are completely average, for some reason I find it equally as entertaining as fml. It’s oddly comforting to think about all the little things in life that don’t go wrong.

Today, I find out about a new website, mylifeisg.com. People post short stories about things that made them really feel good. Most of the things people post are totally normal things that might happen to us every day — they’re actually mundane usually — but they are taking the time to be grateful for them.

Today I was reading MLIG and I realized how much of a difference kind words can make in people’s lives. I decided to make it my goal to make someone’s day more often than I make someone laugh. If YLIG, MLIG 🙂

Today, I found out the results of my SAT Chemistry subject test. I did not fail miserably and my parents are proud. MLIG

Today, I went to Old Navy and they had a flip flop sale. I bought 6 pairs and only paid $6.44. My receipt informed me that I saved $15. MLIG.

It’s nice to think that the things that really make you hate your life seem to often be weird, freak incidents, and in between those rare instances are a lot of mundance things that could make you really love your life if you noticed them more often. mylifeisg!

Beijing’s Yuan Da Du Park

Beijing has finally shed its winter coat, and it looks gorgeous. The long, sooty winter had almost entirely erased from my memory how pretty it can be even in the heart of the city. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic about spring.

On Monday, which was Tomb Sweeping Day, a national holiday, Jeff and I went to a FREE park. Yuan Da Du Park (元大都公园) spans a long east-west stretch of Beijing along a lovely little canal parallel to the Line 10 Subway. We started from惠新西街南口station and walked west, passing the Olympic stadiums along the way to 牡丹园station.