Friday, 16 November 2007

The rain, the fabric market and Times Square

Part I : Fabric market

Well as if the cold weather wasn't bad enough it started raining this morning! Ah, if there is one thing I despise as much as cold temperatures it's the rain. It's funny because ever since I was fairly young I can remember telling people I hate the rain and they always say to me "I love the rain, I love the smell of the rain." Maybe I'm weird but give me blue skies and sunshine any day!

Back home we are having droughts and water shortages because it doesn't rain enough and everyone welcomes the rain (fair enough). I don't think it rains here that much either (the grass is not that green, or maybe it's just the pollution covering the greenness ;) ) so anyway I've been told that the rain washes away the pollution (if only for a short while) so I guess that's a good thing.

I was feeling particularly gloomy to go with this gloomy weather and finally decided to make my trek out to the fabric market. I have been to both of them and not once have I ever gotten anything made for myself! I was missing out... wasn't I? Anyway I actually wanted to get some cushion covers made for our couch since I've only ever seen hideous patterns in the shops. Well that was easier said than done!

Since they specialize in making clothes they pretty much only sold dress fabrics but in the end I did find a store that sold cotton fabric with various prints, designed for the export market so they weren't too hideous, tacky and Chinesey ;) like the ones I saw in the stores that sold fabric for making bed sheets and quilt covers.

I had been planning to get a nice winter coat made but I was still umming and erring about the colour. I don't look that great in black unless it's black pants or a black top (but not both at the same time), but a black overcoat just makes me look totally blah. I already own a nice dark grey one but that's at home. I have a red wool/cashmere one which I brought from home, and a camel one which I bought in Shanghai last time I came (and I brought it back 'home'!) and my other non wool/cashmere coats/jackets are blue and dark khaki green/brownish colour.

The colour I wanted was white/cream/beige which I think really suited me. But the practical side of my brain kept saying "Noooo, are you crazy?! It's going to get sooooo dirty! esp if it rains, when there are crowds, when the underside of your sleeve rubs against a table or something, etc."

So although I had collected various pictures on the internet I didn't print them out and bring them today because I wasn't expecting to have any coats made today because I still wasn't 100% sure of which colour to get.

So, as I am roaming the three floors of this building (the Dongmen Lu one, not the Lujiabang Lu one) I came across various coats that had almost exactly what I was looking for. I wanted white/beige cashmere with a black trim. I just got this idea into my head and that's what I wanted and to my utter shock and amazement there were samples there with that colour scheme! I saw at least 3 shops with coats in this colour scheme. I felt the fabric and was tempted to try them on but nah.. I was getting sidetracked. Back to cushion covers...

... But wait! What is that? Is that what I think it is? OMG it is the most perfect thing ever. I have to stop at this stall to try this coat on. OMG. The cashmere is so soft and so thick and mega warm (and has an interesting texture to it) and it has a lovely black satin trim on the lapel/collar and black satin covered buttons, just gorgeous. I ummed and ahhed for ages and managed to knock almost 200RMB off the price (don't know if that is good or not) and told her the changes I wanted - double breasted instead of single, buttons all the way up to the top, concealed pockets also with the black satin trim, the vent at the centre back, shoulder pads,... I think that's it. I am very particular. So I pick it up in 10 days time, fingers crossed it (and the cushion covers) turn out!

PS - if you are a fashionista the fabric market is a dream come true. Floors and hundreds of stalls of fabrics in oodles of colours all under the one roof (with escalators and toilets! ha!) Samples at every store of potential creations. Bring your own pictures or view their samples or their books with colour photos. All tailor made to fit YOU and all at a bargain price! Due to the rain and the fact that this market is lesser known and that it was a weekday it was actually pretty quiet (just the way I like it and why I think I got a good price) but I still saw a few foreigners walking around, and walking out with big bags of clothes!

* Shiliupu (ex Dongjiadu Lu market)
Dongmen Lu near Zhonghua Lu

* South Bund Spinning Market
399 Lujiabang Lu

Part II: Times Square

I've been past there a few times but have only been inside twice. Both times I seem to have some kind of bad luck there. The first time I went (about two months ago) I wanted to go to Slice Deli to pick up some pies. While I was there I thought I may as well have lunch there. So I ordered my smoked salmon bagel thing and found a table and got some magazines to read while I waited. I waited, and waited, and waited.. almost 30 mins later (no exaggeration) I was totally starving (think it was almost 3pm) and asked them where my order was. Would you believe they 'forgot' about it and had not even started to make it? I was fuming on the inside be remained calm. They tried to placate me with some home made sweet potato chips. Hmm... Not only that, you are not allowed to smoke inside that cafe and these stupid locals were puffing up like no tomorrow and they let them do this for a while before finally telling them they couldn't or had to go outside.

I had heard of this great bookstore, Chaterhouse which apparently sold a large number of English books. So I went downstairs and checked it out. Large selection? Yeah if you like fiction! Hmm... The only thing I wanted to look at was a Lonely Planet (or other brand) travel guidebook on Japan. They actually had a great selection of English travel books but NONE on Japan. There was one on every single country on the planet but none on the one country I was interested in. I asked the very unhelpful saleslady why and she just said "It's a very popular country." Hmm...

So then I went to Cityshop. After all my time in Shanghai it was the first time I had been to this foreign-goods orientated supermarket. Although this store was quite small I was pleasantly surprised by the range of goods. It even sold Australian muesli bars and biscuits!! Woohoo! I bought some lovely bagels from there and made something out of them and my husband complimented me on them and that's a rarity given how rarely I cook! The reason I am mentioning the bagels is soon to come.

Then I went back to Slice to pick up the pies. They charged a whopping 5RMB more just to have a hot one instead of a frozen one. Why would I go all the way to this deli (pay 55 RMB for lunch which is about the same price as I'd pay for something similar in Australia) and then bring home a frozen pie?? Ridiculous! So of course I had to get the heated ones (esp. given we have no oven at home). They were delicious but too small and expensive I think (typical expat pricing).


First I went to Zara to see if a bag I saw in the Superbrand Mall store was there as I was still keen on it. I looked over the two storeys and it wasn't there. The only thing I wanted to see and it wasn't there. Actually that's not entirely true. I think the stock must get sold out heaps quicker in the Times Square store as the SBM store had other stuff that I guess was sold out at TS too.

I went to Slice Deli again (glutton for punishment I guess) and ordered something different. I wish I hadn't though. The bread was rock hard and it was cold. Not just the bread, but the fillings as well. Everything was cold. And hard. So hard I could not for the life of me cut it. So I asked them to heat it up for me. So it was better, but still impossible to cut. I actually had visions of something out of a movie - of the bread flying off my plate, across the room, and landing on someone else's table (or worse - their head). Then I realised why, the knife was a butter knife (blunt as anything). I only got through the top layer and then gave up and ate it with my hands.

Then I went to Cityshop to get these fantastic bagels again and they had sold out! I couldn't believe it. The one thing I wanted in that whole supermarket was sold out. They had every other type of bread there, just not the one I wanted - ARGH! OK so I pushed the cute little trolley around and picked up random stuff that caught my eye. Then I went to queue up. There were only two people in front of me (each buying only a small number of goods) so I didn't think it would take long. While the guy in front of me was being served, this man out of nowhere carrying some onions just pushed in front of me and dumped his onions on the conveyor belt.

Ok, ok, ok... another day, another time he may have gotten away with it (especially since he only had one item and I had about 7 or 8) but given my mood, given this crappy weather, given that I constantly have polite Japanese people on my mind.. he was not going to get away with it! I said to him in my very basic Mandarin, "There's a queue you know? Do you think you don't have to queue?" I actually thought he would argue with me but he didn't say anything. He just kinda sighed and huffed and moved back a bit, but didn't give me enough room to actually get my trolley next to the conveyor belt. Hmmm... To my amazement the guy in front of me actually smiled at me and applauded me and said, "What you did was right." I couldn't believe it. Only in China, right?! Ha!

P.S. I can't believe I was wearing 5 layers of clothes today. (it was 14 degrees).

P.P.S. I also went to the Pu'an Road Children's market today to get some socks. Since I didn't bring over that many from home and never wore them during summer, my wardrobe seems to be suffering a major sock shortage. Plus I'll soon need to wear two pairs. This place is the best I've come across for buying socks. There is a store near the entrance. You go down the stairs go in, and turn to the right and it's one of the first stores there that only sells ladies and kids socks. Socks of every description and colour. As much as I like the cutesy ones they are all too short. I just got plain black (how boring). Ankle length, knee-high length, and also some black tights. 7 items for 60 RMB. Now my tootsies are prepared for winter!

Pu'an Lu Children's Market
10 Pu'an Lu near Jinling Lu (and near Times Square on Huaihai Lu)
普安路10号 近金陵路

P.P.P.S Today I came across the friendliest taxi driver ever. I dunno how long it took to get to the fabric market (but it cost me 30 RMB to give you an idea) but we talked the WHOLE way there. Crazy! Me and a taxi driver! He basically asked me all about my family (as every local seems to love to do) - where they come from, blah blah blah. And I asked him where the fabric market stallholders get the clothes made. Cos I was thinking wouldnt it be a lot cheaper for us if we could just go to the factory ourselves and get the stuff made there? He told me that most of the fabric and the factories are located in Suzhou or in the outskirts of Shanghai in the Songjiang area (interesting!) We also got talking about Australia, and wool, and he said he had heard of some tourists who went to Australia (from China) to buy some 'Australian wool' clothes, came home and looked at the tag and it said "Made in China" and felt very very jipped. I told him it may still have been Australian wool but the labour would've been done in China. Baaa!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The Six Month Mark and Feeling blue...

I am feeling a bit blue lately. Everything that used to interest and excite me about living here doesn't anymore. I have gone pass the threshold of being a tourist and into the land of the resident.

I guess I should've seen it coming.

* Just came back from Japan where the country is totally the opposite of China in the way that it's run. The crowds here, the pushing and shoving, the impatientness, the no respect for anyone else, the rude salestaff, it is ALL getting me down whereas before it didn't so much or I learnt to ignore/deal with it.
* Just came back from a holiday and who doesn't get post-holiday blues? (even for a little while)
* The weather is getting colder and colder day by day and I absolutely despise cold weather. Plus the silly weather reports with temperatures don't tell the real story. 18 degrees may sound warm but it is freezing and feels more like 13 to me. As if it's not bad enough (when my nose is constantly running and the threat of asthma returning at any given moment is here, and despite having the heating turned on and wearing enough clothes my toes are still frozen) I have to deal with this crappy cold weather for ANOTHER SIX MONTHS!! Don't give me that crap that it's going to be any warmer before early May. OK late April. I know people are thinking - but so and so a place (eg Europe or New York) are colder but they have adequate indoor heating everywhere. China does not. Many places don't have or turn on the indoor heating. Public transport included. So you freeze in one place and roast in another (mostly department stores that have the heating turned on way too high). Along with the cold weather you get every third person having the cold/flu - coughing, sneezing, spreading their disgusting germs everywhere and making more people sick.
* I finally for the first time feel homesick and miss my parents, sister, and friends more than anything. I even miss my stepmum. I even miss my messy bedroom. The only thing I don't miss about home is having constant hayfever but given my constantly running nose from the cold here, it's no different really.
* It's my birthday soon and I'm turning a number I'd rather not be turning.
* It's Christmas soon and Christmas isn't even celebrated here, and the chances of snow are minimal. While my friends and family will be enjoying the lovely Australian summer I'll be here cold, and wet, freezing my butt off. Great.

So at this stage there really isn't a great deal to look forward to.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Ikea Part II

Ikea part I

And so we went to Ikea. On a weekend. (and so there were about 100,000 people there and two people rammed their trolleys into my body but hey, who's recording? ;) ) Hubby saw the catalog that arrived in the mail and decided he wanted to go (despite me bringing it up just before we went to Japan and saying to me, "Why do you want to go to Ikea for?"). Since he'll be at the tennis every night this week we had to go on the weekend.

We bought a few knick knacks for our place (no furniture or anything big). But here are a few photos of my fave things:

1. Christmas tree. I was excited because it was officially the first Christmas tree I'd seen in Shanghai!

2. Billy bookcase glass doors. I've long been a fan of the very versatile Billy bookcase but these doors are just gorgeous! I've always noticed that at my relative's houses in Taiwan the bookcases all came with glass doors and wondered why the ones in Australia didn't. These are such a great idea (for keeping dust out) and oh-so-pretty! They come in both white and clear. There was another colourful psychedelic type design one.

3. I love this. Love the pink wall, the chandelier light and white furniture. I've long been a fan of white furniture. But now that I'm married the chances of having a bedroom like this are about zero to negative ten. Single girls - enjoy decorating your bedrooms now because once you are married you have to take into consideration the man's tastes! Haha.

4. I am a big kid at heart and have always loved the kids section of Ikea. I can't wait to deck my future kid's bedroom out with Ikea stuff!

For those that know me, I like and collect camel stuff and went to the Rhodes store in Sydney to get this Barnslig Kamel. I drove all the way there - and they were sold out!! Imagine my shock and happiness when I saw hundreds of them in the Shanghai store!

How gorgeous is this fabric for a kid's room!

Ikea Shanghai
126 CaoXi Road (near Shanghai Stadium)

Asthma and eczema and winter

Sorry to scare you with that hideous image of my eye but I took that photo yesterday after I looked in the mirror and a lump appeared.


About 18 months ago I noticed I started getting these small raised itchy red lumps and automatically assumed they were insect bites. I just scratched them and hoped they would go away. However, I wondered how did so many insects manage to bite me without me knowing?? I left it for a few weeks (or was it months?) and finally went to the G.P. To my shock and amazement he told me they were not insect bites at all but dermatitis/eczema. I remembered it was around April-May which is autumn in Australia and now it is also autumn here and those hideous lumps have returned.

The doctor said the cause was the dryness of the air. Great. When the air is too humid I break out in thousands of little lumps all over the backs of my hands. When it is too dry I break out in lumps across my face.

Since eczema is incurable (and btw it's not contagious!) and steroid creams are not intended for long term use my personal tips are as follows. I hope someone finds this useful because I am finding that more and more kids and babies these days have eczema whereas their parents don't and they don't know how to deal with it.

* Keep hydrated - drink lots of water, use a humidifier in the room if possible. Make sure the humidifier is cleaned regularly so it does not breed bacteria.
* Keep the skin moisturized. Find a good, non-perfumed, non-coloured moisturizer and use it anywhere you have eczema. I like to use a simple face cream for my face, and a thick moisturizer for my body (straight after having a shower and/or before bed).
* Don't scratch (hahaha I don't even listen to my own advice!) if possible.
* Eat nourishing, hydrating foods.


Asthma is a real bitch, I have to say. Those that have it will usually have it for life and it is a highly life-threatening disease. Btw it is also not contagious (not that anyone would know the difference between an asthma-related cough and a cold/flu related cough!)

I find that with the cold weather and cold air now I am coughing every now and then as my lungs are unable to handle it. For most people 15 degrees is not cold but for me it is freezing and my lungs don't like cold, dry air.

This morning my ayi used some kind of cleaning spray in the kitchen. I was still kinda half asleep in the bedroom. Yes, all the way in the bedroom, and began coughing. I assumed it was the cold air but at the same time wondered why I was fine before that (I had been awake for a awhile but didn't want to get up yet). Turns out she had used the spray and I ended up coughing and feeling breathless for about 4 hours afterwards (even after I left the house). It was just horrible but thank God it's over now.

My tips for asthma

* See a good doctor and make sure you have all the drugs you need stocked at home, well before you need it
* Consider seeing a Chinese herbalist (TCM) doctor. I have found that over a long period of time the results I get from taking Chinese herbs are far better than using things like Ventolin and other 'puffer' sprays. (I have a good rec for one in Shanghai but you need to be able to speak Mandarin. She treats other ailments too, and I go to her once a week or fortnight).
* Keep warm at all costs. Asthmatic lungs don't like the cold.
* By the same token, do not eat cold foods nor drink cold beverages. Iced drinks are definitely out and refrigerated drinks too. I have for as long as I can remember drank warm milk, warm juice, warm water, hot tea... Most people would baulk at the idea but I would rather do that than be sick. It is so soothing for the lungs (and body overall) to drink and eat warm things. Even in summer I do not drink/eat cold things and now never eat ice cream. Even those few times I caved in to ice cream cravings I have felt very sick and coughy afterwards and hated that feeling so never again. I never eat ice cream.
* Wear a scarf. The neck/throat area should also be kept as warm as possible, esp. during nighttime and outdoors.
* Reduce stress and tiredness. Asthma can be brought on by these things too.
* Try to avoid areas with lots of smokers.
* Try to avoid areas with lots of crowds (hard in Shanghai!), wash hands often and try not to touch public things (door handles, poles, lift buttons, etc) too much. The reason is asthma can also be brought on by colds/flus which are easily catchable around this time of year.
* Never ever touch your face unless you have just washed them. Touching your eyes, nose, mouth is a good way to introduce germs into the body and possibly catch nasties from other people.

Both Eczema and Asthma

* Keep away from chemicals, scented/perfumed products, people, places.
* Try to wear natural fabrics, not synthetics. However if you are allergic to wool, wear cotton, cashmere or another alternative that doesn't itch you.
* Fish oil (omega 3) tablets are supposed to be beneficial for both

I asked my TCM doctor whether allergies were common in Shanghai and she said that they were, but on the other hand it seems that not many Chinese people have allergies and/or asthma. Even my friends from Sydney who were born in Taiwan don't suffer from these things. I wonder if it is largely a "Western" problem? My relatives here (from Taiwan) don't understand it and they all chain smoke. I must admit I get a bit sick of explaining to people (even back at home) why I can't be in a room full of smokers (not just cos I don't like it) for more than a few minutes, why I can't wear this, eat this, breathe this, etc. It just sux.

Well I should end this post on a happy note. Despite seeing all those red blood vessels in my eye (from allergic conjunctivitis) and hideous freckles (in the pic above), I still like my eyes. And I have better than 20-20 vision which not many people do, especially a person my age, or an Asian person. So although I hate the fact that I have all these stupid allergy related problems I am highly grateful that I have such good vision when the majority of people don't!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Looks, nationalities, languages and accents

All my life I've had to explain 'where I come from' and after 30 years (OK 25 cos the first 5 don't count! ha) I am kind of sick of it.

Back in Australia in the early 1980s there weren't many of us "Asians" around and I have gotten some pretty rude, ignorant racist comments which I have tried to wipe from my memory but can't.

Everywhere I go around the world people assume I'm Japanese. Same goes for Japan too ;)

Last night I had a massage and I had to explain the whole thing again about where I came from and I told the girl my parents are from Taiwan and then she said that I don't have a Taiwanese accent. Well duh!! Given I've never even lived nor gone to school there, and wasn't born there. She said I sounded like i was from Korea.

When I was buying my camera the guy serving me knew I wasn't a local and I asked him to guess where I was from. He said (in order): Singapore, Korea, USA. Wow.. pretty diverse range of countries!! Haha. I was a meanie and didn't end up telling him. Well not that I was mean but it's just too long to explain and sometimes I just cannot be bothered!

Throughout my life I have been told I look Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese.

Now, the same thing has happened to hubby. When I first met him I thought he looked Italian and he has since been mistaken for Italian here in a clothing shop we went into. He has also been told he looks like other European nationalities including French (he has an English background, but a small percentage of Indian blood, and was born in Australia).

He's been told that he doesn't have an Australian accent but an English/European accent when speaking English too. Weird!!

I only recently had a thought to myself that what the locals think of me when I go into a shop and start chatting to them about their items, is the same thoughts I had when I worked in a shop back in Sydney and would notice any different accents. I suppose, I guess it's just curiosity! I loved hearing European accents and loved chatting to the hot European guys! hahaha - kidding!!

Shanghai Tennis Master's Cup / World's Tallest Buildings

Well the Masters' Cup is on and here from 11 - 18 November.

Being the big tennis fan that he is , hubby bought tickets way back in May. It makes me cringe to think of how much they cost too!

Read some information about the stadium:

Tennis Masters Cup, the culminating event of the men's professional tournament season, will return to Shanghai and will be staged at the new state-of-the-art Qi Zhong Tennis Center. The tennis facility, which will become Asia's biggest, has been built on 80 acres in the Minghang district, 27 kilometers southwest of the city. The Tennis Center includes a dual-purpose indoor-outdoor 15,000-seat center court and 40 indoor and outdoor courts.

I find it interesting and amusing that cities area always trying to outdo each other, but particularly Asian cities. Love the superlatives - the biggest this, the tallest this, the longest this, the widest this, the oldest, the newest, etc etc. I get the feeling they have 'small man syndrome' and are always needing to compete. Look at the tallest buildings - most of them are in Asia.

Some places I have been to and recent findings.

Malaysia (Petronas KLCC) - the tallest twin towers
Okinawa (Churaumi) - has the largest aquarium viewing tank and thickest acrylic panel (also the world's second largest aqarium)
Taipei (Taipei 101) - tallest building (until it was superseded by the one in Dubai, which will then be superseded by another one I'm sure)
Macao (Macao Venetian) - world's largest casino
Shanghai (Grand Hyatt) - highest hotel
Shanghai (Yaohan Next Age) - largest department store in Asia
Shangahi (Qi Zhong) - largest tennis facility in Asia
Shanghai (Ikea) - largest Ikea store in Asia

Look at this list here. Most of them in Asia and then the rest are mostly in the States, with some others in the Middle East and Moscow but hardly any in Western Europe!! Hardly any in any English-speaking country either apart from the US.

According to this After 2012, Taipei 101 will be the world's fifth tallest building! (boohoo). The Burj Dubai will also have been superseded then by buildings in Moscow, Seoul and Busan.

Where will it end?

Interesting to note - the world's 83rd/84th tallest building can be seen outside my living room window. There is another tower in progress (which I saw 'completed' on the model at the Urban Planning museum) nearby but I don't know which one that is. Perhaps it just missed the tallest building list. Also interesting is that on the list of 'proposed' buildings - most of them are in China (or Hong Kong or Taiwan). It's good to see Germany (Frankfurt) get in on the game too. :)

Back to the topic :) ... I have never really had much of an interest in sport and zero interest in watching it. The only exception is the Olympic games and similar things like the Commonwealth games and certain sports like swimming, gymnastics, diving and ice/figure skating. Unfortunately for hubby I find tennis very boring. But I have tried. I have followed him to many tennis games/matches and sad there being totally bored out of my mind. I start staring at the spectators and analyse what they are wearing. My mind totally starts to wander and daydream. Pathetic, huh?