Friday, 21 December 2007

I hate banks

I hate banks. I hate queues. I hate queues inside banks. Don't get me wrong though. I don't hate queues because I'm inpatient. I don't mind waiting but I hate them because more often than not I want to do something that takes 2 minutes and am forced to stand behind 10 people who all decide they need 20 mins each to do their 'business'. To me that is not fair. So that's why I hate queues. It's a bit like wanting to buy 2 things at the supermarket and standing behind a queue of 3 people, each with a trolley loaded up with 50 things. Same principle, right? They have express queues in supermarkets (well not in Shanghai) why can't they have express queues in banks?! Grrr...

So it's bad enough that I have bank/queue phobia in my hometown, but when I'm in China it's 10x worse since I can't even read much.

Let me backtrack a bit. I amazed at the goodness and honesty of people here. I honestly don't feel that unsafe and feel like I'm going to be robbed or mugged. Generally speaking people are very honest, kind and friendly. Last week I ordered some water bottles to be sent as we had run out. I said I needed them ASAP as there wasn't a drop left. Usually they deliver them in the afternoon. That day I went to the Chinese doctor as I felt like I wasn't getting any better. It just so happened that they delivered the bottles to me while I was out (I didn't think they'd be that quick) and just left 3 of them outside the front door. Now, I had not paid them for this and they left them here (probably more trouble to take them back with them - they are 19 Litre bottles!) and, my neighbours/the cleaners didn't 'steal' them either. So I have a lot of faith that people here are generally 'good'.

Now, my dad decided to order me some asthma medication that his father had taken and had good results with. He thought they were sending them to me C.O.D. and that's what I thought too, except they were sent EMS (EMS seems to be really cheap domestically here.. everything is sent this way and it is super fast). Anyway, so they sent us this box of 20 packets (needed to order a large number since they normally only sell wholesale) and I hadn't paid them a cent. How weird...

The next day, the guy rang up asking me to pay him. He wasn't demanding or rude or anything. He was very friendly sounding. So obviously he had faith in me that I was going to do the right thing and not get away with getting the stuff for free... OK. So I got his bank details and said I'd pay him in the next day or two.

True to my word, two days later (yesterday) I went to his bank. Now, I had no idea where this bank was. I asked my ayi and she told me how to get there. Her instructions were very precise. She said I could catch this bus, and get off, walk across a small bridge and the bank would be right there. I followed her instructions. Crossed the road, caught the bus 6 stops, got off at the stop she told me to, found a bridge that crossed a little creek thing, and there was the bank. Too easy!

Inside, was that dreaded queue. With 20 people in front of me (yes I counted). Yikes! Luckily it seemed to be moving at a steady pace and there were even seats. That's right! A queue with seats arranged bench style so you kinda just shuffled along every few minutes. After 45 minutes it was finally my turn to be served. It seemed like a long time (and there were 3 tellers serving). The lady was rude as. She asked to see my ID. "Oh shit!," I thought. I don't have any ID on me. Only my foreign credit card. I needed my residency permit thingo or a passport. I said, "Is there any way I can do this without it?" and she said "No, you have to go home and come back." and I was like "What?! I'm not going home, coming back, and queueing up for almost an hour again. By that time you're probably gonna be closed..." and she said, "You won't have to queue up again. Just come back to me." But I really didn't want to go home. It wasn't that far, but it would take me around an hour to go there and come back. Ugh.

Finally, she said, "Oh there is a way but you have to round it up to the nearest 50 or 100." Since I had to pay 378, that meant I had to pay them 400. Luckily I had 4 100 RMB notes on me. I said, "I'm from overseas. I can't read Chinese (read: I'm hopeless). Please help me, what do I do?!" She said, "Go over to that security guard. He'll show you what to do." OK so he went outside and I followed him to an ATM where of course there was another queue. Great.

And as if this wasn't dragging on long enough, my bladder decided to speak to me. In fact, it decided to YELL at me. "I need to go to the toilet, NOW!" Great. I asked the guard if there was a toilet inside the bank or nearby and he said, "No, you'll have to go to that intersection, cross the light... What?? I'll never make it. I was busting. Geez. Great timing.

Not knowing what to do, I walked down the road, back over the bridge and came across a restaurant. Yes! Please be open.. thank God they were open (it was not lunch nor dinner time) I waltzed in and found the toilet straight away. I had visions of one of the workers yelling at me for not eating there or something so I did my business and got the heck out of there ASAP. Phew!

Went back over the bridge and back to the bank. The guard was now back inside the bank. I asked him what do I do.. He said, "Is it your turn yet?" (He didn't even know I had gone and thought I was still in that ATM queue). I said, "No.." He pushed me into the queue. There was two guys in front of me and he pushed me to the front of the queue. Weird.. but great! So I wouldn't have to wait much longer. Just my luck the woman in front of me decided to make about 5 transactions which seemed to take forever. I wasn't the only one getting impatient... the guard and the two men behind me were all wondering why she was taking forever.

While I was waiting I noticed the hood on her top. It had some funny Chinglish on it so I took a photo of it (as you do). Then, right at that moment I had this brainwave that I'd take a photo of the screen in case I stuffed up (still paranoid that I would). OK then it was finally my turn. The guard told me what to do, what buttons to press and I took a photo of each of the screens. I had to enter in the guy's bank number (19 digits!) and then his name came up. I matched it up to the one on his business card. Yep, so far so good. Then I put in the 4 100RMB notes. Then it spit out a receipt. Too easy! The guard also told me they charge a 0.5% surcharge so I actually only paid them 398, but that's OK since I only needed to pay 378.

Phew! With that done, I got the hell out of there... On the way to the bus stop I passed this cool looking homewares shop where I just went for a quick browse. This swinging chair looks like fun!

After I went home I noticed more decorations had been put up in our apartment foyer. It's looking very festive...

Not long after I arrived home the guy rang me to ask if I had paid. I told him yep and then he said he would check and ring me back. A few minutes later he rings back and says it's already in there. I'm gobsmacked. I actually did the transaction correctly and it's already in his bank so quickly!

Christmas Eve dinners in Shanghai

Since I'm in a weird mood for compiling such information, here is a list of places to have Christmas Eve dinner for those of us in Shanghai far far away from their family and with money to burn ;) ... I'll be having my own feast that night as we attend a wedding of one of my relatives.. :)

Christmas Eve

Crowne Plaza Fudan Shanghai - Cafe Mix
An extensive buffet with all the Christmas traditions including hams and turkeys. 399* RMB (* + 15% surcharge).

Crowne Plaza Fudan Shanghai - Crown Plaza Ballroom
Gala Dinner. Fun, entertainment, wonderful food and prizes! 1588*(VIP) or 1288*

Applebee's - Tianyaoqiao lu, Xujiahui
Holiday Set menu for two at 248. Enjoy steak, seafood and celebration, and the limited Christmas gift will be right here for you.

Millenium hotel - 2588 Yan'an xi lu, Hongqiao
Christmas Eve extravaganza. 988 per person. First prize - round trip to Phuket.

Barrels - 2068 Nanjing xi lu
Christmas Eve dinner show. 7pm till late. Celebrate the evening with family and friends! Enjoy our elegantly prepared 6 course meal and award winning wine and champagne. Dance the night away with our in-house live band. 1450 per person.

Las Tapas - Hongmei Lu and Hongfeng Lu Pudong
Christmas Fiesta. 298 RMB.

Radisson Shanghai (near People's Square) - Epicure on 45
6-10pm. 788*
The restaurant's team of chefs will prepare a feast of Christmas delights in a five-course Western set menu or ten-course Chinese set menu. You will be inspired by the food and Shanghai's urban panorama, with the 360 degree rotating view of the city.

New Heights
Four course dinner 450, three course lunch 375 inc. one glass of champagne. Features holiday menu that includes baked goat cheese and roast vegetable tart, traditional roast turkey with almond and prune stuffing, traditional warm Christmas pudding with butterscotch sauce and more.

for 388 RMB. Enjkoy a delightful five-course menu, featuring tortelli pasta filled with castelmagno cheese and barolo, peach and mint sorbet, duck confit with pearl barley and brocolini, and more.

Portman Ritz Carlton - Hanagatami
5:30-10:30pm. 835* RMB inc. a glass of champagne. You will be delighted by mater chef Hoshina Masanobu's ten-course menu, beginning with cherry blossom scented shark's fin, then continuing with glazed oysters in truffle oil, goose liver, Karasumi Hawaiian cigar, and sauteed Kobe beef medallions.

Hilton Hotel - Sichuan Court
6pm. 1188 RMB. If you love fiery foods, why not celebrate Christmas Eve dinner with a Sichuanese feast fit for an emperor. Choose from a variety of Sichuanese dishes such as hot and sour shark's fin soup with seafood, braised king prawn with Sichuan flavours, smoked duck wrapped in lotus leaves and more.

Shangri-La Pupdong - Grand Tower, China Hall
2688/2188 RMB. A lavish Christmas extravaganza of food and entertainment, with an exlcusive Christmas performance by Hong Kong's celebrated singer Gigi Leung.

How can you love without a heart?

For anyone studying Mandarin they probably know there is the traditional way of writing characters (complicated), and the simplified way. Having learnt both I can see the merits of both. I grew up learning the traditional way (which is what they use in Taiwan and Hong Kong) but one year we went to a different Chinese (Saturday) school, and in university they taught us simplified and pinyin.

Since all Chinese characters are derived from pictograms, the traditional characters make more 'sense', but the simplified characters are easier to write and remember (since they have fewer strokes). It is obviously easier to go from traditional to simplified, but not the other way around.

However, the problem with simplified is that a lot of the time the meaning is totally lost.

Eg in 'love' (ai) 愛 is the traditional method, and 爱 is the simplified. If you look closely they are exactly the same except there is a component missing in the middle. That is another character in itself 'heart' (xin) 心. So whoever did this 'simplifying' did a pretty bad job IMHO.

Here's another one which makes no sense whatsoever. 'behind, backwards, after' (hou)後 . The simplified way is 后. Now, first of all they look nothing alike. Second of all, 后 actually means queen. The only reason it was chosen was because it had the exact same sound (hou4). Weird, huh?!

Even though in China they have been using the simplified writing system for a few decades now, you can still sometimes see buildings and documentation with traditional characters which is why it pays to know both.

And people wonder why Mandarin is so hard to learn?!

Wikipedia article on "Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters"

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Paris-New York-Shanghai

Shanghai has a lot of free English colour magazines that let expats know what is going on around town. I LOVE these magazines! I can't believe they are free. They are printed on good quality paper and the writing is excellent. There are reviews on everything under the sun from books to movies, theatre shows, restaurants, places to take the kids, extra-curricular activities - arts & crafts, sports, new store openings, massage parlours and spas, hotels, and more.

My favourites are City Weekly, That's Shanghai and Talk. Hint is good too but too thin. Not only do they talk about events going on in Shanghai but there is also funny news about the rest of the world, gadget reviews, stories on people who work/live here, great travel (airfare and hotel) deals to nearby cities or international destinations. There is so much to read (and look at) they keep me occupied for ages. You can get them at most foreign-orientated restaurants (eg Blue Frog, Wagas, Element Fresh, Tony Roma's and more) although not every restaurant has every mag and some come out weekly and others come out monthly. You can also buy Talk in City Shop supermarkets and That's Shanghai in the bookstore in Carrefour Gubei (for around 18 RMB each). But why would you want to buy them when you can get them for free?!

In the December issue of Talk magazine there is a page of book reviews. The review for Paris-New York-Shanghai by Hans Eijkelboom really caught my eye. I love pictorial books like this! It kinda reminds me of Colors magazine which I used to subscribe to for many years. This is what the reviewer had to say:

Though Hans Eijkelboom is, in theory, a photographer; in practice, he is more an anthropologist with a camera. Paris-New York-Shanghai presents ad project where, every day, he photographed one type of person or scene (sleeping train passengers, outdoor markets, etc). By documenting the same concepts inthe same concepts in three cities, the Dutchman presents a unique interpretation of global city life. The format both unites the cities and highlights the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances between the past, present, and (possibly) future global capitals.

I can't wait to check it out!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

P.S. I love you (Cecilia Ahern) and hot guys

A few days ago I finished reading Cecilia Ahern's novel "PS, I love you". (Cecilia is Ireland's prime minister's daughter btw and only 22!) I picked it up that day I went to Carrefour with my dad and went through it pretty quickly. I heard the movie was coming out in December and wanted to finish it before it came out. It was pretty easy to finish given I was sick and had nothing much else to do!

Cecelia Ahern's debut novel, PS, I Love You, follows the engaging, witty, and occasionally sappy reawakening of Holly, a young Irish widow who must put her life back together after she loses her husband Gerry to a brain tumor. Ahern has discovered a clever and original twist to the Moving On After Death concept made famous by novelists and screenwriters alike--Gerry has left Holly a series of letters designed to help her face the year ahead and carry on with her life. As the novel takes readers through the seasons (and through Gerry's monthly directives), we watch as Holly finds a new job, takes a holiday to Spain with her girlfriends, and sorts through her beloved husband's belongings. Accompanying Holly throughout the healing process is a cast of friends and family members who add as much to the novel's success as Holly's own tale of survival. In fact, it is these supporting character's mini-dramas that make PS, I Love You more than just another superficial tearjerker with the obligatory episode at a karaoke bar.

I really enjoyed it and had not read a novel since the "The Da Vinci Code" years ago. (actually I also read a spoof called "The Da Vinci Cod" but maybe that's not worth mentioning).

I went onto YouTube and looked at the trailer for the upcoming film and was quite disappointed.

1. The book is set in Dublin and somewhere in the storyline they go to Spain for a holiday. The movie is set in Manhattan, New York city and they go to Ireland for a holiday.

2. I could not imagine Hilary Swank playing the lead role of "Holly". I would've liked to see Jennifer Garner or maybe one of the many cute blonde actresses (I can't remember if the book mentioned if she was a blonde or brunette).

3. From the trailer I get a feeling the film leaves out the characters of Holly's siblings, which are one of the things that make the book interesting.

4. Her spouse leaves her letters, in the movie it's tape recordings!

etc etc. But the very spunky Gerard Butler plays "Gerry", the male lead and he is hot! So that's all I have to say about that.

(of course I prefer him without the beard. Ugh. I hate mustaches and beards).

For some reason I have been noticing a lot of hot guys recently. (Yes yes my husband knows, we just joke about it). On Friday when I went to Carrefour and then went back to my apartment, and got out of the taxi, a guy was standing there waiting for my taxi. I had never seen him before but he was totally hot! I was racking my brains trying to figure out which celebrity he really looked like. Then I figured out he looked like Ryan Reynolds from that sitcom "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place".

Thirdly, from The Amazing Race Asia season 2, Marc from the team Marc and Rovilson. He does not look fully Asian, he looks half or maybe that's 'cause he's Filipino (I think? I don't want to read anything about the show in case I find out too much) and I think he is totally and utterly hot! (speaking of which, the host of that show is pretty hot too!)

PS I love you trailer