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My new hat collection

November 17, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Pink Angora Beret

Pink Angora Beret

One of the really great things about Shanghai is the amazing shopping. If you’re a size negative whatever with tiny feet, you can find some of the most fantastic articles of clothing for some ridiculous prices. Just roam the streets, you’ll spot street squatters, under ground markets, bargain malls and everything else your little heart desires for prices that will put any sample sale to shame.

Just today while roaming the dingy halls of my favorite bargain market I came across some of the cutest motorcycle jackets in copper colored snakeskin, denim, and sequins. I wanted to buy them all, unfortunately none of them fit me. (I stopped wearing China’s version of a large when I was in third grade.) If jackets aren’t your thing, try on a party dress! These dresses are to die for cute and would blow any socialite out of the water. Heart shaped tops with pleated bottoms, patterns with bold colors and hemlines with just enough to help make the point. They’re adorable and would cost you a fortune at home but here you can get them for 20 bucks, easy. I’ve even contemplated buying two of the same dress and sewing them together, they’re just so cute!  But I am always quickly chased out of the store buy the sales girl shooing me away. God forbid I destroy her ten-dollar dress with my laser vision and fiery touch. You can even find your very own Chinglish T-shirt with embroidered bunnies or glittered hearts! It’s amazing, if they only carried one size bigger (or two).

But just because they don’t make “big girl sizes” here doesn’t mean I can’t shop, damn it. I have learned very easily that accessories fit everyone, regardless of what your waist or bust size are. Today, after being rejected and chased out of all the skinny people stores I came across a store where my waistline didn’t matter. It was as hat store! (So take that China!!)

After spending a multitude of time perusing the shelves and trying one every item in the store I decided on a few head ornaments that would easily grace the pages of my favorite magazine. At 15rmb (2 dollars) a pop I bought a half a dozen magnificent cranial coverings, which are sure to protect my head from the infamous Shanghai winter and to make me look… umm… amazing!

Ear Muffs

Ear Muffs

London-esque Mod Hat

London-esque Mod Hat

Floral Beanie

Floral Beanie

Hot Pink Beanie with Big Poof

Hot Pink Beanie with Big Poof

I lost it.

November 9, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Chinese Hot PotIt’s often-frustrating living in a country where you don’t understand the culture or the language. Every once in a while I’ll find myself just getting so angry and annoyed at the cultural differences that I have to lock myself up at home and let it pass. I find it soothes my inpatients.

However, on this fateful Saturday night, I lost it.

Our tutor Grace had offered to take us to one of her favorite Hot Pot restaurants. Hot Pot is huge here in Shanghai and I was one of the few people who had never tried it. When Grace found this out, she insisted on taking us and letting us experience this Shanghai treat.

So on Saturday, after a short subway ride we met Gina, Aaron, and Grace in a quest to enjoy some Hot Pot. That’s when my inner turmoil began.

As we attempted to get a taxi a man in a tiny black car starts honking his horn, he along with a dozen other cars are stuck in traffic, stopped at a red light. So he honks, as if that is going to make the cars in front of him go faster, as if the sound of his blaring horn will make the light change and as if no one else is around him. Looking at the situation, I lean down staring at the man through his open passenger window and I say calmly, in words he cannot understand, “honking your horn isn’t going to make the car move sir, I promise.” The passenger in his car chuckles and the driver stops honking. He slowly inches up moving away from me and we continue to stand on the crowded street, blocking the way of the herds of people trying to get by.

After spending fifteen minutes getting honked at by bicyclists driving on the sidewalk, getting shoved by fellow pedestrians and having no luck with finding a cab, Grace suggests we walk up a block to a bigger intersection. So along with the masses we walk, past the dozens of squatting street vendors selling everything from fake Tiffany’s jewelry to winter coats, passing street food smells and smokes, and finally, coming to a huge intersection (where, frankly, chaos comes to die).

We stand patiently at the curb waiting for the green man to give us the go ahead when we notice the herds of people going. They just start walking. Fearing for our lives, we continue to stand there, waiting for our friend the green man to come up. Finally when he does, we notice no difference in the intersection. Cars driving in every direction, turning at red lights, bikes swerving through traffic and pedestrians playing Frogger in between whizzing cars. It was enough to shoot my blood pressure through the roof.

As we play Russian Roulette through the intersection, we spot two empty cabs (we needed two since we have five people and only four fit in your standard cab). We ran as safely as possible, getting the attention of the driver and as we attempt to get in, a huge truck pulls up behind it and starts wailing on his horn, successfully getting the cab driver to move and leave us behind. The second cab pulls up behind the honking truck and stops, letting Garrett, Gina and Aaron in. Grace tells the taxi driver where to go and Grace and I are left behind looking for another cab. But just as their cab is pulling away with everyone safely inside a black car pulls up behind him and starts honking his horn incessantly! He sees that the cab has just gotten everyone in and is starting to leave but he wont lay off the horn. This is where I lose it for the first time.

I begin to yell at him in English, I scream how he can wait and that they’re going and when I am done throwing my temper tantrum I notice hundreds of passersby staring at me chuckling under their looming smiles. The man drives past me, looking at me in utter confusion while continuing to honk his horn. Grace puts her arms around me and walks me away from the intersection while we begin looking for another cab.

Fifteen minutes later we get one and we head towards the intersection where the rest of the group has been waiting. Finally when we arrive Grace leads us through a crowded, frantic street with bright lights illuminating the sky and takes us into the third floor of a big building. We are the only foreigners there. Which, normally, isn’t a big deal but I notice a table of twenty something guys just staring at us with the same grins I encountered moments before. As we walk by they say “Hello!” in mocking tones. (A trend I notice more and more. Some Chinese people will say words in English to foreigners passing by, often repeating the words the foreigners themselves were just saying, and they say them in these tones that are somewhat mocking and very rude.) I manage to hold my breath and not say anything but I can feel my blood start to simmer.

When we sit down Grace is nothing but an angel, she guides us through the menu and we order. Hot Pot works a little like Korean BBQ. You order uncooked foods like beef, lamb, pork, potatoes, eggs, mushrooms, tofu, and anything else you can think of and they provide you with a huge pot of boiling broth divided into two: one is regular flavor broth, the other is spicy. As the soup simmers on the heat plate you add your raw food, slowly letting it cook in your giant tub of soup.

I was a little intimidated by the entire process but Grace had wanted to let me experience it since I was the only one who hadn’t. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve had since living in Shanghai but it was…ummm… not enough to make me throw up all over myself.

And so, an hour later, after having devoured an amazing amount of Hot Pot, we realizSquatter Toileted we had ordered FAR too much food and were not going to be able to finish it. Luckily, this place was incredibly reasonably priced and leaving some items behind wasn’t breaking the bank. (By incredibly reasonably priced I mean like 2RMB (30 cents) for a plate of lots of raw food.) It was also at this time that I decided I needed to use the restroom. Gina had warned me earlier that the bathrooms weren’t very clean and that they only had squatter toilets.

I have never used a squatter toilet. In all my time in Shanghai, I have never used one. Not only do I think my legs are not strong enough but I cannot get over the mental anguish that occurs when I think of having to use a hole in the floor. And so, with Grace’s help, I ask someone if there are ANY western bathrooms in this building. No.

Grace and I go down stairs to a McDonalds. No.

We go to a KFC. No.

We go into another mall. No.

Finally we head down the block, across the street and into a KTV lounge where to my relief, we find one.

On our return up the elevator Grace and I are surrounded by people, a group of which happen to be young guys (not the same ones as before) and while Grace and I stand there completely silent they start at it. “Hello!” “HAAYlow!” “Helo!”

What is it with the twenty something male population, do they see non Chinese looking people and assume we speak English? I mean I could easily be French, Russian or heck, Mexican. What if I didn’t speak English? I try very hard to speak Chinese, so that I wont have to inconvenience them and yet I get this! And what is with the tone?!

Luckily before I can muster up enough annoyance to say something, the elevator comes to a stop and Grace and I exit.

After finishing our meal. We head across the lobby to a pretty awesome Arcade where we spend the next half our playing cheap arcade games and screaming at the claw machine. (I don’t know why I play those things; I never win the 25cent stuffed animal!)

Then we leave and get into an elevator. This is where it gets bad.

A lady and a man are already on the elevator when we board and they are having a conversation, a conversation that one would only mimic when standing in the crowd at a rock concert. They were speaking so incredibly loud that no one else could hear themselves. And of course, I am standing far to close to the lady who is now screaming into my ear. I try staying calm but then in one moment, I lose it.

As loud as I can I scream “WHY DOES EVERYONE TALK SO LOUD!!!”

At this point the conversation amongst the couple stops entirely, the people I am with look at me in horror and the elevator reaches the ground floor and the doors open. I smile politely, excuse myself, get off the elevator and the mortification begins. I hadn’t meant to be so loud, I hadn’t meant to be so rude, I just could not handle her screaming into my ear anymore. I couldn’t.

As everyone else follows behind me, I feel a great urge to apologize and explain to them my reasoning but they, understandably, avoid eye contact. We say goodbye to Grace (she lives near by and wouldn’t need a cab home) and head into a taxi. I sit in the back corner trying to justify my behavior but it was too late. The embarrassment had settled in and I just needed to go home.

Chinese people do talk very loud; it’s something I had to get use to at first and thought I had managed to do. But as I sit here with my ear tingling, I wonder, was yelling out all that bad? I mean, I constantly get shoved, cut in front of and go ignored. I’ve been told that it’s survival of the fittest and everyone fens for themselves. So if that is the case, what I did on the elevator was really just me becoming more assimilated into the culture, right?

Wet Market

November 5, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Recently I ventured into my very first wet market here in Shanghai. And boy am I glad I was able to avoid them for as long as I did. Words can not describe the things I saw, smelled or felt as I walked through the gloomy warehouse space, so I took a video.

While watching, please take note of the following:

– The old Chinese Man Wearing Pajamas

–The man spitting on the floor

–The dirty laundry hanging from one of the vendor’s booth

–The fish Vendor with the lit cigarette hanging from his lip

–The dead chickens

–The pink rain boots

–The people staring at me

Enjoy!

By Elena Garcia

Halloween CostumesJust four days ago I was complaining about the heat, which continued to linger in the air despite it being fall. I was complaining about how the summer heat wouldn’t go away and my fall fashions weren’t being utilized. But then, like some kind of reverse tropical storm, it’s freezing.

I don’t get it.

On Halloween day, Garrett and I set out to go buy the finishing touches of his costume. As we ventured out I made note of how hot it was (swear to goodness, ask Garrett). In order to accommodate this humid heat Garrett wore shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt. I wore ripped up jeans, flip-flops and a thin cotton Calvin Klien t-shirt.

A person not knowing we were on the last day of October would have thought we were in mid June based on our outfit choices but it was unavoidable. As we stood in the crammed subway car on our way to Caoyang Lu I carefully used my hand to pat dry the beads of sweat, which not even the Subway air conditioning could prevent.

We arrived at our station and began the quest for a costume that Garrett had planned out weeks before. He planned on being a douche bag. For those of you not aware, a douche bag is not just a feminism product, it is also an expression used to describe a male who is rude, conceited, a jerk, and/or just plain mean. They often wear Ed Hardy shirts, bedazzled baseball caps and cell phone earpieces. An example I would offer for a douche bag would be Jon Gosselin from the show Jon and Kate Plus Eight. He is a douche bag. Garrett decided to portray a douche bag because really, nothing is scarier than a douche bag.

So he needed to find a pink collared shirt to complete this look, the rest would be done with hair and make up. Douche bags have branded themselves with their signature pink shirt and their collar popped.  (Latter I used bronzer to give him nice tan, an entire bottle of hair gel to make his hair un-moveable and an eyeliner with glitter to make fake diamond earrings.)

So off we searched through the markets at Caoyang Lu.

This area has become one of my favorite shopping destinations. It’s never too crowded; there are loads of shops and cute things all of which are reasonably priced. (And none of that fake stuff!) Grace, my Chinese tutor recommended it after she discovered my shopping addiction problem. There are two markets at Caoyang Lu; one is an accessories market that is hidden in the alleyway between two big buildings. Vendors gather in the condensed lane selling hair accessories, make up, wigs, scarves, hats, purses, 6rmb manicures (that’s 75 cents for those of you counting) and tented tattoo parlors. Although those last two give you a twofer, cheap manicures/tattoos and hepatitis!

The first time I went there I was blown away! The buzzing of the tattoo parlor guns ringed in my ears as I walked on the cracked, uneven cement floors while women sat on unstable stools getting hair extensions neatly placed on their heads, I even saw one lady laying across a make shift table having eye lashes glued in and tinted. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t let anything from that place anywhere near my eyes.

Nevertheless it is a good place to buy cheap little accessories that are a lot of fun. I had purchased a funky little hat, eyeglasses and glitter for my Lady Gaga costume, all of which cost me 2 USD.

The second market at Caoyang Lu is much nicer and bigger. It’s a mall with four giant floors dedicated to clothes, shoes and far too much non-sense. But it’s fun! This mall is much cleaner (which frankly anything is cleaner than Tattoo alley, so that’s not saying much), enclosed and air-conditioned.

Tiny shops fill every inch of every floor, even crowding their windows with samples of the treasures they have inside! The walls inside the shops are covered with hanging clothes, not leaving one inch of space exposed. Shop keepers watch TV shows on laptops, smoke cigarettes and chat with one another through out the day or even while you’re there shopping. I often think it’s a fire hazard to smoke among so much synthetic fabric but I don’t think they care!

Most of the shops are so small that no more than one or two people can fit at a time and so people peek their heads in the door or wait until the person inside clears out or they just push their way in. Most of the time it’s the latter. You’ll hear echoes of negotiations, coughing (more like hacking), and Chinese sales pitches as you walk through the halls but no one is ever pushy or drastic. From all the markets I’ve experienced (and there have been a few) it’s the easiest to shop at.

So on this blistering Halloween Day, Garrett and I roamed the dingy alleyway and the stuffed mall looking for his costume. We managed, after having severe problems trying to say “pink” and “collared shirt”, to find an eight dollar pink collared shirt which was just tight enough to make him look like a douche and to look good on me later! (Hey, there is no point in wasting a perfectly good shirt!)

And as we made our way back to the subway I made reference to the incredible heat.

The next day, after our Halloween Festivities were done, Garrett went out to grab some breakfast and had to come back to put pants on, a jacket and regular shoes. In an amazing over night process it went from 80 degrees to 50 degrees. And because Shanghai is so humid, it was a cold 50 degrees. The kind of cold that bites you and stays there until you thaw out in front of a heater. How is it possible?

It’s been three days now since Halloween and I cannot explain to you the cold that is occurring. It’s the kind of cold that one normally experiences at 2 in the morning, when the frost is just building up on your front windshield. I understand it’s November and it should be cold but really, in one day! What happened to Fall?

Halloween Festivities