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By Elena Garcia

And there you have it… my magnificent time in America is over!  I boarded my flight, adjusted my seat in the bed position and slept my 12-hour way home. America was great to me: the weather, the cheap mystic tan sessions, and my friends who cooked me delicious meals that I will never be able to replicate.

On my flight to America, the pod next to mine was empty, this time I sat next to a gentlemen who happened to own Legos… or some toy company that the young one’s are crazy about! As we introduced ourselves, I found myself absolutely jealous of him. (Not just because he is a billionaire or whatever.) He was visiting Shanghai and he, in a few weeks, would return to his home in America. I on the other hand, won’t be returning for 2 ½ months! Ten long gruesome weeks!

Nonetheless, I enjoyed what would probably be my last English conversation with someone who isn’t Garrett and chugged down my complimentary mimosa.

America: land of the by one get one free mystic tan session, home of the brave and bold fashion choices and most importantly the place where I could eat Taco Bell at most reasonable hours.

Returning to Shanghai hasn’t been easy and I feel as if it is getting harder. It’s like being a kid the night before a trip to Disneyland; you’re just too excited to sleep. Knowing that I ONLY have a short time ahead of me makes me think of all the planning that needs to occur in the time remaining.

Where will Garrett and I live?
Where will I work?
What will we eat? (There is nothing wrong with planning ahead!)

But for right now, thinking of the answers to those questions, wont do me a whole lotta good. So I am planning for the other things… like tomorrow’s outfit.

America 1, China 0

September 9, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Being in America and not being in China has allowed me proper time to reflect and take in the many expectations I had about finally coming home.

For example, prior to returning the fear that I would be over whelmed by the astronomical prices plagued my conversations with my friends. I mean the prices of things in America are a bit more expensive then the haggle-ings of Shanghai! Or so I thought…but there are many things that American shopping provides me that Shanghai can never!

1st you can find clothes that actually fits you at your variety boutiques and department stores!

2nd you can find cute things that aren’t bedazzled to death!

3rd you can find LEGIT things. Like a real Marc Jacobs bag at Neimans or Moschino Shoes at Saks.

4th I have found some amazing deals since arriving!! I’ve finally gotten to do the kind of shopping that I was so addicted too!

I’ve had a few shopping trips since arriving, an afternoon on Polk Street, a weekend in Hollywood, and of course, adventures downtown! My shopping escapades have all allowed me to visit my favorite shops here in America and boy oh boy has my credit card felt the backlash!

During one shopping trip to Barney’s it occurred to me that I would be thrilled to wear anything on the hanging racks. Barney’s is laid out in that perfect come hither way, it’s not too crowded, it’s not too cluttered, it’s just perfectly placed in a perfect paradise. The floors are hard and cold, giving the exposed chrome racks and clean white walls a very industrial feel. Cut up jeans, one shouldered tops, even a patterned mini dress all fill the displays and my dreams of a fashionable life. Barney’s is my fashion heaven and I will do whatever it takes to get into those pearly gates!

Everything about visiting the definitive department store made me realize what I loved about shopping. All the merchandise was so perfectly placed and displayed, calling to me in that way… that way that only a call from George Clooney could replicate. Every shirt, skirt, and snake skin boot were magical in that non-fake, amazingly fitted, authentically fashionable way!!! China doesn’t have that! Things are piled on barrels in the sticky warehouse malls and sales clerks constantly follow you around letting you know that the things you’re looking at won’t fit you! No one at Barney’s will slap a magnificent Robert Rodriguez blouse out of my hands because they think it wont fit. Damn it, they’ll let me try ANYTHING I want on, no matter what size it is AND they’ll offer you a cocktail!

Its moments like my Barney’s shopping trip, which have made it easy to get back into my old ways here in the US of A. Shopping, having brunch with friends, adventuring through downtown and fantastic dinners out on the town.

Now, America hasn’t been all perfect! During one of those fantastic dinners I had probably one of the most mortifying experiences of my life! Well, I’m sure I have some drunken college escapades that I wouldn’t be too proud of now. But it topped the cake on this trip.

I had gone to a San Francisco eatery to enjoy a birthday celebration; we shared cocktails, appetizers, amazing dinners and even better desserts. When the bill came everyone put down cash, or cards to have it split up. Not thinking twice I pulled out my barely used visa and threw it down for my portion of the bill. Moments later the waitress returned and notified me that my card was DECLINED. That’s right! Rejected, stand BEHIND the velvet rope and you suck, DECLINED.

I was so embarrassed and I didn’t understand why! I hadn’t used the card since I was in China; I had protected this card from my shopping conquests. Everyone assumed it was because I hadn’t used it since returning from China. The company probably thought that a 60-dollar charge in San Francisco after months of in activity was fraudulent. But that had NEVER happened to me before, not with this card! When I went to China, they never blocked the card! So after apologizing profusely and throwing down ALL the money I had and borrowing the remainder. I gathered my things and began trying to figure out what happened. Had I secretly been using my credit card? Had sleep shopped?

On my trip home, I quickly called my credit card company and found out something so horrifying that I nearly screamed! Someone had taken my credit card number and racked up SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS in ONLINE POKER costs, winnings, loses… The credit card company had frozen my account when they saw the charges weren’t my typical shoe purchases! I hadn’t noticed because I was in China when they sent the letter and they hadn’t been able to contact me. I never noticed on my statement because I make payments automatically and just missed it!

The kind man from the Visa office processed everything nonchalantly because as he said, “this was more common then one would think!” I wanted him to be angrier, to sympathize and empathize with my anger but just like a robotic system he cut me off with answers to my questions before I could even get them all out!

How could someone get my credit card number?
-They hacked, looked up, or just plain glanced at my exposed card!

When did it happen?
-42 days prior to my rejection!

Why ME?
-It happens to many, best thing is to make sure you use secure sites and check your monthly statements.

How can someone play that much online poker? (This on threw him off!)
-I don’t know ma’am.

All his answers came in monotone and completely unemotional.

How could someone play so much damn poker!! AND SUCK SO BAD!! Six grand! SIX freakin GRAND! Not even I spend that much on shoes (in one outing)! I wish I knew who this guy was, I would very much throw one of my shoes at him!!!!

Dui-Bu-Qi

August 5, 2009

By Elena Garcia

rolling-stones-american-flag-tongue-stickerWe’re the kids of the America!

I am home.

On Monday of last week, at 12:30 pm, I boarded United flight 858 from Shanghai to San Francisco.

Days before I had started packing my bags attempting to fit enough clothes for my eight week visit home and all the gifts I had bought for friends and family. Garrett and I tried to predict if my bag would be within my 75-pound limit and quickly determined it wouldn’t. Not unlike me, it’s rare that I am ever within the absurd weight limitations of the airline industries. How is a girl supposed to fit all her shoes, clothes, accessories, in two bags at 75 pounds each? I think the length of your trip should determine the weight limits set by the airlines. A person traveling for a few days should only get one small bag but no they get just as many as I do with eight weeks of packing to do! It’s really not logical at all!

Lugging my huge bags to the check in gate I held my breathe as Garrett used all his might to load them on the scale. The nice man checking me in took his time before glancing at the scale to see if I was within my limits. The anxiety slowly crept in with an incredible erge to shake him and yell, “HURRY UP!” But I refrained from such actions and waited for my verdict.

After checking in, with no over weight luggage fees, Garrett and I enjoyed a last lunch at the Ajisen in the airport and a goodbye before the security gates. Then it was off through the roped lines, the x-ray machines, metal scanners and duty free shopping! I managed to score some not so expensive make-up and last minute gifts. By the time I finished perusing the shops and made my way up to the lounge I was exhausted. But the excitement running through my veins turned into adrenaline and kept me going as I stocked up on snacks and diet coke. As I sat down in one of the plush leather chairs over looking the main gates of the airport I heard the friendly reminder that my flight was on it’s final boarding call. The lounge attendees helped me gather my stuff and rush to my gate,

I scurried through the boarding area and onto my flight, flashed my gold ticket stub and was lead to my big leather seat. Luckily the seat next to me was empty and I was able to get comfortable and store some of my things there. As I finally caught my breathe, the attendant handed me the menu for the flight and as I perused it I took the remote and started flipping through my in flight entertainment options. I was finally going home.

It’s crazy how much things haven’t changed since the last time I roamed the streets.

On my second day home after struggling with the expected Jet Lag I headed out and roamed the streets of San Francisco. Bringing Frankie along; I took him to his favorite park, Fort Mason, to his Vet on Fillmore and then to his groomer on Polk St. The bonding time was nice.

Later in the week I went shopping and had dinners at a variety of my favorite spots and caught up with friends who I missed so much.

It was easy to fall right into pace again, like I never skipped a beat. Everything was like normal. And of course the more time I spend here in the normalcy of American life, the more I realize how much I missed it.

I missed Frankie’s shedding hair, the crisp air of a San Francisco evening, the chatter of people lives and my friends. But I have quickly realized that although many things here haven’t changed, I have! And probably not for the better.

One evening after leaving dinner with a friend I was walking to my car when I bumped (okay maybe slammed) into a person walking by. I didn’t even notice I had done it until the slight sting of the impact began to tingle. I was already a few feet away when I realized I had just walked into him and realized I hadn’t said anything. Not an excuse me, I’m sorry or any form of apology for causing the collision.

My time in China has taken away all my manners!

Upon realizing this, I quickly turned and apologized profusely.

In China, bumping into people is an everyday occurrence. If I apologized to everyone or said excuse me all the time, I would never stop talking. That said, I try very hard to have some manners and say “dui-bu-qi” (which means excuse me/sorry) to all those who’s personal space I have invaded.

No one has yet to return the favor.

Another example is saying “God Bless You” after someone sneezes or “Thank You” after someone says it to you. I use to be so good at it, always on top of it but now… now I forget. I go minutes without noticing. So much time goes by before I realize that by the time I shriek my apology for not having said it, I’m interrupting an already continued conversation.

People in China don’t say “Bless You” after a sneeze. In fact, they usually look at you in disgust and fear that you may be the one to spread swine flu, bird flu, or the animal infection du jour.

Hopefully I get into the habit of having manners again and quickly. I would hate to bump into the wrong person on the wrong day. Ouch.

Cheap Street

July 14, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Shanghai Clothing MarketsIf you ever find yourself in China and aren’t afraid of some rugged environments, then do I have a vacation destination for you.

Xie Pu Lu (pronounced cheap-u-lou, which is all you need to say to a taxi driver to get your there) is where bargainers and clothes whores go to solicit goods. It’s a place where the weary, timid and confused won’t survive and the place where my story begins. Cheap-u like many of the bargaining malls in Shanghai is a battle zone. With the number of shoppers filling the aisles, cat calls from sales people, and hustlers trying to make money, I sometimes wonder how anyone survives, or if it’s even worth surviving. Is a sale price worth that much?

If you find yourself eager to get a great deal be ready for war! I don’t know if that means one should come equipped to these places with army fatigues and padding but be prepared for the hard elbows from the twenty-something girl forcing her way into the booth with the hot party dresses. Or the aggressive sales girl with the raspy voice willing to scream and rip the calculator out of your hands for making an “insulting offer.” And, don’t forget the children, the ones pillaging through rusty garbage and riding ten-gallon water jogs like horses. My personal favorite is the hustler on the side of the street throwing puppies around like bean bags, from one card board box to another, doing whatever he can to unload the precious creatures before they get to old and he’s forced to add to the stray population. I sometimes yearn to buy them all and save them but that would only perpetuate these kinds of actions. I try to fight the war but puppies will always make weak.

Having heard, from multiple sources, about the infamous Cheap-u Street, I decided to drag Garrett and head down for an afternoon of blissful shopping.

With the Shanghai Summer rolling full speed ahead, I should of considered our comfort level inside the multilevel warehouse spaces with no air conditioning (which turned my blissful afternoon into a blistering one) and the swarms of people a Saturday afternoon would bring. But I didn’t and we went anyway.

OHH my God.

This, unlike any millionaire’s closet, is where clothes came to die.

Inside these massive six story buildings (each floor the size of a Costco) were thousands of booths with clothes, shoes, belts, purses, jewelry, fakes, no names, graphic tees, blouses, dresses, jeans, shorts, small sizes, men’s sizes, tattoo artists, hair extensions, nail ladies, ice cream vendors… THOUSANDS in each of the 4 buildings surrounding the intersection, with even more scattered along the streets. From the moment we walked in, the dinginess took over and the rickety lighting fixtures guided us through. The dirt and garbage cluttered the maze of booths on each floor. The small windows, which prevented in any natural light from coming in (or air) brought a gray bleakness to the florescent lighting that shopping seem more depressing then shopping ever should be.

I can honestly say, that I am a very experienced shopper, probably Olympic team status but not even I could make it through all the buildings. After about an hour of the “Miss, Miss”, “Lady, Lady”, the slow dehydration taking place and the total disregard for our Chinese language capabilities Garrett and I decided it was time to go. Well, Garrett decided and the astronomical beads of sweat gliding down my perfectly mystic tanned face couldn’t refuse.

A few days later having already gotten my bearings I decided to brave it again with Gina. This time we took an afternoon off work and prayed for cooler winds. Instead we got rain, a few less people and the most hostile sales clerks I’d ever encountered. From the moment of our arrival, they followed us. Smothering us with promises of Dior purses and Rolex watches, we just had to follow then to their booth. Our attempts to ignore them went completely ignored, and they persisted. Our attempts to tell them “No, thank you”, in Spanish, English, and Chinese, went misunderstood. My attempt to fake a coughing fit and intimidate them with a potential swine flu scare didn’t even faze them. And even our attempts to beat them with our extended umbrellas went completely unnoticed. It wasn’t until the same grimy man with the bright orange shirt followed us up to yet another floor that I finally had to stop, turn around and scream at him. Then he understood!

As Gina and I explored the towers of mayhem we became more and more disenchanted. We realized that no matter what the vendors at Cheap-u had to sell it wasn’t worth having to push, shove, and scream at people for.

Irritated, hot and frustrated, Gina and I lost patience in the street that shopping paradises try to mimic. Not even the wonder of a perfect gladiator sandal or belted plaid dress could divert the filth of the building, sales people and beggars, off of us.

After, just two short hours, we realized that we could not win the battle and Cheap-u was left behind. Another pair of shoppers scared off by the infamous Cheap-u.

By Elena Garcia

HitchcockOne of the many things lacking about Shanghai, is my accessibility to my favorite feature films at the cinema! Unlike the moviegoers at home, I am not able to enjoy Star Trek at midnight, or a girl’s night for Confessions Of A Shopaholic. I am bound to my living room and the “DVD” collection I have accumulated. Of course it isn’t the same, I miss the aroma of Popcorn, the dancing Raisinettes and the lines…

Oh the lines, the ones you have to wait in for hours just to get a 50 dollar ticket so that celebrities get richer, the ones you have to stand in to get into the theatre just to sit in the front row with the back of your head smashed to your chair looking up like a 3 year old looking at Shaquielle O’Neil, knowing full well that for the next week it’ll hurt you to move your neck past a 90 degree angle. And the lines you have to stand in to get a 20-dollar bag of popcorn from a teenager with too much attitude and not enough acne medication…

Oh the lines. Goodness I miss the theatre!

In China Movies aren’t like that! There are plenty of theatres, I just don’t know when the show times are or what movies they’re playing or if I would even understand them! So for the last eight months, I’ve gone without, without the nuances that I dreaded so much and now miss like crazy. For the most part I didn’t even know what I was missing because I’m not swarmed with commercials, trailers and posters but every once in a while a huge movie would come out and I would miss it.

One day while finishing up a long day of work, a colleague of mine mentioned that Shanghai was having an International Film Festival and that they were showing loads of movies. The festival would bring Celebrities like Halle Barry, Danny Boyle and Clive Owen to Shanghai. Excited, I asked her help to look through the listings and discover what cinematic classics would grace the Chinese big screen. It took us awhile and countless efforts but finally we found a segment of the movie listings with American films! Excited, she read me the movie titles and shared in my glee as we discovered that the festival would display a collection of Alfred Hitchcock classics! Garrett and I became huge Hitchcock fans after we Netflicked “Rear Window.” And so, I decided on a few titles I wanted to see on the big screen. Lily gave me the locations and times and I went off to confer with Garrett and enter back into some of the normalcy of western life that I had missed so much!

One week later, on a particularly rainy Saturday evening, Garrett and I went to the Metropol Theatre in People’s Square and purchased tickets for the 8:30 screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

As we approached the counter, we pointed to the selection on the white laminated piece of paper and gestured that we wanted 2 tickets. The guy at the ticket window rumbled something in Chinese and then gestured toward the next people in line who were standing about 2 inches away from us anyway! Unsure what was going on, Garrett and I refused to budge knowing full well that if we did, we’d lose the authority we gained by standing at the desk. I also took that moment to glare at the couple spooning us from behind. Finally a lady from another counter came over and let us know that we needed to head to the eighth floor to purchase those tickets.

At that moment, we walked to elevator and pressed 8. As the cheesy jazz filled the space we slowly progressed to our destination.

We arrived to the counter, we repeated the ritual that we had done downstairs and pointed to our movie title and time. After pressing some buttons on her computer the cashier gestured toward her screen. Slowly she turned the monitor for us to see and pointed toward the seating chart filling the screen. Directing our attention at the blue seats, which sat at the end of the rows of red seats, she asked us to pick.

In most Chinese movie theatres seats are assigned when you purchase tickets. So the earlier you buy them the better your seats will be. Because we were unaware of the seating assignments, Garrett and I had arrived just a short time before the movie was set to begin. The only seats available were on the sides and at the very front. Fearing the kink in my neck, which would come from being a fly on a windshield at the front, Garrett and I selected a seat to the side.

80 rmb later (about 12 bucks for 2 tickets, not bad) Garrett and I had our tickets and some time to kill. We walked around People’s Square and did everything we could to watch the time pass. Finally thirty minutes before the movie was set to begin Garrett and I headed towards the theatre only to be stopped by the ticket taker. She let us know that they opened the theatre just five minutes before show time… so basically we still had time to kill. She also took the liberty to direct us to the bar across the hall where we could buy drinks and watch the time slip away.

FINALLY, it was time to go in. Garrett and I headed to the concession stand, purchased soda and popcorn (they didn’t sell candy) and headed toward our seats. As the lights dimmed, we began shoveling hands full of popcorn into our mouth, anticipating the warm buttery cloudy morsels melting on our tongue, when suddenly an odd taste filled our taste buds, the popcorn was sweet, and cold…and stale. My big bucket was done… it was not good or fluffy or buttery. It was gross.

Disappointed I maintained my excitement; I knew it didn’t matter because for the first time in a long time I was in the plush seats of a movie theatre. People climbed over us to get to their seats, adjusted their backs to lie comfortably in the big chairs and chatted in whispers as the bright lights of the screen filled the now dark room. The movie was about to begin…

The opening credits began and I realized the whispers weren’t going away. People were talking. Their voices seeming to get louder as the movie progressed. The couple in front of us continued an argument they had started before the previews, a man chatted on his cell phone and someone in the back sounded as if they were regurgitating food for a small bird.

Enraged, I finally worked up the courage to tell the people in front of us to SHHH! They glared but obeyed. And slowly the others silenced as well. It wasn’t until about half way through the movie that conversations began again. A phone rang, a man answered, talked, laughed, and then said farewell and hung up. The lady behind us broke out in song even though there wasn’t any music playing and the couple continued their whispered argument.

When the movie was finally over Garrett and I left our full bucket of stale popcorn on the floor, headed towards the exit and decided that going to a Chinese movie theatre wouldn’t ever happen again!

They did it!

July 8, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Blocked SiteChina  blocked a few websites during the anniversary of a certain Tiananmen fiasco. Chinese officials blocked websites like Hotmail, Twitter, and Flicker.

YouTube is permanently blocked here… at least it has been since I arrived! And some Wikipedia pages (like the one listing what sites are blocked in China) are also blocked.

China blocked Google for a short time, as a threat to the search engine giants to put better filters on their system.

China was even going mandate a filtering software be put into all new computers in an attempt to block out porn (and anything else their little hearts desired). But, according to CNN, the government-set deadline that would have required the software, called Green Dam-Youth Escort, which was to come with all PCs, is being postponed indefinitely. (The postponement wasn’t because they decided to allow some freedom of search but rather because the Green Dam software is filled with technical glitches!)

And of course, they’ve done it again. As of this morning sites like FACEBOOK, and Twitter are blocked! As in no soup for you, you’re not cool enough to get in, stand behind the velvet rope!

This revelation brings me to tears because of my severe addiction to my favorite networking site. As I sit here and type this very entry. the symptoms of withdrawal all sit in.

First the denial

As part of my job I am in charge of some of the online networking sites that my company participates in, so this morning when I tried ever so gently to log into Facebook and Twitter, I was blinded by the big yellow triangle and the words:

Connection Interrupted
The connection to the server was reset while the page was loading.
The network link was interrupted while negotiating a connection. Please try again.

Assuming it was my Internet connection, I tried again.

And again…

And again…

Then the anger

As the frustration from the yellow triangle flashes before me I become livid with all things electronic. Cursing under my breathe, and hoping nothing but negative things for those who would do this to me!

Then the depression

Slowly as I realize my anger will not change the out come I begin to mope. Imagining all the amazing things that I am missing. All the inside jokes that I will not be privy to. All the surveys my friends post because they think people care. All the photos of random people’s drunk 4th of July celebrations… all gone.

Then the acceptance

As people stroll into the office I grab their attention with the news that Facebook, is blocked. Stunned, I see the look in their eyes as they swallow the fact that the site that allowed them to cyber stalk people was now forbidden. Seeing their pain I stay strong and continue trying to access… just hoping that they don’t block my site!

To see a list of a few of the blocked sites click here!

or here!

By Elena Garcia

Mascot HaibaoIf you decide to swing by Shanghai, you’ll quickly notice something. From the moment you leave your gate at the airport you’ll be flooded with images, ads and propaganda of the 2010 World Expo here in Shanghai, set to begin in May. The blue Gumbi like mascot with his big bubbly eyes will follow you through the city, creeping you out and calling you in.

The mascot is actually the Chinese character for people or “ren” and he magically comes to life as a cartoon icon for kids and grown ups to swoon over. He’s the Mickey Mouse of the World Expo.

The World Expo, I guess, is supposed to be like a world’s fair. Containing stations from every country in the world. It was the World’s Fair that brought Paris the Eiffel Tower, San Francisco the Palace of Fine Arts and now, China a big metal look thing.

China is making a huge deal about the event. Shanghai is under construction everywhere. Billboards are plastered every couple feet. And, just recently Shanghai has started running ads encouraging Chinese people to be polite: stop shoving, stop spitting and stop being disgusting slobs like they sometimes are now; all in anticipation for the swarms of foreigners and media outlets which will flood the city during the World Expo. (Apparently they also did this in Beijing for the Olympics.) They also put up a countdown clock in People’s Square (the busiest subway station) so that no one forgets when to have manners or when the event starts.

I hadn’t thought much of the World Expo. In fact, I am still not sure what the point is entirely.  China, like I said, is making a huge deal about this. But based on conversations I’ve had with people outside of China… no one seems to know much about it! I don’t even know anyone who has heard about it out side of Shanghai, and yet, China is treating the World Expo like the Olympics.

China PavilionThey sell stuffed animals, t-shirts, posters, and throw parties in honor of an event that is nearly a year away! Recently, they had a huge lighting ceremony for the China exhibition (which is a monstrosity, a huge metal temple style building with red panels and a million steps).

And the most exciting part? Drama! Controversy of the US’s absence from the World Expo fills Expat conversations. (The US has yet to confirm or decide really, if we will attend with rumors that Dell and Pepsi would sponsor the booth if we chose to do it!) I’ve even heard one lady mention, “It would be the biggest mistake we ever made.” As if electing George W. twice didn’t already win that prize!

With all the debates and hooplah over an event that no one really knows about, I wonder, is it going to be a huge deal? Am I just in the dark?

World Expo StickerRecently, after a weekend trip, I returned to something so shocking that it nearly blew my mind. The taxis, because of the World Expo, were changing. No, the drivers didn’t learn to drive or obey traffic laws. Instead they have started offering a free translation service to passengers.

In Shanghai, taxi drivers don’t speak English. Not one of them. From the HUNDREDS of taxis I’ve taken since living here I have yet to encounter one who could utter more than the normal  “Hello,” “Thank You,” and “Good Bye.” To be perfectly honest, their lack of English skills has been a big motivation to learn Chinese. Somebody has to be able to know where I am going, and it isn’t going to be my taxi driver.

So after my short trip away, while going on a shopping escapade I noticed a freshly pasted sticker on the scratched up plastic partition of my taxi. My little blue World Expo friend was waving to me in excitement, attempting to gain my attention and let me know that if I needed translation services because I didn’t know where I was going, I just had to call the number listed and an operator could help! I was shocked. In the few days it had been since I last took a cab everything had changed.

No more frantic phone calls to my Chinese friends when cab drivers couldn’t understand me.

No more written down addresses on crumpled up pieces of paper to pass into the grimy hands of my hostile taxi driver.

No more pronunciation practice before even hailing a cab and subsequently, getting hissed at by my taxi driver for not saying it perfectly!

This changed every thing. This sticker rocked my world. And all because of the World Expo! I may not know what it is, or why, or the drama behind it but I do know that the sticker… is the best thing to happen to Shanghai since I arrived!

Learn more about the World Expo here!

By Elena Garcia

Let's proudly wave our American flags made in China

Tailor Made

July 2, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Fabric MarketDisneyland is probably, hands down, the happiest place on earth. As a society, the idea of Mickey’s big ears and Cinderella’s blonde locks are the fundamentals of happiness. But unfortunate for Disneyland; I have found THE actual happiest place on earth. The Mecca that Buddha, Jesus and Mohamed all spoke of. The one place were imagination, excitement, hope and FASHION all come together… The South Bund Fabric Market!

Everyone at my work had spoke about Chinese fabric markets, how incredible, cheap and amazing they were. How with a picture and a dream any person could go and have a dress, outfit or suit made for a very low reasonable price. Desperate to see this holy place they spoke of, I dragged Garrett and headed to the address written down on a scrunched up piece of scratch paper by one of my Chinese co-workers.

When we arrived I was taken aback by the chaos surrounding us; the beggars outside of the giant building, the construction clogging the streets around it and the traffic that followed. When we finally got into the warehouse style building I was in complete awe. Hundreds of small booths filled with silks, cottons, nylons, polyesters, denims… the walls were covered with shelves of fabric rolls in ever color, every pattern, every texture that one could ever imagine. It was like the fabric stores they show the contestants of Project Runway shopping at. Swarms of people in booth after booth filling the path ways.

The cascades of flowing fabric coming at us from every angle hid the dingy lighting and dirty floors, booth after booth was filled with silks or cottons or synthetics… the only decision one needed to make was who! Who would be chosen to design my next dress? So we made our way through the grimy corridors, the cat calls from vendors (of which I have all to sadly become accustomed too) rang. “Miss, silk dress?” “Gucci Suit?” “Miss…” “Lady…”

After making our way up to all four floors I decided on one vendor to make my dress. She would be the chosen one.

One afternoon, after this initial shopping escapade I decided to peruse the pages of Saks.com, Bloomies, Niemans, and Barney’s. Page after page contained the dresses of my hearts desire! And for the first time I didn’t have to calculate when they would go on sale, or whether I would be able to eat based on the price. For the first time they weren’t just a twinkle in my eye, they were reality. I could have every single on of those things, made in the color, fabric, pattern and SIZE of my choice!

Five dresses, two shirts and one skirt later my closet is slowly starting to resemble the websites of my favorite department stores. Where else can I get a 400 Nannette Lepore dress made for less than 20 bucks and couture at that?

Ohh China!!

Backstreets Back

June 26, 2009

By Elena Garcia

Backstreet BoysGrowing up, like many people, I had an unrelenting crush for a boy band: The Backstreet Boys. They made my world go round! Nick’s golden locks, they way they fell over his eyes and made my heart swoon. Brian’s perfect melody and how it echoed through my ears and into my heart… The five boy band-ers made everything about adolescents worth it. I was obsessed! And although it is no longer acceptable for me release high pitched shrieks of joy at the sight of them, a small piece in my heart will always be reserved for the guys that let me know I was Larger Than Life.

Now you can imagine my surprise when my favorite boy band circa 1999 is still alive and well in the People’s Republic.

It started one early Saturday morning when Garrett and I headed to my favorite bakery for some sustenance. Minna, is a delicious bakery a block away from our apartment that provides us with amazing Chinese desserts, breads, and pastries. As we perused the clear plastic windows with the delicious treats housed inside and decided on which of the delectable food particles would replenish us that morning I heard the soft unmistakable voices of the boys who never broke my heart. Thrilled, I pointed out the melody to Garrett and exclaimed with excitement.

It didn’t end there.

As Garrett and I sat down to breakfast the soft melodies of five charming voices continued. All of the Backstreet Boys greatest hits raged on. It was as if they had been expecting me.

Later, during an afternoon shopping trip with some friends I heard it again. This time Gina, who shares my passion, witnessed it and reveled in the excitement with me as we perused the shoe racks.

A few days later I heard my boys through the crackly speakers of a taxi car, then again in the tiny boutiques of Hengshan Lu. I even heard then through the blaring headphones of a subway passenger.

It’s as if they have returned.

Is Backstreet Back?

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