28 November 2006

Response to a taunt from Boris Vian via the mafia

« Le travail est probablement ce qu'il y a sur cette terre de plus bas et de plus ignoble. Il n'est pas possible de regarder un travailleur sans maudire ce qui a fait que cet homme travaille, alors qu'il pourrait nager, dormir dans l'herbe ou simplement lir »

Boris Vian
Mocking at me
Tired little Asian eyes
Too small now to be seen
Not reading L'Écume des Jours
Not hearing Duke Ellington
All because
Tomorrow starts 06:15.

French-cuff shirt fresh off the tailor
Pink on pink cuff links
Gray skirt, matching horsehair heels

They now seem
My sole raison d'etre
For work.

27 November 2006

After fake eggs... now fake alcohol

So I thought fake eggs were already the most incredible thing in China... until I got really sick on Friday night from drinking at - check this out - the reputable Bar Rouge at Bund 18.

It was the first time I got so sick from drinking. I threw up big time on Friday, spent all of Saturday in bed head spinning and nauseous like anything, and basically couldn't think about eating anything till 9 pm. And even then, it was just flat bread and water.

A couple of people tried to diagnose my plight: "Ohh, mixing wine and hard liquor is not good", "maybe it was mixing vodka, bourbon etc together", or "you just drunk too much too fast"... But the point is this was not the first time I have had wine at dinner and cocktails further down the night. But it was definitely the sickest I have ever been from drinking. (And you folks know I hold my liquor quite well, so it can't be that.)

Revelation just now when I met Ms O for dinner (she was equally sick, but had been more sick before) - the alcohol was fake. (Read more »here or try googling for "fake / counterfeit alcohol china".) And no, it doesn't just happen at underground speakeasies in the 1920s. Even if the 80% of bars quoted by some is an exaggeration, the average is still probably about 50-70% - which includes perfectly reputable bars like Bar Rouge.

Welcome to China! (And keep me away from the alcohol for a while...)

Tip: A good remedy to feel better (I was so desperate that I asked my ayi for a folk remedy when she came over on Sat) is to drink vinegar. Sounds terrible, but balsamic vinegar doesn't taste so bad and you can dilute / add sugar to it if you want. It worked for me and looking it up on the internet, it is quite a popular remedy. About 30 - 50 ml of vinegar - spread it out a few times if you can't swallow it.

Tango on a misty bund

Lips tasting velvety gelato
Ears hearing animated Italian
Eyes seeing passionate tango
Heart, undulating.

20 November 2006

What's been keeping me from my blog and yours

(A) Technical reason

So a few of you have been asking me - ehh, don't see you much on your / my blogs anymore. The reason is the Great Chinese Firewall. It has put a real dampener on my blogging since (a) I had to spend a few days googling for good, alternative (read: convoluted) solutions to blog around the firewall, and (b) I now have to implement these convoluted and limiting means every time I blog. Your blogs are also being kept track of through equally convoluted methods, but you won't be seeing any comments from me for a while, because the comment function requires logging into Blogger Beta and Blogger Beta is a denied site. The best thing is that the Blogger customer support is in denial that Blogger Beta can have a problem when classic Blogger is okay. I now feel penalized for having switched over to Beta... Sigh.

(B) Social reason

Okay, I concede - there is also a social reason. Having made a conscious decision recently to meet more people and get into the nightlife of Shanghai, the month of November has been filled up with social and arts events, which I am quite happy about. The only thing is that in between going out, cooking, sleeping and calling my mum, there isn't much time left for blogging...

12 November 2006

The A&J Party

I have been toying with the idea of doing a block party for a while now to get to know the neighbours. It finally materialized yesterday and was a fabulous success. Some party stats:

Opening hour: 8 pm
Closing hour: 3 am
No. of represented households from this building: 12
No. of countries represented: 13 at last count
No. of empty wine bottles: 10++
No. of empty beer cans / bottles: *burp* Sorry, the beer-chuggers lost count ;)
Highest number of people in the room at a single point: Probably 30 (Thankfully, my fear of people having to sit on the toilet bowl / in the bathtub didn't materialize ;) But why was everyone crowded at the door?)
Proportion of neighbours to friends-of-neighbours: 65:35
Status of trash bin on the 14th floor by 3 am: VERY FULL

It had been a busy day being Ms Dalloway, making sure the laksa cooked properly and that there were enough flowers, candles, wine glasses, alcohol, nibbles... But very well worth the effort indeed.

08 November 2006

This is a country without religion for 40 years

A few days ago, I read a NYT article about the adoption system in Guatemala being abused. I emailed the article to Y and asked aloud:

What does one do in a world where trust, charity and goodwill are abused? This is a very prevalent problem in China - you never know what is real and who is honest here - and I am trying very hard to find a robust rule of thumb to live by.

I had an oxymoronic thought the other day: communist China is probably the most capitalist country of all. Living here, you get the tingling vibes that as a people, as a culture, people are driven by only profit and self-interest. My cousin who has been doing business in China for the past 15 years, put it very pithily to me when he first visited me in Shanghai: "You must remember, this is a country without religion for 40 years. They do not believe in retribution."

That was the first time I have heard it being said that way. It is a simple, but a surprisingly powerful way to explain the phenomena. A more sophisticated, and possibly less controversial manner of saying it might be to put it in the context of game theory: they do not believe in repeated games. The sub-optimal equilibrium of the prisoner's dilemma has reared its ugly head: it is every man to his own.

In the world of no tomorrow, civic-mindedness, ethics and honour do not matter. Who cares if I cut someone's queue or swerves into someone's lane? Self-interest rules. Who cares if I am selling fake DVDs, fake teapots, fake eggs, fake milk powder... I have made all the money and I have no music to face. Who cares if I continuously prey on others' charity by begging on the roads with my baby? Sorry, you said honour meant what again?

The first case needs no rule of thumb; it just requires accustomization, maybe a dash of oblivion for company.

For the second, I have decided that outside of groceries, it is a matter of "pay what you would pay for, never mind real or fake". (For groceries, you just try to shop at the nicer Japanese* supermarkets, and keep your fingers crossed that the Japanese have not lost their native obsession with quality.) It is no use paying too high a price for things in China, unless you are really a conoisseur on "quality". They are so glib, so convincing, that PVC turns into leather and horse hair into cashmere. It is a depressing way to lead life, and a downward spiral - but there is no tomorrow right?

The last case is the one that gets me. I have consistently failed to find a robust response with respect to the phenomenon of begging. For now, I have decided that I will give to whoever I come across.** Partly because begging is not that prevalent in Shanghai (so I'm not innundated), partly because it is just 1 RMB (so my wallet is not dented). I figured that even if I am fleeced half the time, at least the other half of the time, I would have contributed to a warm bun for some hungry soul.

Yes, I know. I can hear the economists whispering in the background now: "But you forget that the world is a dynamic system and iterations come into play; You are feeding the begging phenomenon with your multiple 1 RMBs."

I know. I did not forget. I know my rule of thumb assumes a static system, but I can find no other conscionable way to live in as bipolar a place as Shanghai.

There, my first sobering entry on China. Life is not all glittering, not even in Shanghai.

* I really love the French, but sorry, Carrefour is a mess here in my experience. Even Parkson from Malaysia is a much more pleasant shopping experience.
** Unless they are (a) outrightly healthy and really should not be begging, or (b) plying cars in the middle of the road (this is too much of an emotional blackmail - Shanghai roads are so merciless - and somehow I feel I cannot condone it).

05 November 2006


Day trip out to Tongli, a charming little water town 1.5 hours outside of Shanghai. Gorgeous weather, great company, plenty of laughter... It was worth waking at 8.30 am on a Sunday for.

Am now having only random access to Blogger thanks to what looks like another clamp-down on blogs... Will try to post more pictures once I figure out how to get around it.