Send Flowers to Iran AND Persian Carpets to Japan

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The 4-worst foreign restaurants in Shanghai

One of the great things about living in Shanghai is being able to experience authentic Chinese cuisine for incredibly low price. However, there are times when your palates simply need a break from the oil and spice. The good news is that Shanghai is a very international cosmopolitan - the bad news is that not only are they overpriced, they can also be disappointing. Here are top 4 worst foreign restaurants that you should shun away in Shanghai:

1) Watami - One of my ultimate cravings is Japanese food and I thought since there are so many Japanese in Shanghai then finding a decent restaurant would be easy. I was wrong. In Shanghai, sushi and sashimi is twice the price as in Japan and regular rice is substituted for Japanese rice. We have ventured a couple of places and we were never satisfied. But the biggest disappointment for me is Watami.

Location: Superbrand Mall, Luijiazui

2) TGIFridays - There is no need to thank God with the size of the servings nor the service. When I was a student in Tokyo I usually eat in TGIF once-a-week and order the appetizer for my lunch. In Shanghai, the appetizer is really good for only a few bites. Plus the taste is worst than my own cooking-slash-frying.

Location: Diplomatic Circle, #10 Hengshan Road

3. Greek Taverna (O Milos)- The first time I have ever tried Greek food in my life and I could not have been more disappointed. Carbs and flour without flavor (hey that rhymes!). The worst part is that the lamb meat tastes like goat.

Location: The Thumb Plaza, #199 Fangdian Lu

4. Baan Thai - One day, Mos was searching for the Iran consulate when he accidentally saw this restaurant and got intrigued with its ambience and architecture looking from the outside. Hence, a month after, he invited me for dinner and taste Thai food in Shanghai for the first time. We ordered Tom Ka Gai, Green Curry, Crab Cake, and two fruit shakes. The verdict - BAD!! The servings are small, the taste is not spicy enough, and the crab cakes does not taste like crab. Worst, the service is terrible, 5 women chattering while we were eating and gave us boiled tap water.

Location: 1479 Fuxing Zhong Lu

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Which is more difficult: Japanese or Chinese?

I’m interested in both Japanese and Chinese and I can speak and understand both to some level.

After 3 years of living in Japan without formal Japanese courses, and a year of living in China, I realized that Japanese is harder to sound natural and native than Chinese. I still sound like a retard when I speak in Japanese. For Chinese, there are many instances when I talk to the locals and they don't get my tones so get flustered but when I found my bearing I can converse much more fluidly.

The most difficult thing I encouter when learning Japanese is that the lessons on textbooks and schools are retarded compared to what is actually spoken. Have you ever heard anyone say the following?

私はあなたにえんぴつをあげる。(Watashi ha anata ni empitsu wo ageru)

I swear that you will never, ever hear this sentence in your entire life. In fact, 90% of the time 私 (Watashi) and (あなた)Anata are not used. Compared this to Chinese where 我 (wo) and 你 (Ni) are commonly heard from a regular conversation. The lack of subjects usage in Japanese is a hurdle which until now I find difficult to overcome.

Some people have the wrong idea that since Mandarin uses 4 tones (+ 1 neutral tone) then it is much harder than Japanese which is mostly flat. But the truth is, the tonal foundation is an advantage in the long run. I believe that languages are better learned through the ears than through the eyes (a proof of which is that deaf people cannot make themselves understood), and hence devoting a long time in learning the tones and the music of Chinese produces the long-term result.

My last complain on Japanese is that there are so many readings for a certain character compared to Chinese which has at most 2 readings for some of its characters. Take for example:

行 - Could be read as kou, kyou, gyou, an, i..ku, yu..ku, okona..u/i in Japanese

行 - Only Xing2 and Hang2 in Chinese

Anyway, I still hope that one day I can speak both languages fluently and even be able to translate from Japanese to Chinese and vice versa.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beijing vs. Shanghai

I may not be the most qualified person to write about this topic but I'll give it a shot. I have been living in Shanghai for almost a year whereas I've only stayed a mere 48 hours in Beijing. Whenever I go to a new city, I always evaluate how "livable" the place is.

Instead of focusing on the tourist spots, I focus my attention on the transport system, convenience, infrastructures, cleanliness, "foreigner-friendliness", and overall safety. (In fact, with these factors considered I have Zurich, Tokyo, and Toronto topping the list out of the cities I've been to.)
Here's how Shanghai and Beijing fare out against each other:

  • Transport System - Because of last year's Olympics, Beijing has renovated their subway system by adding new lines from the downtown to tourists spots of the city. You pay a standard fare of 2RMB compared to Shanghai's fare which ranges from 3-5RMB, however this price difference probably is the reason why all of the transfer points are 2 km away and platforms are at the center of the world. (RESULT: Shanghai)
  • Convenience - By convenience, I mean availability of stores and restaurants in a given neighborhood. We are lucky to stay in a hotel near Tiananmen Square and hence we were fortunate to find a restaurant at 9:30pm. In Pudong, Shanghai it would be quite difficult to find an open place at that time. (RESULT: Not enough info)
  • Infrastructures - Ok, a bit of tourist guide here. The Bird's Nest is quite bedazzling but Shanghai also prides itself of SWFC and the Pudong Tower, and let's not forget the EXPO is still coming next year. (RESULT: Shanghai)

  • Cleanliness - This is one of the aspects that Beijing gets hands-down. (RESULT: Beijing)
  • Foreigner-Friendliness - The only foreigners in Beijing are either tourists or language students. Hence, 2 words (RESULT: Shanghai)
  • Safety - In downtown Beijing, there are uniformed guards roaming all over the place. (Unfortunately, when I approached one of them for directions, he said that he's also new in town) Anyway, after my electronic dictionary was stolen from me while commuting in Shanghai, I guess I have no choice but to hand it to Beijing. (RESULT: Beijing)
Final Score:
Beijing - 2 Shanghai - 3

So, I guess it's SHANGHAI after all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Travel to Beijing via Z-trains

Two weeks ago, Mos and I together with my friends went to sightsee Beijing. Because we have read good reviews on the net, we tried the non-stop soft-sleeper Z-train.

It was a well-spent 498 RMB . The rooms are quite comfortable and warm and we get 2 pillows each. On our way to Beijing since we are the only occupants of the room, then we get ultimate privacy.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Learning Chinese

If you are married to an expat in Shanghai then one of the things that make your stay productive is to study Mandarin. There are plenty of language schools in the city but in my opinion, going to the university is still a better option.

First of all, you have a good environment for learning. There is rigid and structured approach and there is the pressure in learning the language. You have midterms and final exams and also attendance is monitored and homeworks are encouraged.

Another good thing is that university is rather cheap with an average of 9000 RMB per semester, which means 3 lecture hours a day, 5 days a week, for 4 months.

I have been to two universities already -- Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, and Shanghai Traditional Chinese Medicine University. I decided to transfer universities since we live in Pudong area and it used to take me 2 hours to commute to Shanghai University of Finance. Another thing I don't like about that university is that some of the teachers are part-timers and hence they are not really experts. I think the university is trying to rake in cash by hiring cheap labour.

I remember that our "Listening" course is handled by an undergraduate and no one really takes her class seriously. We also have a "Writing" class which I think is irrelevant as the teacher would only ask us to write formal letters or documents by copying the book format without teaching anything. For our "Speaking" course, the teacher speaks with a western provincial accent and I really cannot quite catch it.

In Shanghai Traditional Chinese Medicine University, all of my current teachers have teaching degrees and speak more standard Mandarin. However, because the rule is 1 class per day, (2 days reading, 2 days speaking, 1 day listening) the teachers would already feel tired on the last minutes and would dismiss us early. I think it is a waste of time.

In order to compensate for this deficiencies of university lectures, I hired myself a private tutor which costs 40RMB per hour and I also subscribed to This is helluva of a site and I really learn pretty neat expressions are not taught in the university. In the end, I think it's the podcast which helps me communicate more on a daily basis and on different functions, but it's the university structure that reinforced and provides the solid foundation.

In my opinion, one cannot exists without the other.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Finding an AYI in Shanghai

If you are living in Shanghai then one of the things which you should definitely consider is to find an AYI.

An AYI is a woman who comes to your house and do household chores for you. That is, clean up, laundry, wash dishes, or even cook for you. It is possible to ask her to take care of your kids but prior arrangements is necessary.

The best thing about AYI's is that they come really cheap. Our Ayi charges 15 RMB (around $2) per hour and she does her job perfectly well. I heard that there are some who can get better bargains at 10 RMB per hour.

If you live in an upper-class subdivision like us then it is quite easy to find an ayi. Here are some tips:

  • First, go to the security guard and ask him if he knows any Ayi who service other tenants on that subdivision. Chances are he is familiar with everyone who enters the premises regularly. It is best to ask people in the morning and late afternoon. Those on night shifts are probably not familiar with ayi who works during daytime.
  • Tell the security guard your address and leave him your phone number so he will contact you if he found anyone available. The Ayi might also contact you personally.
  • Ask the Ayi to come to your room so she can check out the place and for her to assess what she will need. Keep in mind that you need to buy all cleaning utensils and detergents, so if you don't have these things ask the Ayi to buy anything she might need and then give her some cash for them. Afterwards, you may ask for the receipt although they would probably ask less than 30 RMB ($4) for everything.
  • Set an appointment and make sure she understand when she is coming. With this, you must be able to memorize the days of the week and keywords like "today, tomorrow, day after tomorrow, next week" in Mandarin. Here is a list:
  • Monday to Sunday: 星期一 (Xingqi yi),Then add (Xingqi) on all: 二 (er),三 (san),四 (si),五 (wu),六 (liu),天 (tian)
  • Today: 今天 (Jintian),Tomorrow: 明天 (Mingtian),Day after tomorrow: 后天 (Houtian), Next week 下个星期 (Xiage Xingqi)
  • Make sure that you also know how to say what time. Examples: 7:30 七点半 (Qi dian ban), or how long you want her to clean : 2 hours 两个小时 (Liang ge xiaoxi).
Keep this in mind on you will have an easy time dealing with your ayi and take advantage of this great luxury that is hard to find anywhere else.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Must-try Chinese Food in Shanghai

Home-made Crab.
Incredibly cheap at 50 RMB ($7) for 3 pieces including spices and pumpkin.

Wanton Noodles with Real Soft Beef Tenderloins.
Restaurant located in Zhangjiang High Tech Station, 2nd floor of the complex.

Shanghai Black Chicken.
Yes!! It's black! And it's healthy -- that is Korean Ginseng floating out there.
Restaurant near DaMuZhi GuangChang on Century Park Station.

Carrefour - Grocery in Shanghai

One of the best things about living in Shanghai is that dining out is relatively cheap. For less than $50, you can have a sumptous meal with your family of 4 in a decent restaurant. There are plenty of choices and you might want to try authentic Chinese food.

But after some time of doing this, you probably would want to cook your own dishes. Here is the bad news -- go to your nearby local Chinese supermarket and be amazed that there are no edible fresh. meat available. Well, unless you dig chicken's head and feet, or would be contented with frozen dumplings, then you know that this is definitely what you are looking for.

If you are lucky then someone may have told you where to find Carrefour. But if not, then you have to learn two things.

First, you have to know how to say it in Chinese, and make sure that you say it correctly. The characters are 家乐福 which is (Jia Le Fu) in Pinyin. I advise that you use stress the first tones on the "le" and "fu".

Next thing is to find the nearest one in your neighborhood. I know two branches in Pudong, one in 高科中路
(GaokeZhong Lu), which is 25 minutes by cab from Zhangjiang High Tech Station and the other one in 大拇指广场
(Da Muzhi Guangchang), which is a 10 minutes walk from Century Park Station.

I also know one branch in Northern Puxi which is 5 minutes by cab from 赤峰路 (Chifeng Lu Station Line 3).

Another option for shopping is Hisamitsu in the mall near Jing'an Temple. The quality of food here is very good but expect to pay 3 times the amount as in Japan.


For our 3rd monthsary, M and I went back to a Sichuanese restaurant called Spicy Storm near BaBaiYang along Century Avenue (take Metro Line 2). It was called recommended by my language exchange partner V but last time we were there, we didn't order the hotpot fish, which is the staple of that place. This time, we made sure we get what everyone else is having.
First of all, the fish boiled in oil is so darn good, a bit hot but rather good! We asked the waiter to remove most of the red pepper floating on the soup so we can eat it better. The soup also has some bamboo shoots which perfectly complements the soft fish.

We also ordered mushroom wrapped in bacon
and cold chicken on chestnuts but we were just so full that we cannot finish them. For drinks, we got a picther of melon shake. They offer a big plate of fresh watermelon as a service complement after burning your tastebuds with the pepper.

The total price: 180 RMB approximately $25 or ¥2500 which is quite affordable considering that it is good for 3-4 people.

Overall rating: 8/10.

The Dolphin

Because I always bother M to give me a massage (yeah, he now thinks I'm worst than his grandpa), he was left with no choice but agree when I pointed this gadget out in Carrefour.

This is an incredible buy at 200 CNY ~ $30. Infrared heating on the dolphin's head for maximum soothing comfort.

The massager als comes with 4 different nozzles that is best suited in targeting different parts of the body. There is a spine/back massager (square head), leg massager (the two antennae), a shoulder puncturer (the nipple), and the feet tickler (the porcupine).

I found out that the antenna is also suited for massaging the ass part and I think it can help remove cellulites. The nipple is also suited for forearms to relieve the pressure after holding the massager for a long time.

Anyway, this is indeed a great buy and we don't regret spending the money.

A Not-So Desperate HOUSEWIFE

My hubby is my hobby!

Lo and behold -- the wandering couch surfer is now a housewife. Who would have thought that after climbing the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, biting on the big apple of New York, hostel hopping in Orange County, surfing the waves of Hawaii, and drowning on pints of Guinness in Dublin, that I will suddenly be doing laundry, vacuuming the carpet, and ordering water in a remote city in China.

To be honest, being a housewife is not as bad I thought it would be. Of course the two Masters degree in Mathematics and one year of abruptly ended PhD seemed like a total waste, but then my interest in the discipling has continuously waned through the years. It is just that I wasn't into it anymore, and I know that I am also not being fair if I pursue a doctorate all for the wrong reasons. Getting a post-grad degree should be fueled by passion not by the lack of other worthwhile endeavors.

Besides, when I was a student of UP, I lived with the phrase"Huwag ninyong hayaang hadlangan ng pag-aaral ang inyong education!" (Don't let studies hinder real learning.) So, just because I quit my PhD, it doesn't mean that I have stopped the function of my brain cells. For instance, I have 24 hour access to the internet. Everyday, I make it a point to read something interesting, be it world news, sports, human interest story, science and medical breakthroughs, or join post on forums of various discourse.

Every afternoon, I study Chinese (Mandarin) through the helpful podcast ChinesePod and learn not just the fundamentals of the language but also the cultural insights of living in Shanghai. When I wanted to relax, I watch a marathon of JDORAMA (Japanese drama) with the cheap yet high quality DVD from the streets. The best thing about buying them from China is that most of them have no English subtitles and so I am forced to improve and refresh my Japanese ability.

Other than that, I am also quite busy applying for jobs online, because M and I have plans of migrating somewhere else in the future. Of course, no one can get a PR to live in China for a long time, so we have to think of a place where we can settle down and raise a family.

Anyway, I guess my transition from being a world traveler to a housewife is made easy by my loving husband who supports me and comforts me whenever I feel depressed. He never gets angry with me no matter how much I whine or complain that my situation is hopeless. Instead, he encourage me to do whatever I want to do, like studying Chinese in the university for instance, or meeting people online for study.

So, in the end even if sometimes I feel otherwise, I still think that I made the right decision to give up my career and be with M. I love him, after all, and that is what really matters.

What's this contraption?

Last November, we successfully managed to move to a new apartment. Because of the Olympics and the upcoming EXPO 2010, rents in Shanghai have doubled and hence, we have no choice but to give our 2-floor 3LDK to a smaller 2-floor 2LDK which is just big enough for a 2 people.

Anyway, thanks to my so-so Chinese language skills we ended up with a half-furnished apartment. I managed only to request the following items --queen-sized bed for each room, aircon with heater function, TV and DVD, washing machine, and oven. Well, the 3000 RMB per month rent seems reasonable considering that this is located in an upperclass neighborhood.

When we finally got our keys, we were suprised that we don't have any wooden flooring on the first floor, no curtains, no tables, no sofa, and worse -- NO REFRIGERATOR -- something which has completely slipped my mind.

When we were moving in, we saw this contraption lying on the floor. We wonder what it could be.
M bet that it's a vacuum cleaner. I thought it's a heater for the first floor. Somehow we both agreed that it is just an egg decoration.

Anyway, we agreed to spring up another 200RMB per month for the flooring, window curtains, shower curtains, internet connection, and a portable heater for the first floor. But they won't agree to give us a real refrigerator. Because they have already given us one.. Lo and behold!!

It's a mini-fridge. It may be small but don't underestimate it. Today it is half-empy, and see how it can fit in a bottle of milk, a carton of juice, meat, cheese, and other goodies. As for our water, we have somehow adapted to the Chinese culture -- no cold water -- for LIFE! (Well according to research drinking cold water after meals can increase the risk of heart diseases.)