Sunday, October 22, 2017

Shanghai Diary: One Month In

I got to Shanghai one month ago today.

If this hasn't come through before let me just state it outright: if I could stay here in Shanghai longer than my three month tour, I would in a heartbeat. I'm kind of hoping that I can go home for Christmas and then come back in early 2018. I am absolutely loving this city and being here.

There have been some struggles to get by but they've been minor and each time I get jump over one of those hurdles, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Now that I've got my mobile, bank card, and scooter, I feel like there's nothing I can't do. Of course, some of the language stuff -- especially reading characters -- still flummox me but, again, those are things to be overcome. Every day I learn a little more Mandarin and eventually I plan on trying to learn how to read some of it. I can barely write (my handwriting is atrocious) so I doubt I'll go into that area but if I could figure out a few characters, I might get by a bit better.

I'm already dreading the idea of selling my scooter and not having that daily challenge of trying to get around just on my incredible good looks.

Of course, (I miss the earth so much) I miss my wife (it's lonely out in space), I miss Avery, and I miss the animals. But, I'm just so excited to be here.

When it comes to the podcast, I feel like I've not been able to dedicate enough time to some of the shows that I've got scheduled and I'm thinking I may have to put the show on hold and move out some of the scheduled episodes a bit. This 12/13 hour time difference with the East Coast (15/16 with the West) is kicking my butt a bit. Where I've got interviews recorded, it's not been an issue but setting up times to interview and record have been a real challenge.

I think, too, that I need to be more protective of my time. Last Monday I got to work at 8AM and left at 6PM for trivia and then was back on the phone for meetings by 9:30 PM and would have gone to midnight had I had a call-in number for the 11PM meeting. Things are only going to get worse when the US "falls back" due to Daylight Saving and China stays the time. That'll increase the time difference to 13 hours with back home.

The more I'm here, the more of the jokes in this makes sense to me. And that's kind of scary.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Mustn't Keep Princess Waiting

When everyone around you is speaking a different language, you can get paranoid. Or, at least, I can. But then I have to remind myself of how egotistical that is. If someone was talking about me, it would have to mean that I'm worthwhile enough -- or embarrassing enough -- to discuss and I know I'm not.

When I was in my teens and early twenties -- before I got onto anti-depressants -- I used to get really paranoid. I remember driving myself crazy, thinking that my college roommates were talking about me behind my back. Again, that would require that I am worth talking about and I'm not.

Shanghai isn't the backwoods where seeing a white person might be akin to seeing a yeti. Moreover, no matter where you go, American cultural exports like music and movies continue to put us front of mind.

The more I'm over here, the more angry I get about "whitewashing" of characters in movies. It's like I've said on the podcast several times: imagine being in a world where no one on TV or in movies looks like you do. Or, if they do, they're a horrible stereotype. Now, I don't think that seeing a white face will ever be a rarity, but maybe it should be once in a while just to help drive that point home.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Step Into the Future

Spoiler Alert: We won Monday's trivia (by all of one point).

A team -- Pudongs Make A Right -- adopted me for the game and we did a pretty decent job. I would have gotten fairly thrashed without them as there were a lot of things like years for movies(!), the theme song for "The Walking Dead", and more that I didn't know. I was able to help out with a few categories. I thought we complemented one another pretty well. Unfortunately, I've got a meeting next Monday at 8PM that I can't miss so I'll have to sit out the horror-themed night.

Tuesday (10/17) started off rough. My scooter battery died on the way to work (thank goodness I was just a few yards from my office building). I need to do a better job about charging it weekly.

Also, and far worse, when I went in to pay for my usual cup of morning coffee, I found that my ATM card was missing. Where I keep my card, it has fallen out a few times from my wallet but I always noticed it. I was in a blind panic, though tried to keep my head.

I got up to my desk and called the "Lost or Stolen ATM Card" number found on my Credit Union's website only to have them tell me, "Oh, we don't deal with that. Just with credit cards."

I tried to put it out of my head. I had a few meetings that morning and went out to lunch with my co-worker, Emily. She had volunteered last week to send me some cash via WeChat if I gave it to her, so I knew that she had some (of my) money so I wasn't worried about being broke. However, she sent me just a few Yuan (RMB) via WeChat to pay for a coffee and I figured out that there was no way to accept it. I just had to have a Chinese bank account!

After lunching, I couldn't take the suspense anymore and went back to my apartment to toss the joint and see if I could find my ATM card. No dice. In a desperate measure, I went down to the front desk to see if they had a lost & found. As soon as I started speaking, the desk clerk reached down and placed my card on the counter. I couldn't express how grateful I was. "Xiexie" only took me so far. At least with Spanish I know to add a "muchas" in front of that "gracias" to emphasis it.

Crisis averted.

Going 40 kph on my scooter can get a little chilly. I've got a heavy winter coat but nothing light enough to wear on the bike without roasting. That said, I asked Serena if she could look on TaoBao or T-Mall (two popular shopping sites) and buy me a light jacket.

There's something I like about how frank she is. "When we met, your pants look like you lost weight but they didn't." Yeah. The jeans I brought with me from home were really big. I had started purging out larger sizes but mistakenly brought some bigger ones. Big in the waist. Too long in the leg. And baggy as heck. That was Serena's way of telling me that I should also buy some new pants. After a lot of back and forth about inches to centimeters and pounds to kilos, she ordered me a new jacket and jeans.

We met yesterday on the other side of the Huangpu where she gave me my new clothes and where we looked for a bank that would open up an account for me. She's a bit of a tigress. We tried four different banks and she was undeterred. Finally, at the fifth bank, my lack of a year-long visa was not a problem. We sat down, applied for, and got me a bank account and card from ICBC. We went out and grabbed some lunch in Xintiandi (my first taste of real Shanghai dumplings, a dish they're famous for) and connected my card to my WeChat.

I can't emphasis what a big deal this is over here. There are really three main forms of paying for things: WeChat Pay, AliPay, and cash. Even then, cash isn't the preferred method. Tuesday I took a taxi from work to my apartment (carrying my dead battery) and the driver didn't have enough change for my 100 RMB note (that's only approximately $16 US). Monday I took a taxi from the White Horse to my apartment (it was pissing down rain so no scooter that night) and the driver gave me a hard time for giving him a 20 RMB note with a slight tear in the corner. There's nothing quite like being yelled at in a foreign language. After a while it goes from upsetting to ridiculous.

Now, between the China Mobile phone and the WeChat pay (and I can enable AliPay if I want), I feel like a real boy. There's something liberating about it. Now I can order a taxi (or Uber/Lyft equivalent) via DD and pay for it via the app. Now I can get my QR code scanned at any restaurant or shop and pay immediately. I can almost leave my wallet at home and just use my phone for everything. This is what we've been promised for years in the US but Shanghai is already there. The phone is the passport to just about anything and everything.

Shanghai reminds me of Seattle. Even when rain isn't in the forecast, it's not a surprise when it arrives.

There's something I call "umbrella culture" here. Since rain is so much a part of life here, there are conveniences that have been crafted for it. When you go into restaurants they often have "umbrella caddies" where you can hang or place your umbrella while you're inside. Or, a place might have a dispenser wherein you can place your umbrella and have it wrapped in a plastic bag. Oddly, these plastic bags are easy to come by but finding a plastic bag for fruit or vegetables at Carrefour is damn near impossible...

With all the rain, one would think that other things in the city might get an adjustment, especially walking surfaces. When Laura and Jason were still here, I almost took a header in the Marriott parking lot because the damned walkway was slick marble that only got slicker during the rain.

Yesterday, as Serena and I were going from bank to bank, we were going down a tall flight of metal stairs and I could tell that they were going to get slippery with our wet shoes. No problems there. But once we got out of the stairwell my foot hit the top step of a little four-step walk-down and BLAMMO; I was on my ass before I could even make a sound. She absolutely panicked, thinking she was going to have to call an ambulance for this giant American. Fortunately, I was more shocked than hurt, though I think my ass might have some bruising and the palm of my left hand definitely does. Why there are still such slick surfaces for walkways in a rainy city will remain a mystery.

At Xintiandi I saw a movie theater with a "coming soon" poster for Blade Runner 2049. I'm very excited to see that and am hoping to take Andrea with me when she gets into town on November 2. I've been working on an itinerary of "touristy" stuff to do while she's here. Yesterday was kind of a scouting trip for tourist stuff to do.

After lunch, we went to Tian Zi Fang, a densely packed little neighborhood that's been turned into almost a bizarre of shops. This seems like the place that I'll want to take Andrea for souvenir shopping and to partake in some great food. I saw something that looked like a corndog but it said it was octopus. I was too full to try it. I did have a durian-flavored ice cream and I have to admit that I found the taste intriguing. I look forward to having some real durian soon.

I got myself talked into some headphones (the girl yelling out numbers after me until she came down a couple hundred RMB to 100 RMB) but that was it. There were some kitschy items with Chairman Mao on them that I may pick up next time I'm back.

And, since I'm a tourist, Serena took me to The Bund. It started raining again so the top of the Shanghai tower was in the clouds and people were quickly walking away. It was all pretty gorgeous. And, speaking of Blade Runner 2049, it reminded me a lot of the future.

We got some dinner at a place called "Lost Heaven" (I kept wanting to call it "Lost Highway" -- partially due to the Lynch film, partially because it's got a Silk Road theme) which was another killer meal.

I got to call a taxi with my DD (app) and pay for it with WeChat pay. I felt like I had just taken my first step into a much larger world...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Trivial Pursuits

I suppose it was a little over three years ago that my friend Jeff Dunlap moved back from Chicago to the Detroit area. When we (our college roommate, Jonathan, and I) asked him what he'd like to do when he came in, he answered simply, "Pub trivia."

I haven't been the same since.

The time was ripe. Over the months previous Andrea and I had wandered into a few places (thanks to Groupon) where we happened upon a trivia night while at my day job (I was at DTE Energy at the time), one of my co-workers shared his pub trivia exploits. I even tracked down a few places in Detroit to play a round with two of my favorite DTE co-workers.

I had played a little "Quiz Bowl" in college with Jeff, Jonathan, and a few other housemates. We named our team after Matt Lieberman. We called it "FOJWPP" (pronounced "Fodge-Whip") which, of course, stands for "Friends of Jewish Water Polo Players." We didn't fare too well, having our asses handed to us by a team called "Lamer than Last Year."

I don't remember if Jeff, Jonathan, Andrea and I won our first pub trivia game as a team but once we had a taste, we were game for more.

Or maybe it was just me.

I finally found something that I was halfway decent at.

Jeff was always good for finding the answer to something crazily obscure. Jonathan and Andrea could always provide good scientific answers (they both have biology and anatomy in their backgrounds) while Andrea is also terrific at brands and cooking (not to play into stereotypes). Meanwhile, I just know a lot of stupid shit that has never served any purpose before.

We found a game night that worked with Andrea's bowling schedule for the Fall and Spring and fell into a routine. It was a something of a big deal for me when I cleared out my calendar for every Tuesday night (no podcasting allowed) and committed to my first real team event that I'd ever been in. I take that back. I'd been on a bowling league before. This was the first team event where I could actually make a difference and not be a burden.

I know I went overboard with my newfound love. I became the jerk who would immediately write down the answer if I knew it and would often forget to even show the rest of my team what I'd written before I marched the answer slip up to the host. And, worse, I would second-guess my teammates, especially if they just had more of a gut feeling and didn't say, "I know this." Yet, I was fine going with my gut (which was often wrong).

Is it any wonder why things fell apart after two years of me being a bully?

I wanted to feel wanted and when it came to the second time we were in the regional finals, I felt like my teammates were being a little wishy-washy about who was going to attend. We could only have four people out of our usual seven or eight (Jonathan and Jeff's spouses joined the game as well as a friends of Jeff's and Jonathan's). I "gracefully" demurred to be part of the four that went to regionals in an effort to be fair. Yet, I was secretly hoping that this offer would be refused: "Oh, no, Mike. You need to be there, you're so great!" When that didn't come, I seethed. Then I became apoplectic. It was all part of my horrible passive-aggressive personality.

I wasn't graceful when I texted the group the day before the contest that I should be there and basically gave an ultimatum. Not cool, man. Not cool.

This posting was supposed to be about me looking for pub trivia here in Shanghai but, instead, it's turned into another round of facing my personality defects. Not cool, man. Not cool. Too much damned self-reflection and navel-gazing. That's not entertainment.

Suffice it to say, the Tuesday Night Trivia fell apart after that. Plus, there had been some dissent about the time and night that we would play. I admit, too, that the menu at our venue had become a little stale after two years.

I removed Trivia from my calendar and started scheduling interviews for Tuesday nights.

Before I left for China, one of my old trivia teammates sent me a link to an article about "Pub Quiz" places in Shanghai. It hadn't dawned on me in the slightest that this would be a something to even consider over here but then it seemed completely natural. A bunch of ex-pats getting together in a bar, drinking, and reminiscing via trivia? Yeah, that sounded about right.

I started looking at the places in the article -- most of the venues had closed or stopped doing trivia nights. I also wanted something local to my apartment so I wasn't taking the Metro an hour and a half across the Huangpu.

After posting on a Shanghai Ex-pat group on Facebook, I finally found a location just a few kilometers away from my place that does Monday night Pub Quiz, The White Horse. And, if you're gonna ride, ride the white pony.

I went there last week where a group of Canadians was supposed to adopt me. Alas, it was Canadian Thanksgiving so they weren't around. Fortunately, a nice chap named Lance came over (from the "Damned Yankees" team) and we teamed up. Between Lance's knowledge and some blind luck, we managed to win handily. I earned a free drink voucher and got to pick the following week's theme (Sci-Fi).

One of the strangest things about going to Pub Quiz last week was being in a place where almost everyone spoke English as their primary language.

This trip is definitely making me more empathetic to people who can't speak the language of a place (like me). There's this attitude in the U.S. of "If they come to the country, they better take the time to learn the damn language. English, motherfucker, do you speak it?!?"

Yes, I'll work to learn Mandarin but I can get around most of the time without it. Likewise, I'm sure a lot of U.S. immigrants would think or say the same thing. And, don't I know that English is an incredibly difficult language to use. Even just trying to find translations for English words and phrases in Mandarin lead me down rabbit holes of, "Oh, wait, that can be a homonym for this other word..." Just today I was thinking of how I'd ask for a receipt for something. Receipt is both a noun for the piece of paper and a the fact that something is being received. It's also a verb for marking a bill as paid. So, should I ask for a bill instead? But a bill usually implies that something hasn't been paid. And, again, one can bill someone or receive a bill.

This morning, too, I was trying to remember the word to tell the barista at Starbucks that my coffee was "to go." Or, in British vernacular, "take away". Just think about how many variations of those phrases you can think of. Are you talking about verbs or adjectives here?

BTW, you'd most likely want shōu jù (receipt) and dǎbāo (to go).

I'm off to The White Horse for that Sci-Fi trivia. #LLAP

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Crunchy Frog

The days are getting a little colder. Not too bad for a fat-ass like me. My layer of blubber keeps me warm even at the coldest depths of the ocean. However, riding around on my scooter, the wind cuts through me like an icy knife.

I asked Serena on Friday if she could order me a jacket and a new pair of jeans. After a lot of math (inches to centimeters, pounds to kilograms), she placed the order at T-Mall and it should be arriving today or tomorrow.

Before I came to Shanghai, I tried to do a lot of research. I've found that some of the things I "learned" are bullshit while others are holding fairly true. The people at the "Passport Health" place where I got vaccinated made me feel like there was disease lurking around every corner here. "Don't shower with your mouth open! Don't shave in the shower! Always wipe off your chopsticks before you use them because they don't clean them well!" You could say the same thing about any big city -- save for the chopsticks -- if you eat at a crappy restaurant you should expect crappy conditions. Even the tiniest hole-in-the-wall that I've been to here has been as clean as I'd expect from a big city greasy spoon (or greasy chopstick in this case). It's all good.

I was warned "Chinese people are very rude." I disagree with this broad generalization. There are things that Chinese people will say or ask that Americans tend to avoid. That brings me back to Serena ordering me pants. She told me that the jeans I wear are not very flattering at all and that they make me look fat. She has asked me a few times why I'm so fat and if I'm doing anything to lose weight. That's not something that you hear from relative strangers in the U.S. but I know she doesn't mean anything malicious. And, hey, I'm working on it so I don't feel that bad either. Moreover, I agree that the jeans I brought with me are awful. They're at least two inches too big in the waist and as much in length. I look like I'm swimming in them. The same goes for some of the shirts I brought. So, here's hoping these new jeans will be able to fit me.

About a year ago I ordered a leather jacket via eBay. It was a 3XL which should have fit me fine. When it arrived, I could barely fit my arm in one of the sleeves. Now I realize that this was a Chinese 3XL. In China I take at least a 7XL which is as big as the vendor for this new jacket carries. Again, I hope that this fits.

The other thing that Serena has asked me about a few times is why I don't have any children of my own. I tried explaining about how selfish I am and that I spend time and money on myself and am too involved in my own navel-gazing that I didn't feel mature enough to take care of a new life. I barely can give Andrea enough time, much less another human who would be wholly dependent on me.

When I look at the friends I grew up with (all those people I mentioned in my UK Journal posts), I don't see many kids. I don't know what it was about us but no one that I still talk to or occasionally hang out with is a parent: Jeff, Leon, Steve, Aimee. Most of my college housemates have two kids: Jonathan, Buck, Matt, and Matt. Yet, the Riverview group is childless.

Back in Southfield, the majority of my direct co-workers don't have any kids, though most of them are in their twenties. Yet, here in the Shanghai office, it seems like not having kids is the exception rather than the rule. It feels like most of my co-workers here are ten to twenty years younger, though it's hard for me to judge ages for white people so I'm rubbish at Asians.

On Saturday, the office had a big "family day." In fact, it felt like the whole area (the whole city?) had a family weekend. Some of the restaurants around me put up playground equipment and there were kids everywhere. I felt a little bad that I wasn't invited to the family day stuff at work but, after seeing pictures, I wouldn't have been comfortable since it was truly all about catering to the kids.

This experience is making me realize just how much more I need to reach out to guests that visit the Southfield office. Traveling can be a lonely affair. While I love the idea of going back to my apartment at the end of the day to watch movies, read, edit podcasts, and write, I also would like the occasional outing and seeing "the real Shanghai." Again, I don't know if it's a cultural thing or because everyone has their own lives and families, but there are times where I wish I had co-workers saying, "Hey, let's go out to so and so on Saturday..." Or, "Drinks after work tonight, are you coming?" Then, again, I think I'm okay without that. I imagine I missed that window and it was open when Jason and Laura were here.

I've talked to some people here and they're amazed that I don't have a "handler" from my office. An assigned friend, as it were. I told them that this would be perceived as weak in American business culture. Likewise, people are amazed that my co-workers aren't checking in more often with me, especially the mucky-mucks. Again, fine by me. I know enough of how to do the work assigned to me and try to help out with other things so I don't need constant contact. Just unconditional love.

Photo Dump

"Take me to Raccoon City..."

View on my ride home from work

Morning line for pork buns(?):

Enjoying some shade and reading:

Two of my co-workers at the local noodle shop where I had some "Crunchy Frog":

Friday, October 13, 2017

Shanghai Diary: A Little Too Ironic

The other morning one of my Shanghai co-workers came up to me and told me that she was listening to the news out of the United States.

"Oh, good," I thought, "Something stupid Trump has done again..."

No, instead. she was telling me about how expensive Szechuan sauce is in the US and that she heard that an ounce of it can go for $14K US. Then she assured me that Szechuan sauce is not nearly as expensive here in Shanghai and that I can get it for quite cheap.

It took a beat for this to register (sometimes it takes a second to work through the accent) and then I exclaimed, "Oh! Rick and Morty!."

She looked at me askance. Nodded. Laughed a little bit. And walked away.

Suffice it to say, I've found that some bits of irony, sarcasm, and pop culture references don't translate too well across cultures.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shanghai Diary: 555

I had my first panic attack of the Shanghai trip on Monday and it was over such a stupid thing.

Here I was, feeling so empowered and self-confident about my ability to get around in Shanghai when I ran across the simple problem of buying lunch.

My office building has about a dozen or so little restaurants around it, most of them around the bases of the several tall buildings around here. Some of them seem to be apartments, others office buildings. At the base of my building is a 7-11, a Starbucks, a little market, and a few other places I've yet to visit.

I strutted into one of these restaurants, ready to sit down and enjoy some fine local cuisine.

"E Ren!" I proclaimed (one person) as I entered. The guy started speaking very quickly to me and I wasn't quite sure what he meant. It was only through hindsight that I learned that I'd walked into the equivalent of a "fast food" restaurant where people didn't get sat, they ordered and then sat down. Alas, the menu to which he pointed was purely in Chinese, nary a picture to be seen for me to point at.

"Uh," I stammered (I don't understand). Finally, I turned tail and fled. I started going around the entire building, looking at every restaurant. All of them seemed to be the same set-up. I had met my match. Why didn't I take a picture of the menu and use Google Translate to help me out? Good question. That's another thing I thought of later.

I went in to the little market and started picking up things to eat only to realize when I went to check out that the store is somewhat self-service and I didn't find anyone taking cash, just WeChat Pay or AliPay -- two things I have yet to master as I don't have a Chinese bank account or credit card. Again, another suggestion for my company is to have a few accounts like this set up where everything can be paid out of that, esp. for travelers coming here for shorter stints.

So, long story short, "555" or "wu wu wu" or "the sound one makes when crying".

The rest of this week I've been going out to lunch with coworkers -- one from the Southfield office, the others from the Shanghai office -- and though I feel a bit like a tag-along, I know my limits at the moment and will try again when I gain some more confidence and language skills.

What I think of every morning I get on my scooter:


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

UK Journal: The Journey Back


The circle is nearly complete.

Here in Heathrow I sit.

It looks like the Please Mind Your Head posse shall be together on our trek back to the good old USA.

Yesterday we went to Wimbledon where I again bought batteries and then Michelle and I went to Big Star records where I almost bought the Cameo picture disc or the Fireworks 12" or the Hong Kong Garden 45 or the B-52s First album or the Wildflower 12" by The Cult but I got Burning from the Inside by Bauhaus which I'll listen to on the plane.

Natasha can kiss my ass! She's been saying shit about me. [Probably all deserved].

Hey baby! I'm just gonna follow the Way Out signs to America.

Then we went to Piccadilly and hung out until High Tea. It was nice to get the posse in effect at the formal event [that explains the clothes in the last post].


I want to leave but I'm really going to miss Michelle and Jimmy and Kevin. I'll miss the rest of bit but those guys are really cool.

DAMNATION. I really hate Panda Cola. But I hate leaving these dues even more. And that's a lot, let me tell ya.

I miss my home.
I miss my friends.
I miss my Mom & Dad.
I miss my family.
I miss Beat Box.
I miss Black Shampoo.
I miss The Mack.
I want my MTV.
I miss my stereo.
I miss iced tea.
I miss the pool.
I miss my room.
I miss America.
Steve, Leon, Jeff, Aimee, Andy. I miss 'em all.
I miss Tony & McGraw. Hell, even having Mollie and Dave.

[On the plane]

It's 7 o'clock AM. Back home - I woke up at 10PM Eastern Time. I'll arrive hopefully at 8PM. What a nice day I'm gonna have (am having). I have a sore throat. Not cool.

I'm just waiting for today's feature presentation... Rain Man.

Doug Dalryple's address

On the way home:

England: 11:15
Home: 6:15

Home sweet Home sweet Home sweet Home, Home, Home.

I called Leon while I was at JFK. It was so good to hear from him. Then I charged it to Dean Stahl's phone [is it any wonder why I was so hated?]

Later I called Steve but he wasn't home. And, it looks like neither would be able to come over Friday night. Leon has a job: Pizza Boy.

I miss my pals so much! I want to see them all!

Aimee and Steve are supposed to go to Aimee's cabin. DAMNATION.

Looks like they're gonna miss the hearing of the virgin Car Wash soundtrack.

Back in the USA meanwhile...

Here is is, BAM, and you say God Damn! [Public Enemy reference]

I miss my parent. I miss 'em all. Here I come! MORE GOLD! [Orgy of the Dead reference]

Whew. I am so tired.

England - did you enjoy it?

Uhhh... Kinda.


Yeah, somewhat.


It was nice to get away.

It was good to go somewhere a million miles away.

It was nice to leave Riverview, the one thing I did not miss.

[Postscript -- Two additional notebook pages were shoved inside]

Well, a month ago today I was in England, probably on my way to High Tea.

In that month I've found that I really enjoyed and needed these little books in order to remember stupid little things. I've also discovered how much I enjoyed the company of the Please Mind Your Head posse and needed them while I was in England.

So far I've gotten letters from Kevin and Michelle. I believe everyone here thinks I was going out with Michelle while there. Don't I wish. I guess it only adds to the Legend of Mike. I have come to accept that people will always think of me by that name.

[I had a real problem being called Mike for a long damn time.]


A month ago today was my first day back in the country.

I didn't tell you - Friday night, Steve and I went to the Record Exchange where I got "The Cramps Gravest Hits" and Isaac Hayes's "Juicy Fruit Disco Freak." Then, that night, Steve and Aimee went to the Shelter.

Now I find that trough story alone, Michelle seems infatuated by Steve Chesney. Damn my life.

I sincerely hope to see her soon. I'm homing I could on Spring Break but I need someone to go with me.

[Here endeth the journal. More thoughts to come.]

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Nàgè Por Favor

There must be some kind of weird "language wiring" that happens to one's brain. I'm not dreaming in Mandarin (yet, here's hoping). However, when I grasp for words (which happens a lot), if I don't know the word in Mandarin I dip back not to English but to Spanish. This makes for some undoubtedly comic moments like when I was trying to remember the word for "and" (Hé) and kept falling back to the Spanish "y" which sounds like the Mandarin word for the number one.

Reminds me of that exchange from Casablanca:

Carl: To America!
Mr. Leuchtag: Liebchen - sweetness, what watch?
Mrs. Leuchtag: Ten watch.
Mr. Leuchtag: Such watch?
Carl: Hm. You will get along beautiful in America, mm-hmm.

I'm in the office today. I can't say it's the first time because I was here two weeks ago and even spent a little time at my desk but this is my first day really being in the office proper. The drive on my scooter was a tiny bit adventurous insofar as trying not to hit other people who were going slower or being hit by people going faster. And then there was dodging cars and pedestrians. But, I made it without any (known) close calls.

The area where I'm at has a lot of little shops and there were people lining up at a number of them. I almost want to queue up to see what's being sold to merit such a crowd. Or maybe I'll take a picture and send it to my new Shanghai friend, Serena, and ask her to translate. Did that poor lady ever realize what kind of Pandora's box she was opening when she offered to help me? I can't imagine she did.

There's also some stores on the first floor of my work's building. We're up on the 16th and 17th floors (I'm on the 17th).

I rolled in around 8:30 or so and found that I was one of the first people on the floor but a lot of people all rolled in after me. Now I feel like the elephant in the room. A few people have acknowledged me and one guy even gave me a piece of grapefruit for breakfast. A small but very nice gesture.

Every desk in the office has a plant and there are air purifiers everywhere I turn. The air and water purification market has to be huge here. I've started drinking the water straight from the tap, without using my "Life Straw" but Serena warns me that I should boil it first.

I've been struggling with the internet in the office a lot today. The speed is pretty slow, probably because of having to run everything through a VPN.

Hoping that maybe someone will take pity on me and ask if I want to chī wǔfàn (to eat lunch) with them.

I'm also wanting to go over to the White Horse Pub tonight and try some local trivia there. Again, might be a little lonely on my own but maybe I can try to make some friends while I'm here. Or, if not, maybe I can kick some butt in trivia (fingers crossed).

Every night starting at 9PM local time the emails start pouring in from the Southfield office and I'm supposed to start getting on conference calls. That limits my ability to go out and be social. However, I'm hoping the Southfield group will recognize the need for me to go out once in a while.

UK Journal: The Passenger


I am a passenger
And I ride and I ride
I ride through the city's backside
I see the stars come out of the sky
Yeah, they're bright in a hollow sky
You know it looks so good tonight

Today we went to Hampton Court, former residence of kings and queens of England until the mid-1700s. And, so far that's all I've done today. Tomorrow is Camden Market.

The ladder is long [PiL reference] but my notebook is not. I better have enough room to write for the next four days.

[Note from Michelle on the next page]


Pissed I am!!!

Damn. I had a dream I was in a castle and the king was sick and someone sent him a card and I had Jimi Hendrix on it and there were [indecipherable] on his face then I saw a card that I sent to the king and instead of my name it said Applesauce and Cocoweats [sic]. Then I asked my grandmother and she told me that my sister was nicknamed Applesauce.

10: 30 Michelle's house

That was brought to you by Michelle who was not completely drunk but very sober when she had that dream.

Tonight I went to the famed Tolworth Tower and sat around with Michelle and Rob and two other skaters. Michelle and Rob however, kept making out, making me feel very uncomfortable. Oh well, lust is lust, but the best lust is your own and not watching it in others.

See baby, there ain't any slaves anymore and no strong-arm punk is gonna take ya and make you stay where you don't wanna be. [Black Shampoo reference]

Then we went back to Michelle's where her mum was having a party so we went down and Michelle called her real mom then we went back and sat in front of her house and she talked for about an hour. That was nice. She's really nice.

My penpal called me but obviously I wasn't there. She's supposed to call tom-row [in parenthesis it says "cafe spelling", I miss the reference] but I hope it's by 10:20 because that's when I'm supposed to leave and pick up Michelle for Camden Market. I forgot what time and where we are supposed to meet for the Museum of the Moving Image which I really want to go to!

4:30 Waterloo Stn.

9:30 Waterloo Mon.
3:30 Waterloo Tues

August 6, 1989...

A number. Another summer. Get down to the sound of the funky drummer. [Public Enemy reference]

Oh my! Spent a bit too much today -- which I shall not say here in the event of parental guidance which would lead to parental tongue lashing. But, let's take an inventory:

2 Bootleg PiL tapes
1 Set of Earrings
1 Blues Brothers T-Shirt
1 Siouxsie 12"
1 Plastics 45
7 Siouxsie collectors item 45s -- very very rare

Michelle got some really cool clothes -- a maroon velvet coat with matching bow tie and two free Jewish Beanies [I didn't know the term "yarmulke" yet but I guess it's good that I recognized what they were at least], a sweater, a black velvet dress, she is so gorgeous.

Jimmy and Heather had quite the fun time as he was nearly unconscious he was so drunk. He was: Disoriented, Disillusioned, and made some illogical decisions, as Kevin put it. I found this out from them when we went to MOMI which was pretty cool as EF payed for it!

Then we went to Taco Bell - yum! - and now here I am at the house with an awful headache.

Postscript: Saw the movie of the MTV commercial - but forgot its name - you know the commercial, 8 years later, French colorized.

[I was talking about Un Chien Andalou which had be cut down to 60 seconds for an MTV spot. That's how I got my culture in those days.]

[Addresses of Kevin Meaders, Jim Gehrke, Michelle "Superstar" Maxwell, Kalina Morin -- not sure who that is and I don't recall seeing her name before this]

[Then a note from Michelle]

Mike - Check this out =

Bands: Descendants, CRAMPS, Velvet Underground, Ventures (Keith's Band)

Read: The Abortion - Richard Brautigan, Diary of Sylvia Plath or any poetry available by her, Huckleberry Finn - then tell me what it's all about

Movies - definitely Blue Velvet, Carnal Knowledge, Dead of Winter

[More notes from Michelle]

Diminished by Darlene [her mom's name]

The Inbreds - If you can't keep it in your pants, keep it in the family [a band from West Virginia

[A note from Michelle]


Well, Mike, ONE MORE NIGHT!! Today, (by the way hello) I cut my host brothers hair and I couldn't find the broom so I stuck it in the crack of the kitchen. Host mother came home and found it. Can you believe that? She looks in the CRACKS OF THE FLOOR!! What a freak.

I can tell you're running out of things to say to here because you're talking about how much it cost to get over here. Are you not proud of the fact that I haven't had to pay for a week and a half in the tube. You'll have to come to WVa and go shopping.

I hope
we find
as good
as bargains
as we did
Your pen is
A piece of shit
goodby -
I'm going to get
Heathered [our term for being shitfaced]

August the seventh,

Called my penfriend (the her Michelle was referring to). She seems pretty cool. I really regret not meeting her. Great balls of fire.

Here I am - waiting for the damned Tolworth Train -- the sucker better not be late because I'm supposed to meet my homeboys in Wimbledon in order to see License to Kill.

Michelle is spending her evening with Rob. Oh well.

Why is it that I am enamored by girls who are already going out with someone else? SHEET!

Started packing. What a great feeling!

Today we went to the National Theater - pretty cool - especially the Olivier theater. Then we went and saw Big Ben then Kevin, Jimmy and I went to Oxford Street where I found an HMV and Virgin store that both carried "Commercial Zone" by PiL but neither had it in stock. DAMNATION.

Fuck. Looks like I'm hurtin'. The Train appears to be canceled.

We went to Taco Bell (for the third day in a row) then we went t o the poster store where I bought a picture of John Lydon, Elvis & Nixon, Jack Nicholson, and an Easy Rider poster.

Then when I got back Mrs. Lee told me Michelle called and called her "abrupt." "Not a very polite girl, is she?" That's my best friend you're talking about, girl.

So I went down and called Linda & Michelle then we went to Michelle's house where she modeled her new clothes. She is so beautiful.

Then we found out that her host mum has to drive us on Wednesday Morning. Mrs. Lee was in quite the tizzy! [Guessing Wednesday is the day we go back to the airport].

Now here I am. I said yo, the bother don't say he's nice. He know's he's nice, you know what I'm sayin' [Public Enemy reference]

Tonight I made it to Wimbledon where I met my man Jimmy who was waiting for Kevin and Funky Cold Kelina but we headed on over to the movie which started 20 minutes before and on the way back we met with K&K combo and wend to the KFC for about two hours and just talked. [Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut. I had quite the extensive palate].

On our way back we got Michelle the British Rail Poster [it was a poster shaming people about not paying for taking the tube]. Jimmy ripped it off and I talked him into giving it to me.

I need my Bauhaus tape.


Here I am in front of Michelle's house. Shall I serenade? Naw, I'll just sit here and eat my delicious lunch. Mmmm Mmm Good.

I would be the fashionable one but it's a bit too hot for my coat but I'll put it on later. Green shirt, black pants, palmated [???] shoes, b/w sport coat and hopefully Michelle's maroon bowtie.

[Note from Kevin?]

Here's a little story I've got to tell about 2 homeboys trip to hell. Went to London to have a ball. Went to Paris, she's way too tall. Back in London I love the weather. Just keep me the hell away from Heather. Jimmy and Kevin knocking at your door. It's the 1990 Homeboy tour!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Jaded Mandarin

Today was a bit of a rough day. I knew that I'd have a couple of these but was hoping to stave it off a bit.

After having constant companionship last week, I went through withdrawals this week being completely on my own without even my Shanghai co-workers to speak to as I've been on break for "Golden Week."

Sure, I've been speaking to my U.S. coworkers via conference calls, to Andrea via WeChat, and to other friends via Facebook, but there's something to be said for face-to-face conversation

I hope that next week will be a little easier as I'll be around my Shanghai co-workers. I'm not expecting instant companionship but maybe one or two of them will take pity on me and we can go out to lunch.

What makes it all a bit worse is what I've been doing when I'm not writing these Shanghai entries which is transcribing some old journals of that trip I took to the UK when I was 17. It's uncomfortable looking back, especially when I'm confronted with what a little shit I was.

What made today worse was that yesterday I did manage to have a some face-to-face interaction and conversation. While I was at China Mobile, trying to get a SIM Card and data package for my time here, a very nice local woman, Serena, took pity on me and helped me speak to the clerk.

Hell, when they asked for 100 RMB and told me that their credit card machine was down, Serena even paid the money because I was so short on cash! For her troubles, I took her out for some coffee. I'm sure it was a sight to see, this little Chinese lady riding behind this big gweilo on his scooter as we went to the coffee place across from my apartment (because I knew they took Visa).

We sat and talked for a good long time, she helped me with a few questions I had about Mandarin, and we probably shared more than strangers normally do but I think we both felt safe that we are from separate parts of the world.

Again, going back to my self-reflection (being alone is dangerous sometimes), I realized that I'm a country of only children. My people! I'm the only child of an only child as is nearly everyone around me.

Ironically, Serena is in Marketing and she even worked on the Hilton account for the Hawaiian branch. Suffice it to say, we had a lot to discuss. We talked stereotypes of Chinese and Americans. I know it's simple to say but people really are people wherever you go and a simple conversation can really help understand where people are coming from.

So, after having some conversation yesterday, I'm back to cold turkey today. Add to that the rain and that my scooter died (just a dead battery, it's charging up now) on the way to breakfast and that I'm still broke... It made for a depressing day. I get paid again today but the check won't hit until tonight. Until then, I'm relying on the few groceries I've bought so far and the places around here that I know take credit cards. I've submitted and re-submitted my first week expense report a half dozen times. The system doesn't know I'm in Shanghai so I keep missing when it thinks that something is $180 US rather than 180 RMB. Quite a big difference.

I hope things will get better soon.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

UK Journal: Free Nelson Mandela


Oh my!

Today I had quite a fun time. To start off, when we got out of the underground at Charring Cross some people were protesting apartheid in front of the South African embassy and they had a petition to sign to free Nelson Mandela...

And today's question to be asked by the intrepid Heather among the pygmies of London: "Who's he?"

Then I proceeded to call her fucking stupid and etc. which angered her to no end. [I'd hate to be called "etc" as well].

Then when Michelle and I asked the cops for direction... sorry, the bobbies, they proceeded to call Heather fucking stupid for signing the petition without knowing who he [Nelson Mandela] is.

Then we went into the National Gallery. Nice but hot inside. Some really good paintings but most were too... well... not to my taste. I got a great poster of the Execution of Lady Jane Grey [Paul Delaroche reference] and a few good post cards.

Then Michelle and I went to Tower Records instead of the Portrait Gallery where we found the Car Wash soundtrack! Aimee's dream is fulfilled.

Nothing else we did matters but I'll tell ya anyway: Found a magazine with Monty Python in it. Then we went back to some church where Heather proceeded to yell at me because three other idiots did not know who "that guy" is... "You mean Nelson Mandella?"

The protesters were being very vocal when we got there. It was great!!!

We then went to the Tate Gallery -- very cool -- a lot of modern art and a lot of it was good. Saw the Musical Interlude statue from Monty Python. The Kiss it is called.

Then Fran, Natasha, and I went to Pizza Hut where Natasha proceeded to start going on about the night in Paris.

Then we went to see How to Get Ahead in Advertising. I thought it was hilarious. Then, on the way back, Natasha wrote me a huge letter about how she thinks I'm some special guy - I don't know what to do about her. I mean, she's nice but really dorky. I don't want to sound mean but it's true.

I want a meaningless physical relationship. I don't feel in the mood for love. I want some good old carnal LUST.

[Natasha's Letter]

Aug 4, 1989


I am sometimes not 2 good with the spoken word, so I shall try 2 write out what I feel. This is difficult for me, and I feel stupid. I have felt upset that we have grown apart lately. The first week in England I felt like we were really close and good friends. I suppose I destroyed that in my stupidly getting drunk that night in Paris. I feel so bad about it. Getting drunk is the worse thing I have done in my life and it was a dumb thing 2 do... I just have some complicated problems at home that I a having trouble figuring out... still, it was dumb 2 drink. Believe me when I say drugs and alcohol are stupid. There is hardly a person more alive who isn't more against drugs than I am. I suppose you wouldn't know this, though - because you don't really know me completely. I am a nice person who made a stupid mistake... a human who makes mistakes and I wish we were closer. I like you a lot... I think I like you more than I've ever liked a guy. I care about you. I wish I was better at showing my feelings. I wish you could know the real me... When I am not having problems I am a very nice and caring person. I suppose it's like me to do something really dumb when I care about a person a lot. I hope you don't think I am a jerk, and I hope we can talk. I have wanted to talk to you for a long time and I still do... but I don't know whether you want to talk to me or not. I can't believe I'm writing this down. I kept telling myself I didn't care, but in my heart and soul I know I care about you a lot.


[And what did I do about that letter? I'm curious to find out as I don't remember. Knowing me, I blew it off completely because I'm a fucking asshole.]

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

UK Journal: The Unfettered Mind


Well, I'll tell ya.

Last night I went down and called Michelle, then we called Jimmy who invited us over to see a video: Revenge of the Nerds II. We met his host mum. She's great!

Susan and Gordon, you're so normal! [PiL reference]

And today we went to see Legal London but the Old Bailey was closed. I wanted to see the charades [Monty Python reference?]

So, Jimmy, Michelle, and I went to a few banks until we found the American Express office which cashed my money order and another (my last) traveler's cheque so I'll have at least 100 lbs during the weekend for Camden market. Then we went to Piccadilly and had Taco Bell! Mexican food is not popular here.

Then we went to Tower Records where I found the Shaft soundtrack. It was 11 lbs. Too much. Wait until Tues! I want to get Leon a "My friend went to London and all he got me was this lousy t-shirt" shirt. After that we went down and I got my Tao watch, which I love

[I still have this watch. The guts have been replaced which probably cost ten times as much as the original item.]

I want to get:
A paisley shirt
A Blues Bros. shirt
Another Siouxsie shirt.
Maybe a Bauhaus shirt?

I wanna go back to that poster shop and maybe get some more Rocky [Horror?], Blues Brothers, Jack Nicholson, and maybe the Israel [Siouxsie] poster.

Piss on you, I'm working for Mel Brooks [Blazing Saddles reference]

Oh, yeah, I wanna see about that Easy Rider poster! The Siouxsie poster in Camden was so cool.

Michelle wants us to go to some club there, but I think it might be a bit too rough.

I saw some great pictures of Jack Nicholson as the Joker in tower records the other night when I bought the Word Up! 12" and the 7" Theme from Shaft.

Found out from Jimmy and Kevin's host mum that "dude" means "twit" so that's why people around here don't like it when I say, "Hey, dude" or "Thanks, dude." [Or maybe they just knew it sounded stupid.]

Sitting on a park bench. All I need now is the words "Beat Box" dug into the hill in front of me in order to meditate properly. Who did that anyway? Was it the Breakdance Messiah or the hand of god himself who doth spray paint on Korvettes? [Long, dumb story]

It was Elvis. [Mojo Nixon reference, I think]

Michelle's supposed to meet me down here in about 40 minutes. Until then?

Carved on this bench it says "MILK". It's chillin' [Audio Two reference]

Oh my garsh, I saw Ton Loc's new video today!

I need safety pins. My jacket's lining is coming out.

How about those hostages? Another one dies in an hour. [Is that a reference to the Davao hostage crisis?]

I look forward to going home except for two things:
1) Leaving Kevin, Jimmy, & Michelle.
2) Being on a plane with Stacy and Natasha.

I have to buy new batteries.

Natasha asked me and I told her - she was extremely dumb that night. I hate drunks. If it had seen Kevin and Jimmy, I probably would have been mad but they don't just sit and drink for the purpose of being drunk. That's a thing a dork would do and I don't wanna be associated with a dork of that nature.

It's tennis on Tuesday, shipping champagne, football on Sunday, home on the train. It's in her nature. [PiL reference]


That night at the S&M Grocers...

Fuck. Real fun. Listening to those no-account skaters... Skate? Hell, even i could skate better and that is no boast, it is a fact. Michelle is huffin' and puffin' on the white cigar and havin' a good old time with her beau, Rob, who I envy more than you or I can imagine.

Ahh, love, fuck it.

Slurping and sweating. Who needs it? Besides me, that is.

I wish that Steve were here. Or even Leon or Andy. If McGraw, Hines, Steve, and Tony were here, these kids wold be shitting the proverbial brick.

My oh my, I think that I shall soon say goodbye.


11:30 Hampton Ct Station

We've Gone Full Parody.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. And thank you very much. And I don't have to even mention the Marines because we have General Kelly. Where’s General Kelly? Where is our General Kelly? He likes to keep a low profile. Look at him sitting in the back, but, boy, is he watching. You have no idea how he’s -- General Kelly, come up here. So General Kelly is a four-star. Not a bad general, right? You don't get any better than General Kelly.

But on behalf of the Marines, I’ll tell you, they've done some job, General.

Now, can we also mention Army? And can we also mention some people that I really got to know and respect even more in Texas, and that's the Coast Guard?

What a job the Coast Guard has done throughout this whole -- throughout this whole ordeal. (Applause.) They would go right into the middle of that -- I mean, I don't know, I wouldn’t want to be doing it, but I want to thank everybody. I want to thank the Coast Guard. They are special, special, very brave people.

And a lot of people got to see the real Coast Guard during this incredible trouble, and especially I think here and in Texas was incredible what they did. So thank you all very much. Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Really appreciate it.

Would you like to say something on behalf of your men and women?

AIR FORCE REPRESENTATIVE: Sir, I’m representing the Air Force.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I know that.


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

UK Journal: The Facade Slips


Oh my! What a great way to star August. About as good as last year's car accident. The day was fine but the evening...?

Yesterday I finally got ahold [sic] of Michelle and we went to Carnaby Street. I got a Siouxsie shirt and a new leather bracelet. So, we had fun during the day but then...

On our way home...

We took the Shepperton instead of the Chessington again. So we got off at Nubiton? And went back to Raynes Park and, instead of waiting for the Tolworth train we decided to go to Surbiton and take the Hoppa since that train arrived first but the hoppa was about 20 minutes late. So, it was 6:16 when I was supposed to be at home at 5:00 (I did call home to tell Mrs. Lee I'd be late) so we decided that we didn't have enough time so we called our mums to tell them that we'd just eat at Waterloo and she spazzed out!

"I'm very upset at you. You're 18 [sic] years old for god's sakes and cannot even take the right train. I'm very mad at your attitude. This is a home, not a hotel!" and then the bitch hung up on me!

Fuck off.

This is a house, not a home. She has done nothing to make me feel welcome so why should I even have the courtesy to call her?

[It's true, I do not have warm fuzzies in retrospect about Mrs. Lee. She was more of a landlady than a host mum. She always treated me like a dumbass instead of a kid making his way around in a different country.]

We met Kevin and Jim up at the station [Jim and Jimmy are the same person, by the way] and Kevin insists now that if anyone messes with his homeboy messes with him, so, as you read, I think I'll get the "Please Mind Your Head" posse after her.

Today she's as cool as a cucumber but I can feel the tension building. I don't want to set her off because it just make me want out of here even more than I do now.

Jimmy just called. I guess I'll head on down to the local payphone at 11:30 and make my calls.

I miss home.

Home sweet home.

I miss my family and friends.

I miss America.

Anyone who wants to gripe about America should go to Paris or England and I think they'll change their tune right quick.

Kevin says that he's going to go out every morning at sunrise and every night at sunset to put up and take down his American flag.

I don't plan on going abroad again for a very long time. I think that if i go anywhere it will be into the heart of America. I think I'd like to tour my wonderful country with the "Please Mind Your Head" posse and really see the sights. See a real country. I think I'll start packing.

[Lyrics to "America the Beautiful" here. No, I'm not kidding.]


Sitting on a park bench, eying little girls with bad intent. Waiting for Jimmy as Michelle cannot leave her house because her mum says the lock won't work and she has to leave.

Michelle is scared of her mum. How awful!

I want to call my mom and dad.

So, Mike, what did you miss most about home?
A. My friends and family.

So, Mike, what did you like best about England?
A. My friends.

What about your family?
A. What family?

Your host family.
A. What family?

Oh, my friends, I miss you so much and my friends I will miss you so much.

Oh, what a bad attitude I have.


My attitude. My problem. I shouldn't compare England to the U.S. What am I supposed to compare it to, Uganda?

I am abroad. A stranger in a strange land. But I'm supposed to be completely at ease in this land which is not strange. It's England. Bullshit.

This trip has really changed me.

I miss my room, my sanctuary, my serenity, my sanity. How will I remember this trip years from now, how do I think of it now?

I think I needed it. A major change of scenery. But what about the scenery? Personally, I love London but I hate Tolworth. I think, though, that after two weeks even London gets dull. It'd be a nice place to go for a weekend every few months, just like Royal Oak and Ann Arbor [!] but being here in England has made me love America. It sounds sad but it's true.

So tell me about these friends of yours.

Jimmy: Surfer dude but not Bill or Ted, ya know? He's very smart and extremely funny. Reminds me a bit of Steve.

Kevin: All American lad but still very cool. Mr. Republican but still very funny.

Michelle: Beautiful and hilarious. Reminds me a lot of Aimee but still unique in her won ways.

All three are great to be around, as a unit or as individuals.

Shanghai Diary: Pedantic Rambling

I'm surprised that people are actually reading these entries. I'm writing them more for me and posterity but also to avoid answering the few questions that I've gotten repeatedly (thus the FAQs in the first post).

Here are a few questions I've gotten from people who have bothered to read these posts:

How's the diet going? Last week was very tough. I didn't have a lot of structure from day to day. I've managed to start getting back into a routine though it'll be easier once I start back to working in the office. I have brought quite a few food packets and some bars but the thing I need are those items I didn't manage to bring like my protein chips, other bars, and fresh veggies. I've started finding grocery stores and even found some cauliflower (one of my favorite vegetables to eat on this program). I have yet to find a scale so I can keep up on my progress. I'm hoping that some of the good habits I've adopted will keep me going here. So, no bread and starchy vegetables.

What's a "Set Lunch"? If you're familiar with the idea of a Bento boxes, or a prix fixe menu, that's the idea of "set lunch". At the Bollywood restaurant they offer a meat version or vegetable version of their "set lunch" which has several small portions of items all the way from a salad to almost an appetizer to the main course, some naan, a little dessert, and a soft drink. All of that for one price (no substitutions, please). It's either that or you can choose from the a la carte menu.

I spent the morning answering some emails, doing some AEM work, and fighting with Outlook 365.

The day ended up being pretty nice (so far) so I hopped on my scooter and just drove north on my block, looking for the closest Metro station. I found it, but first I found a little coffee shop where I got a cup. Here I am in the land of tea and I keep ordering coffee. And, I don't know the proper way to order it yet. I need to learn how to ask for hot or cold drinks and how to order a proper cup of tea. I found some helpful videos at

The above video finally explained to me -- or I finally grasped -- the four tones. It's a lot easier to see and hear these things together.

Here's a picture from the coffee shop where I was given a purple bear to put on my table so the waiter could see what table the "lofan" with the coffee was at:

I came back and did some writing and got my work laptop onto a VPN. The VPN at the hotel just isn't as good as it should be. It's interesting to see what's blocked and what's not by the Chinese government. You can't get to Google but you can get to Gmail. Bing and Yahoo are okay. You can't get to Twitter or Facebook of course. And YouTube (a Google property) is blocked, too. And, of course, almost all VPN software / sites are blocked.

I haven't been watching too much TV on the television set while I'm here. There are a few channels in English but they're mostly news. I get HBO, Cinemax, and two other movie channels but it's always stuff I don't want to see. I ran across a movie with Chow Yun-Fat the other night which was spoken in Cantonese and subtitled in Traditional Chinese. Today I ran across an old Jackie Chan movie (Armour of God II: Operation Condor) being run off an old print as it was subtitled in both English and Chinese. This is exactly what I was hoping for from Chinese TV.

For people who aren't as film nerdly as I am, let me say that one of the reasons we know of Jackie Chan, John Woo, Jet Li, Danny Yen, etc is because of a rule from years ago. The people of HK tend to speak Cantonese while the majority of the mainland speaks incarnations of Mandarin. From what I understand, they're written the same but they're pronounced so vastly differently that they're considered different languages. It made economic sense to subtitle the films in Chinese (the written language) and when Hong Kong was under British control there was a rule put in place that movies had to have English subtitles as well. That's why you see the two sets of subtitles on older films. That English also held spread the popularity of HK films because lofan like me could go to little Chinese grocery stores and rent HK films and see them with subtitles -- albeit often poorly translated and sometimes being cut off on the left, right, and/or bottom of the screen.

These subtitles were struck from a script version of the movie meaning that action on screen would often not match things in the subtitles as movies change from screenplay to finished product. But, a rule is a rule. That's why you may see Closed Captions on US TV not match up to the actions on screen (watch "The X-Files" with the captions on and see how often David Duchovny said different lines. It's remarkable.)

HK was one of the biggest movie-making markets in the world for a while (up there with Hollywood and Bollywood. Thank goodness no one called it "HongKongyWood"). The sheer number of films coupled with English subtitles (not to mention some amazing films) helped break through into some ardent film geek circles. Another thing that helped that people don't talk about too often is that the films bore English titles. Meaning that I can say that Who's the Crook is playing on TV right now and people will know that movie by that title. It's not like a European film where a title might be translated differently in different countries (see Closely Watched Trains vs. Closely Observed Trains).

However, I always enjoyed the original translations of film titles like the original title for John Woo's Hard Boiled, 辣手神探, which translates roughly to "Hot-Handed Supercop."

As Sean Connery would say, "Here endeth the lesson."

I brought some movies with me on DVD and Blu-Ray. My room has a DVD player but it doesn't handle Blu-Rays. And, oddly, I can't seem to find a blu-ray player at the local places like the electronics store or the Carrefour which seems to have nearly everything a body could want.

I've only found a few bootleg DVD sellers so far. There's a van that hangs out just across the street that has bootleg DVDs in the back and there was a guy on the corner with a table selling some. However, these were nearly all American titles and stuff that I knew was playing on Netflix or easily accessible via other means.

The DVDs that I brought with me, however, are almost all subtitled films. This is a problem when I want to throw on something and not pay strict attention to it. It's not like I can just kick back while The Color of Pomegranates or The Fifth Horseman is Fear play out in the background.

My DVD player has a slot for a USB drive meaning that I could throw some movies on a thumb drive and watch them from there. However, I didn't bring a thumb drive. I'm hoping I can get one at my office next week.

The breaks on this channel showing these old HK movies are crazy. They're little infomercials for things like a product to reduce belly flab or little cutlets to stuff a woman's bra and they're just the same 30-60 second spots strung together and repeated for 15+ minute blocks. The same spot over and over for 15 minutes. They play like the TV is broken. At least the cutlet commercial is entertaining in a lascivious way, especially the computer simulation of a woman's breast being "activated" via some kind of medical wonder. The simulation has the nipple blurred out! It's like the belly flab one where we see a "naked" model with one of these miraculous patches on and the model is a neutered computer simulation of a body. It's like seeing a patch placed on a Ken doll.

With my limited understanding of Mandarin, I keep hearing "Bù hǎo!" "Bù hǎo!" Which means "Not good!" Probably either slagging body fat or other, more ineffective, products.

Does your building have a 13th floor? I don't got into too many tall buildings back home. I think the tallest building I've ever worked in has 10 floors and the tallest place I've ever lived had two floors (and I was on the ground floor). That said, I know it was typical for buildings in America to not have a 13th floor because it's unlucky. Here in China the number 4 is unlucky. The place where I'm living has no 4th floor. The place where I work doesn't have a 4th, 13th, 14th, or 24th. Somebody's hedging their bets.

The lift goes up to where we belong...

Currently Reading: Angelo Badalamenti's Soundtrack from Twin Peaks (33 1/3 Book) by Clare Nina Norelli

What I've Been Watching: I'm all caught up on "Project Runway", "The Orville", "Star Trek: Discovery (STD)", "Black Mirror", and about to catch up on "Great British Bake-Off".

I think back to what it was like when I was in the UK when I was 17 and though US culture is pervasive how removed I felt from it. It was a big deal when I caught "Dallas" on TV or saw an American advertisement. Now almost 30 years later the world is a much smaller place. I can click a few buttons and catch last night's "Jeopardy" with local commercials from WDIV. Or I can listen to the hourly news report from NPR or keep up on all the bullshit news (not fake news, but just bullshit) coming out of Trump's twisted brain, tragedy in Las Vegas, and the death / not death / death of Tom Petty.

Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky" was one of the first music videos I ever saw. But I can never think of him without thinking of Brooke Smith singing "American Girl" right before Buffalo Bill captured her.

Monday, October 02, 2017

UK Journal: Things Coming Together

August 1st

The first day of August. El primero de agusto.

8/1/89 - USA
1-8-89 - UK

Tonight is the play. Today what do I do? Nothing. So far.

I miss my friends. Here, though, I believe that I have found three friends; Jimmy, Kevin & Michelle [Spoiler alert: After getting back from the UK, I'd not really hear from Jimmy or Kevin again. I'd see Michelle a few more times and eventually be acquaintances on Facebook].

But, not unlike Riverview, they're all busy or sleeping. It seems all too familiar. If I was back in the good old USA I'd probably be in the same situation, but in a much less interesting part of the world.

Fran says that we don't have to get dressed up for tonight but I am -- my new coat and shoes.

At Camden I bought a bootleg P.i.L. tape. It's really good.

I have to buy:
A postcard for Tina
A new leather bracelet
Those Siouxsie 45s

When I think about it, Tina was probably the best thing that's happened to me. I think that if we could get together in about six months, she and I would be more mature and have a better relationship. But, I think that I need a change. I need to go out with some new / different girls. But who? And how?

[Poor Tina. This whole time and she only garnered nary a mention until this entry and here I am talking about wanting to dump her. And I know I wanted to hook up with Natasha (for a bit) and then Michelle. This was years before I would have said, "What happens in England stays in England."

If it makes you, dear reader, feel better.... Tina would eventually cheat on me with one of her co-workers and dump my ass. It was probably shortly after I got home. Obviously I wasn't a very attentive boyfriend.

Notice that I was feeling lukewarm about Natasha and then got really angry when I found her drunk in that hotel room in Paris. I have a real problem being around people who are drunk when I'm not drunk. I think that stems from my step-dad's alcoholism. He was such an asshole when he was drunk.

Then notice, too, that I'm attracted to Michelle despite her having a boyfriend. Then I ask myself, "Or was it because she had a boyfriend?" I always had these crushes on girls in my life who were taken: Stephanie, Aimee, Michelle, etc. I think I was in love with longing.]

[A note from Michelle in my notebook:]

Dear Mike,

Host Mothers Suck Flexible Dildos!

Here we are, Mike, in the capitalist country of England. Money for bathroom, glasses, seats, and water. Worst of all, money to see nude, fat women. That just ain't worth it, no sir ree [sic]. Hello all of Mike's friends that read this. It's no use to tell Fran shit and expect to get results. The only answer you might ask? Get the "Please Mind Your Head" posse after that right cunt. Show her what's up. I'll check in later. You're discussing the flexibility of Jimmy's nose compared to the face in which he hit the pole.

Michelle Superstar

[I don't remember Fran being bad at all but apparently Michelle had a problem with her!]

Shanghai Diary: My Mother Was A Pure Woman

I have dreams (that will never be realized) that I'll be sitting in the office here in Shanghai and something like this will happen...

BTW, I really enjoy The Thirteenth Warrior and wish to hell I could see the original Eaters of the Dead cut of the film.

Shanghai Diary: An Apple for Teacher

I'm reminded of Dark Windows AKA An Apple for Teacher, that script (similar to Das Blaue vom Himmel) that Betty and Joe collaborate on in Sunset Blvd.:

How about this for a situation: she
teaches day times. He teaches at
night. Right? They don't even know
each other, but they share the same
room. It's cheaper that way. As a
matter of fact, they sleep in the
same bed -- in shifts, of course.

When I wake up in the morning, I talk to Andrea as she's winding down her day. As I'm about ready for bed, it's mid-morning back home. It feels like the world is upside down.

To put it another way, when I wake up in the morning I read about all the stupid shit Trump's done or still doing the prior day.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Hell on Wheels

Want a funny mental image? Picture me on a scooter.

As I mentioned the other day, I bought a scooter on Friday night. It's officially an "electric bicycle" (according to the owner's manual) but it looks more like a little motorcycle. I was hoping for a Vespa so people might mistake me with Audrey Hepburn. I was also hoping for something a little bigger so Andrea can ride with me and something a little cheaper because I don't like to spend money. What I paid was about half of what it originally cost if I'm to believe the receipt that came with it.

I tried a few folks who were selling on but it seems like there's a quick turnover. That'll be good for me when it comes time to leave and I need to sell. Or, maybe I can get Federal Mogul to store it for if/when I come back. I say this at the end of my first week and I hope it holds true at the end of my twelfth, I really like it here in Shanghai and hope coming here becomes a semi-regular thing.

I went out riding around yesterday morning, trying to find a place to fill up my back tire (was a little soft). Like Manhattan, there's a dearth of gas stations around here. I found one and thought I was going to get some air only to be told by the attendant (yes, they still exist over here) "Wǒ méiyǒu" (I don't have any). She told me a lot of other things but I couldn't understand them. She didn't have the time or inclination to try to explain to this dumb white guy (Yúchǔn de rén) where to get air for his tires.

Instead, I went over to the Carrefour -- a big French grocery store and shopping center that is popular here. The first floor was kind of a mall and the second floor was like a big Target or Walmart with groceries and all the conveniences of modern living.

I think I might have been the only white guy there but, thankfully, that's not a big deal. I looked around for a bike pump though only saw them for bicycles and wasn't sure if that'd work for me. I shopped around, painstakingly going up one aisle and down the next. Thankfully, the packages for most things are descriptive enough with their images for me to know what they are.

The meat, vegetables, and fruit were undoubtedly the most interesting part. I saw a lot of mushrooms, a wide variety of nuts, and quite a few fruit that I couldn't identify. I picked up some sausage, tiny "English Cucumbers" (that's what I usually call them though I don't know their pedigree), some peanuts, water, and a book for Avery. It's a book version of the "Pup Fu!" episode of Paw Patrol -- one of her favorite shows. It's all in Traditional Chinese so I can't read it but I can figure out what's going on.

After my first (known) near death experience with the scooter (oh! pulling back on the handle makes it go faster, not slow down!) I went over to Bollywood for a set lunch.

I've been going back and forth with a guy that works there. The way I was raised, I tend to call everyone "sir" or "ma'am". So when the waiter brings me water, I say, "Thank you, sir." Every time I do that, the one waiter corrects me. "I am not a sir. I am a service man." I wanted to ask him if I could just call him by his name instead but he was running a lot of deliveries after he took my order. And, he was running them on his scooter and I wanted to shout after him, "Where do you get your tires filled?!"

"I'm not a sir, I'm a service man..."
"How about a friend?"
"Aye, I could do that..."

Yesterday was another rainy, shitty day here in Shanghai. It started raining when I ate lunch and just kept on until after I went to sleep. But, today has been gorgeous. Hot but clear.

After posting about my need for air on the Shanghai Expat group on Facebook I finally decided to just go ask at the local bicycle shop if I could use their pump. I did so on my way back from breakfast at Pistolero. I keep eating heuevos rancheros at different places (last night was The Big Bamboo which is the closest thing to an ex-pat sports bar I've been to. Tons of TVs all tuned to various soccer games).

I rented one of the 1RMB bikes (the "Ofo") and found some muscles I had forgotten about. I don't know why I felt the need to ride at almost my maximum rate but I think any slower and I would have fallen off. It's going to take a bit to work up those muscles again so they aren't screaming when I'm riding.

I walked back to my apartment (no complaints from those muscles) and hung out a bit before jumping on the scooter and heading to the bike store. They were more than happy to help. Once I figured out how to attach the pump (rolling my eyes at myself), I was off again and exploring more of the local area.

I keep heading West when I go out, more toward the Huang Po. I don't know if I'll ever be brave enough to try to cross that river -- I think I'd have to take the ferry -- on my scooter but I went about four kilometers away to a shopping plaza. Somewhere around there is the White Horse where they have pub trivia every Monday evening. I hope to attend when they start back on 10/10.

This is also where the closest movie theater I can find is. The movie selection is pretty poor. The latest US films are things that came out months ago in the States. Stuff like Spiderman: Homecoming, The Hitman's Bodyguard, War of the Planet of the Apes. All stuff that is probably playing the dollar show at home or on home video already. It's no wonder there's a bootlegging problem over here if things come out so many months later. Here I was counting on seeing Blade Runner 2049 and Thor: Ragnarok with Chinese subtitles.

Today is the big national holiday. It's basically the PRC's version of Independence day. The country seems to have two big celebration periods, around Spring and Fall though the Chinese New Year moves every year. Today kicks off "Golden Week" which means that the office here is closed. I'll still be working on my Southfield stuff though during the day I'm going to take some time and explore some more as long as the weather plays nice.

Here are some pictures of and around the mall. I found there's a grocery store in the basement and they had quite an interesting selection of eggs. I love that quail eggs and duck eggs are even more popular than chicken eggs here.

The scooter ride there and back were a lot better than yesterday's trips. I'm glad I made that investment and feel a lot more free than I did last week when I thought I'd be beholden to taxi cabs.

This part of Shanghai (at least) is incredibly quiet for being such a big city. This is nothing compared to Manhattan where there's always honking and the scream of sirens. I've yet to hear a siren there though I see emergency vehicles from time to time. Likewise, there's just a smattering of horns compared to the constant din. The Chinese drivers that I've experienced tend to flash their brights to signal "hey, I'm going to pass you" or "hey, you just done fucked up now."

And, for as much construction I see going on around here, I don't hear that noise either.

It could be that my apartment is off the beaten path a bit but Biyun road is pretty busy.

I tried using the laundry service today. They picked up my bag around 7:30 AM and they say it'll be back by 10PM tonight. I asked for it to just be charged to the room which I would think would be the default. I thought it would be a little cheaper than I think it is but it's comparable to the cleaner's where I take my work clothes to be laundered.

I've learned that I can't "pick up" Chinese. The Pimsleur stuff was great because of the repetition. I feel comfortable now with a lot of phrases and putting together words into different configurations but getting the responses are confusing me since I don't have the words yet. Likewise, I need to continue with the lessons as I can't just hear a word like "This is how you say cold as in 'cold drink'" and remember it without learning it by rote. The one thing that cracks me up is that I keep getting complimented, "Your accent is very good." I don't know if that's bullshit or not but I appreciate it if that's true.

Leon used to give Spanish a "Midwestern pronunciation" in Sra. Loter's class for fun. "Co-mo say yamas?" I hope I don't sound as funny to the people around here. I did get to use one of my favorite phrases last night. "Wǒ bù míngbái nǐ shuō shénme" which means "I don't understand what you're saying."

Saying that in Mandarin always makes me think of that Kids in the Hall skit where the guy learned English phonetically. "I speak not a word of English, you see, everything that I'm saying to you I've learned phonetically..."