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The sun has reared its sunny head and inexplicably Shanghai is suddenly warming up and brightening up. I should note as a reminder that just two days ago we were having intermittent blizzards throughout the day. Coming home after sleepy after-work cocktails with Koan on Tuesday night at Tara 57 at the embassy end of Fuxing Lu, I hopped in a cab just as it started yet another 5 minute whiteout. At one corner on Wulumuqi Lu, a young boy came out of his family's shoebox veggie shop and stood at the edge of the sidewalk staring up at the swirling flakes, with one hand casually tucked into his unzipped tracksuit bottoms to aim his nonchalant stream of dreamy pee away from the taxi wheels. By the time I got home, the blizzard (and it was indeed a blizzard) was finished. Any dustings of snow that had stuck quickly melted and the skies parted as if nothing had happened. Shanghai is always in a hurry. It has a short memory.
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I think Shanghai is the first city I've lived in wherein the pedestrian green walk light will be on for the full 6 lane highway crossing even though not all lanes have a red light. This morning I managed to cross three lanes before I realized the fourth was a left-turn lane on green with cars ready and willing to not only plow through my theoretical green walk light but also to turn left directly into the other pedestrians behind me (because a left turn lane in Shanghai automatically translates into Let's Do a U-Turn Lane!)


Mar. 8th, 2010 03:15 pm
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 Big 6.0 earthquake in the east of Turkey, in Elazig. I always get so nervous when I hear about earthquakes there as I have so many deep connections to so many places and people (and their home villages by default). A repeat of the 1999 Marmara earthquake would be just awful. I knew teachers whose students were never seen again, whole classes halved. Can you imagine half your students dead under rubble? It scares the hell out of me. 

In other news, flu slowly abating.  Not hungry yet (mostly drinking cups of Fruit & Flower Tea At Leisure) and still tired and achy. Must teach though. Today we are scanning! Wooop!


Mar. 7th, 2010 03:40 pm
yaramaz: (Children of the rice)
 So we dined at the Mexican ambassador's tear-saturated new favourite restaurant over on Yongjia Lu, Mi Tierra, which has now been tentatively (mentally, if not in signage) relabelled Mi Gran Desilusion (accent aigu on the O).  We were there for Day XX of their soft opening, which seems to be a Shanghai trend, wherein a restaurant or club isn't ready for the grand opening (kinks, bugs and whatnot) but they want to be, well, open. Now. Even when they aren't ready for opening day critics, because of kinks and bugs and whatnot.  We went because the ambassador cried over the beans and noted so in print.  

I can tell you that the margaritas were pretty decent, as were the churros (home made gobs of dulce de leche and dark thick dippy chocolate and a nice mug of creamy chocolatey coffee to dunk in). The carnitas were appalling (iceberg lettuce! and sour cream! stale store-bought flour tortillas! and gobs of chunks of not crispified fat!) and the roasted serrano chile/pollo con chorizo tacos were generally meh, topped with a side of really meh red and green salsas (no lucid dreams to follow, maalesef). If they were in El Df, they'd hang their heads in shame. Shame, I tell you! Shame with incorporated floggings and trips out to the countryside to be re-educated. I had half a mind to march into the kitchen to give the cook (a small, round Mexican woman who either is delusional about her country's cooking or who thinks things need to be seriously dumbed down for Shanghai- the latter being most likely) a thorough talking to. And a primer in how to grill peppers and tomatillos and whatnot before pureeing so that they don't taste like a thin, bland Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Mexi Fiesta-Sauce! (TM). The manager saw my look of panic when I tasted the aforementioned Fiesta Sauce! (TM) and offered to get me a real, actually spicy one. When it didn't come after my first carnita, he came by again to promise it, fer sure.  Finally, halfway through my third and final tortilla-based foodstuff, he panickingly brought it out from the kitchen himself (our waiter had apparently forgotten it or thought that the original was good enough). It was slightly better.  

Did I mention that the margaritas were good? As were the churros?  And that the manager gave me a long stemmed red rose when we left? 

When I woke up this morning with stomach cramps and nausea, I screamed bloody murder at my faulty carnitas. However, now that my Sunday malaise has expanded to include fever, chills, full-on achiness, I'm guessing it's a flu. Sigh. 
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 It seems to be the winter monsoon again. Instead of the hot and steamy June plum rains, we seem to be in the midst of the grim and grey and freezing March rutabaga rains.  Ms. Mu at work says it will rain like this until at least next Tuesday.  It would be easier to deal with if the Rutabaga Winds didn't blow your umbrella inside out or if the all the sidewalks and all the  roads weren't covered with several inches of rainwater. My shoes and my feet have yet to be warm and dry for any length of time. My jean cuffs are saturated. 

Today we ventured out after breakfast noodles (extra bok choy and cilantro) to Longyang Lu in deepest, darkest Pudong, to Metro Hypermarket for some winter-friendly consumer goods. We are now the proud owners of a freaking awesome, sturdy, clay-pot lined slow cooker. It wouldn't look out of place on a farm house kitchen table. All the stops on the knob were in Chinese so we enlisted a lovely clerk to do a compare and contrast translation from a crappier one that happened to have bilingual labelling.  We also got a spiffy new coffee grinder so we won't be at the mercy of the fickle pre-ground filter coffee fairies, a huge bag of organic barley (stew!), a big bag of loose flower/fruit tea for me to drink at work (it looks like a very nice pot pourri), and lots of odds and ends that will all add up to cozy meals. Not that we're cooking today. No. After our month away back home, today has been reserved as a wholly catch up day- Lanzhou noodles for breakfast, spicy Hunan for lunch at Di Shui Dong and tonight will be a brand new half-opened Mexican place that apparently brought a Mexican ambassador to tears over the resemblance of their particular beans to his dear old mother's.  Nom nom.
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 As a teacher (for 8 years) in a much maligned and dissed field (ESL/EFL), this really pisses me off. My kids get nothing but desks and a chalkboard and photocopied textbooks that we put together and they thrive for the most part.  I can't understand how you can have kids in front of you for X hours a day and not get anything vital through to them. Seriously. If this is true, then I'm going to homeschool my kids. 

ETA: Holy crap, just watched the 2nd half (had only watched the first half when I posted this) and would like to note that, wow, host-dude, ease up on the anti-union propaganda a little!  Whoever scripted this really really has a thing against public school teachers.  Not cool. Not cool at all. 

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The article with the background info on this is here 
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 At the airport, waiting for my flight. They have lovely strong free wifi here so I needn't steal it.  I've been patted down and grilled lightly and my bags have been swabbed for explosive residue and thoroughly unpacked and searched and repacked and now I'm hanging out at a wavy bar in the food court, nursing a fucking enormous coffee, with a surprisingly yummy Tim Hortons breakfast sandwich in my tummy (my last gasp at being Canadian).  I'm trying to figure out what I ought to buy to ensure that I have something to eat on the flight other than the terrifying pork floss in aspic that I was served last time. I'm very open minded about food (remember, I'm well versed in the nuances of pig cheek and chicken feet and jellyfish and whatnot, thanks to the banquets my students have lavished on me) but that lukewarm pork floss in aspic was the last straw. I may grab a subway sandwich to take on. 

Further to my rant about paper cups yesterday, I should add that I am now the proud holder of a venti-sized paper cup full of dark roast,  poured before I remembered you couldn't get mugs in a food court. I am a hypocritical tree killer today, yes. However, the most annoying part of it is that the cup and cup sleeve have long tracts of text on them telling me how it's all recycled and helping Conservation International and whatnot (see photo- sorry about the Mac reverse-imaging) so I really ought to pat myself on the back for saving the whole world through my excessive consumption. Yay me.

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 I've been home for about four weeks now and have somewhat moved past the initial whalloping of jet lag and reverse culture shock and seasonal greyness despair. I've sort of cleared out my old bedroom and sort of separated my former incarnations into piles to keep and piles to throw on the pyre (or rather, into the recycle bin or into the Salvation Army donations bag). I've stocked up on tins of chipotle peppers and underpants that fit and sandals for summer. I've had my bangs cut in an awesome way and my eyebrows threaded into a less angry arch. I found three pairs of fab stripy knee highs and two pairs of truly awesome striped/blocked tights that actually fit (medium! me! medium not gargantuan!). I've caught up (mostly) with the people I actually have something to say to.  I've swung on many swings with the hootin' and hollerin'  and finger-pointin' baby and walked with cousin and wolf and said baby on many long seaside walks.  I've logged in many insatiably curious hours dragging and dropping odd and obscure recipes from websites into my new Mac's fabulous recipe app. I'm looking into doing a lot of experimental pickling and windowsill fermenting this spring.  I've been thinking a lot on my walks and during my readings and trying out future plans for size in my brain. Because, the thing is, Shanghai makes me feel so adrift and so sad. This may have come across in my posts over the past few months. The city itself is objectively pretty much alright with some really nifty bits thrown in- I plan to continue my 101 Nifty Things theme over on wordpress when I get back (see sticky, above)- but for whatever reason, the overall experience leaves me feeling hollow and pointless. Ergo, the Yaramaz Quest for a Fucking Point.

Some thoughts. 

Emerging from long tea-ful conversations with Waycho, I'm totally stoked on the idea of getting goats and moving up island and camping out on our acreage in Cowichan, making all sorts of cheeses and starting an artisanal chevre atelier. It'll be the Shanghai Number 1 Model Goat Product Factory (Foreign division). Ha! But seriously, cheese. Yeah.  

Also revisiting my long held desire to teach myself to play the banjo- seriously. Not Deliverance-stylings but rather like the Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra or like this chick (see above and below) who rework all sorts of previously awesome songs in their own way. I think it's really, really amazing.

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 Salvaged from the depths. Scanned backwards by accident, so let's read semitic-style, right to left today, folks.

Top Right: from 1992- my university ID, my 1995 Euro Youth Card, my 1997 British bus discount card,
Middle Row, from Right: my surly blond 1998 Euro Go Card, my 2000 Euro Youth Card (using a 1995 photo), my 2001 Student card
Bottom (vertical, paper): my 2004 Turkish social security card, my 2005 Bilgi teacher id 

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My high school button collection (partial). From my bags and hats. Guess my political leanings. Circa 1989-1992.

Click to embiggen.

My mid-90s first travel odd and ends

In this one, you can find:

1. A real live 10 Deutschmark note (paid to me by an annoying travelling companion in 1994 who was caught without a ticket on the Paris metro and I had to pay her fine. She repaid me in the only currency she had on her.)

2. A matchbook from Neachtain's pub in Galway, 1994 or 1995. 

3. A slide of an art expo in Shanghai, 1998, from my old Chinese Revolutionary Art professor

4. My nursing ID badge from when I used to work in the Alzheimers wards in London Care Homes (blond!) from around 1997-1999

5. A snipped off length of my wrapped hair, from Galway 1994, when I had very long hair with many hippy accoutrements. I used to wrap hair in the hostels for 5 pounds a pop. Paid for my Guinness in the evenings.

6. Ditto for the woven bracelets, which went for 3 pounds each. Good for a pair of Super Mac's veggie burgers.

7. Laura Palmer, wrapped in plastic, circa 1992, when we were young and painfully ironic

8. A tram ticket from Prague, 1998, possibly unused.

9. A matchbook from Java Coffeehouse here in Victoria, long, long, long defunct. They had excellent Mexican hot chocolate and very good live music.

10. A cryptic note about Prague (Prog) found in a long-dead wallet. No idea who wrote it or why. Probably 1992, as it feels like the era when we wrote short stories and bad poetry about such places.

11. Drawing pencils for an Old Skool mechanical pencil, from back when I used to use fountain pens with bladder cartridges and ink jars and mechanical pencils and carried around thick sketchbooks. I used to draw a lot.

12. Ticket to a Jeff Buckley gig in a small club in Vancouver, around 1995 1994. He walked right past me and my beer on the way to the stage. 
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I'm not one to repost ads (except maybe ads from 50 years ago with really really ugly shirts or bad hair) but this one is awesome. I wish more ads could include mutant death metal bunnies and manatees. And, actually, USB charged batteries sound pretty nifty. 

Go Hugh the Manatee!
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Stolen from [livejournal.com profile] poisedmidway 
These questions have no right or wrong answers.
Because sometimes asking the right questions is the answer.
1.How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?
It depends on the day. I'm 24 today but on Monday I was in my mid-40s.
2.Which is worse, failing or never trying?

Never trying. I've failed at many many things but I'm glad to have at least ruled them out. Unlike Piaf, I have regretted a few but not enough to kick myself in retrospect for trying.
3.If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t do?
Brainwashing. Inadvertent social conditioning. I am very guilty of it, even though I am aware or it more as I grow older and more jaded. I still have to frequently remind myself that nothing but breathing, food, water, shelter, clothing (when necessary) and some reciprocal affection are really needed to be genuinely okay.
4.When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done?

Oh, god, no- otherwise I'll have said way too much.
5.What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the world?

Less micro-managing of people's lives, beyond a general sense of keeping social order. 
More under here )
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 Lately, when I click on my lj or on my flist, it often goes straight to the Washington Post. WTF is up with that? 
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 I've been a prodigal daughter since 1994, when I first packed my bags and went off to Dresden to see Conny. I was 19. We drank beers in sawdust-floored bars with Russian graffiti on the tables and hung out in buildings that had whole sides blown off during the war and were now used as art galleries.  I carried on after a month with her first in Dresden then at her flat in (then, noticeably- wall still partly up) East Berlin, then on to Amsterdam and Paris and eventually to Ireland where I weathered out the autumn and winter with perpetual asthma and a huge welling love of that particular era of Galway.  When I think of Dresden now, I can only see it as it was in 1994, which is really anachronistic. It's the same with Ireland- although I've been back many times (friends, exes, escapes from London), it's always 1994-95 in my head WHICH IS TOTALLY WRONG.  Same with London, which hovers between 1994-2000 in my brain, and Cape Town which has been reduced to the sum of my knowledge, infantalized at 1999-2000. I could make a huge long list of the places I've known and the people I have been and the layers of people I've been surrounded by for very specific, defined periods of time and present it as a hugely confusing, abstract, unconnected collage that I've started to realize (slowly) is my life. Nothing really fits together and nothing really flows. It's like a whole bunch of boxes full of stuff, shoved together and collectively named MaryAnne's Shit.

Why am I noting all this? 

Having come home and had heaps of time to stop and think too much, I've started looking at old photo albums from back in the day before everything I did ended up in jpg format in my Facebook photo albums or pasted in blogs.  I'm trying to connect the 20 year old with super-long hippy hair in a dark pub in Ireland with the the 22 year old in the black Clara Bow bob and dark red lipstick in Paris; with the 24 year old blond pixie cut and platform sneakers, buzzing in London; with the 28 year old butch purple buzz cut and ankle-length pencil skirts in Kayseri, trying to tune out the menfolk;  with the 33 year old in the flaming red Marianne Faithfull haircut (1967) and black eyeliner and stripey socks in Istanbul. These all seem to be totally separate people leading totally separate lives and I can't seem to connect my current incarnation/location with my forty million previous ones. I'm trying to figure out if it's because I move around so much and so have very little history or continuity or if I'm really as dislocated as I feel. 

All of my locations seem frozen in time, with certain eras in certain places, certain versions of me glued to specific locales and languages. It's all herky jerky and I'm trying to connect the dots to feel a little bit more whole. 

On a side note, I got heaps of totally rocking new footwear to take back- a combination of Goodwill, cousin and actual shoe store.  Happy! And also really really loving having access to corn tortillas and habanero salsa with fresh cilantro and pickled banana peppers and many, many cheeses.  Yum.
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 My first two attempts to get into this site had me bewilderingly redirected to the Washington Post website.  Seeing as I've never actually had any bookmark for such Post, nor any search for it, finding it as a default for my lj Home and lj Friends is quite odd.  However, odd is no stranger to my life so I'll just accept it and go back to drinking my coffee and thinking about writing. It's 5:55am and I woke at 5, which is a record for me so far in my circadian arrhythmia.  I woke at around 4 yesterday, only to discover that a big huge eye-crunching headache had awoken along with me. An hour or so later, I also discovered that my body fancied a day of head-to-toe nausea and hall-dash barfiness. I spent the day on the sofa under blankets feeling utterly crappy.  Today, I feel better. 

This is what I'm listening to:

I am working on my Brand New Mac, which is thrilling beyond belief. My old faithful had been spinning its rainbow wheel of death with great regularity and I spent much of my time battling the automatic mirroring to keep my hard drive at an acceptable 5 gigs.  It's still in Shanghai with D., to be used in the future just for downloads and backgammon, while this one- so shiny! so pretty! so fast!- can handle all my powerpoint and word and excel nonsense from work and all my photo-manipulation and Sims and whatnot.  

Coffee refill time.
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 So I've got my time zones all in a tizzy and have slept from lunch til midnight, waking with a dreaded realization that Day 2 back home will be much the same as Day 1- which is, basically, nocturnal.  Those 16 hours time differences are harder to deal with than the 8-10 hour ones I'd thought I'd mastered after a decade and a half in Europe and Asia Minor. This is seriously messed up.

It's 2 in the morning and I am drinking coffee from a coffee maker that is three times bigger than the one we had in Shanghai. I had to stop and think before I scooped out the coffee into the filter.  I heated up a tin of Dynomite Hot!! chili and checked my email (nobody loves me)and petted Lola for a while. I washed the pot in a sink twice the size of any sink I've had in a flat my whole adult life (with a built in dish soap pump!). I keep forgetting the minutiae of details of life here when I'm Away and they creep up on me, neither good nor bad- just different. I shouldn't be surprised because they are small and tedious details but at 2am they do stop me in my tracks momentarily. I bought a stack of cheap and tawdry magazines at St Vinnies yesterday ($2.50 for seven of them) to keep me company in my nocturnal solitude and was rather surprised to be reminded of the existence of 100Calorie Snak Paks  and clothes available in sizes beyond Tiny. I suppose I just tune things out a lot more when I'm living in places where it takes effort to understand what is going on around me.  I found two pairs of really funky boots at the Salvation Army as well, both in my size (that would be Super Ginormous) and tried on some trousers that were Way Too Big. Shit. In Shanghai, NOTHING is as big as me, muchless TOO BIG. In Turkey, I was at the top end of available. Here, I'm solidly in the middle. The boots rock though. $13 for both. Better than the fakes market on Nanjing Road. 
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I've spent a lot of the afternoon here. I really oughtn't as it's driving me crazy. Ever since I've been living Away (if not before) I have been searching for my own little home and have failed miserably in this quest. I tend to move every year, from flat to flat to flat, never particularly satisfied with what I've found, always searching for that elusive perfect fit. This website is fucking killing me.

That, and we watched Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations in Istanbul today.  It made me very very sad and very very hungry.

ETA: I really really really want to live in a 1949 train caboose in the forest! I do!
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I've been on and off work for the past two weeks- at ECNU last week for the two days of Pro D; at Tongji for one madcap day of invigilation and marking/submitting everything this week. On my off days, I've been wrestling with that VPN that D's colleague couldn't get going (FAIL), making really really cozy celery rice soup, toasting up flaky oily chewy Xinjiang flatbreads and rolling them into crepy rolls stuffed with peanut putter and jam, brewing tons of espresso in my poor old stovetop whoosher using a gas stove fit for holding woks and other large vessels that like big flames (plastic handle: kinda melty at the bottom) and mixing the double shot produced with nuked melamine milk infused with a stick of cinnamon and a stick of vanilla. I've been reading a lot, both book and interweb. For two days, I have been as immobile as possible, wrapped in shawls on the sofa, trying to feel rested and calm again. My sleeping has been just awful and insufficient. Late to bed and early to rise makes for an unfocused day.

I've been slowly working on my non existent new years resolutions (the non existent ones are the easiest to keep because they don't really exist).  I think they really just boil down to trying to make my life a happier and better place, by any means possible. I've been working on my new clearinghouse website (the sticky), adding to the list of things that I like about where I'm at.  It gives me focus and an excuse to take photos with my phone in the supermarket and in noodle shops and all.  I'm trying very hard to feel positive and not so frustrated. I spent much of last year kicking at my cage. I don't fancy bruising my toes again for another year so I'm trying to rewire my brain.

Last night we went to our happy Hunan place up Maoming Lu, where they have the lovely Belgian beer to go with the chilis and cumin. We ordered our usual: green beans with eggplant strips and chilis, bangbang chicken (cold, shredded, drenched in a chili flake/soy marinade), chili-cumin coated thin thin sauteed beef slices, cabbagey dumplings with a chili garlic sauce, and the best ever garlic broccoli. Something went very wrong in the point-to-the-picture ordering though, and instead of bringing the broccoli, we were presented with a steaming hot clay pot of grey jellified preserved eggs and heaps of mushrooms and assorted fungus. I think there may have been some broccoli at the bottom of this, but it should be noted that 1. eggs make D. puke on the best of days and 2. mushrooms and fungus make me puke on the best of days. A more inappropriate mix up couldn't have been possible. It was almost hilarious how utterly wrong it was.  The waitresses were adamant that we had ordered it and there was a stream of other waitresses coming to our table to point to the menu item that we most certainly did not point to in our ordering (the menu picture shows the grey, jellied eggs and piles of wet fungus very clearly in technicolor). After several rounds of arguing in mutually unintelligible languages, it was established that we had indeed ordered the garlic broccoli (which was on the following page) and that someone, somewhere had accidentally passed on the message that we wanted the Grey, Jellied Egg with Lots of Fungus and Broccoli.  The nice thing about it all? They did take it off the bill. Often here, if something goes wrong or if the wrong thing is served or if what's served is really nasty, it's too bad. We once received a pizza delivery that was not only extremely late and cold but also charred black on the bottom.  No apology, no refund, no offer to send a new one.  You just learn to suck it up. 

Anyway, the mushroom-scary-egg thing was kind of funny in its utter wrongness.