Sunday, July 4, 2010

Plum diddly-dum

Greetings from a very wet and soggy Shanghai. It's "plum rain" season again and rainy it has been. I narrowly avoided a proper soaking this afternoon when returning from a quick shopping run on my bike. Sunshine on departure then the heavens opened and a dumped a ocean of water in a matter of minutes, just as I pulled back into my lane. As much as they're incredibly inconvenient, I do kind of like these freak storms that appear out of nowhere, though they have caught me out in the past - never advisable to wear a white dress at this time of year.

Anyway, all is well. I started my new job at the beginning of June and so I'm now one month in. It's a six month contract as a web editor for and Ctrip is the behemoth of the travel scene in China and with some 7000 employees in Shanghai alone, they are the biggest travel agent around. I work mainly on editing the activities and tours out of Chinglish and into English and a few other bits and bobs. Chinatravel is a smaller but more fun fish and basically covers all corners with anything and everything related to travel in China apart from selling stuff. We send you to Ctrip for all that.

Flo is working hard getting things in order to get his business up and running and has a few potential projects on the boil (anyone looking import/export or start doing business with this part of the world, feel free to get in touch!). Ona completely unrelated note, he's been up in Inner Mongolia for the last five days getting involved in a bike comp called the Ghenghis Khan Mountain Bike Challenge - 250km by bike over 3 days, topped off by a half marathon on Day 4. Sounds like he survived to tell the tale and he'll be back bearing photos and a tan some time tomorrow afternoon.

Not much of great interest to report from the last month unfortunately, apart from job and work, things are going well. We've made it out to the Expo a couple of times and frankly it's a bizarre experience that I still haven't quite made my mind up about. Impressive in scale certainly, impressive in the number of people, yes. Impressive in that anyone in their right mind would queue for 8 hours to get in to the Saudi pavilion and watch a few videos with special effects? Astounding. It's incredible, queues for most of the European nations range from 1 hour (Romania anyone?) to 6 (Germany and Switzerland). The UK ranks around 2-3 hours on average but as we discovered on our last jaunt over there, there are some benefits to being a British citizen and a flash of my drivers license got us in the back door. It worked likewise for France though they were a bit more organized and actually had it printed on the special entry sign, just below the disabled, pregnant women. In fact a French passport worked better than either of the above as it gets your two mates in as well! Both pavilions were nice, though neither felt like home for either of us (maybe I'm just too tarnished with living overseas that a waxwork of Becks and some seeds from Kew Gardens just don't quite do it for me) but I have to admit the UK one is really cool to look at.

Moving on from all that pseudo-culture, I spent this afternoon shopping which is not something I often indulge in but I was spurred into action by my shoes literally falling off my feet last week. Bought in Hong Kong last year for a pittance, they were on their last legs and the rain simply finished them off. So off I went with a friend to Qipu Lu, somewhere in the vague north of Shanghai. Famous for its cheap, fast fashion, my only other experience there was in my first year here and I've never been back since. It was winter, hideously busy, hideously hot inside but bitingly cold out and the people were horrible. Probably because at the time I didn't understand the Chinese for "you can't bargain here and no, you can't try it on and no, you can't return it" that they kept shouting at me. This time I was more well prepared and with a veteran shopper. Under her expert guidance, we avoided the crowds, focused on shoes, bags and accessories and made it out with 6 pairs of shoes, two handbags and a belt for 300 RMB (about 30 quid). Ladies, you would love it. They have piles of shoes for 20 RMB a pair (which I think completely justified my purchase of two pairs of almost exactly the same blue satin flats... oops). The quality is not bad either as it's basically all stuff that is designed for export but the factories do a few extra runs at night and flog it themselves in China at considerably lower cost.

On the subject of re-discovering the benefits of living in China, I've also recently become a convert to this website called which is a Chinese version of ebay that sells literally everything and, god bless google translate and my friend Jasmine, I'm now the proud owner of a pasta machine and a yogurt maker. The latter is getting considerably more use as, though homemade pasta is to die for, its kind of a pain in the ass to make (Flo will attest to this, having been assigned my sous chef and chief pasta machine handle turner - he did appreciate the results though!). The yogurt maker has already earned back its 4 pound price tag and is cooking me up a nice batch of creamy fresh yogurt as I type. Mmmm, mmmm.

Coming up we have Flo's friend Olive and his gal visiting end of next week, Flo's parent heading over end of July and for much of August and I suspect time will probably fly by till I write again. I hope anyone reading this and particularly those I know and love of course, are well and happy. Random strangers who may have come across this page and somehow kept reading to this point, well, I hope your world is rocking too.