Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sinead's visit

My friend from Uni, Sinead came to visit this weekend, which was nice. Its funny though, Sinead and I used to be real party animals and I find these days I am not at all in the mood. Mostly because of my fear of hangovers. These days I find myself saying 'no thank you I've had enough' after two glasses of wine. Not the Anna of the past!! Still three glasses these days and I'm trashed and hung over in the morning.

I also feel I lack the motivation. A friend Connie has suggested meeting up this weekend, but she starts the night at 10pm and drinks til 1 and I just cant do that anymore and also I have come to truly dislike the bar scene. I find I avoid Connie because I'm scared of going out with her. I get so bored in bars that I'm likely to push that 2 drink limit and once I;'ve gone over 3 it can be difficult to apply the breaks. Right now I almost feel like I want to hibernate until May when the warm weather kicks in.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Proud to be an American


I am now a fully fledged U.S. Citizen. 4 hour of anxious waiting ; A tense 4 min interview... (are you a Habitual drunkard?.. No). The swearing in ceremony was a little bit sentimental (we Americans tend to be a tinsy bit centimental) which made me want to laugh hysterically or start sobbing. Luckily I maintained dignity - even through the video of the song 'Proud to be an American', and Bush's speech:


This is a very good thing because me breaking down in a mixture of hysterical laughing and crying is no good thing (ask my dad about a Sunday mass, many years ago, in a local church in Brooklyn: an 80 year old couple renewing their wedding vows to the tones of Frank Sinatra singing 'True Love' from High Society). Seriously I am kind of proud to be an American - although equally proud to be British (OK so a tinsy bit more proud to be a Brit - RULE BRITANNIA, Britannia rules the waves... - I had my fingers crossed during the part where I had to renounce the Queen) . There aren't many places in the world where people are so privileged. Shit America has hair frosting, laser hair removal, great sushi, good gyms, clean water, safe food, hospitals.... AND well its really become my home over the last 9 years and it feels good to know it always will be.

It was funny I asked a girl on the street for directions to the PATH in Newark and hearing m English accent she said, 'where are you from'. I said actually I'm American, but only for about 15 minutes. She said why did you do that. Well, said I, its funny but its really because I want to move to Mexico...

And if you want to get a feel for what the interivew was like:

A little nervous....

Just about to get in the shower and make my self beautiful for my IMMIGRATION INTERVIEW!!! Its 6.30 am right now and I have to be at the Interview and Oath Ceremony site 30 mins before my 8.40am interview. I'm told this should be a breeze - but with so much hanging in the balance I cant help feeling butterflies in my stomach. There is a chance I will be sworn in today also (but this is a very slim chance). I'll likely be sent away to wait for my swearing in date notification. At that point I'll swear allegiance to the flag and exchange my Green Card for a certificate of citizenship, which I can then use to apply for a US passport. There should be only a maximum of 5 days where I'm unable to travel, so my Mexico trip in April should be safe.
OK signing out - fingers crossed!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Meditation Laurie

Went to a really good guided meditation class led by my yoga teacher Laurie last night. Candles, rose petals, sage smudging and peacock feathers. Very relaxing. She's going to be running these every two weeks so I'm quite excited. She read this poem which I really liked:

metamorphosis
-danna faulds

Called beyond the confines of this chrysalis by a force I cannot see or name, I am compelled by pain and something bigger than myself to leave the protection of all that I have known. there is struggle, doubt, a awkward setting forth. finally I break free of the cocoon and find myself surrounded by air and light.

I dare to act, still not knowing what I am; instinct, or maybe faith bids me move forward, make the leap, explore this mystery of change and flight.

I find myself with wings that dwarf my former world. Unfurled, they dry quickly in the sun. I, who expect to spend my days crawling, now teach myself to soar. Such a rush of wind and freedom- that first flight teaches me more than I had learned in a lifetime of crawling.

Namaste.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ticker tape parade

Yesterday morning there was a ticker-tape parade this morning to celebrate the Giants’ surprise victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl video
Despite the clouds, the warm weather made it feel like Spring. My walk into work, down Broadway was made entertaining by the thousands of fans who'd lined up to see the Giants in their victory march to City Hall. I think I read that up to 1 million people were expected. So there they were with their little blue faces. Every time a car or garbage truck drove by hooting its horn a huge roar erupted. Brought a little tear to my eye!
By 11 the streets were full. We had a birds eye view from the window of our boardroom which looks right up Broadway, over Bowling Green.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Other things about Shanghai


I have picked up a few useful tit bits:
Business Cards: Apparently it is very bad manners to just hand a business card to someone in any old fashion. The card should be presented with two hands (one in each corner of the card); the card should be face up and the writing facing in the direction that makes it easy for the recipient to read it.
Body Contact: The Chinese are very easy going about body contact. It seems cool to get up very close and personal. Even in the street it is quite acceptable for someone to brush past you rather than give you a wide berth. When we bought a subway ticket for me it was fine for Yelin to lean over the person using the machine in front of us and assist her with her transaction (this would not go down so well in NYC!).
Ordering in Restaurants: It seems to be the custom that the host orders the food (foul luck for me).
Bartering: If the store is not government controlled, bartering is expected. When I went shopping with Pam, the lady I met from Boston, she often managed to get her price reduced by as much as 90%!! Most I managed was 50% I'm too soft.
Eye contact: Again this seems OK. I made the mistake of sitting at a window in Starbucks (I know I'm ashamed but I needed a Chai Latte). A group of men sat on a ledge outside of the window and began to openly discuss me - staring at me unashamedly and gesturing towards me as they spoke. Even the homeless in NY who've opted out of most of societies rules would find this type of behavior distasteful:) I found it kind of amusing and you could tell they were well intentioned.
Morning Exercise: On the way to work I would pass large groups of people taking their morning exercise:
video
People in our Shanghai office: Were very nice, Yelin, me and Annie:
This picture was taken on the last night when we went out for dinner in the revolving restaurant on top of my hotel. The views were pretty amazing:I also visited a Chinese Buddhist temple:

video

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Groundhog Day - Yesterday

Yesterday was Groundhog Day and Pennsylvania Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil Saw his Shadow and Predicted 6 More Weeks of Winter. BUGGAR!! Although at least the end is in sight. I was hunkering down for the long hall. 6 weeks is doable. 50 degrees today which makes me wonder if Phil might be off the mark....

Groundhog

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Spring Body Work

Well its the time of year where I diet like crazy and hit the gym like a mad woman to get into shape for summer. This winter has been bad for some reason, so I have my work cut out for me if I'm to be Bikini ready for Cozumel in April. Cat sent me this quote which I liked:

"Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity.
The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they
are dim, the whole world is clouded."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Monkey Magic

Imagine my delight when discussing Chinese literature with Raymond Sun - we discovered a shared love of the famous 70's TV show "Monkey" -based on a Chinese classic which I intend to read:

Friday, February 1, 2008

Suzhou


Suzhou's history begins at least as early as 514 BC. We were to visit two of Suzhou's famous gardens. The Gardens were built by imperial officials; affluent mandarins who sought to create oases of tranquility intended for inward reflection based on the principles of Shan Shui, or mountains and water, and also the Taoist concepts of natural harmony. They were designed for quiet meditation.

Unfortunately the original gardens were mostly destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion. I know very little Chinese history - that which I do know is from reading Wild Swans (a biography of 3 generations of Chinese women). So I learned today that the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64) was lead by Hong Xiuquan, a Christian who had visions which lead him to believe that he was the son of God and brother of Jesus Christ! By 1853 Hong had become bored with waring and instead turned to sensual pursuits (unlike his brother J.C., Hong enjoyed a substantial harem). With Hong thus distracted the Quing military lead by an Englishman, Charles 'Chinese' Gordon were able to overthrow Hong's Empire (wonder if these characters inspired Flash Gordon - fighting the evil Ming). By 1863 Suzhou was returned to Quing. Next the troubled city was captured by the Japanese government in 1937, who also destroyed many of the gardens and in 1949 the communists continued the destruction.

In 1981 China's then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping took control of the city and many of the gardens were rebuilt. Incidentally Xiaping was also the leader responsible for the rise of the water city of Zhouzhang.

So the Gardens... Our tour guide Sheila lead us through the 'Humble Administrators Garden' and the 'Lion Forrest Garden'. Sheila was a very pretty, slim and delicate Chinese girl. The way she walked made me think of elegant Mandarin ladies in formal dress - her toes always hit the ground first and her gate was a floaty hobble.

Snow had fallen heavily during our drive to the Garden and this made for a dramatic scene. The Administrator's garden was far from 'humble'. It is one of Suzhou's largest, most luxuriant classical garden: streams, po9nds, bamboo covered islands connected by traditional bridges and causeways. The Chinese believed that evil is unable to pass except in straight lines, so all of the bridges, zig zagged across the water. The many pagodas were named things like: 'place to listen to rain on roof'' or 'place to sleep listening to the sound of rain on lotus leaves'... As a great advocate of the afternoon snooze myself, I imagined settling down to the sound of the rain outside hitting the lotus leaves in the pond with the soft smell of the flowers floating in on the spring breeze. I feel that the only thing missing from this tranquil scene was a hammock. I could have made a killing in ancient China marketing hammocks! Although perhaps they would have had some trouble climbing into them in those long robes.

On the way out we visited the Bonsai Garden. I have always found Bonsai trees quite magical. Tinsy perfect little trees all knotted and old. Sadly on the one occasion I owned a Bonsai I managed to kill it very quickly.

Our last visit was to the 'Lion Forrest Garden'. This is the only garden to have survived from the Yuan Dynasty. The Garden was inspired by Buddhist ideas, compact yet harmoniously spaced. The garden is filled with limestone rocks, carefully chosen because their shapes resembled lions. We walked through a labyrinth of man made limestone mountains with winding pathways as well as pavilions, terraces and towers. Again I imagined emperors visiting the imperial minister who owned the Garden and drifting around its many walk ways. A nice little glimpse of how ancient China might have been. A far cry from the hustle of modern, neon, Shanghai. video

Silk Factory

I'd had no idea how silk was made and must admit is it pretty amazing. First the silk farmers take carefully gathered silk worm eggs and keep them warm until they hatch into worms. They pick maple leaves and place a worm on each leaf on a flat woven basket (the worms get to about 3 inches long). The worm feels like it had landed a tremendous fortune - 'I don't even have to go looking for a mulberry bush - here I've hatched right on this big leaf in this nice warm basket'. Lulled into a false sense of security some of the worms find mates and others stay single (oh yes- the single worms make the best silk!). After taking their fill of the mulberry leaves the worms decide its time to make a cocoon so they can become beautiful silk moths (enter the evil silk farmers). The poor worms make over 5,000 meters of silk in one single thread, and cosy themselves up in it for their gestation snooze. The worm couples cocoon together entwining their 5,000 meters together and make bigger cocoons. Off to the silk factory. First a lady separates large and small cocoons. The single cocoons are taken and boiled (poor silk worms meet their maker). The boiling pot is stirred with a brush which picks up the end of the silk threads. Then the silk thread of 6 cacoons is twisted together onto a big spool, ready to be died and woven. The lesser quality large cocoons are taken to a separate boiling pot and then a lady extricates the bodies of the entangled lovers and stretches their love nest over an inverted U shaped wire; then when 10 cocoons are thus stretched, they are moved to a large u shaped wire. When dried they are stretched again to the size of quilts. I was almost tempted to buy a silk quilt, but with the cover you are looking at over $200 and I'm supposed to be on a tight budget. The little silk worm bodies are not disgarded. Oil from the worm is made in to facial moisturiser and the worms themselves can be fried and eaten (Mmmmm... now I know what to order for my next Chinese meal). We looked at beautiful dresses and I thought about buying one and then I thought when am I going to wear that. Pam bought a quilt and kindly gave me the silk handkerchief she was given as a gift for her purchase. I almost bought some moisturiser but suddlenly the idea of smearing dead silk worm on my face was unappealing. On a happy note some of the worms are kept by the farmers for breeding purposes and go on to lead full and contented silk moth lives. I imagine only the couple worms are given this benefit as breeding is the main purpose of their salvation:)

Zhouzhang


I had decided to get out of Shanghai on Saturday. Given my lack of knowledge of ANY Manderin I decided to take a bus tour. Met two American ladies (Pam and Diane) and two Mexican sisters, one named Paulina - both from Mexico city on this bus tour. Our first stop was Zhouzhang, a water town North of Shanghai. We hired a boat to see the back alleys and bridges from the water. The town became famous because of a painting by an artist named Chen Yifei of the 'key bridge' which dated back some 600 years (the bridge not the artist). Our boat lady proudly showed us a picture of her self with Chen Yifei. His painting had been purchased by an American oil millionaire who'd presented it to China's then leader Deng Xioping. This lead to Xioping pronouncing Zhouzhuang the No.1 Water town in China. The towns streets are narrow with traditional stone block lanes. It is clearly becoming catered to tourism, but we saw an old local washing her clothes in the river and when you cast your eyes above street level you could almost imagine the town as it was hundreds of years ago. During the boat ride it began to snow and the rhythmic movement of the boat as the oars lady paddled us through the water set a very peaceful scene. video