Wednesday, April 27, 2011

let the world change you

I step out into the breeze, donning black tailor shorts and a loose sheer button up, over an electric blue silk tank top. It is high 70's Fahrenheit today but I still have to carry a scarf. Shanghai wind tend to sneak up on you here, even when the sun is shining hard. Big round sunglasses cover most of my face. The bigger and darker the glasses, the more effective the message: 'do not disturb.'

The street by our high rise is always bustling, reminiscent of New York's Soho in a way. But this is Shanghai, and one has to look tough, walk with a strong sense of purpose in order to make it through these crowded streets. Here, strangers elbow and bump into one another with no remorse. Beggars clamor to get your attention if you look open and friendly. Shopgirls hawking cosmetics will literally pull at your arm to get you into their store. To everyone I am an opportunity for a sell, but I just want to get to my destination in peace.

The light flashes red, but I have learned early on to ignore their signal. Waiting for an opening amongst hoards of cars passing by, I bravely make my way across the street into a boulangerie for a cup of coffee and egg tart. This will be my breakfast and fuel for the rest of the day until dinner. 

A light sprinkle starts to fall as I walk into the subway station beneath City Plaza Mall. The stations here are so clean and brightly light, almost like an airport terminal. I used to be so afraid of this city, but after four and a half weeks I can finally walk with confidence. Learning and picking up basic words and phrases here or there, I can complete errands without hesitation. Each day my skin grows a little bit thicker and I become a bit tougher, speaking more sternly. This is how you have to be in China; Ruthless, confident, and uncompromising because everyone else is like this. I used to smile a lot at shopkeepers, but that only gives them cause to overcharge. Here naivety and general friendliness will hurt your wallet, and in the end your spirit. 

After a bit of shopping and bargaining for prices, I am famish. My checklist complete for the day, I head back on the Line 2 home, yearning for my bed. 

I did good today. Scored the most gorgeous white asymmetrical Jackie-O dress, a long silk green jewel-tone maxi, another pair of tailored shorts and a precious sheer black jacket with silver beaded trimming. This will stave off my shopping addiction for the next 2 weeks or so. 

I've learned that once I figured this city out and accepted its cultural differences, Shanghai has so much to offer. Had I kept fighting and refused to learn how to adapt, this city would have continued to remain unfamiliar, keeping me forever as a stranger.

Until next time!

Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim,
not Hindu, Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion or cultural system.

I am not from the East or the West,
not out of the ocean
or up from the ground,
not natural or etheral,
not composed of elements at all.

I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world
or the next,
did not decend from Adam or Eve
or any origin story.

My place is placeless,
a trace of the traceless.

Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved,
have seen the two worlds as one
and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner,
only that breath breathing human being.

from The Essential Rumi translations 
by Coleman Barks

Saturday, April 23, 2011

cautionary tale: not all hair salons are created equal; and not as nice

You know how when you try something new for the first time and the experience was amazing, you almost can't believe it? And then you take it further to think well, if it was that good my first time, maybe I can find better! 
Getting my hair washed in my seat; "Dry Shampoo"
I'm talking about getting my hair washed & styled in Shanghai. The first time I ever went was to a salon right by my house called Mei & Rain. China is notoriously for offering these sort of 'luxury' services on the cheap. They washed my hair while I was seated in my chair in a processed called 'dry shampoo.' They don't actually use dry shampoo, it just means you aren't laying down at the washer's station. It's a great experience because along with the wash, they also massage your scalp for a good 20 minutes.

Then my hair was styled by a well dressed young stylist named Jerry. I told him to make it curly at the bottom, and he gave me the sweetest curls using only his brush and dryer. I was in lust with my hair and Jerry was top of my very short list of top stylists in Shanghai. It all came out to be 35RMB, roughly $5.50 USD.  Sometimes I feel so guilty knowing how cheap it is. In addition, China is not a tipping culture, so you do not tip for services! 

I decided to test my luck and try another salon on Fuzhou Lu (a place close by where lover works). One thing to note when getting these services is to get the price first. They quoted me 38RMB for wash and style. Knowing I did not speak any Chinese, the lover instructed them on how I wanted my hair done and confirmed the price before he left. As soon as the girl started washing my hair, she asked, "You want a massage?" Which of course comes with the wash, so yes. Duh. Little did I know, she was a sly one.

The wash ended after 15 minutes and the stylist took his position. He was shorter than Jerry, and as soon as he started styling my hair I could tell immediately that he lacked the skill to do anything spectacular to my locks, skills that cannot be dictated to by a girl who doesn't speak any Mandarin. Woe is me because I can never hide the expressions on my face. I sat through the whole ordeal with a slight frown. I tried to signal "more volume" or "more big" with my hands, which he understood. He kept blow drying the same parts over and over again only to fail at the intended affect. It was just not within his capability, which was a bit depressing. I missed Mei & Rain and Jerry.

This is where the cautionary tale of the story comes in: When I got up to pay, the girl took out a calculator and inputted 125, meaning 125RMB. I balked. No freaking way did it go from 37RMB for subpar service to 125RMB. She tried to explain that the massage cost 88RMB. (Did you know can get a full body massage at a very nice spa for 88RMB...more on that later.) I immediately took my phone and called the lover, who sternly spoke to the manager and the girl. Through her protest he said, "You did not tell her that the massage cost extra when you offered it. It comes with the wash. You know very well she doesn't understand Chinese so she couldn't have consented to anything. Do not try to take advantage of her. She's paying 37RMB and leaving."

Which is what I did. This is China. Some people (not everyone) will take advantage of you if you are a foreigner. It's a disgusting part of the culture am starting to dislike.

Lesson learned; When you've got a good thing on the first try, don't question it or see if you can do better. Just go with it and count your blessings.

After the ordeal, I returned to Mei & Rain: 

Tada! After "Jerry" styled my hair. I told him to make it curly or whatever he thinks looks good. I trusted his judgement at this point.
Mei&Rain Hair
256 Yuyaun Lu
Shanghai, China
*Highly recommended*

*When getting my hair done, I try to skip places that cater to only foreigner/expats because the quality is not always better, but the price is always 3 times as much. The only benefit is that they speak English.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Outreach: Fresh Air Fund is in Need of Host Families

Here's how you can change a life without having to leave home, but by opening up your home to one child this summer.

In 2010, The Fresh Air Fund's Volunteer Host Family program, called Friendly Town, gave close to 5,000 New York City boys and girls, ages six to 18, free summer experiences in the country and the suburbs. Volunteer host families shared their friendship and homes up to two weeks or more in 13 Northeastern states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.

If you live in the region mentioned above and would like to give a child an opportunity to live a different life for one summer, please sign up by going here: Host a Child.

Thanks to host families who open up their homes for a few weeks each summer, children growing up in New York City’s toughest neighborhoods have experienced the joys of Fresh Air experiences.

My Plea:

Summertime a long awaited vacation for most of us growing up, but children in tough neighborhoods with absentee parents who work over 12 hours a day experiences a much different summer than us. Some of them will never know what it feels like to go fishing, run in an open field, pick honey suckles, step into a creek, sit in a hammock or read a book under a tree. They are left idle and to play alone in these bad city neighborhoods, and we all know that idleness can lead to trouble. I won't bring up statistics, but you all know very well that these children when left to their own devices end up as delinquents or in gangs. I believe the Fresh Air Fund gives these children an opportunity to see the world in as a much friendlier place and build relationship with a family who will love them and look after them like their own. That kind of love and tenderness is priceless, and once you instill a new and positive point of view into a child, it is very hard to shake. 

If you have some free time, visit their website to learn more about them and if you are unable to host, maybe you can make a donation of $5. 

New Girl Crush Alert: Jamie Chung

I never really paid attention to her when she was on MTV's The Real World. All I knew of her is that she wore lots of Uggs on there. And then girl went and carefully crafted an acting career out of it, which in the beginning only garnered her to be type-cast as the token 'Asian' girl or with stereotypical roles. Perhaps Sucker Punch is finally turning the tide, unless she wore a school girl skirt in it. I wouldn't know, I haven't seen it yet. 

But I have seen pictures of her from Coachella popping up everywhere, and I have to say, I like her style! It's refreshing to see her wear normal clothes and look stylish at the same time. Ms. Chung pulls of hipster pretty well. I'll be looking forward to seeing more of her out and about in the future.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

dream on

your postcards are in the mail. some of you really moved me with your responses. to the ones who are just aching with desire to see the world, to take that leap...

I say that's the first step to realizing your dreams. I don't even want to call it dreams because nowadays when we say stuff like "you're living the dream!" it equates to something like having it all, living it big, or achieving a big goal/accomplishment. I don't want it to be that. Sometimes a dream can be just to simply cross the Atlantic, to sit in front of the tomb of someone you admire, or to connect with your lost family. A dream doesn't have to be society's (or your peer's) deeming of big great achievement. It's a personal endeavor. And it only means something to the dreamer, no one else.

You don't have to summit Mount Rushmore and you don't have to cure cancer unless it is truly a personal goal. But I feel like I'm talking about something different. Something much more intimate and smaller, more precious. The thing that lifts us up and makes us float from one day to the next with a little more ease, with a smile. Is your life more enriched because of the accolades hanging on your wall, the size of your bank account or the car you drive?

When I finally reached Mr. Wilde's tomb, I was in awe of what was before me. It's a memory that I don't think I will ever forget. Just like kisses from my beautiful nephew, or the time lover took me up to the Empire State Building just to say hi to the pigeons because we had thirty minutes to spare.

After realizing that desire within you, you have to acknowledge that it is selfish and only for you. Accept that not because it's easier but because its true. This is your life and you only live once, but so many of us are sleeping through it or dead and don't even know it.

And then let it grow. Let it grow so large that it becomes unbearable to live the way you are currently living. Let it make you want to cry every night to wish you had the willpower to do as you please. That's the next step; to let it eat away at you and consume you until you burst.

And when you do explode, that's when your journey will begin, wide-eyed and awake, fully aware of your potential and what magic the world holds for you, no longer in your dormant state but full of hunger and want that must be fulfilled at this very moment or you will scream. No compromises.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

pho in shanghai

I missed the motherland, so like any Vietnamese, I had a hankering for pho. Word has it that Shanghai has fail to do Vietnamese food justice. I remain optimistic.

About a ten minute walk from my place is the Kerry Centre, which houses business offices and a few restaurants on the lobby floor, as well as a Starbucks. I should have known to be wary of any place that offers two different types of ethnic cuisine, but isn't fusion. This restaurant was called Pho Asia as well as Thai Loft. Thai food and Vietnamese food, though close in geographical proximity, are nothing alike.

Needless to say, the pho, though presented quite well with great quality marbled beef, was extremely disappointing. For one thing, they used high quality marbled beef. Pho is a poor man's bowl! It uses the cheapest cuts of the cow, the leftovers of what ever is left over and unwanted (tripe, etc) and makes the most amazing aromatic cheap bowl of noodle you will ever have. It is basic and 'peasant' in its simplicity, the essence of its flavor is it the low quality of ingredients. It will never work if you try to make it upscale.

So whatever I had today, it was an imitation of pho. It was something that wanted to be pho, but failed miserably. They may have possibly created a new dish altogether. I'll call it faux-pho. Bad puns aside, I still left with a full belly, an unfinished egg-roll (awful) and filled up on fresh cucumber juice. 

I topped it off with mango sticky rice and coconut pudding.
You can't go wrong with this one as long as you stick to the basic ingredients and it was the best part of my entire meal.

Pho Asia - 2 out of 5 stars for a pho dish that taste nothing like pho
Unit 105B, 1/F, Kerry Centre 1515 Nanjing Xi Lu

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Norwegian Wood

Based on Haruki Murakami's book
Directed by Tran Anh Hung
Starring Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara
Music by Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead

I haven't read this book yet, and the impatient girl in mean is debating on weather I should read it first before seeing the movie. I found out the director was Vietnamese which piqued my interest even more. Kiko Mizuhara is beautiful, as well. Google her and you'll see why.
Must find DVD asap.


I've been meaning to catch this film for the longest time. It's trippy and non-stop, and makes you feel a little paranoid watching the whole thing. Highly recommended. Gregg Araki is a great director and he does exactly what any great film is supposed to do; take you for a ride. It is sensual, captivating, hilariously funny and suspenseful. Kitchy like Crank, or early Quentin Tarantino. Silly and unforgettable.

Friday, April 8, 2011

run forth

This world can be suffocating at times. And at times it can be so vast and desolatingly large that I feel more minuscule than the tiniest bud in a garden of roses.

There seems to be a reoccurring theme in my travels. One way or another, the dusty, often long forgotten, ruins of the past make themselves ever present again.

It just goes to prove that distance doesn't mean anything. Luckily, I am not running away from anything, because you can never really ever run away from yourself. And that's the most honest truth you will ever know.

Luckily, I am blessed enough to have something to run towards.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

opening my eyes

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. within decades we must close our eyes again. isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? -Dawkins

Our corner unit on the 19th floor in Shanghai.

The view of the city from the living room; it's very smoggy here.

We are a block away from Jing'An Temple.

My new nails.

Din Tai Fung; renowned soup dumpling house. 
I believe there is a location in Los Angeles and all around the world.

I have been in Shanghai for almost a week now. This city is fascinating in its diversity, rapid growth and culture. The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Shanghai is the smell; food. Intoxicating smells of flavorful dishes flow into the streets. This could be a good or bad thing. If you are full; its bad, if you are hungry...well I guess that's bad too.

I was really surprised by how international this city was. My first weekend here I had amazing French food and foie gras, cheese and wine. Since then I've had Taiwanese food, Yunnan dishes, Japanese, and of course local Chinese food. 

It's so cheap here! I had my nails done for $6USD. Next up: wash and blow dry for around $2. With prices like these, you could afford a blow out and manicure every day if you wanted. China also has a very large massage culture. I'm not referring to the fabled 'happy ending' types, but legitimate reflexology and the likes. I had my first massage last weekend for around 88RMB ($13USD) at a really nice place called Cogen. Strongly considering trying cupping next. 

Today I am meeting up with a Shanghai friend who was introduced to me by a friend in New York. Her English isn't that proficient, nor is my Chinese. This should be interesting.

Monday, April 4, 2011

wish you were here...

peace at the cemetery

My Paris has been beautiful. I hope this entry makes you feel like you took this trip with me.

Père Lachaise Cemetery (FrenchCimetière du Père-Lachaise; officially, cimetière de l'Est, "East Cemetery") is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, France (48 ha, 118.6 acres),[1] though there are larger cemeteries in the city's suburbs.
Père Lachaise is in the 20th arrondissement, and is reputed to be the world's most-visited cemetery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the graves of those who have enhanced French life over the past 200 years. It is also the site of three World War I memorials.
[above from Wikipedia]

This was on my Paris must-do list and after finally conquering jet-laggedness, I dared myself to venture out on my own, took the subway by myself, which was fairly easy, and arrived at the cemetery with ease. The day was grey, sunless, with scattered sprinkles of rain, not enough to get you wet...but enough to remind you you're alive. Rain does that to me, but I digress.

I didn't stay on the cobbled path, but rather worked my way among the tombstones where there was considerably less traffic, and more peace and quiet. There was a strange calmness in the air. A stillness of souls resting, years passing, and a sense of yearning, nostalgia. Time stops here to rest.  

The above is my favorite image; a glass door to a tomb with flowers inside, her face, and my reflection. 

The place was very antique; Tomb doors rusting gracefully with age, graves coated with green moss.
It was like being in a library or a museum. I could have sat here for ages.

A cute marker at the hall of ashes.


 All the love and passion. All still here.

"She was sitting in a cupcake shop reading you."

 "If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life."

Bucket list: Check!

This was beautiful; sculpture of man laying atop a tomb with butterflies at his feet and a rose in his hand. There are some beautiful sculptures in this cemetery and this is just one of them.

My return on the subway

There are performers at just about every stop. This one was a very talented violinist selling her own CD's.