Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tough Love

My little 11 year-old brother has a band. And they sing love songs. Or more like we-hate-love kind of love songs. Yesterday, they were rocking out to Bon Jovi's "You give love a bad name". I started laughing when they all screamed how they were "shot through the heart" by girls. When I asked one of them if he's even got a crush at school, he looked away shyly and shook his head.

My even younger sister must have been taking notes. Later that day when I asked her about a scratch she's got, she shrugged and looked at me.

Jody: It's got to hurt before it gets better.

Me: Like love?

Jody: Exactly.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Waipo lessons #2: Taking the pill

Boys I date complain that I am non-committal. My parents believe that I'm travel-crazy to be ready to settle down. My sister just thinks that I am not done flirting.

To be honest, one of my biggest fear about getting married has always been about birth control.

I use to literally cry when I had to take pills. Each pill would take an agonizing half an hour to swallow. Over time, I learned to pretend to swallow then spit it out when my mom's back was turned.

Last summer when I had to take antibiotics for my snakebite, my friends at the Barlow center sat with me to make sure that I actually ate my medicine. Little did they know that I never really swallowed any of them. Needless to say, my foot got infected and became kind of spongy. It was gross.

The other day, my waipo just handed me a packet of vitamin pills and a glass of water.

I fidgeted.

I then started to do my little stockpiling-in-the-cheek trick.

She just sat there and pointed out that she's not stupid.

I was shocked.

So, I swallowed.

And it wasn't too bad.

----- And now, I take my vitamins twice a day.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kiss and tell

A random man kissed me on the metro today.

Right on the back of my neck, where boyfriends weren't even allowed.

I would have slapped him but I couldn't move.

That's how packed the Beijing metro was during rush hour.

So I gave him the mental death glare instead.

I'm just glad that I wasn't facing him.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Waipo lessons: #1: Eating a fish head

I'm living with my waipo, or my grandma, in Beijing right now. Everyday I hang out with her in our little kitchen and try to learn a thing or two about Chinese cooking. Today we made fish head tofu soup, deep-fried shrimp crackers, and this leafy vegetable dish. While the cooking was fascinating, the eating was a little harder.

I had made a pact with her that I would learn to eat anything as long as it is good for my health. Inevitably though, everything I ask her about she claims that it is good for me. Especially the fish head.

She taught me how to suck all the flesh and juices out of the pieces of head. When I was awkwardly playing around with it in my mouth, she stopped me and said,"Your tongue is the smartest muscle in your body. If you can learn to speak English, then learning to eat fish head is so easy." With that boost of confidence, I braved on. I did draw the line at the fish eyes though.

You see, my American friends, you are already one step ahead of everybody else when it comes to eating fish heads.

p.s. The secret ingredient is a little bit of vinegar. It makes the fish bones soft.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Touchy hands, touchy feelings

I went shopping today to pick out a few tops before I start work tomorrow. I wandered around a shopping district in Beijing and just followed the crowd. Chinese people like to gather around one place. They see a long line and line up regardless of whether they know what's at the end of it. After all, it must be something worth buying if others are waiting around for it.

Meanwhile, other shops have people waiting around to la ke 拉客, or to "pull the customers" and drag them to their shops instead. Some of those people are mildly flirtatious, trying to sweet talk you into following them. Others shove unwanted ads into your hands while edging you towards their shop corner. Today I was dogged by really aggressive pushers. Two kept following me even after I told them no thanks. They even went down the escalator with me. I could feel them breathing down my neck. The boy with the spiked up, purple-streaked hair and the brow piercings said, " Hey beautiful girl, I'm not a bad guy, come with me." His friend, with even more piercings, nodded and kept pulling at my clothes. Finally, I got kind of upset and yelled at them not to touch me.

The purple hair guy seemed hurt. He mumbled, "What's the big deal with me touching you?" His friend nodded again and looked away.

And for some reason, I almost felt bad.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Chinese hospital experience

(Above: Patients lining to wait for their medicine. Self-help machines to check medicine costs. Flow of operations at the hospital.)

My eyes have been freaking out on me for a couple of months so one of the first things my mom did was to take me to the hospital here in Shanghai. The hospital was more crowded than a Forever 21 store on Black Friday. And it was a week day. My mom and I got there at 8:30 a.m. and all the registration numbers were gone. You see, in order to see a doctor in China, you have to line up for a gua hao, a registration number. After the quota of the day is exhausted,  they turn away people. Some patients start lining up at 4 a.m. in order to secure a gua hao. You also get to request specific doctors. The doctors' names and specialties are listed on a giant board and they are ranked as "top level experts" and "experts". I just randomly picked the ones that had nice smiles and beautiful names.

Based on my limited experience here in Shanghai and in DC when I was in the hospital because of a snakebite, I've come up with a little list comparing the two.

Side by side:
American and Chinese hospitals

:: The Chinese hospital had self-help machines where you can check the prices of all the medicines beforehand so you know what to expect. In America, I just received 4 or 5 bills that charged me random, exorbitant amounts.

:: In US, I rolled my eyes when I had to wait 45 minutes for a doctor. Here, we finally got to see a doctor only because we had connections.

:: Some of the Shanghai nurses were ferocious, whereas my DC nurse sneaked me extra pudding, wheeled me around to show off my ballooned leg, and pulled up her shirt randomly to show me all her stretch marks.

:: The DC triage nurse told me that I had sprained my ankle when I was really bitten by a copperhead; my Chinese doctor took two minutes to determine what was wrong with my eye. The Chinese doctors apparently see up to a thousand patients a day.

:: My anti-venom shots cost apparently 20,000 USD per shot (I had three). Subsequent visits to the doctors, only to be reprimanded for not taking my meds, cost at least $250 USD each time. In Shanghai, I was charged 15 RMB (2 USD) to see the doctor and an extra $120 RMB for the medicine (roughly 20 USD).

:: But lucky for my parents, insurance covered most of my DC bills (which were crazy, especially with all the dessert I ordered). I'm not exactly sure how, or if, insurance works in China.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Family Man

Conversation with my little brother, Cody, on imaginary friends.

Me: So do you have an imaginary girl friend?

Cody: No.

Cody: But I do have a wife and three kids. Two boys and a girl. Their names are Jim, James, and Joel. Guess which one is the girl?

Me: . . .

Cody: It's Jim.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Like a kid in the candy store

I admit, I went a little overboard today. I don't even care if I eat it. Looking at my secret stash just makes me happy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Convenient Man

One of the few times when I wish I was married is when I'm playing Phase 10 with my family.

After all, with a husband, you have an automatic ally who sneaks you the cards you need and who never skips you in case you threaten not to kiss him that night.

I think I finally understand the concept of a marriage of convenience.

The eXpo Factor

Shanghai is crazy about its coming out party. In fact, the whole of China is. Shanghai has been preparing for the World Expo for 8 years and has apparently spent more to remake the city than Beijing did to revamp itself for the Olympics.

Through private channels, we were given "preview" tickets to tour inside before it officially opened. Some of the buildings were fantastically constructed. The UK pavilion sported a porcupine look, with seeds from different plants at the ends of the thousands of glass shards. The Latvian pavilion was disco-ballesque, with colorful mirror plates shimmering in the sun. In comparison, the US one spelled practical and homely, with brand giants like GE and Chevron plastered on the inside walls.

The Expo fever spread to the Chinese countryside as well. As a family, we biked to a nearby village to get away from the city. As we were eating our ice cream at a little store, a group of villagers surrounded us. Two men were sporting bright red arm bands and proudly announced that they were "Expo representatives". Their duties were to "welcome the foreigners and keep the peace" to make sure that the Expo runs smoothly. Mostly, they just lovingly fingered the leather seat of my dad's professional bike and tried to convince my mom that the Sprite, with September 2007 as its expiry date, was safe to drink.

Let's just hope that the party is everything Shanghai, especially the villagers, had imagined it to be.