Friday, October 19, 2007

Ozo in da house!

ShanghaiOct 016
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.

I missed seeing Ozomatli in Bangalore by a day, but managed to get good solid notice that they were coming to Shanghai for the Yue Music Festival. Sandwiched between this weird one-man-band called Yacht and the headliners, Faithless, Ozomatli once again knocked my proverbial socks off. I took a friend who'd never seen them live before, and she too was sockless by the end.

(Click on the photo for a link to the rest of the festival pics.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Shanghai is a great bicycling city. There are no hills. You think Texas is flat? It's got nuttin' on Shanghai. If the city ever floods, it'll be a nightmare because there are no highpoints. (Speaking of flooding, we were basically unscathed by the typhoon. Barely even rained - what a let down.)

Anyway, the point of all of this is that I bought myself a bicycle for my birthday. She's beautiful. Bright turquoise with a cute little basket and an even cuter little bell, which, unfortunately, sounds a bit like a sick frog when wet. We discovered this quickly after an afternoon ride in the rain.

And the best part... really, the best part... is that she came with a name. Ladies and Gentleman, meet... Alice. (there's supposed to be a photo here, but having trouble with the upload. A glitch from behind the Red Curtain, perhaps.)

The Little One and I went shopping Saturday afternoon in the rain. I came home with Alice, and she left with Homy. Not kidding. Homy - a shiny green number, also with a cute little basket and equally cute bell.

Joining us in our shopping adventures was the Ladykiller, my 6' 3" friend with red, red hair. He blends in well with the local population. HA. Anyway, he was supposed to bring his bike to get it fixed, but since the bolt that was missing was the one that kept the handlebars on he decided to leave it at home. After the big purchase, we all decided to go do a little exploring and get some lunch. Ladykiller assured us that he could just jog along if we kept the pace slow.

I want you to get a firm image in your head. Two white girls on bicycles with funny names and a big red-headed man running beside them down the back streets of Shanghai in the pouring rain. Did I mention we were singing theme songs from the Rocky films to keep the Ladykiller in the running spirit? Blending with the local culture. That's what you do when living in a foreign country. I'm sure we turned a few heads. Crazy laowai (foreigner in Chinese).

I'm trying desperately to post pics of the bike here, but it seems to be failing miserably. I'll try again tomorrow from work where I have fewer blocked sites. Speaking of pics, I've posted a ton of new photos from around Shanghai to my Flickr account. Check the link on the right.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Super Typhoon Wipha

Shanghai is bracing for the worst typhoon in at least a decade. We're talking category 4-5 hurricane levels here. They've evacuated 200,000 people and closed all schools. We were even given the blessing to work from home tomorrow, as the winds are supposed to reach up to 125 kph. YIKES.

So my big plans are thus: I'm going to haul my ass out to the other side of town and sit on the second row of an uncovered stadium and watch the USA vs Nigeria Women's World Cup soccer game that they have refused to cancel. The games tommorrow have been postponed, but not tonight's. I'm donning my raincoat, some quick-dry hiking pants, and my Tevas. Good to go!!

I'm a moron. I know.

Tomorrow, I will be hunkered down in my house, praying the huge wall of glass windows doesn't cave in on me. See you on the flip side!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Wait... where am I again?

Occasionally, I forget where I am. It's fairly easy to do living in Shanghai, where there is a KFC on every corner, Starbucks and McDonalds a little less frequent, but still prominent, and even the street hawkers are hounding you in English.

I started this morning with a full-on breakfast, American Style, at a place called City Diner. Although it was a very international crew... German, Japanese, Chinese, Canadian, British, Swiss, and the few token Americans, it still felt a bit like home. The place just oozed of good old fashioned US diner food. Biscuits & gravy, home fries, Texas toast... huge portions, bottomless cups of coffee and all the good things that come along with that - like a full belly and a partial food coma for the afternoon. Yum.

From brunch we went to a Morroccan restaurant for a 2 hour African drumming lesson. This was without a doubt one of the hardest things I've attempted. My hands are still a bit on the numb side 4 hours later. I have to admit though, I had an absolute blast. Maybe my dream of being the drummer for the Go-Go's isn't dead after all.

I lost myself in the twisty windy streets on my way home and wandered into a massage parlor, where I spent two hours being thoroughly kneaded, beaten, and twisted into a variety of odd positions until I was nothing but a puddle of mush - all for a whopping $30.

So American breakfast with a crew from around the world, an African drum lesson in a Moroccan restaurant (did I mention the teacher's name was Moses??), and a lovely Chinese massage to wind things down.. I do love my life... but it does occasionally freak me out.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Guilty pleasures

I really hate to admit it, but I went to see Transformers tonight. And loved it. I waited until half-price Tuesday to go see the damn thing, expecting what one would typically expect of a movie version of a bad 80's cartoon, and walked away entertained, smiling, chatting and feeling like I got my money's worth. Not bad. Not bad at all. A perfect end to a dreary Tuesday of blah work.

This past weekend a friend and I went on a solo weekend together (meaning we shared a cab and then didn't see each other again until it was time to cab back) to She Shan, a suburb outside of Shanghai famous for it's man-made lake and beautiful golf courses. It is also home to several large resort hotels that run 1-night specials that are an absolute dream. I spent the weekend in the nicest hotel room I've ever stayed in, with the biggest bathtub I've seen in years, and a gorgeous pool that was just the right temperature. I spent two days doing nothing. - lazing poolside, taking bubble baths, sitting in the sauna, enjoying the rainfall shower.... pure relaxation. Came back with a nice tan and a desperately needed sense of inner calm.

I know it's been a long time since I've written anything here. It's been a hellacious couple of months emotionally, and frankly I didn't think I had a whole lot positive to talk about, so I just didn't talk at all. I'm pulling through it all ok now though. Things are still a bit rocky, but the waters are calming down and at least I don't feel seasick anymore.

I'm going to post some new pictures this weekend. I've got a ton to add. I hope all is well with everyone. I've missed you. :)

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Stella didn't pull through. I said my goodbyes and had her put to sleep yesterday morning. She was just too tiny to fight off the disease, and there was no end to her suffering in sight. It was the right thing to do, but I still cried and cried and cried. I still can hardly talk about it without getting upset, so I'm going to leave it for now. Thanks for all your warm wishes and prayers.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Need some hoodoo, praying, raindancing - pick your luck charm...

This has been an emotional roller coaster of a week. My puppy Stella, who was the picture of health on Friday, took a turn for the worse on Saturday, and it's been downhill ever since. My new vet re-tested her for distemper, and this time it came back positive. I immediately burst into tears, because the prognosis for young puppies is not good - like 5-10% survival rate. We've been visiting the vet daily for anti-viral, antibiotic and immunity booster injections, all with a good bit of hope early this week as she was still active and eating, and wasn't vomiting or having diarrhea.

But as the week wears on, the news keeps getting worse. Today we learned her cough has turned to pneumonia, and she's stopped eating anything at all - not even cooked chicken breast (her favorite). In a fit of desperation, I made chicken soup, doggie style (no spices) tonight, crushed her antibiotic tablets into a powder, mixed it all together, and force fed her with a syringe. I do the same with water every couple of hours. She hates this, and has started looking at me warily when I come towards her bed with anything in my hands. She can hate me for now; I think she'll forgive me if she pulls through this.

I haven't slept in days, as her wheezing scares me half to death, and thank goodness I have understanding bosses. I've spent a good chunk of this week working from home so I can take care of her and they've been totally understanding about it.

Anyway, it's probably too little too late, but any prayers, happy thoughts, magic, rabbits feet, genie lamp wishes, rain dances, voodoo charms, pixie dust - anything - would be welcome right now. This poor little baby is so sick, and she needs all the help she can get.

Here's a pic I took of Stella in the cab on the way home from the vet today:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Playing coy

In the metro station, before I decided to take Stella home, the man assured me that she was 10 weeks old and wouldn't get much bigger than like a foot tall. Well, I took Stella for her first vet visit yesterday to find out. First and foremost, the vet told me how stupid I was for taking a dog from the metro, that these dogs always have problems, then basically scared me half to death with all the things that could be wrong with her. She tested negative for distemper, but definitely has a bad cold. So no vaccinations until she finishes two weeks of antibiotics.

Then he told me that she was 6 only weeks old, and not a small dog breed at all, but most likely a collie/lab mix. I'm not so sure about that though, because she only weighs 2 lbs. Most of the websites I checked out said lab/collie puppies at 6 weeks should weigh around 8-12 lbs. Unless she has one hell of a growth spurt, I don't see her getting to be a big dog. Then again, Clifford, The Big Red Dog keeps popping into my head.

After two doses of her medicine yesterday, she ate a good dinner and was being a normal playful puppy. Until I tried to show her face on video....

What's with hiding your face, little pooch?? Camera shy?? So cute!

(If I'm going this gaga over a puppy, lord help me if I ever have kids.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Stolen heart

My plan for this evening was to leave work, stop by the grocery store for some chicken, then head home to make a healthy dinner. Things didn't quite work out that way. Madame M and I left work, headed for the metro, and there I met my fate. About halfway down the stairs was this Chinese girl holding the cutest puppy I'd ever seen in my life. She put the puppy back in the box, and with one sad little look up and a wag of a curly tail, I was hooked. I picked that puppy up, she licked my nose, and that was the end of me. I took her home. She's now curled up fast asleep in my lap. Meet Stella XiaoLongBao (my Shanghai Special Dumpling):

Monday, May 21, 2007

Can you hallucinate from champagne?

We went to the Westin Hotel last weekend for an incredibly lavish champagne brunch (which got sloppy, but that's another story for another venue) and this was some of the entertainment. I wasn't sure if I was seeing things or not, so had to video it. If anyone ever spun me around like that, I'd puke. (Regardless of how much champagne I had, albeit very classily with pinky out and all, just slugged down.)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ultimate.. Serious Ultimate

I played Ultimate frisbee in Kosovo. It's where I met my friends, had a little fun, got some exercise, and made lots of memories. So when I got to Shanghai, I thought "What a great way to meet some new people and throw some disc!" I Googled the team here, found their website, sent off an email, and by luck of connections met some of the players last weekend at a crazy party. Then off I went to play today. It seems I just thought that I played Ultimate in Kosovo.

Let me tell you, this is not your kick around and throw some disc kind of frisbee group. These are Ultimate athletes. They take their frisbee seriously. Very seriously. The eat, sleep, breathe, live and die Ultimate. They play international tournaments. Let me rephrase that a little... they win international tournaments. They have an association, with bylaws and officers and all kinds of crazy officialdom. They are hands down the best team in Asia. It's a little intimidating.

So... we arrived 20 minutes late to practice (yes, Thor, they practice - 2 or 3 times a week), in the midst of some intense drills. I was told that we were lucky, normally if you're late to practice you have to run sprints. Argh! I haven't run sprints (or drills, for that matter) since I played soccer in high school. Then they picked teams for the scrimmage. The official announcement went something like this: "We have a tournament in 3 weeks. Priority play time will go to those on the A team. This is not the week to come to learn frisbee. If you are a new player, don't expect to play much today." Intimidating.

They play on a full size field, with teams of 7 (5 men, 2 women). They run a split offense, with 3 handlers and 4 cutters. Maturo would be impressed with the stacking techniques. Most of the time they run a man-to-man defense, but we practiced zone too. (For you non-Ulti players, this is just some jargon to make you think I know what I'm talking about. Don't I sound cool??) And they weren't lying about play time. I played exactly 4 points today, and never saw a disc. I got to run a lot, my shoulders and and nose are pink with sunburn, and I got to see what competitive Ultimate looks like.

There were some really nice people who took pity on the New Girl and actually talked to me. Others were trying to explain offensive strategy between points. (Considering I had no strategy, this was a good thing.) AND I was invited to play on the C team for the tournament. I'm now a proud Pirate. Woohoo!!! (Have I mentioned yet how much I love it in Shanghai??)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mr. Mannequin

ShanghaiMay 007
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.

Usually, it's female mannequins that have the SNE (simultaneous nipple erection) syndrome, but I guess they're aiming for equal opportunity window dressing over here. Too funny.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Home sweet home

I just wanted to share the view from my bedroom window. This is Xuijiahui (shoe-ja-way) Park. I hear that on warm evenings, there's an open area where they play music and couples come out and waltz. I have yet to witness this phenomenon, but I can't wait. Have I mentioned how much I love it here yet??

Monday, April 09, 2007

Tomorrow people...

Ziggy Marley
Originally uploaded by Portfolios.

This was my view last Monday night. Ziggy Marley in Shanghai - fantastic show. It was in a teeny tiny little venue, so every seat was actually pretty damn good. Our seats were actually on the 18th row, but as soon as the concert started people poured out of their chairs and into the aisles to dance, leaving the first 4 rows completely empty for cheapskates like me to move up and get a closer look.

I wish I could say that I took this picture, but I didn't bring a camera. Ratz!! But someone else was kind enough to post it on Flickr, and there ya go.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

All you can eat...

I had mentally prepared myself for odd foodstuffs long before I came to Asia. I knew in India that it was better not to ask questions if you didn't know what something was. But in China... well, let's just say they take it to the next level.

We walked past a street stand today that served up 3 kinds of ducks feet, chicken hearts, intestines, duck necks, squid, pork knuckles, and for the mild at heart, processed meat product and tofu. The best part of it all though, is that you can get anything on a stick. We Americans have corny dogs nailed, but the Chinese have run away with the concept of portable food. Lamb, chicken, pork, beef, - any my personal favorite - squid. You name it - it comes on a stick. There's nothing like seeing a well-dressed business woman walking down the street gnawing on a pinkish, tentacled squiggly thing proudly skewered and grilled to perfection. And the price for this delicacy - approximately 50 cents. A bargain!

Another amazing food process is the conveyor belt sushi restaurant. You sit at a counter in front of a conveyor belt full of small, colored plates with every kind of sushi imaginable. Different colored plates are different costs. You take what you want from the conveyor belt, one or two pieces of sushi at a time, then at the end of your meal, you take your empty plates tot the cash register and pay up. You're also given a cup with a tea bag in it. About every two seats is a spigot that spews boiling water for all you can drink tea. It's a fantastic twist on fast food dining. Here, the price per plate ranges from 50 cents to 2 dollars. You can stuff yourself on sushi for under $10. Heaven!

Aside from the oddities, I have found the food in China to be amazing. I am a certified dumpling addict (a plate of 24 - more than plenty for 2 people - costs you about $1.50), I'm quickly becoming a noodle-holic, and I've got chopstick skills I never knew I had.

So now that I have an apartment, and a kitchen (yay!), I plan to find a cooking class. Guess I should stock up on the wooden sticks for my first dinner party.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

First impressions of China

So where to begin… I left India late Wednesday night in a whirl of mixed emotions. Saying goodbye to my friends was a lot harder than I imagined it would be. I’ve said this before about Kosovo and Spain, but it’s amazing how quickly you form bonds with people when you are living in a foreign country. I will definitely miss my friends, but I still don’t know how I feel about leaving about India itself. Something tells me I will miss the chaos a little – I mean, seriously, where else can you live in a swanky neighborhood and still have oxcarts bringing vegetables to your front door?

Coming into Hong Kong was like awakening from a long, deep sleep. Nestled in a bay, 38 or so little islands make up the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Sharp mountains spring from the water, and all along the coastlines skyscrapers stick through the clouds, the peaks of the mountains just barely peeking over their spires. My toes tingled just from being in such a vibrant, fantastic city, full of life and millions of people living it. The food, the shopping, the arts (oh how I’ve missed these things), the setting… everything about Hong Kong made me smile. Friendly people on the street were willing to lend a hand the second I started to look a little bit lost, the markets were full of strange and wonderful smells, a mix of kitchy trinkets and stunningly beautiful jade work. Even more surprising to me, were all the familiar things – McDonald’s (that actually have real cheeseburgers – in India it’s only veg burgers or chicken), 7-11 and Circle K, Best Buy, Starbucks, and multitudes of international clothing brands – but all with signs and menus in Chinese. It was almost easy to forget I was actually in China, it felt more like being in China Town in San Francisco, but with better weather. I was in HEAVEN.

Things function in China. Very clean metros, easy to navigate buses, no power cuts, there’s water pressure, people follow lanes, they drive on the right side of the road (in Shanghai anyway, HK it’s still on the left – British influence), and most importantly… nobody honks unless it’s absolutely necessary. Three years in 3rd world countries and it’s incredible how much a little functionality pleases me. So I’ve spent the last 5 days running around soaking in all the things I’ve missed in the last 3 years.

I’ve fed my spirit on art museums and live music. I happened to arrive in Hong Kong at the tail end of the annual Arts Festival and spent a small fortune on a ticket to see the Chucho Valdes Quartet – a long standing Grammy winning, famous Cuban jazz pianist. Absolutely brilliant. Imagine a perfectly enjoyable evening out that didn’t involve sitting in some smoky, overpriced bar playing bad techno – I was listening to live jazz by a master. I felt like dancing all the way back to the hotel.

I’ve fed my body wonderful sushi, steaming noodles, fried duck and imported beer (Guiness, Asahi, anything other than Kingfisher!). I will admit to one Big Mac, but that’s it. It had to be done, I’m over it now.

The streets in both Shanghai and Hong Kong are spotless, there is no trash anywhere, except in bins, no dust hanging in the air, and it is quiet – oh so quiet. Funny, I met a Dutch woman in HK who was touristing around too, and she couldn’t get over how noisy it was. To me, it was so blissfully calm in comparison to Bangalore. It just goes to show that it’s all about perspective – everything is relative.

Shanghai is cold and cloudy right now. Since I found myself here over the weekend, with nothing else to do, I did what any normal girl would. I went shopping! I had to. I didn’t own a coat, and the only pair of closed-toed shoes that I owned were my trainers. I shopped out of sheer necessity. At least that’s how I am justifying it to myself right now. I now have a new pair of foxy black boots, a pair of really cute brown pumps, two turtleneck sweaters, a pair of wool trousers, a coat, and most importantly – socks. I had a total of 3 pairs of gym socks to my name. These were the only socks I ever needed in India.

Shanghai is divided in half by the Huangpu River (a branch of the Yangtze). The financial district, Pudong, lines one side of the river, and lining the opposite bank is an area called the Bund. The Bund has a very European feel to it, and is lined with stately buildings that once housed foreign embassies. A wide sidewalk chock full of street vendors selling everything from photos of you in front of the buildings to candied mini-apples on a stick stretches along the water from one end to the other. Here you can board a ferry boat for a cruise along both sides. I haven’t done this yet – but I will!!

Looking across the river to the Pudong district, all I can say is VEGAS BABY! (But without all the casinos.) Every high-rise along the waterfront has some kind of light show going on up and down the side/front of the building. It is truly something to behold. The pictures don’t do it justice, as the lights on each building aren’t static – it is a frenzy of flashing color and lights for miles on end.

So here I am today, my first day in the office. They weren’t really prepared for me, and no one really knows what to do with me. What that means for the time being, is free play! I have to meet a real-estate agent at 2pm this afternoon, but until paperwork is sorted out and they get me a computer, or access from my personal laptop, I am stuck and can do nothing. Darn it. HAHAHAHA

I like being a well-paid tourist.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Packed and ready to roll

As unbelievable as this might sound, I am actually packed - a full 48 hours before I am set to leave. One of my friends came over after work last night and we worked and worked and worked until it was finished. I now have nothing to deal with but last minute errands and a few loose ends at work to tie up. This is all happening so quickly. It's hard to think that I'll be apartment hunting in Shanghai on Saturday.

My internet access is going away today, so the next time I write, it will be from the People's Republic of China - which I'm not even sure will be possible yet since internet there is censored. It might be back to mass emails.

The thing that scares me the most about going, is living in a place where I will be functionally illiterate for the first time in my life. I won't be able to read signs on shops, in stores, menus... I won't recognize things at all. At least with phonetic alphabets like Cyrillic or Hindi script, it's possible to sound things out, but Chinese is a whole new ball game. What a challenge - I can't wait!

I haven't even really had time to think about how I feel about leaving India yet. I don't think it will really hit me until I'm getting on the plane tomorrow night. It's all a bit much to process at once. I need sleep. Seriously. I guess that's what long flights are for. :)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

And the countdown begins

Only 4 more sleeps till I move to China!!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Michi on the move

The official announcement has been made, so I can post it here now... I'm moving to China in two weeks. My boss has asked me to go to Shanghai to develop and deliver communication and culture training to the engineers in the office there. Wahooooo! It's a huge opportunity for me and I can't wait to go.

India has been a good experience overall. It's a strange mix of all things odd and wonderful, as well as things that drive me insane. I'll miss the people I've met here like crazy, but frankly, I am quite ready to move on. So buh-bye, Bangalore.. hellloooooo Shanghai!

Friday, February 16, 2007

A teaser

I know it's been AGES. And this probably won't satisfy any of your curiosity either. Suffice it to say that the past two and a half months have been full of adventures, travels, romance, heartbreak, boredom, frenetic running around, and everything in between. And on top of all of that - there's major life changes in the works. I can't say more than that right now - but I will be able to soon. I've got about 200 pictures to post and many a story to tell. I will devote this weekend to getting it all done, as the next few weeks will be hellishly hectic all over again. So until then, my friends, I beg your forgiveness and thank you for your patience.