Jia you chao ren!

Within weeks of my arrival in Shanghai, I was informed that there would be a half marathon occurring in early December and it would be nice if I attended. Feeling that I could totally run 13.2 miles to complete a half marathon, I began training. I managed to run two to three times a week averaging about two to three miles for each run. 
About two months into training, I went out for my usual nightly run. When I’m running, I do so rather absentmindedly, making each turn without thought. As I rounded corner after corner, I noticed that a man on a bike seemed to be keeping pace with me. To double check, I sped up and so did he, I slowed down and he again followed suit. A plan formed in my head to beat him. Obviously this was not an achievable goal but I decided to push myself to the limit anyway. I finished a mile run in the six to seven minute range which I’d never been close to achieving before. 
The next day I decided to time myself to see just exactly what my limit was. Off I went on my run. It was just a typical night with a little weaving between people and cars due to my increased speed. I kept watch on the time and was very pleased with my rate. As I came up to the last corner I pushed it into overdrive, determined to impress myself. I reached the corner, hit a rough patch of dirt, twisted my ankle, and fell into a pile on the ground. I got back up, limped home, and proceeded to be overly dramatic about my injury and ran once in the next four months. 
With the lack of exercise looming over my head, the registration date for the half marathon decided it was a good time to make itself known. With still a month and a half left for me to train, I decided to register. And so I ran a few times and then got on a plane for a three week vacation to America. Take a guess what I didn’t do a whole lot of in America. 
While at home one night my sister decided a run was in order for her half marathon in a few months. Against my lazier judgment, I decided to join her. What started as an easy two mile run turned into me pushing my limit again and running seven and a half miles. My longest run at that point in time was about three and a half miles. This made me confident that maybe I could in fact complete a half marathon. 
In a matter of moments I was on the plane again to China. I sent a text to my friend announcing my return and he inquired back if I was ready for the marathon this Sunday. This Sunday… ha ha ha. I’d managed to run about four times in the last three months and the marathon was this Sunday. I mustered up the willpower to run two more times to “prepare” for the half marathon. 
At first I decided to exclude this next portion but of course, there’s never a dull moment in China and this is without exception. Friday night was check-in and gear pickup. The rest of the people I came with had registered in person so it was off by myself to find online registration. I got my number and went to pick up my stuff. As I walked and looked at the numbers I came to the realization that I was registered for a full marathon. I clearly remember scoffing at the idea of me running a full marathon when registering so clearly this was a mistake, an easily fixable mistake. Wrong. With the general flexibility of China, I assumed a quick switch was in order. That day, for whatever reason, insurance said “no, this is not possible” and therefore no switch is allowed. After ten minutes of tense discussion in Chinese and walking from booth to booth, it was decided, not officially of course, that I would run as the guy in our group who had paid his fee but could not run. No complaining if I fall and break my leg or something along those lines. Whelp. 
If it wasn’t already shameful enough that I’d probably get about half way through and fall over from exhaustion, it was requested that I wear a costume. I mulled the idea over in my head, not quite excited at the prospect of looking like a complete and utter mess. Against my better judgment, and since my friend was going as Spiderman, I ventured out Saturday afternoon to a costume shop and found myself presented with a pretty limited selection. In the end I decided with Superman, cape and all. As a note, bargain always. I didn’t realize until later on like a stupid laowai(foreigner), that I got suckered into paying about $30 for something that a Chinese person would pay $5 for. 
Saturday night consisted of a rather uneventful pasta dinner along with booking my ticket to Cambodia for vacation (maybe I lied). Thanks to jetlag still hanging around, I was asleep by 9:30. This also made getting up at 5:30 that much easier. I got dressed, walked out into the living room and laughed that I was the first one awake. Then I checked the time, smacked my head, and went back to bed for another hour. 
After an hour nap, I returned to the living room to find the others getting ready. Spiderman would be concealing his identity until the start of the race, then donning a mask and staying anonymous for the duration of the race. This was somewhat frustrating as Superman just has a stupid hair curl that somehow hides his identity. I possessed no such curl and therefore was going to be known no matter what. Deciding that a good confidence boost was in order, I wore the costume with false pride from the apartment door to the end of the race. 
Typically as a foreign white person in China, I tend to stick out and get a few inquisitive stares on the regular. I’ve gotten comfortable with this and tend not to notice unless I’m actively trying to catch people staring, which I sometimes do when I’m bored. Today though, I felt the eyes of everyone on the subway. Upon arrival at our subway stop, we remained at the exit as this was easier to locate our friends instead of trying to walk through the massive crowd of runners. This involved watching group after group pass by as they were released from the train. It was almost like a safari where groups would pass by, stare at the wild creature, take a picture, and continue on. 
Maybe you think of my example as an exaggeration. You’re wrong. People did in fact take pictures. Some were secretive and I would catch them out of the corner of my eye. Others would try and catch me without looking and then run away once eye contact was made. This bothered me somewhat but I tried to be a good sport about it since it’s not everyday Superman stops to run a half marathon. 
We remained stationary for about fifteen or so minutes. During this time I started counting the amount of pictures being taken of me. At this point, the count was already up to ten. About this time, the first person asked to take a picture with me. This picture brought a genuine smile to my face and managed to destroy a large chunk of insecurity present within my head. Finally, our group had assembled and we emerged from the subway. 
I was greeted by 25,000 runners, their fans, security, event organizers, and anyone else who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. One cannot quite comprehend what such a large number of people looks like until you see it. With this large number came an equally large number of cameras and I gave up attempting to count the pictures being taken of me. 
Finally, Peter Parker decided to transform and Spiderman and Superman got to hang out together. We walked along to drop our bags off, stopping about every minute to pose for a photograph. As we made our way through the crowd, I realized I’d been tricked, or maybe I just didn’t know marathons very well. Nobody else was wearing any resemblance of a costume. However, contained within one opening of the crowd stood two Johnny Depp Characters, one from Pirates of the Caribbean and the other from Alice in Wonderland. Of course a picture was in order. 
As we stood counting down the minutes to the start of the race, it dawned on me just how stupid running a half marathon was with no training. However, I had invested about $60 in this race and I was already here, might as well suck it up and go for as long as I can. The race got underway with a walk for the first several minutes followed by a light jog as each runner got a chance to stretch out. I must say that I’m disappointed that I didn’t bring my camera, but that was probably for the better in the end. The first turn of the race saw the road corkscrew up one level and then straightening out into a massive bridge. The corkscrew itself was rather wide and you could see almost all the way around it and the entirety of it was covered in people. What an awesome sight to see. 
The next seven miles was filled with packets of people dressed in decorative outfits, shouting “jia you,” words of encouragement to keep running. Every so often I would hear a shout of “Superman!” and I’d throw up the peace sign, as is typical of China, at least I think that’s the proper response anyway. Some runners would run ahead of me, stop and take a picture, shout a quick thank you and continue on. Others would inquire as to why I was running to the finish line and not simply flying. This kept my spirits up and I chugged along. 
Every now and then I’d hear a person talking and attempt to eavesdrop with my limited Chinese knowledge. I heard one man say “chou yan” which is the verb to smoke a cigarette. I shook my head in disapproval wondering how a runner could smoke a cigarette now. I paid it no more mind and kept running. 
Seven and a half miles came and went and now it was time to almost double my longest run ever and finish. As is typical with my runs, the mental struggle began at about this point. I was impressed that I’d managed this far without thoughts of “Walk, who cares, WALK!” filling my head. Determined to be the victor in that battle, I used the encouragement of the crowd to spur me on. As I tuned in to the crowd, I heard “jia you chou yan” several times in quick succession and almost felt motivation, except I didn’t. Why were they encouraging me and talking of smoking cigarettes? Oh. It took me only eight miles to realize that the man talking of smoking cigarettes was actually saying “chao ren,” or as the English say it, Superman. 
As I continued to keep my mind distracted, I observed my surroundings. We we’re now zigzagging through the area that had once contained the World Expo of 2010. Every building, representative of a different country, had beautiful and unique architecture. What a sight this must have been in 2010. Today all that remains is empty buildings and vacant lots. 
My mind had recruited my stomach to take part in the battle to get me to walk. I noticed empty Snickers wrappers scattered on the ground. Oh how I could go for a snickers right now, or anything that wasn’t the sugared iced tea or water that I’d been given thus far at the refueling stations. With my snap back in to reality, I came across the next refueling station which lacked anything new besides another kilometer marker. At this point I had made it 17km or roughly 10.6 miles and more thoughts started to fill my head. Just about every body part involved in running was screaming for a break but I hadn’t given in yet and I continued on. 
Sadly, I only made it until the 19km marker or 11.8 miles and finally I had to stop. As I walked, most likely due to being dressed as Superman, I received lots of words of encouragement in both English and Chinese from my fellow runners. I gave it all my might to push on but my body said no. I’d noticed other runners stretching along the way so I decided that’d be a good idea. Five seconds later I realized that thought was wrong. A horrible pain shot through my leg, similar to the pain when you’re sitting in an awkward position and all of a sudden you’re flying into the air to get the pain to stop. 
And so I walked. Eventually a man, instead of offering a few words of encouragement and moving on, stayed with me and wouldn’t move on. I looked ahead and saw the finish line and decided to suck it up, if only for another two minutes. Except sucking it up was no small feat. At this point, the lack of training was painfully obvious. It was as if the muscles in the back of my legs near my knees had shortened by a few inches and refused greater leg movements than a slow crawl. But I continued on, cursing every step. Feet from the finish line, I raised my hands up in that typical way that Superman does, and I crossed that finish line. 
Now to locate anybody I knew, while lacking a phone, money, or a grasp of the Chinese language. I moved with the crowd of finished runners. Stuck in one line to collect my certificate, another for food, and another to return my running chip and then I was out into the masses of runners to find my friends. Luckily, within a few minutes I stumbled upon a friend with a phone and we were reunited with the group. 
We collected together to take some more pictures. Even more Chinese people stopped to take pictures of and with me. I’d thought every muscle in my body was tired already but then I started to feel pain in my face. Who knew your face could hurt from smiling too much? I wonder if celebrities practice exercising their smiling muscles. Tired of smiling and posing, off came Superman and I returned to my human.

Hangzhou Tour with Pictures

These are the pictures from my first trip outside of Shanghai. I visited the city of Hangzhou. The city is most famous for West Lake. My friends and I  arrived on Friday night. We went out for dinner and visited the night market. The next day it was raining but we visited the famous West Lake.  Eventually we wandered away from West Lake to explore the surrounding area. That night we returned home since the rain did not let up. Photos are out of order. Sorry about that.
Bird cage in the middle of the woods. 

There were many interesting paths that led off into the woods. 

Chinese people like to take pictures without asking for permission.

Perfect example of horrible driving. Guy tried to make a u-turn on a highway.

Woman washing clothes in the river.

Chickens in the backyard!

This was along one of the bridges that we crossed.

For some crazy price you could tour West Lake from this.

So much going on here.

First time leaving Shanghai!

Coasta Coffee right in the middle of nowhere.

West Lake

Pathway that runs through the middle of the lake.

Tea is found in most hotel rooms.

Walk along the night market.

English words on the menu! Except everything says “home style cooking.” Oh well. 

Gas powered boats you could rent. Except they were closed.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

I’ve a Feeling We’re not in America Anymore 
There are so many similarities between Shanghai and the United states that some days you forget that you’re actually half way across the world in a foreign place. One such night I found myself with several others in my friend’s room on a Friday night following a long week of work. We were relaxing, listening to music, and talking. Around 11:30 there was a knock on the bedroom door and in walked four policemen. My mind starts racing; foreigners generally are not bothered unless they do something incredibly stupid and either get deported or sent to jail. I could not think of a single thing that would require such action. In what felt like an eternity, one of the police officers walked over, turned off the music, said something in Chinese, and then all of them walked out.
Sadly there’s not oh so much to write about chopsticks but since they’re not such a popular thing in America, I figured I’d devote a third of a post to some interesting facts about them.
  • Just like etiquette with American utensils, same goes for chopsticks. This means no banging your chopsticks since this is similar to what beggars do. Also, don’t leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your food since this is similar to incense burning.
  • There is a verb in Chinese for using chopsticks. 
  • To compare chopstick prowess, people will see how many marbles they can pick up with chopsticks and move from one pile to another within a certain amount of time.
  • My chopsticking skills have vastly improved since my arrival. I’ve been complimented by several coworkers on my technique. 
Interesting Cultural Happenings 
I never got around to reading up about China or studying the language before I arrived. Two things I regret. Along the way I’ve learned a little about both and want to pass along to you a few of the interesting things that come with a several thousand year history. 
  • Writing people’s names in red is a big no-no. It means to wish death upon that person. When I was flying back from the United States I only had a red pen in my bag and had to fill out a form with my name on it. Ended up borrowing someone else’s black pen.
  • If a man is cheated on by his wife, he will wear a green hat. This is a dying trend since the younger generation is now wearing green hats for fashion.
  • Saying thank you and your welcome is generally reserved for people that you don’t really know.
  • There are many different dialects in China and many people cannot converse from one dialect to another. Personally, I believe they should be considered different languages all together. I think it is comparable to French, Italian, Spanish, English, etc people speaking together. China ended up as one country instead of a continent and thus it’s dialects instead of languages.
  • Dairy is not very common in China. Therefore, almost all dishes do not contain any sort of cheese, butter, milk, etc.

A Suitable Gift: Part 1

I originally introduced this blog to talk of my interesting encounters in China. I’ve slightly staggered away from that path. To venture back on to that path, if only for a brief moment, I’d like to discuss one of my favorite experiences to date. 
When one goes to a faraway place, it is custom to return home with interesting things from the journey. This problem plagued me since my arrival in China. I ventured from shop to shop, week to week, unable to locate suitable gifts for my family. Like the United States, China is also full of cheap “Made in China” things and many of these shops didn’t offer anything of a higher quality. Not wishing to purchase such things for my family, I was stuck in a rut. As my mind wandered I thought of several potential gifts but each were quickly dismissed for various reasons. One day while sitting at my desk working it hit me. The answer had been literally under my nose the entire time, Chinese tea. 
In my pursuit of interesting places to visit within Shanghai, the Datong Lu Tea Market had continuously popped up. I’d never been but I figured it was finally time for me to make the trek. 
Early one Saturday, I located the market on my computer, 598 Datong Lu near Zhongshan Bei Lu, and headed out the door. The oh so frugal shopper that China has made me, I opted for the subway instead of a taxi, believing that Shanghai was now my city and I could easily find the market. I navigated the subway to my destination and then emerged in to a bright and busy market place. The street sign pointed me along the proper heading and off I went. 
I counted down the numbers as I walked, still a good five minutes to my destination. At about this moment I had arrived at the Zhongshan Bei Lu intersection. A little surprised that the numbers had dropped so quickly, I took a look around but did not see any signs of the tea market. To my horror, I looked across the road and found that Datong Lu was no where near the number 598 and whoever’s instructions I decided to trust were wrong. Or maybe I was. I gave my friend a call and he verified that the address I had was indeed correct. The first straw of hopelessness was cast upon the camel’s back. 
Determined not to let Shanghai conquer me so soon, I trudged on, still a slight hope that my address was correct. This could be possible with the use of the one ambiguous word contained within my directions, “near.” I crisscrossed all the surrounding intersections looking all about for any hope of a tea market. On one street, I found a giant billboard with “Datong Lu Tea Market” with an arrow pointing in “that” direction, wherever that may be I couldn’t understand because I found nothing. 
The camel was looking rather exhausted from the weight of the straw but I continued on. Number 598 Datong Lu must be the location. I retraced my steps back to Datong Lu and continued south. With each passing intersection the crowds died down and so too did my hopes of a tea market. The path I was on eventually turned into a tunnel, with 600 on one side. Surely my answer lay upon the other side of the tunnel! I crossed through to the other side, walked up the stairs, and as I stepped upon the last step, the camel’s back broke. I’d arrived at 590 Datong Lu.