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Hello everyone. This is a short post to give our heartfelt condolences to Japan who is dealing with a catastrophe of gigantic proportions. Not only are they devastated by one of the most powerful earthquakes in history followed by a 30 foot tsunami, now they have to deal with possible nuclear meltdowns and a lack of electricity and power that a modern society like Japan hasn’t had to deal with in a long time. I want to assure everyone that we are completely safe here and have nothing to worry about, but that hasn’t stopped people from worrying. We are 2000 miles west of the nuclear sites, and the winds off Japan travel east not west. Also, Beijing and most major cities in China are always protected by a thick shield of coal and pollution so we don’t need to worry about any gamma rays getting through that forcefield (zing (I already made that joke yesterday)). Just because there is no reason to panic doesn’t mean people aren’t panicking and I wanted to share the current events that are transpiring in China due to the disaster in Japan.

I was at work yesterday when a friend of mine texted me asking if I needed any salt. Erin had asked me a few days ago where the salt was when she was cooking, so I told him that yes, we did actually need salt, even though I was completely perplexed why my friend would randomly ask me if I needed salt. I googled salt in Beijing, and sure enough, salt was the rage in major Chinese cities. A few days earlier, Erin was sent home with some iodine by her boss who is also very worried about radiation getting to Beijing. The Chinese heard that iodine was helpful in protecting against radiation, and the only thing they could think of that contained the characters iodine (碘) was iodized salt (碘盐). And so the mayhem began, with grocery stores flooded with Chinese demanding salt, driving the price of salt up 5-10 times yesterday’s price.

LOL

All of this started based on complete misinformation. The daily sale of salt the past 2 days was 8 times higher than usual. The share prices of China’s leading manufacturers of salt jumped 10% (the maximum amount possible for Chinese stocks) the last 2 days. You can’t buy salt anywhere. You can barely even find soy sauce anywhere. Part of this is humorous, but part of it is terrifying to me. People did not stop to think about why they needed salt, they just did it. When other people heard that people were buying salt, they just got in line with everyone else. The urge to follow in Chinese society is strong, and asking “why?” is something that just isn’t done. This is over NOTHING. There is no benefit at all from buying salt. I can’t even imagine the pandemonium that would occur in a real state of emergency here, but it would be chaos of legendary proportions. Luckily for me, I had a friend with a car who was part of the madness, and he told me that walking out of the grocery store and filling up his car with ridiculous amounts of salt in front of a clamoring horde of jealous Chinese people was a special experience, and he would give me a box of salt the next time he saw me.

Here is an article about the Chinese salt craze. If this is happening in China, I can only imagine the mood in Japan. The entire society has been negatively affected, either by the earthquake, tsunami, meltdown, or the giant financial drop that the Japanese stock market has experienced. It is a long road to recovery, but this wouldn’t be the first time that Japan has had to recover from a society altering calamity. If you want to help out, check out the Japanese Red Cross.

Hope you all are doing well, enjoy your salt and go Hoyas!

“One hundred thousand lemmings can’t be wrong…” – Anon

Now that I can use the blog on my computer, I have unlocked the wonderful bounty of easily accessible pictures as well. Here are some from Shanghai that we did not include in the Shanghai post. The pictures are of The Bund (the old Western part of the city), People’s Square (a big park), at the top of the tallest building in China (arguably the world), and of the Pudong section of the city, which basically didn’t exist 20 years ago. Enjoy!

Happy New Year everyone. It is completely freezing in Beijing these days, so lets talk about a happy time when it was nice and warm. A few months ago I had to go to Shanghai for work to interview a bunch of potential students, so Erin decided to tag along for 3 days. Beijing is a huge city, but Shanghai is the one city that is bigger. It is pretty incredible how huge Shanghai is, because it a few decades ago it was a fairly small city. In the past 20 years, the city has seen an unbelievable explosion of growth, giving it one of the quintessential modern Asian skylines. Brand spanking new futuristic buildings are everywhere, and it has a totally different feel from Beijing. It has many times more foreigners than Beijing does due to it being the financial capital of China. It usually has a bad reputation among Chinese people that are not from there in my opinion, because they claim that the people only care about money, money, money. Whatever they are doing though, it is working, because there are few cities in the world that have grown more financially and in terms of population in the last few years.

After we arrived, we wandered around the city for a while, before going to People’s Park, a centrally located park with many different things to see. We walked past a lake and into a heavily wooded area, with little advertisements taped to all of the trees. We had no idea what the classified ads were for, it seemed like either paintings or apartments. There were height and weight measurements and the place was PACKED with people, most of them older. We kept walking and ran into a group of Chinese scam artists, who told us they were English teachers on a field trip, chatted with us for a while, and told us that the classified ads we had just seen were the large marriage market, where people desiring a husband or wife will sell their hands in marriage. Pretty incredible but I was feeling a little bit sketched out talking to these scammers, who then invited us to a tea show. Erin asked if I wanted to go and I just said “Ummmmmmmmmm” which did not convince her that I didn’t want to go. She walked with them for about 1 second and I told her to come here at which point she immediately realized my hesitations. We had a laugh about it because Erin hates these types of scam artists more than most people, and it is sad to think of how easy it would be to dupe some foreigners in that way (they invite you to a show or for coffee, then give you the bill and it is a ton of money, like $1,000). We have seen the same types of scams run in Beijing too, but luckily we made it out alive.

We continued to the famous Westernized area of Shanghai called “the Bund”. This consists of very European buildings that used to be where all the Europeans worked and lived. There is a river running next to the Bund, dividing the main area of Shanghai with the Pudong section, which essentially didn’t exist 20 years ago. Pudong looks like a city of the future as mentioned before, with some incredible buildings including the tallest building in the world (looks like a giant bottle opener). We wandered around the Bund for a bit, walking back to the subway, while admiring how modern everything around us was. The streets were not filled with cars, but there were more people walking around in this area than any I have seen in America. It was like the end of a massive sporting event, only it occurs all the time and every single day in the downtown of a major city. Amazing.

The next day I interviewed a group of students for work, who were impressive for the most part. Some of them had really amazing English and attitudes, and we had a good time meeting the Shanghai office that my office works with. Before the interviews we were able to visit the Yue Gardens, a famous garden that was historically renowned for its traditional style. As is the case with most populate Chinese tourist attractions, it was brand new, completely crammed with people, and selling the same things as everywhere else. Who needs tradition when you can have a McDonalds in a Chinese castle? It was really impressive and the buildings were very beautiful and “Chinese” looking. We then briefly stopped by the former French area of the city, which was not a hip place for foreigners to live. Later than night we went out to dinner with someone from my office and the head of the Shanghai office, to a real Shanghai style restaurant. The food was amazing, one of the best meals I have had in China. The dishes were flavorful and interesting, a little bit sweet with some great desserts. We are told that foreigners usually like Shanghai food more than Chinese people do, and I guess it is true. We stopped by a ritzy area that foreigners like afterwards, but we were tired and left after walking around for a bit.

It was Erin’s dream to go to a traditional water city while we were here, but the ones that she wanted to go to were pretty far away and potentially difficult to figure out, so we decided to go to one called Qibao, on the far east side of Shanghai. Luckily it was exactly what she wanted, and similar to the Yue Gardens, was renovated recently, packed, and filled with exotic snacks and typical souvenirs. It was also very cool, with bridges over small canals and traditional looking buildings everywhere. Qibao is not very well known, but we were lucky we discovered it. We were now in the area of Pudong, and I wanted to see some tall buildings. We headed to the more condensed area, and I went to the top of the tallest building of the world. Erin decided she would rather spend a bunch of money on a massage. The view from the top was pretty good, but the pollution limited visibility significantly. I did, however, notice smoke coming from a distant building. I pointed this out to some people, and sure enough, a high-rise apartment was burning down at the same time I was at the top of the world’s tallest building. Something like 70 people died in the fire and it was big news in China. I met up with her Worshipfulness after her massage, ate some burgers (veggie) at the Blue Frog (buy 1 get 1 burgers on Mondays), and headed to the airport.

I really liked Shanghai. People complain that it is devoid of culture, but there were a lot of interesting things to see, the city is brand new, there was almost no traffic when we were there (which is uncommon), the weather was warm, and the food was good. I imagine I will be back in Shanghai at some point in the next few months, and it will be good to go back. Been a while since I blogged because the site is now blocked on my computer, so I apologize if I am a bit rusty (I’m kidding I know this was awesome). It was good to see people over the holidays, it made me miss the USA much more than I had been. All the more reason for you all to come to China! Ta ta!

The Master said, “Do I regard myself as a possessor of wisdom? Far from it. But if even a simple peasant comes in all sincerity and asks me a question, I am ready to thrash the matter out, with all its pros and cons, to the very end.” – The Analects, 9.7

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