Archive for April, 2012


Chinese Checkers

No, I am not referring to the board game: Chinese Checkers

Chinese Checkers

What I am talking about is more of a real-life situation played out daily on the streets of Shanghai – and it does happen to involve Chinese people (and Westerners).

Aim of the game:

Getting a taxi despite all odds, while trying to remain polite and civilised and well-mannered.


  1. Busy time of day – preferably rush hour, people leaving the office, dinner time, etc.
  2. Maximum number of people trying to hail down a taxi – especially fun when a huge crowd of wanna-be taxi passengers are gathering in the same place at the same time – outside an office park, a restaurant, etc
  3. Minimal number of taxis for hire – choose the taxi-drivers’ dinner hour for best results.
  4. Pick a rainy day with howling wind and even some sleet or snow for an extra challenge.

How to play:

  1. Stand for a moment amidst the throng of wanna-be passengers.
  2. Get frustrated that everyone else seems more adept at pushing and shoving (more practice!) and less concerned about getting up everyone else’s noses
  3. Start sidling off in the OPPOSITE direction to where you want to go – the direction is very important.
  4. Try not to attract anyone’s attention – you don’t want others to realise that the game has started.
  5. “Hop” over/around each group of players that have already moved away from the crowd and have started new gatherings further up the street
  6. If necessary, “hop” all the way to the next block, around the corner, two intersections away – strategy is very important at this point.
  7. It doesn’t matter at all if you are moving further and further away from your destination – just “hop” along until you have bypassed all the opposition.
  8. Walk in the road so that your view of the oncoming traffic is not obstructed in any way – this gives you and your future driver a better opportunity to bond before you wave him down.
  9. Eye contact and initial engagement is vital to determine right of passage.

First one to get into a cab is the WINNER!



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Seen on the street (2)

In no particular order….
1. Poodle being taken for a walk in a pram.
2. Underwear (bras & panties) hung out to dry – pegged to the handlebars of an upturned wheelbarrow/garbage cart next to the road.
3. Dog being taken for a walk backwards. No, that’s not the right way to put it – the dog was walking normally, it was the dog-walker that was walking backwards!
4. Behind a tree, in front of a wall, next to a bush, alongside the front wheel of a car – some or other man relieving himself.
5. A pair of sock-encased feet sticking out of the open window of the passenger door of a stationary mini-van – the feet belonged to the driver who was having his after lunch snooze.

For more street sightings…..


Date night?

Last night, we had a rather weird experience at our favourite sushi restaurant, Haiku by Hatsune..

We arrived early for our dinner reservation, and the restaurant was emptier than usual. Over the course of the next hour and a half, a procession of young Chinese couples arrived – all dressed to the nines – an usual event in itself. One girl wore a long pink taffeta dress, then sat down at the sushi bar; All the guys wore suits and ties. They tumbled out of chauffeur-driven cars, singly or in groups. It appeared that many of the couples knew each other, and yet most of them sat at separate tables, paired off girl & guy.

Another unusual aspect to the evening was that the girls and guys in each couple were actually interacting with each other (in English!) and not with their mobiles! Usually at least one of a couple on a date is clicking away on his/her phone, checking the latest text/email/micro-blog messages. It must have been a first date to yield to putting aside the mobiles in order to make an impression.

As we left we tried to find out what the event/occasion was, but we are still none the wiser. Our possible conclusions:

a)      Group first date?

b)      Singles club out on date night?

c)       American Chinese guys on tour looking for local English-speaking wives?

d)      English lessons?

e)      Pre-clubbing/post-wedding dinner?

f)       Opportunity to dress up?

g)      Romantic flash-mob?

h)      Other….?

We felt a bit spare because we didn’t match the profile – not very young, not at all Chinese, not dressed in formal gear and totally clueless! – It felt as if we were gate-crashing some event and had missed the notice about the dress-code and the purpose of the event……


Dinner for 14

Last night we took the office team out for dinner at the restaurant across the road from the office park. We were seated in a private room with a HUGE round table that easily accommodated all 14 of us. A representative sample from the staff and the bosses trundled off to order our meal. Not from printed menus but from brightly-lit photo displays, arranged in multiple aisles, of every possible dish. At a rough guess I would say that there were about 150 to choose from – about 50 cold dishes, 100 hot meals, and that is not counting the fish and seafood swimming in the tanks or lying in wait on a bed of ice, ready to be cooked and served up

You stroll through the displays, discussing the merits of each potential dish with the waitress who holds a tablet PC to record your menu selections – I was disappointed – it would have been so much more fun to actually click on the display photo, have it light up with a corresponding musical accompaniment and trigger an immediate flurry of chefs in the kitchen. But no, we did it the old-fashioned way: waitress selects item on tablet based on what we told her to add. needless to say: it took a long time to make decisions and to finalise the menu.

We selected about 8 cold dishes – a miscellany of cold chicken, goose liver, smoked fish, cold butternut chunks with lily bulbs, beef with ginger, some type of funghi and I can’t remember what else. We turned down the options for donkey, frog, eel and anything OTT spicy. Cold dishes are an essential part of any Chinese meal because they can be served immediately so that the guests can get stuck in right away without any awkward social moments of not having anything to talk about. As soon as the food arrives on the table, there are many potential topics of conversation. Usually one can get stuck in straight away, but of course, our team had to wait for us to get back from ordering the food (we are the bosses and the hosts!), so they could only sit and stare at and discuss the food selection while waiting for us.

14 hot dishes made their appearance for the 2nd round – again a mixture of veggies, pork, beef, chicken, duck and fish. No monkey, dog or cat dishes were selected (not sure there were any of these available anyway). Dishes arrive over the course of the meal – piping hot, fresh from the wok. And then empty plates get whisked away as they clutter up the available space so that room can be made for new dishes. Getting hold of your food when dishes are spinning around on a lazy Susan being driven by 14 hungry diners can be quite a feat – and good chopstick skills are a key requirement so that you don’t come away still hungry. Oh – I forgot about the soup – each meal has at least one soup dish, served in and amongst everything else, not at the beginning of the meal like in the West.

Once all dishes have been served, a plate of fruit is presented – usually watermelon – this signals that no more food will be served.

Food on the whole was tasty, not too spicy, well presented and the entire bill for 22 dishes + a bottle of local wine, a few beers and cooldrink came to under RMB 1000 (less than £100 or R1200)!

Oh, I nearly forget – because we were prepared to forgo an official invoice for the meal, we got a free bottle of wine!


Read the labels

What we WON’T be having for dinner…..

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It looked like something else that we often buy – should have been BBQ Pork slices….didn’t check the labels until we got home…..wrong farmyard animal, wrong anatomy!


Taxi woes

Things have been too quiet around here for too long – life has been rushing by and there has been little time for putting it into words. But, oh faithful followers, after numerous requests as to whether I have given up on you, I will try to be more diligent about updating you with some aspects of our lives here in Shanghai – quirky, frustrating, humorous and all of the above!


Last night we returned to Shanghai from a short business trip to South Africa. Arriving at Pudong International Airport shortly before 11.00 at night, we joined the queue for catching a taxi. Most of the time our Chinese fellow-man does not do queues – it is more of a combination of push and shove and scrum and elbow. So it is often surprising to find fully functional queues, even when they are enforced through means of “cattle” herding devices – a series of alleyways of metal and/or posts joined by lengths of tape, allowing the herd of people to zig-zag up and down to reach the destination in a semi-orderly fashion. At the airport, the taxi queue employs one of these zig-zag devices, as well as a taxi-coordinator who steers the awaiting passengers towards an assigned taxi. A stream of taxis stretches off into the distance, drawing up two or three at a time to allow the taxi-controller to pair the next load of passengers with a willing and able driver.

Over the years we have witnessed a few variations to the straightforward process of catching a taxi: Drivers told to get lost because of bald tyres; passengers trying to cram 5 people and more than 10 items of luggage into a single vehicle, etc.

Last night our travel-weary moods were lightened by witnessing a Chinese gentleman successfully manage to express his contempt for at least 3 taxis and their drivers, pack and unpack his luggage from the afore-mentioned vehicles, cause both taxi-controllers to lose their cool and totally violate the ethos advocated by the displayed sign:

Harmonious and civilised interrelationships are the responsibility of all of us

Single-handedly he managed to disrupt the orderly queue process, leave his luggage in the middle of the road while trying to find a driver that measured up to his high standards. Not sure if he was checking their licenses, their CV’s, their driving records, but whatever it was, he remained dissatisfied and expressed as much to the benefit of the drivers, the controllers, the passengers and anyone who didn’t want to hear about his woes.

Eventually he condescended to get into the 3rd taxi, only to begin a vehement discourse with the poor hitherto unsuspecting taxi-driver – accompanied by many hand-gestures. The window was wound down and the “I’ve had enough of this ….. person” controller was once again subjected to various insults and mouthings and arguments.

A collective sigh of relief rippled up and down the zig-zag as the rest of us were finally allowed to proceed to engage our own taxis and make our weary way home.

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April 2012
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