Festival of Lights

We returned from Chengdu last week, safe and sound. I was back at work Tuesday, but Xianyi had taken an extra day’s vacation and so she went back Wednesday. She’s more than made up for it since then, however, as her boss has put her in charge of a new project that has kept her in the office late all week and most of the day Saturday.


Our last days in Chengdu were spent bowling with Xianyi’s parents, and then traveling to Qing Bai Jiang, where we stayed over with her Aunt and ten-year-old cousin Dodo. We had a nice lunch prepared by Auntie with some of her friends: an old guy we called Uncle Pang, and a co-worker of Auntie’s named Bing. Uncle Pang brought over a huge jug of homemade paojiu, which he and Bing and I toasted with repeatedly. After lunch we spent the rest of the day at a local tea garden, where Dodo and a boy her age collected tadpoles from the pond, and we all flew a kite.The next day we returned to Chengdu and had dinner with some of Xianyi’s friends from middle school. We met Si Lu, one of her best friends from the old days, at the same bridge where the two of them used to meet when they were cutting class together. Soon we were joined by several others, and we went to a nice little homestyle restaurant. It was here that her friends discussed whether this year is truly the year of the golden pig, as everyone says, or if it is in fact the year of the earth pig – as they had read in a local paper. They say people are lying to themselves because they want to reap the rewards of a golden pig year. Or maybe the government is pushing the idea to get people to buy more stuff?

Whatever year it is, it’s here. Tonight is the Lantern Festival, the last night of the New Year festivities, 15 nights after the New Year. People are lighting fireworks all over the place, right outside our house. It’s so loud we can’t hear the TV. Car alarms are going off. We’re eating tang yuan. Happy New Year.

Year of the Golden Pig

Pigs in Shanghai
Pigs in Shanghai

Spring Festival is upon us, and so the Portfolios have embarked on their annual journey back to Mrs.P’s roots in Chengdu.

2007 is the Year of the Pig, and it is a special Pig Year, in that it bears the additional quality of being Golden. This makes it a twice-per-century event, and that means only one thing in China: people are lining up to get married and have babies. The pig is already considered a prosperous zodiac sign for a child (perhaps because healthy babies are fat? or maybe pigs are perceived to have good lives because they just wallow around content all day?), so the added Gold status just makes it even better.

Mrs.P happens to be a pig, so this is her year. When I first learned about the Chinese zodiac, I assumed that this was an auspicious thing; in fact it is the opposite. When your year rolls around, you are supposed to be wary of evil spirits. How do you fend them off? By wearing red underwear, of course.

We arrived in Chengdu around dinner time yesterday. The city looks much the same as I last saw it a year ago – in fact, it looks much as we left it when we moved to Kunming in 2003. The only major distruption to the cityscape we noticed on the ride from the airport was the massive construction on Renmin Lu, where they are building Chengdu’s first subway line, to be completed… someday.

Mom and Dad had dinner prepared and we pretty much got right down to eating and drinking. Dad and I had fiery baijiu while the ladies sipped orange drink. It was a sumptuous feast of all Mom’s specialties: cold spicy chicken, twice-cooked pork (???), fish, various vegetables only available in China and hence lacking English names (to my knowledge), ??? (basically pork fat laden with sugar and sweet bean sauce, which sounds kind of nasty on paper but which tastes like sweet heaven), and my personal favorite, bamboo with fried beef.

We had planned on going out to the temple at midnight to pay our respects to Buddha, but we were too tired and went right to bed.

Today Xiao Niang (Mrs.P’s aunt) and her daughter Dodo came over to hang out with us. They live in what might be called a suberb of Chengdu, QingBaiJiang (Green White River). Doudou is ten now and much taller than when I saw her a year ago. We brought some clothes for her, including my old Superman sweatshirt. We also took her out to the Metro hypermart and bought her a new jacket (as well as one for me). She also bragged to us about how she came in the top five of her class, despite her teachers telling her she was a bad student. Ha!

*This post made possible by a generous loan of his old computer and wireless internet card from my boss. So despite the in-laws having no heat or a/c, and a squatter toilet that doubles as a shower drain, I am still surfing the net. Yeah, baby!

Crabfest and a kind stranger


Last week we had a boys’ night out and went to the seafood market somewhere in northern Shanghai. It’s a bit out of the way, but well worth the trip. It was me, Coley, Adam and Chris – Chris is a chef and posted some of his pictures from the evening on a “foodie website”, to use his term. Check out such delicacies as the “Sausage of the Sea” (pictured above).

We walked around the market buying mostly crabs and then wandered into one of the local restaurants, which cooked all our purchases for us and charged by the pound. These guys had been a few times before and so knew that for maximum effect, one should bring his own butter and ask the waitress to melt it for dipping.

Another interesting part of the evening was that we were in a traffic accident on the way to dinner. Our taxi slammed into the taxi in front of us on the elevated expressway. Being up there without a ride is not one of the more fun places to be in Shanghai. Since there are no available taxis driving on the gaojia we tried to flag down anyone. It didn’t take us long to catch a ride with a young successful Chinese businessman, who was driving a rather plush auto. Not a beamer, but one of the nicer classes of locally produced cars. He was happy to drive us, while extolling the virtues of the American economy (I think). He also proclaimed that it was no bother to help us, that certainly if he were stranded on the road in America, everyone would stop to help him. On that point, I had to politely correct him. As the four of us later agreed amongst ourselves, we would never pick up a stranger on the highway.

Bowling Birthday Party

Stretchin Out
How I Roll

It’s high time I reported on the doings and misdeeds of the celebrations in honor of my 26th birthday almost two weeks ago. It was Saturday night, and a momentous convergence of huge excuses to party. Not only was it my birthday, it was also Christine’s, and furthermore, it was Natalie’s final weekend in Shanghai (for the foreseeable future, anyway). So we pulled out all the stops.

The evening began with about 30 friends gathered for a Sichuan meal around the corner from our house. The theme being “trash”, everyone was dressed in their worst gear. Except Imani, who incorporated “Eurotrash” into the idea, and was therefore sporting some fine threads. The meal was organized and coordinated by my wife, who did a superb job of ordering and keeping the waitstaff attentive and orderly.

Then, on to the lanes for a rollfest! We were all in fine form, having polished off a few bottles of baijiu during dinner, and were ready to engage in some thrilling athletics, such as this:

All in all a wonderful evening. Great time had by all. In fact, I think I summed it up best in this post-round interview with legendary sports anchor Ty McBenson (friend Sol).

Word. Now we’re off to the beach, folks. More on that in my next post…

Photos of Early Reform Period

1979 Summer Palace, Beijing
When the ban on public dancing was lifted, dancing to rock ‘n roll music was still remote. The spectators stood far apart, and injected occasional criticisms. (1979 Summar Palace, Beijing). Photo from EastSouthWestNorth.

After the Cultural Revolution ended with the death of Mao in 1976, and Deng Xiaoping took over the country and decided that economic reform was the way forward, tremendous changes took place in China. A Chinese blogger who goes by ESWN (EastSouthWestNorth) has discovered about 20 fabulous pictures from the 70s and 80s that are definitely worth checking out. This was a time when bans were being lifted on foreign products, as well as on dancing and games; foreign art was making its way into China, and the people were allowed small avenues of expression such as the Democracy Wall. Have a look at these pictures. I found them through a post on Shanghaiist, a great city blog.


The Stones in Shanghai
The Stones in Shanghai

The Stones concert Saturday night was totally awesome, just the absolute standard for what a rock and roll show is supposed to be. They came out with “Start Me Up” and went through dozens of classics, including “Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Happy”, “Gimme Shelter” and so many others I’ve forgotten. They also threw in a few of their new songs, but usually kept those to the universally popular, like “Love is Strong”. They did “Wild Horses” with Cui Jian, the Godfather of Chinese Rock, who was on the first cover of Chinese Rolling Stone. And they did two encores, the first of which I forgot, and the second of which was “Satisfaction”. We had about 20 friends at the show, we were all sitting together and we rented a bus to take us to and from the concert! That bus turned out to be a great call, because after the show, most people were fighting for cabs in the rain, while we continued the party on the tour bus! Above photo by Charlie Xia.