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I’m dreaming of a white … New Year’s Eve?

Decades ago, I’ve been told, snow actually wasn’t that uncommon a sight in Shanghai. But years of pollution have the city’s climate out of whack, so now the white stuff is a rarity. But yesterday afternoon and evening it came — the most snow I’ve seen in two years here. It was four days too late — and, to be fair, was only what would be considered a dusting back home — but it is the closest I’ll coming to walking in a winter wonderland in a city whose winters are often bitterly cold and maddeningly gray.

I snapped some photos of the wintry scene last night as I walked to my gym. I saw a city unprepared for snow: unshoveled sidewalks, a kid playing in a pile of snow with slippers on his feet, and someone else, in short sleeves, making a snowman with his bare hands. According to Shanghai Daily, yesterday’s snowfall was the first time Shanghai’s downtown neighborhoods had been “blanketed with the white stuff” in six years. I guess it depends on what your definitions of blanketed and downtown are. I took this photo last January in Zhabei District. Regardless, there is still snow visible from my window today — it really brightens the city up — and for the first time, it feels like the holidays for me here in Shanghai.

And with the holidays in mind, I must go. I’m being told I need to shave and shower — now — before heading out for the night. Gotta look my best for all those drunken photos. Speaking of which, watch your step tonight if you’ll be boozing it up in Shanghai. I have yet to see a snow shovel in this city — and all that snow has turned to ice.

Happy New Year!

Click here for photos.

Also … Speaking of white stuff, I reprised my recurring role of “White Man No. 1” earlier this week in a television commercial for a new NEC mobile phone that gets TV reception. I took some photos of the shoot. Sadly, there are no photos of “White Man” — too busy “working” — but I’m working on getting some.

12.31.2004, 6:37 PM · Photos · Comments (4)

Ever hear of a ‘Chinese Gift Exchange’?

Well, there’s nothing Chinese about it

I meant to write this a while ago, but nothing seems to get done when it should this time of year. Body and mind go into some sort of holiday hibernation. A biological yuletide alarm clock goes off, telling you to take a break. And, of course, you go along with it: “I made it through another year. I deserve a break. It is the holidays, after all.” This is what happened to me — and nothing could be more absurd.

I live in a city that has all of the holiday fixings, but none of the holiday feelings (no matter what Xinhua would have us think). I am not a student, therefore no winter break. I am not technically employed, therefore no expectation of holiday vacation time. And, perhaps what makes my little holiday hiatus most preposterous, is what I did in the months leading up to now — I traveled. Yeah, sure, I deserve a break. I’m sure all of you who have been tied to a desk all year would agree.

Perhaps some of my mental malaise can be attributed to a mild state of depression, a feeling that I imagine afflicts many foreigners in China this time of year. Another holiday overseas, far from home, away from family and friends. So we try to fake it here, filling our days and nights with as much approximated holiday cheer as possible. Bliss and I began that ritual with a holiday party a week before Christmas, two days before Bliss boarded a plane headed for Georgia.

The highlight of the evening was a “Chinese” gift exchange, a practice, we learned, that has no Chinese qualities whatsoever.

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12.28.2004, 4:15 PM · Diary, Observations · Comments (5)

The best pizza in Shanghai

BEST OF SHANGHAI: ‘One man’s opinion’

My girlfriend thought we moved into our new apartment last June because it was walking distance from the Huangpi Nan Lu subway station and our gym. That’s what she thought. The real reason I thought the location was prime? Its proximity to pizza — the best damn pizza in Shanghai.

I like pizza. A lot. And this Best of Shanghai entry is easy to write. It’s no contest. Da Marco on Yandang Lu has the best pizza in the city. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. (Well, except when the Yankees were up three games to none over the Red Sox in this year’s American League Championship Series. Wait a minute — that doesn’t really help my case.)

Tastes in pizza — like all of these “best of” topics — are very subjective. If you grew up near Chicago, you probably like a thick crust. If you grew up near New York, thin is your thing. If you grew up in Shanghai, I am sorry — your country’s pizza is appalling. And pizza is the greatest thing since sliced, um, noodles.

Go to Da Marco and you’ll see what I mean.

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12.21.2004, 2:33 AM · Best of Shanghai, Food · Comments (32)

Manhattan Bar: No longer ‘hookers, drinks and DVDs’

I don’t make a habit of going to invitation-only grand opening parties for new bars — largely because I never get invited to them. But thanks to my friend Diana, I got on the guest list for a gala last night. The bar was called Manhattan. The street was Tongren Lu. The block was just south of Nanjing Xi Lu, site of a flashy new bar strip where many of the drinking holes and dance spots forced out of Maoming Nan Lu have sought considerably swankier refuge. Manhattan is one of the first new Tongren Lu establishments to debut. And the place was packed — the manager says he has quite the email address list.

If you are familiar with the Manhattan Bar on Maoming Lu — yes, that sticky, smoky, smelly dive with DVD hawkers hounding people at high tables — you should know that this new version does indeed come from the same ownership. But the two places have nothing in common. Manhattan on Tongren Lu is upscale, sophisticated and tastefully appointed. A huge silhouette of the Manhattan skyline — or, at least, some artist’s rendition of it — glows behind the bar. There’s a stage for live music and a balcony for a bird’s eye view. And the DVD hawkers have to stay outside.

“When you make enough money selling hookers and drinks,” said one party-goer familiar with the old Manhattan Bar, “you can afford a place like this.”

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12.17.2004, 7:09 PM · Bars, Observations · Comments (7)

Not bloggy enough for you?

The Blotter: So many links it’s silly

Like links? Love links? Need links? Are you like Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross? “I can’t (open) these (links), (Dan). No one can. It’s a joke. (Dan), look, just give me a hot (link). Just give me two of the premium (links). As a “test,” alright? As a “test” and I promise you …” *

No test necessary. I got your premium links right here.

Please allow me to introduce, or re-introduce, you to The Blotter. Definitely the bloggiest section of this site, The Blotter is usually updated several times a day with random links that happen to catch our eye. Many of the links have to do with China — many of the links do not. But they’re all worth checking out.

Why just today we have Pam Anderson naked, Beijing Pizza Hut salad stacking contests, Chinese women discussing lubricant and Japanese men who like to rest their heads on fake female laps.

Check it all out here. Or just move your head slightly to the right — the most recent posts to The Blotter always appear on the right of every site page, not too far beneath the Categories.

If you would like to add The Blotter to your RSS reader, you can use this link.

If you would like to recommend a link for inclusion in The Blotter, please contact us. If we use your link, we will mention that we got it from you.

Head on over to The Blotter!

If you were wondering, the photo used with this entry is an ink blotter. Weak, I know. I couldn’t think of anything else.

* Apologies to David Mamet.

12.16.2004, 3:19 PM · Site News

Asia Blog Awards 2004

Vote early. Vote often.

The nominations are in. Now it’s time to vote in the 2004 Asia Blog Awards.

There are 23 categories. And Shanghai Diaries was lucky enough to be nominated in three of them: Best Mainland China Blog, Best Designed Blog and Best Essayist.

You can vote once a day in every category until voting ends December 31.

So tell all your friends, and go vote for your favorites!

I’m pretty sure this is one election the good guys (and girls) have a chance of winning.

Link: 2004 Asia Blog Awards

12.15.2004, 1:41 PM · Site News · Comments (1)

In Shanghai, it’s always Black Friday at IKEA

I went to IKEA yesterday — and, by the looks of it, so did everyone else in Shanghai. I know they weren’t shopping for Christmas, because according to the Shanghai media, there is no Christmas in China. But they were definitely shopping for something. Probably getting some early Spring Festival items out of the way — you know, the traditional Spring Festival tree, the traditional Spring Festival lights, the traditional Spring Festival candles in, of course, the traditional Spring festival colors … green and red. IKEA played right along, too, piping in through the sound system traditional Spring Festival carols (we Christmas-types should be ashamed, by the way — many of our Christmas carols are complete ripoffs of Spring Festival classics!) and requiring some employees to don traditional Spring Festival hats. You know, the red ones with the fuzzy white ball on top meant to symbolize a traditional Spring Festival baozi.

Anyway regardless of what they were buying and why they buying it, there were a hell of a lot of people at IKEA yesterday. If someone wants to interview members of China’s “growing middle class,” the Shanghai IKEA would be a fine place to take your pad and pencil.

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12.13.2004, 7:22 PM · Observations · Comments (12)

Shanghai Twang: Country music in the big city

Y’all come now, ya hear?

When you get an email from someone you don’t know telling you to go to a bar you’ve never heard of so you can hear a band “practice,” usually it’s a good idea to deposit that email into the trash. But something about this particular email grabbed me. Maybe it was the fact that it began not with Dear or Hello or Hi, but Y’all come!! Maybe it was the band’s name — the Shanghai Cowboys — and the promise of passable country music … in Shanghai. But likely it was the paragraph’s closing sentence that prompted me to head on over to a place called The Literature Club last night:

“Please pass the word and bring along some of your shit-kicking friends.”

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12.11.2004, 7:21 PM · Music · Comments (5)

The best hot dogs in Shanghai

Best of Shanghai is a new category on the site that will be updated from time to time. WARNING: This is one man’s opinion — but it’s usually right.

I broke a longstanding personal maxim over the weekend: Never utter the word “dog” while ordering at a Chinese restaurant. But at Orange Dog, a snack shop in the basement of Jiu Guang City Plaza, the big new mall on Nanjing Xi Lu next to Jing’an Temple, it’s hard not to — hot dogs are their specialty. And I’d rather eat a phallus of ground up pig snouts than poor old Rover any day. (Actually, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, hot dogs are not made of snouts and other sundry swine parts. They are made of “specially selected meat trimmings of beef and/or pork.” And I can’t think of any reason why the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council would lie about something like that. Oh, wait — yes I can.)

The best hot dogs I’ve had in China were cooked by my friend Luis at one of his famous back porch barbecues, which always include — curiously — several boxes of Kittyland cookies. Don’t tell Luis I told you this: His hot dogs usually come burned. But, in China, you take what you can get. I once ordered a hot dog in Lanzhou (I know, I know) at one of those Western knock-off restaurants where everything looks kind of Western but ends up being really weird. I got a big bun that looked even bigger because of what was inside it. It was a small Chinese sausage. You know, the reddish, kind of sweet ones. It was about the size of my middle finger, ironically. They sliced it in half length-wise and placed the two pieces end to end. Even then it didn’t fill up the bun. Making things worse, the meat was lathered in mayonnaise. Mayonnaise! Where was I? Britain?

So, I was excited to stumble upon Orange Dog, where everything looked and tasted normal.

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12.07.2004, 8:07 PM · Best of Shanghai, Food · Comments (19)

The Trip: Gadgets get graded

It was during the last stop of The Trip — the 18th of 18 provinces. I dropped my phone. It fell apart. And someone said it: “Dan, you and Electronics don’t really mix, do you?”

It never used to be this way. Electronics and I used to get along quite well, actually. We hung out together. We talked on the phone. Electronics was on my IM buddy list.

But then I decided to go on this trip — and something happened. We drifted apart. At first, I’d hear from Electronics every now and then. Maybe an email or an SMS. But then all I got were group emails. And then nothing. By the sixth week of the trip, Electronics had totally turned on me.

My wireless internet stopped working in Beijing. My mobile phone left me in Changchun. My camera ran out on me in Yunnan. By Gansu, even my loyal iBook — who flew to Lanzhou for a 10-day rendez-vous — wouldn’t look at me. (It still won’t … and I’m typing this at a Shanghai internet bar … and the guy next to me just spit on the hardwood floor.)

So, here they are! Reviews of the gadgets I took on The Trip!

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12.04.2004, 11:44 AM · The Trip · Comments (21)

I bought a new toilet seat

Finally got rid of that damn wooden one. It is plastic and white — and just about the only thing I own that works right now. Let me explain.

It is very hard to be a writer — let alone a writer with a website — if your computer doesn’t work. Well, as readers of this site may recall, my computer doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked since a fateful night two months ago in Gansu, the halfway stop during The Trip. My girlfriend was visiting me. So was my iBook.

Details of the night in question are purposefully foggy. Let’s just say after all was said and done, the only thing my iBook did was flash a question mark — over and over and over again. The kiss of death (especially for an idiot who had a good bit of a life’s work on that hard drive … and never backed much of it up).

You may have heard rumors that the question mark was flashing because of my fist. That may or may not be true. But at least one expert, who recently had the exact same thing happen to him (minus the fist), believes the damage was done before I may or may not have laid into my laptop. I, for one, believe him. (You tech geeks out there can keep track of my iBook’s specific problems here.)

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12.01.2004, 3:28 AM · Diary · Comments (12)


Shanghai Diaries is a website about Shanghai, China ... and lots of other stuff. Voted Best Mainland China Blog in the 2004 Asia Blog Awards.

Editor: Dan Washburn

Related: Shanghaiist and Mudan Boutique

Dan is a freelance writer living in Shanghai. More about Dan.

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10.08.2005 (127 new)
Fujian Power!
Visit an old colonial island in Xiamen and huge earthen roundhouses in rural Fujian. Scenes from my National Day 2005 holiday.

10.08.2005 (41 new)
Go on the set for my very first infomercial! I play the role of “Dr. James,” inventor of a product called “Dolly.”

10.08.2005 (57 new)
Gaelic Football
Get some sweaty culture at the Asian Gaelic Games. Gaelic football comes to Shanghai!

10.08.2005 (14 new)
Xingfu 13
Jam with Xingfu 13 at the Shanghaiist.com launch party.

10.08.2005 (29 new)
Shanghai Sex Expo
Take a stroll through the Second Annual China International Adult Toys and Reproductive Health Exhibition, also known as the Adult Expo or the Adult-Care Expo.

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