Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Crusin’ on Crutches… How to Get Around Shanghai with Semi Mobility (Part 1)



Hello All! I’m pleased to report that I’m in more positive spirits for a few reasons. Firstly, we are officially two days away from Halloween, by far one of my favorite holidays! This year, I have not one, but two good costumes! I plan on wearing a cute and comical costume for my party at work, and then I’m getting things a little grown and sexy for the evening time. I’m really proud of my costumes because I’ve decided to get creative and make things myself. Sit tight for a future post about how things came out!

Now the best news has got to be the fact that I no longer need my crutches! As you read about in this post, I had surgery in China exactly five weeks ago. While the process wasn’t difficult, the recovery proved to be the opposite. I never realized how much time, energy and effort things would be after my procedure.


My extra "legs" during my recovery.

In fact, this is the reason why I’ve decided to write these blog posts. If you plan on getting around Shanghai on crutches, or with another leg disability, there are a few things you should keep in mind….

       1. You will need extra time for everything.
While this one seems to be a no brainer, I never fully realized how much extra time I would need to get myself around. I would estimate that you double or even triple the time it takes for you to do things. For example, walking down a street that took 5 minutes turned into 15 minutes and going from one floor to another could take 7 minutes. In terms of my morning routine, I would wake up an extra 20 minutes in advance in order to catch a taxi cab to get to work. Which leads me to my next point…

    .   2.Taxis Will Be Your Saving Grace, but…
I fully depended on taxis in order to get myself around since walking and buses (at first) were not a viable option. To hail a cab in Shanghai, all you need to do is go out to the street and wait for one with a green light on. A red light means that the cab is occupied or the driver is off duty/can’t be bothered to stop. The driver will flip on the meter (Which begins at the flat rate of 14 RMBs) and away you go in the city. Luckily for me, I live near work so my rides stayed at the flat rate or only a few kuais above. 

While it may seem easy enough, I’ve noticed over the past few months that it has become a bit difficult to hail a taxi. With the rise of taxi apps such as 滴滴打车 - dīdī dǎchē, 快的打车 - kuàidi dǎchē , Uber, and even Wechat, many people are ordering a taxi with a few taps of their smartphone. Not only are you winning, the taxi driver is the biggest winner since there is an option on some of the apps to “Tip the driver.” This means that you can pay an extra 5, 10 or even 20 RMB on top of your metered fare. This pretty much acts as an incentive for the driver to pick you up as quickly as possible. 

 So, after reading the above, I suggest that you get one of these apps for your phone. Even though they are in Chinese, there are step-by-step English guides on the internet that show how to navigate the apps.

Since I have an old phone that no longer allowed me to download apps, I was stuck waiting for a cab the old-fashioned way; hence one of the reasons why I woke up extra early to allow myself enough time to get to work. On my street, I could hail a cab with relatively little problems before rush hour. After that, I was basically SOL.   The same also applied on the way home from work. 

If this taxi stuff doesn’t appeal to you, you could always…


       3. Hire Help
Remember, you are Asia so hiring help is cheap and plentiful.  If you don’t feel like doing the taxi dance, you could always hire a driver for all of your transportation needs. While you may pay more than a taxi, you get the piece of mind of having someone to cart you around at your beck and call. I will mention that if the driver speaks English, you will in most cases pay more. I suggest that you find a Chinese speaker to assist you in getting a driver and pretty much have the address of all the places you need in Chinese characters.

 I never lucked out on finding a driver, but a few weeks ago, I found this nice gent who had a tricycle that would bring me to work for only 8 RMB ($1.35 USD).
My carriage awaits...

The man that makes all the magic happen!


Besides a driver, you can also think about hiring a domestic helper/cleaner or an ayi as they are called in China. This person (usually female) can come to your home and clean (and in some cases) cook your meals for you. You can hire them to come once a week or more if need be.
 I noticed that since I was unable to get around much, my place became dirty very quickly. While it wasn’t unbearable, it did make things a bit more uncomfortable. If the thought of piles of dishes or mountains of laundry scare you, hire some temporary help. Also just as I mentioned above with the driver, if the cleaner/ayi speaks English, expect to pay more.

      4. Food Delivery Will Be Your Best Friend
So, now that you have your cleaning and transport needs met, you need to satisfy your hunger after a good day of ass sitting. This is where a food delivery service comes in handy. 

When it comes to prepared meals, there are different options in Shanghai. You can go old school and get pizza, or even McDonald's delivered right to your door. Or, you can have a variety of options (even healthier than pizza and burgers) on one website. In Shanghai, one popular website is called Sherpa’s and it delivers to most places in the city. You pretty much type in your address and the website gives you a list of all of the restaurants in your area. Delivery starts at 15 RMB ($2.40 USD) but, if you order between 11am to 6pm, delivery is free! After finding the restaurant of your choice, you select what you want and wait for the delivery man to bring your goods in 45 minutes to 1 hour. Mealbay is another popular option that works just like Sherpa’s albeit with less choices. 

They make food magic happen! (Photo Credit: City Weekend)


If the thought of prepared food doesn’t excite you, or your wallet for that matter (trust me, it could get expensive); you can order your groceries online and have them delivered. There are several major places that can deliver all of your food needs right to your door step. Whether you are craving grapefruits or gherkins, you can count on the following to fulfill your needs:

*City Shop

*Fields

*Epermarket

*Kate and Kimi

While the above list services the expat population (which is a keyword for more expensive), you can go the local route and try:


*Taobao (home to everything)

*Yi Hao Dian

*Tesco’s

*JD.com

I used City Shop for all of my grocery needs and I had only positive experiences. A customer service rep would call me to let me know about my order and the time it was expected to arrive. They would also call me if they were out of stock on a certain item. My food was delivered on time by a courteous driver who patiently helped me get everything in my little apartment.

Well folks, that's the end of Part 1. I hope I made you a bit more comfortable than those crutches you're dragging along. Tune in next week for Part 2!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Shanghai Food Review: T for Thai



Hello everyone! I’m back again and this time, it’s to share my thoughts on another restaurant here in Shanghai. Continue reading about my experience at T for Thai…

The infamous T for Thai bar!

How I selected this restaurant:
 I was never into Thai food before I moved to Asia, but after going to a few Thai restaurants and learning how to cook a couple of Thai dishes at home, I can say with certainty that Thai food is one of my top five favorite cuisines.
I choose T for Thai not only for my love of Thai food, but also its Shanghai Restaurant Week menu and price (FYI for visitors: Shanghai Restaurant Week is held twice a year in the Fall, and then again in the Spring). I wanted to try this restaurant for a while and I guess the stars had perfectly aligned. So, I rounded up some fellow foodie girlfriends (also big Thai food lovers) and we trekked over to the Former French Concession (FFC) to get our grub on!

First Impressions:
The restaurant is located on the second floor above the French restaurant Cuivre. It’s a bit difficult to find, but once the waitress of Cuivre restaurant directed us where to go, we ascended up the many flights of steps (it wasn’t exhausting by any mean, but it’s not exactly ten steps either) and arrived at T for Thai.

Time for a Thai Tuk Tuk ride!

The view from our table
Immediately, you have the feeling of being in Thailand (well, the brief feeling) with images of elephants, trees and tricycles in front of you before you enter the restaurant. Once you enter the restaurant, it's very nice and vibrant with loads of neon colors and neutral colored tables and chairs. We were greeted by the friendly hostess who led us to the back of the barely busy restaurant near the bar (these points are crucial to the story). Once everyone arrived, it was time to order….
Drinks and Food
The menu at T for Thai was on an iPad; thus, my guests and I were able to touch, tap and swipe through our choices. Since I already knew what I wanted food wise (I was going with the Restaurant Week Menu), I went ahead and looked over the drink menu. As I spoke to my friends about the drinks, they warned me (since they had arrived at the restaurant before me) not to order any drinks since the waiter had told them there was only one man at the bar and drinks would take a long time….

SMDH….Only in China!


Forget the paper menu...it's all about going digital!

I settled on some water and once we were able to flag down a waiter, I selected the following four courses:

First Course: Meat Satay Skewers
Second Course: Pork and veggies with a creamy dipping sauce (sorry the name escapes me)
Third Course: Prawn Pad Thai
Dessert Course: Mango Coconut Sticky Rice (seriously one of my favorite desserts).

First Course: Meat Satay Skewers
 After 15-20 minutes, the waiter returned with our satay skewers (the whole table got them), which were a mix of beef, chicken and pork (not all on one stick, but different sticks). They looked nice and grilled and they arrived with a side of lime juice and satay sauce. We were getting ready to dig in until there was a very loud and audible sound coming from behind a door close to the bar. It was that oh so familiar sound, one you would instantly recognize if you’ve ever lived or visited China, you know what sound of talking about…

The hacking and spitting of phlegm!
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, remember how I told you my party and I were seated by the bar in the back of the restaurant. Well, behind the bar was a storage area and the bartender went back there to clear a day’s worth of phlegm.  The whole table looked at each other in disgust and nobody touched their food for a good five minutes. We were all upset and we lost the happy feeling we had when we entered the restaurant. Finally, we got past the disgust and dug into our first course. The skewers were very good, but I’m sure they would have tasted better without all that hacking. After 10 minutes our second courses arrived…

Apparently, the waiter forgot there were five of us and he only brought three dishes. He somehow came back with the third course and once we told him we hadn’t received the second course, he said he would look into the two missing dishes. After another 15 minutes, he returned with the two missing dishes.

Second Course: The veggies and meat with the sauce!

I thought this dish was ok, it was wasn’t warm enough and the sauce could of used a bit more spices. I liked the crispiness of the vegetables and the taste of the meat, so I continued to eat until the third course arrived.

Pad Thai is one of my favorite dishes and when it arrived, I got very excited! Unfortunately, my excitement turned to disappointment when I counted a mere two prawns in the dish.

Third Course: Prawn Pad Thai

Yes, there were two, medium sized prawns in the whole dish of pad thai. In addition to the lack of prawns, there was a lack of flavor and I found the dish to be lacking that zing of a good pad thai. As I was eating, I heard the bartender once again clear his mucus filled lungs (I’m sure the rest of my friends heard too), but I just had to block it out again and have my meal. I will say that the noodles tasted pretty good and there was a nice amount of peanuts.  Finally it was time for dessert….

We waited and waited and waited some more, but no dessert. As I mentioned earlier, the restaurant really wasn’t busy and by the time it came to the dessert course, there were only 3 other tables of people left. After 20 minutes, we flagged down the waiter to inquire about the dessert and he looked a bit puzzled and finally said “Oh, OK, please wait.” We waited for another 20 minutes and finally he returned with a small strip of mango and what must have been a spoonful of sticky rice (no joke). My table had a hearty laugh and in the end, we decided to just let it go and enjoy what we had in front of us. The dessert was good, but, I’ve had better at another Thai restaurant in the city.
Dessert Course: Mango Coconut Sticky Rice

Overall thoughts and Score:
I would give T for Thai a 2.5 out of 5 (they lost a half point on the phlegmy bartender). While the food was good, it was nothing really to write home about. There are better Thai choices in the city. Perhaps we came at a bad time, Sunday night on the last day of Restaurant Week, but I didn’t find the service to be amazing either (but better for what you get in Shanghai). I will say that the bathrooms were incredibly clean with toilet paper and handsoap (Yes, this speaks luxury in this city). As I always say, I would have to give it a second chance to really get a feel for the place. I’ll just make sure to request a table very, very far away from the bar.

Thanks again for reading and come back next time!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Jammin’ At Jiashan Market!


Hello All! I’m back again with another post about life in Shanghai. This time, I will discuss a little spot known as the Jiashan Market….
Jiashan Market!
Background:
The Jiashan market started a couple years ago, as a chill and friendly market to buy foreigner (read western) friendly items. It also gave people a chance to market and sell their (mostly) homemade goods.  Lastly, it's a place where people can congregate and make new friends in a relaxed and peaceful setting. 

I had been to the Jiashan market once before in its early days a few months after I arrived in Shanghai. When I arrived a few weeks ago for a “Women in Shanghai” meet up event, I was surprised just how much it expanded.

Jiashan Market (South Shaanxi Road entrance)
Area:
The area was a bit tricky to find so I wandered around aimlessly for about 40 minutes (Note to Self: Take the metro line 9 to the Jiashan stop). After contacting the head of the meet up group for some directions, I retraced my steps and I arrived at a little unmarked alley off of South Shaanxi Road. I finally saw the sign for the market and I met the other women in a cute café in the market area called: Melange Oasis. Unfortunately, I had already had breakfast so I didn’t eat or drink anything at the café. I will say that it was nice, clean and comfortable and the menu looked really good with lots of foreigner friendly dishes. After chatting with the other women about all sorts of topics, it was time to see what the market had to offer.

Melange Oasis Cafe
 The Market:
The market itself was much bigger than before. There were vendors selling all kinds of things, but mostly food (take away and packaged), drinks and other home goods. I spotted a vendor selling shoes in bigger sizes (yay!), but the prices were a bit high for my taste. I chatted with a vendor who specialized in getting western food to expats in Shanghai at cheaper prices than the options already available. I took her contact information since I’m always in need of quinoa or Greek yogurt (especially if it’s under $10 USD which is the going rate at many other foreigner grocery outlets). I sampled some imported cheeses which were really tasty and; I stopped at a vendor selling homemade, all-natural soap. As much as I love all-natural soap, I refused to buy from this vendor on principal since she wasn’t friendly to me at all (Tip for Aspiring Entrepreneurs #1: Treat your customers well and they will support you!). After that, I stumbled upon the best thing at the market… The British Kitchen!
Shoes, Shoes and Shoes!

The Market in Full Action!

Handmade soaps
 Just as the name states, The British Kitchen is ran by a bloke who hails from the U.K. who serves up homemade British desserts that are authentic tasting and delicious! He sells brownies, shortbread, pies and different cakes. He also shares his recipes through his website (http://thebritishkitchen.co) and each month in the “That’s Shanghai” expat magazine. When I arrived at his table, I learned that many of his desserts had been sold (Tip: go early since his table is very popular), but he still had some brownies and shortbread to spare. 
The British Kitchen Table!
James, the owner of the British Kitchen was very friendly and approachable. He talked gleefully about his products and he gave me a free sample of his shortbread with dark chocolate chips. I’m not the biggest fan of dark chocolate, but mixed with shortbread and “Folks, we have a winner!” The shortbread was not fully soft or hard, but it had a nice bite and the hints of dark chocolate mixed with the shortbread gave it a sweet, distinctive flavor. It is also worth noting that his desserts are reasonably priced. I paid 15RMB ($2.40 USD) for a large piece of shortbread. I heard his other desserts are just as delicious and reasonably priced so; I will make sure to head down early next time!

Amelia's Jams and Spreads: Very Nice!

After James boxed up my goodies, I perused some of the take away food tables. There was a table selling Turkish style hamburgers, another selling sausages, sandwiches, and finally, there was a stall selling meat rolls and a Tex-Mex taco table. I learned that the meat roll table was managed by a family from Madagascar and the meat rolls were food native to their country. I had two beef rolls and they were really, really good. They reminded me of an Indian samosa, just not as oily. The family was also very friendly and spent a lot of time talking to me about their products. I also managed to have a  taco from the taco table which was managed by a local Chinese guy. I was left with pork taco since all of his other products were sold out for the day. Over all, the taco was OK tasting, and the pork tasted very bland. I think the thing that disturbed me the most was the vendor didn’t know or had tasted some of his products (Tip for Aspiring Entrepreneurs #2: Know what you’re selling!). I and another woman I had met earlier decided it was time to leave and we walked together to the metro. Not only had I tried some new foods and rediscovered a great place, I had also made a new friend!

Thanks again for reading and tune in next time!

Jiashan Market Information

Day and Time:

The Jiashan market is open the first and third Saturday of each month from 10:00am-5:00pm


Address:

Jiashan Market

No. 37, Lane 550 Shaanxi Nan Lu, near Shaoxing Lu, Xuhui district

汇区陕西南路55037, 绍兴



Metro: Jiashan (Line 9), then a ten minute walk to the market.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

That one time I had an operation in China….My experiences going under the knife abroad



The battle scars!

Welcome back everybody! It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post, but this time I have a sorta excuse...I had surgery here in China! I know crazy right?!  I will cut to the chase and tell you that I’m doing just fine and I’m resting at home. I even had physical therapy today and the physical therapist mentioned that I was healing well. Now, I’m going to detail below exactly what happened and how I went under the knife abroad…

What Happened?
I’ve always enjoyed being active with dance and other types of fitness. Almost a year ago, I decided to add yoga to the routine which I really fell in love with (especially since the first time I tried it years ago, I absolutely hated it). Well, I didn’t end up with an injury due to yoga; in fact, it was something rather familiar to my routine. I was doing a low squat and when I came back up I heard a “pop” in my left knee. I know that my knees “pop” sometimes (hey…I’m getting old) so I thought I would just massage it out and keep going. Unfortunately, there would be no immediate recovery and when I noticed the pain that accompanied it, I knew that something was very wrong. I decided to take action and go to the hospital.

Public Hospitals in China:
My journey begins at the People’s Number 6 Hospital (Chinese: 上海交通大学附属第六人民医院) since it’s very close to me and according to the internet, really good for sports medicine.
When it comes to public hospitals in China, there are a few things you need to know. First, they are not for the faint of heart: there are endless lines, long waits, loads of sick people (I’ve seen a few people vomit right in front of me), angry people (there has been a surge of revenge murders against doctors and nurses in China, so much so that some hospitals provide self-defense courses for staff), not very clean conditions, and then, more waiting. It’s best to bring a Chinese speaking friend with you so, I brought along the school nurse to help me navigate the system. 

Secondly, one should subscribe to the hospital and pay a fee (35 RMB/ $5.70 USD) to obtain a card. Then, a patient gets in another line to see a doctor (Also inexpensive, I think mine was 50 RMB/ $8.30 USD). We went straight to the emergency department and luckily, the line was very short. Finally, when it was my turn to be seen, the doctor touched me for five seconds (you know, he didn’t want those black people cooties) and when I didn’t welp in pain, he concluded I needed an MRI and sent me away. I was in the chair for one minute and that was all. I then went in another line to pay for an MRI (At this hospital it was 500RMB/ $80USD, def not too expensive) and the follow up consultation (100RMB/ $17 USD). 

I had the MRI which was on a new looking machine, albeit with the good ol’ Chinese dust/dirt all over it. After I finished, I waited a day for the results. Again, I brought the school nurse with me and we waited in an area with hundreds of people. The nurses at the hospital estimated my wait time to be around 3 hours and they weren’t lying! By the time my number was called, I entered a consultation room to see a doctor who had my results. He said something very quickly, scribbled something on paper and then dismissed me. Since I know very little medical Chinese (and the school nurse isn’t great with medical English), he saw the confusion on my face and blurted out “surgery!" You could have knocked me over with a feather at that point, except the line of people who were waiting behind me would not have allowed it. I held back my tears and I told the school nurse I would seek a second opinion. She said this would be an excellent idea so; I went to the private hospital just down the street…

Private Hospitals in China:
Since I’m staying in Shanghai, the most developed city in China, my review should not be taken as gospel. I will say that private hospitals are much, much better than the public ones. They are impeccably clean, staffed with friendly and helpful employees, and quiet waiting rooms…it’s almost like being back in the west (except for the all Asian staff). Of course you get what you pay for so they are considerably more expensive than the public hospitals, but much cheaper than the U.S.

 I knew of a private hospital named Landseed Hospital (上海禾新医院 为了您的健康,们用心服务) through a coworker who had previously been a few times. The hospital was from Taiwan and they boasted about their western style medical care, bilingual staff and the large amount of insurance companies they accepted (including mine). 

I went straight to the orthopedics department and I waited a very short time to see a doctor. The doctor was very warm, friendly and knowledgeable and she spent a considerable amount of time with me. She recommended an X-ray and MRI, which I had done that same day. We received the results quickly and the doctor saw from the X-Ray that it wasn’t a bone issue. After looking at my MRI however, she saw the problem, which turned out to be a meniscus tear in my left knee. Apparently the tear was bad enough that I would need surgery. She even brought out a knee model to show me exactly how the knee should work and the problem with mine. She carefully explained in English what to expect from the surgery and the recovery time of the operation. I learned that it would be a minor operation with a short recovery period of 6-8 weeks. I was still bummed to know that I would need surgery, but I felt a bit safer knowing I was in good hands.

 After a month of going back and forth with the insurance company, the doctor personally called me to let me know I would be going under the knife in two days, and my operation would be done by the famous Dr. Shiyi Chen. Apparently, Dr. Chen was a like a rock star in the mainland China sports medicine world. He was credited with getting Liu Xiang, the famous Chinese hurdler back to good health after fixing his troubled Achilles tendon. I was in a daze leading up the surgery and then it was finally surgery day!

The Operation:
My hospital suite...Clean, nice and comfortable
I quickly packed a bag that morning and called my mom to say a prayer. I tried my best to catch a cab, but gave up when I saw a bus. From the bus I hoped onto the metro and finally after a ten minute walk, made it to the hospital. I was trying to take the easiest and least stressful route but, a rainy morning in Shanghai left me no other option but the aforementioned (rainy days in Shanghai=no cabs!). I was escorted to my room which was really nice and comfortable.  I had one of my Shanghai besties' meet me at the hospital and she kept me entertained with small, light talk since she knew how scared I was. Finally the team of doctors, including Dr. Chen came into the room and once again explained the procedure. I also had a Taiwanese-American resident who would be there the whole operation (he was also a cutie : ). After the discussion, it was time for my I.V. which the staff kinda messed up on (in their defense, I have really small and not noticeable veins), which only increased my fear. Finally, I was transferred to a wheeled bed and led to another floor for the operation…

I don’t remember much after that and once I woke up I was crying. The staff was worried until I shouted that “I was alive!” They laughed and wiped away my tears and then I was back in my hospital room. According to my friend, I was gone for quite awhile (two hours I believe).  The Taiwanese-American resident explained the next steps which involved sleeping and no eating. I took a small nap and after a few more hours, I learned that I was able to eat. I was surprised to learn that the hospital didn’t have food, but there was a restaurant and Starbucks on the ground floor. I had some rice and vegetables and then I went back to sleep till the next day. 

The next day I felt much better and happier. I had a nice Starbucks breakfast (A ham sandwich and green tea latte) and I rested comfortably in bed watching online t.v. and grading papers (I couldn’t get too far behind on work). I decided to stay at the hospital until the evening since the insurance covered it and I wanted as much help as possible before being on my own.  I met the physical therapist that would be working with me on my recovery who had an OK level of English however, his personality really made up for it. He was really funny and showed me some exercises to do at home. I will see him two times a week for two months and then hopefully, I will be back to my dancing and squatting self!

I know this was long so thanks for reading! Tune into my next installment on how I get around being disabled in China!