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Shanghai – Week 03

Welcome back, y’all.

Another week down, and many more to go. So, get you coffee ready because it time for round 3 of this prolonged ordeal called life.

Part 7. Dealing with just the iPad

Not a problem so far, and I’ll take you through the whole process, including apps and tips and tricks.

As you already know, the internet access in China is fairly limited and to bypass this annoying ”feature” one needs to use a VPN or a proxy server. Lucky for me, Ioana found a paid VPN software on the app store, so for 15$ she gets worldwide internet access. The best part is that once payed the VPN access code can be used on all of “her” iOS devices, thus … Yours truly gets Google and Facebook like a ”bauss” (dear mother, this last word does not exist in the English dictionary and it may be very well replaced with “boss”).

I have to admit: I do love the battery life on this thing. 8+ hours of whatever I throw at it. CAUTION: Battery will drain quickly if “*le girlfriend” keeps all her magazine apps ON at all times.

But let`s get on to business:

1. VPN access comes through VPN One Click. (easy to install and reliable every time)

2. I write everything using iA Writer. Can`t get simpler than this and does the job splendidly. I can`t praise enough the added buttons for “left” and “right” and the most common punctuation signs. Although I could have used something free, I feel that the money are well spent. iCloud sync, Dropbox and many other features are just bonuses.

3. iBooks is self explanatory, and although I have the Kindle with me, I haven`t touched it yet. It will probably get it`s share of use once I’ll get the courage to read in the subway.

4. Read It Later is one of those apps that really couldn`t be better. It downloads pages of the internet for offline reading. And it`s wonderful because in the morning I zoom through allot o articles in Google Reader and save a bunch for the office brake hours. (did I mention I still don`t have internet access at work? 🙂 )

5. Perfect RSS is the app that replaces the Google Reader I was talking about. I love it because it can download articles off of those sites that are otherwise blocked. The downside is that if the website isn`t sharing the whole article … I still have to follow the link (and that requires VPN). So it`s really good because I can send articles to Read It Later and I save allot of time.

6. IM+ (free) is the replacement for Yahoo Messenger. It`s as good as they get but if I forget it ON , it will connect me to messenger every time I`m near a wi-fi. Not cool … but I got used to it.

7. Skype. ‘Nuf said.

8. WordPress, without it, you wouldn`t be reading this every Sunday like clock work. It simple to use and it gives me almost all the usability that I need. If I find something that is not to my liking, I`ll connect to the online version of my blog via the Safari browser, and fix it there.

9. Web Albums. Don`t know how I could have done it without it. This app let`s me connect to my Picasa Web Albums and it has a ton of functionality. The best feature is that I can have my albums cached in the app for offline viewing. This alone is worth the 0.99$ I spent on it. All I really need now is for it to resize my picture before uploading.

10. But because Web Albums doesn`t do that, I bought One Edit. It`s a good app but flawed exactly where I need it. It can`t resize images taking just one side in consideration. If I want to resize 20 pictures that have different aspect ratios, the software will resize them ALL to one fixed resolution (1920x1200px for example) so the square crops end up being squashed to landscape. Idiotic … but I manage.

11. Snapseed is THE APP when it comes to image post processing. And I know no software better than that for tablets and don`t even get me started on Photoshop Touch.

12. For individual resize I use Photogene. It`s good for other stuff too but not as powerful as Snapseed.

I import all my pictures using the Camera Connection Kit, from both cameras, and I send my iPhone pictures via e-mail to … myself. The iOS devices are synchronizing most of the pictures via iCloud, but the panos and HDRs need to be sent manually. In the native Photos app I worked out a system of folders so that when someone wants to see specific pictures, I just open the right folder; thus I don`t need to scroll through tons of temporary pictures.

I could probably do everything faster and better using a MacBook Air (wink) but for these 6 months, the iPad will have to do.

Part 8. Photography with whatever I have on me

The past three weeks where borderline hell for the cameras. If it wasn`t raining, it sure was damp. And I, for one, don`t want to get my camera wet more than it needs to be. So a fair amount of pictures where shot with the iPhone (I had it on me because it`s a glorified mp3 player – mainly `cause I can`t unlock it in China … for the time being).

These pictures have the hipster feel so (in my opinion) they are not really blog material but I`ll show you two of them anyway.

The Fuji X10 is the workhorse so far. It`s small enough to fit in my bag and it`s inconspicuous. Also, the files are easier to get from the SD card on the iPad so that`s a feature I`m starting to like.

The D700 doesn`t get that much use these days. I have so much dirt on the sensor and in the 17-35mm that I can start a vegetable garden. So he only saw a small part of Shanghai by hanging on my shoulder. The moment I get the cash flow going, I`ll take it to Nikon Shanghai for a proper CLAd-ing (dear mother, that is short for “cleaning, lubricating and adjusting”); especially the 17-35/2.8 because that one is on the tipping point. The sensor cleaning might not be that expensive, but the CLA on the zoom might set me back 300-400$. (money that we currently don`t have, due to a unexpected apartment deposit of ~1700$)

Part 9. Why we miss Romanian (European) food … and what to do about it.

Oh boy, I could talk about this one for hours but because this is the 2nd time I write this entry (WordPress and China internet don`t get together very well) I`ll try to be as short as possible.

As you might already know, I eat most of my meals at the office cafeteria, and although there`s a good variety of food, somehow I end up not liking most of it.

It`s like this: They have 3 meat dishes and 3 vegetable side-dishes that one can choose from. Everyone gets to choose 2 from the meat department and 2 veggie-based. They even have a nice shiny whiteboard that they write the day`s menu on, but … as you guessed already, it`s written in Chinese, and yours-truly still has no idea how to spell POTATO ! So you might say I`m picking my food with my eyes closed, and you wouldn`t be too far from the truth. I do squint my eyes everyday to give the impression that I know what`s in there but I`m still deciding; in reality I`m just trying to figure out which one has fewer bones and which vegetable looks familiar. I still have no idea what veggies are they feeding me because in 3 weeks I managed to get potato only ONCE!

And what`s with the skin and the bone in the food? The other day I chose something that resembled the almighty “schnitzel” but I ended up with a thin sliced BONE with egg and crumpled bread all over it. NO MEAT. NO NOTHING! That`s got to be a world record for useless food!

So out of 10 dishes (to have a round number) 6 are tasteless, 2 are utterly repugnant and 2 are death-row food (as in “drop dead DE-LICIOUS”). The weird part is that the 2nd week was awful and the past week we had wonderful food, with meat on the bone and tasteful side-dishes, so if history repeats itself I`m in for a nasty week, starting tomorrow!

The girls are a bit luckier than me but not by much.

To counter the office food, we`re now on the hunt for that one awesome restaurant with Shanghainese food that we can call home for the next 5 months. We haven`t found it yet but we heard they have sweet and sour food and lots of meat … yummy!

In the meantime to get our morale up, we sometimes hit the supermarket and fill our basket on things we know from home. Ham, milk, cheese, ice-cream, jam, potatoes, green peppers, onions (these can kill an untrained man!) and we eat just like we were in college: on a piece of newspaper in the middle of the living room. All we need is a campfire! But it`s so good! The best part: I eat onions Saturday morning and then I go to the bank. The teller can smell me from a mile away and I LOVE IT! Take that! for keeping me in line 3h just to exchange some money!

Another way to cope with food craving is to be taken out to a restaurant by a local. That will fix many of the problems. On Wednesday I was asked to join a group of architects from my company to a project presentation 250km away. As I had no reason to decline, I went along. After the meeting was over, the contractor for that project took us to a fancy restaurant. As you might know the tables are round with a spinning piece of glass in the middle, so everyone can enjoy the dishes that are being brought in.

We started with 12 appetizers that were mouth-watering. And only 2 of those were spicy, but the spice level was “over 9000” and because it`s rude to spit out food, it was “over 9000” for at least 10 minutes! I was so happy with the first course that I really didn`t need the 2nd course anymore, but I had to try it. So I ate everything, from fried ants with beans to cow belly to pork belly to shrimp to God knows what else because I barely recognized half of what I was being served that night. We finished, without much fuss, with fruit salad.

Traveler Tip: If they offer you “white wine”, it`s not what you think. It`s actually their distilled alcohol from rice. So be careful. It doesn`t taste bad (reminded me of UZZO) but it can take you by surprise. They say it`s around 50*, I believe it`s lower than that.

So, to sum up, if you`re craving for food, do it yourself or get invited to a fancy restaurant!

There are a lot of things to write about but I can`t give you everything at once… Stay tuned! Next Sunday I`ll tell you about:

1. Opening a bank account and exchanging money.
2. Chinese fruits (likes and dislikes).
3. Distinctive habits that we have to cope with.

I know I`ve been slacking but keep checking the Picasa Album of the trip. It might get a big update in a couple of days, with captions and other bits of useful information.

See you soon! 🙂

P.S. If you have questions or just want to chat with us, feel free to write in the comments section. Helps us take our mind off everything else. 🙂

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